Maybe all Boston College men’s basketball needed was a change of scenery. After a narrow victory over a similarly poorly ranked St. Francis Brooklyn and a shocking loss to IUPUI—the 252nd ranked team in the country per KenPom—on its home floor in Chestnut Hill, a trip to sunny Fort Myers, Fla., proved to be a welcome change for the Eagles. In the semifinal game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off tournament, BC led for 30-plus minutes in a largely comfortable 88-76 victory over a struggling Wyoming (1-4) team that was crippled with three injuries to regular contributors.
But the game was not always in control for head coach Jim Christian’s side. With four games in the books, this victory qualifies as BC’s best yet, but the team is still far from perfect. The Eagles (3-1) answered the call against the Cowboys and will look to seize victory in the tournament finals on Wednesday night against Loyola-Chicago.
Ky Bowman is the Superstar He Was Heralded to Be
The junior came in averaging an impressive 19.7 points per game through his first four, then nearly doubled that on Monday with a career-high 38 points. Bowman shot efficiently as well, converting on 14-of-22 field goals and 7-of-12 from behind the arc. The offense always flows through him, but he carved up the Cowboys’ defense with ease and possessed a constant hunger for more.
Despite the superstar that he is, Bowman is more than happy to dish the ball off and find the hot hand to help his team win. On Monday, he was that hot hand, and he knew it—something many identified as the role he would need to play in the wake of Jerome Robinson’s NBA departure. He confidently pulled up from 3-point range all night, knowing the shots would fall before they did. That did not compromise his consistent ability to drive to the basket, though. With defenders playing up to protect against his perimeter shot, the North Carolina native used his speed and athleticism to fly by, with 11 of his points coming from the paint and free throw line combined.
With Robinson no longer on the Heights, Bowman has shown in these first four games that he is capable of shouldering the load for this Eagles team. To win games in conference play, however, BC will need to find other consistent streams of offense as opposing coaches will key in on Bowman.
3-Point Defense a Weak Point Again
Despite the reputation that BC has gained for being a hot shooting 3-point team, leading up to this game, it has still allowed opponents to make 10 more threes than it has and shoot at a 5 percent better clip on long balls. Against Wyoming, the Eagles allowed the Cowboys to convert on 9-of-21 attempts from behind the arc, an unsustainable 43 percent mark against.
BC struggled to close out on shooters once again, and while some of that can be attributed to the emphasis placed on interior defense and being in good rebounding position, Wyoming shooters were finding pockets of open space. When on defense, the Eagles often bit on pump fakes and over-pursued ball handlers, leading to strings of passes that set up open shots. Although the Cowboys finished with a high percentage, it could have been even worse for BC, as shooters failed to knock down a number of open threes.
BC had its way on the inside on Monday, amassing a 32-14 advantage in points in the paint. With Nik Popovic out due to a groin injury and Luka Kraljevic additionally not making the trip, Steffon Mitchell and Johncarlos Reyes picked up the slack in what had became a very thin position for the Eagles. Mitchell tallied a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, his third time in four games with double-digit boards. Reyes had only played three minutes entering this game, but the junior stepped up for the injured Popovic, scoring 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Both of these big men showed good touch and finishing ability around the rim, as Mitchell hit a series of contested layups, and Reyes constantly scooted past his man underneath the basket, where good entry passes set him up for scores.
The Eagles possessed a clear advantage on the glass as well. BC outrebounded Wyoming, 41-31, with a 15-5 edge in offensive boards—a marked improvement from the IUPUI loss. These second-chance opportunities proved to be huge for the Eagles, and they contributed to 13 more field goal attempts. The rebounding margin has been a telling stat for the Eagles early on, as they have come out victorious in the three games they’ve won the battle on the glass, and lost the only contest where they fell short in this category.
Letting Them Hang Around
After trading baskets early on, BC opened up a 13-0 run in the first half off the strength of 11 from Bowman. It seemed as if this would be a commanding lead that the Eagles would not relinquish. However, despite leading by 16 at the half, BC grew complacent, and the Cowboys were able to cut the deficit all the way down to three with five minutes left to play. Wyoming used the charity stripe to get back in the game, as BC went over the limit early in both halves and allowed the Cowboys to get to the line 41 times. Many of these were unnecessary reach-in and loose ball fouls on the perimeter that stopped the clock—along with BC’s momentum.
These lapses in focus have been characteristic of the Eagles so far this season. A prolific first-half run heeded to a lackluster second half in the loss to IUPUI, while a cold start against Milwaukee was relieved by a spark to start the second half. While basketball is a game of runs, BC has been extremely susceptible to scoring runs this season, and against Wyoming, it found a late run to create enough distance so that the game would not hang in the balance in the closing moments. Being not just mentally present, but playing with the same fiery intensity for the entire 40 minutes is something that this group needs to work on when the going gets tougher.
Bench Contribution: The Dawn of a Rotation
Christian turned to a different lineup on Monday, the product of a disciplinary issue with early freshman breakout Wynston Tabbs. Instead of starting Tabbs, who got the nod in BC’s first three games and scored at least 15 points in each, Christian went with Avery Wilson, who had yet to see game action this season. Tabbs played just nine minutes, where he facilitated three assists and four rebounds to go along with a made basket on a coast-to-coast finish, but he also fouled out in his limited action. Wilson finished with just two points in 13 minutes, recording a pair of assists as well.
While that particular move from Christian resulted in question marks around the play of the two young two-guards, the Eagles were rewarded by his decision to give more playing time to other bench players, specifically Chris Herren Jr. and Vin Baker Jr. Both of these players were on the floor for the waning minutes of the game, and while the result was still in doubt, each came up with a clutch 3-pointer.
Baker Jr. added a dunk while Herren Jr. tacked on a pair of free throws that surely built up confidence for the two sons of former NBA players. Eight players tallied at least 10 minutes in this game, and the circumstances surrounding Tabbs and Popovic allowed Christian to get a look at more of a rotation. Even though the team was carried by Bowman’s career day, getting looks at players like Wilson, Baker Jr., Herren Jr., and Reyes is exactly what these early non-conference games are for.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor