Men's Basketball, Basketball

Timely Steals Help Eagles to Narrow Victory over St. Francis Brooklyn

With just over two minutes to play in Boston College men’s basketball’s Sunday afternoon game against St. Francis Brooklyn, the Terriers brought the ball up court trailing, 66-65, looking to take the lead. Chauncey Hawkins backed the ball out to almost half court, then took two dribbles forward before whipping a pass crosscourt where Glenn Sanabria was waiting in the corner for a potential go-ahead 3-pointer. St. Francis had already drained 11 shots from downtown, and a 12th would have made things incredibly tense down the stretch.

Steffon Mitchell wasn’t even guarding Sanabria. He was stationed on Yaradyah Evans, St. Francis’ other guard who was camped on the left wing. Anticipating the pass, he used all of his 6-foot-8 frame to intercept the ball like a cornerback, starting a fastbreak that ended with a Ky Bowman layup. On the next possession, it was Bowman’s turn. The junior guard stole the ball away from Deniz Celen, and the resulting Eagles possession led to two Wynston Tabbs free throws that gave BC a 70-65 lead. It wasn’t much of a gap, but it was enough, as the Eagles were able to make their shots from the charity stripe and hold on for a 74-69 win over the Terriers.

St. Francis showed off its ability from behind the arc early in the game, draining two 3-pointers in the first five minutes to seize an early 8-7 lead. BC meanwhile, struggled to find any early offensive rhythm. Steffon Mitchell hit a step-back 3-pointer after a pick and roll between Nik Popovic and Bowman, and Jordan Chatman drilled a jumper, but for the most part the flow of the Eagles’ motion offense seemed off, as passes led to contested shots or glanced off hands.

When BC did come to life, it was mostly on the fastbreak. Popovic grabbed a contested rebound then hustled down the floor in time to receive a pretty pass from Bowman for a layup and a foul to cut the St. Francis lead to 15-14.

A few possessions later, Chatman was fouled going to the hoop on another transition runout. The senior sunk both free throws to give the Eagles a 21-17 lead, and it looked like the Eagles were starting to find their rhythm. But before BC could pull any further ahead, Jalen Jordan struck.

The sophomore shot 40.8 percent from downtown last season and took the end of the first half as opportunity to showcase his ability to light it up from long range. In the last six minutes of the period, Jordan knocked down four 3-pointers from all over the floor. First, he buried one over the outstretched arms of Mitchell, then hit a contested step-back from a foot behind the arc over Popovic. Finally, he walked into an open shot from the right wing, handing the Terriers a 33-27 lead with a minute left in the half.

The Eagles were reeling behind Jordan’s onslaught, and badly needed a spark. And as they so often have in the past, they found it in the form of Bowman. The junior buried two consecutive fadeaway 3-pointers in the final minute to tie the game going into the locker room.

“A lot of times you gotta get yourself going, and the team wasn’t really going, and we were falling behind,” Bowman said after the game. “Me hitting those two shots gave us more energy to come out in the second half ready to go.”

And indeed, the Eagles looked rejuvenated after the break. A pretty dish from Mitchell to Popovic put BC up, 37-33, before Bowman found Chatman wide open on the wing for a 3-pointer that extended the lead to five.

Then, after a first half in which he scored just one point, Wynston Tabbs came to life. The freshman knifed through the lane for a layup. On the next possession, he used a Popovic screen to create a bit of space and rose up and buried a shot from behind the arc.

Bowman followed up that outburst with a layup in transition, giving the Eagles a 51-42 lead. Once again, BC looked to be on the verge of pulling away.

Jordan wasn’t having it. He contorted for an acrobatic layup, made the basket, and drew the foul. The 3-point play ignited an 11-0 Terriers run that was capped by back-to-back buckets from downtown and returned the lead to St. Francis. From then on, the teams traded blows.

The Eagles, who shot just 5-of-20 from 3-point range for the game, decided to attack the basket relentlessly to compensate for their long-range woes. All of BC’s final 19 points came either from the free throw line or the paint. Bowman fought for an offensive rebound after Chatman missed a free throw and muscled through a defender for a basket down low. Then Chatman got into the lane again and hit a pair from the line.

All the while, St. Francis continued to fire away from deep. Sanabria hit a 3-pointer with a defender in his face, then Chauncey Hawkins connected on a pull-up jumper for two more. Finally, after Tabbs’ free throws put the Eagles up five with a minute remaining, Hawkins dialed up the Terriers’ 12th triple of the game to give St. Francis one last shot. But after Bowman fouled out diving for a loose ball, Keon Williams missed a free throw that would have cut the BC lead to two with 19 seconds left, and the Eagles were finally able to exhale.

For the second time in two games this season, BC received a test from a non-conference foe. On Sunday, the Eagles’ ability to function in a close game down the stretch was on display, and—despite having issues defending the Terriers’ perimeter-oriented attack—they were able to step up defensively when it mattered most. That’s encouraging for BC fans, but, the reality is, that kind of defending isn’t going to cut it going forward.

Some of the Eagles’ defensive rotations definitely need work—Chatman’s movement on Williams’ final 3-pointer was particularly egregious—but for now the Eagles are 2-0, and know that they still have some time to fix their defense before the ACC slate.

Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor

November 11, 2018