Men's Basketball

Notebook: Defense Squanders Robinson’s Career Night Against Irish

For the 23rd game in a row, Boston College men’s basketball lost to an ACC foe on the road. Despite the best efforts from junior guard Jerome Robinson, who dropped a career-high 46 points after being left off the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award shortlist, the Eagles (14-10, 4-7 Atlantic Coast) continued to play their way out of postseason contention with a 96-85 loss to Notre Dame.

In a game in which it cut an 18-point, second-half Irish (14-10, 4-7 ACC) lead to just two, BC’s defensive struggles were on full display, as was its issues when its offense becomes one-dimensional. Without the rest of the supporting cast playing well, Robinson was left to try and bring his team all the way back, which he nearly did. Troubles closing out and defending the 3-point line haunted the Eagles, as they fell to three games under .500 in conference play.

Three Up

1) Jerome Robinson

On a night when Jordan Chatman was held to single digits for the second time in three games, Nik Popovic left after just 12 minutes with an abdominal strain, and Ky Bowman managed just 11 points, it was clear that Robinson was going to have to shoulder the burden—and shoulder it he did. The junior announced his presence with a career-high 46 points on just 23 shots, burying a career-high seven 3-pointers and finishing a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line. Not only was Robinson’s near-50 point game a career-best, it was also the most scored by an ACC player this season.

Robinson dueled with Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs in the opening half, hitting four 3-pointers and piling up 16 points. Gibbs won the first half, scoring 22 points to create separation, with the Irish leading by nine at the break. Robinson, though, wasn’t going to slow down. He scored 30 second-half points, picking apart Notre Dame’s defense on numerous occasions.

Trapped him beyond the arc? He’d hit a 3-pointer in any slight window of opportunity. Let him into the paint? He’d slice through the defense for an impressive layup—or, as the half went on, just muscle his way into the low post and use a floater. Foul him? He wouldn’t miss.

With Chatman and Bowman struggling, Robinson showed whose team it really was. Just days after tying his career-high of 32, he went for 16 more points in the first half alone. The Irish led by as much as 18 points in the second half, but Robinson would go on to score 20 of his team’s next 24 points to close the gap to four. Ultimately, consistent struggles on defense would spoil his day, but his 46 points was nothing short of incredible.

2) Turnovers

In the last six contests, BC has averaged over 14 turnovers per game—a remarkably high rate and one of the reasons why head coach Jim Christian’s team dropped half of those matchups. Against the Irish, however, the Eagles turned it over just eight times, their lowest mark since Jan. 9 at North Carolina.

BC still ranks 14th in turnover rate (15.1 percent) in conference games, but any step forward is a positive sign for the program. Most notably, the Eagles limited their ill-advised cross-court passes. In the end, the loss can be attributed to poor shooting, not throwing the ball away. BC entered the night 3-1 in games with single-digit turnovers, but the Irish finished with just five, enough to keep their distance.

3) Weakside Lob

Time and time again, when the Eagles need a spark, they draw up a particularly potent half court set. With BC trailing by seven near the eight-minute mark in the second half, Christian called for a play that not only gets two points, but often invigorates the Conte crowd. On the road, it serves the purpose to amp up the team, a pure display of precision and athleticism that exemplifies how much time Bowman and Robinson have put in together.

BC had trailed by as much as 18, but had gone on a Robinson-led run to cut it to seven. Then, after a missed free throw from Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell, Ky Bowman had the ball at the top of the 3-point line. Johncarlos Reyes set a high screen for Robinson, Irish guard Rex Pfleuger was held up, and the Eagles guard took two steps and elevated to pull in Bowman’s pass for an emphatic alley-oop dunk.

It was a huge play, once again, as the Eagles came out of the timeout to continue to cut into the Irish lead—getting it down to as low as two before faltering late.

Three Down

1) Defending the Perimeter and Dribble Drive

Last Sunday against Georgia Tech, a strength for BC was its perimeter defense. The Eagles held Georgia Tech to a 5-for-14 mark, limiting chances and forcing the shot clock to wind down. Granted, the Yellow Jackets rank 14th in the ACC in 3-point percentage, but Notre Dame entered ninth, hitting almost eight a game.

Against BC, it had eight in the first half, en route to a season-high 16. The Eagles struggled mightily to defend the perimeter, repeatedly failing to close out or avoid biting on dribble-drives. Gibbs was white-hot in the first half, hitting five of his six 3-point attempts—including an improbable buzzer-beater. Still, he was left open or lost regularly in the Irish half-court sets. Then, once BC keyed in on him—it forgot about the rest of Notre Dame’s scorers. Guard Matt Farrell, who finished with 19 points on five 3-pointers, was left open at the end of the half and calmly buried an uncontested catch-and-shoot triple.

In the second, a simple handoff caught the Eagles off guard—they couldn’t get around Gibbs as Farrell drilled another trey. It only got worse, as Farrell would rack up several assists off dribble-drives in which the kickout to the corner worked perfectly. He found John Mooney—who would hit four long-range shots—several times. The uncontested 3-pointers and failure to learn from its mistakes continued to set BC back as they were attempting to complete a comeback.

2) Supporting Cast

It’s obvious by now, but if one of the Eagles’ trio of guards has an off night, it’ll be tough for them to eke out a win. If two have bad games—forget it. The three have combined for almost 64 percent of the team’s scoring this year, and once Nik Popovic went down with an injury, it was clear they’d have to lean on 3-point shooting. The problem was that Bowman and Chatman weren’t up for the task. Bowman shot 4-of-13 for 11 points, while Chatman only managed seven, missing four of his five 3-point attempts.

To make matters worse, without Popovic, the Eagles had to turn to Johncarlos Reyes and Luka Kraljevic down low. Reyes had a pair of emphatic dunks and the two combined for 10 points, but they struggled defensively and turned the ball over three times. Steffon Mitchell also missed all three of his 3-point attempts and would eventually foul out with just six points—his fifth game in single-digits after an early January run where he scored 51 points in four games.

Overall, here’s how BC’s night can be summed up:

Robinson: 15-of-23 from the field, 9-for-9 from the free throw line, 46 points

Everyone Else: 15-of-38, 4-for-4 from the charity stripe, 39 points

3) Tournament Hopes

Entering Wednesday’s game, the Eagles hopes for a NCAA tournament berth were slim—but not zero, sitting at just 0.1 percent, per T-Rank. A road win over the Irish would’ve bumped them up to 2.6 percent, and they would have a chance to continue to climb—two games against ranked Miami loom, as do rematches with Florida State and Notre Dame.

If BC had beaten the Irish, then won its three remaining home games against Miami, Notre Dame, and Syracuse, its tournament odds would’ve jumped to 15.8 percent. Knock off either Miami and Florida State on the road? The Eagles would likely be one of the first teams out in many bracketology predictions, the ideal place to be if you can steal a game or two in the ACC tournament.

Still, dealing in the abstract is foolish. BC has allowed 70-plus points in the last 10 games, so any talk of a late-season run would rely on the Eagles figuring out their defensive issues. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that. This latest loss is all but the nail in the coffin, barring an improbable run in the conference tournament. They haven’t beaten anybody from their conference on the road and squandered a chance this past week to even their conference record.

Featured Image by Robert Franklin / AP Photo

February 7, 2018