On Monday night, Boston College men’s basketball put together its most impressive performance of the season. The Eagles held Minnesota—a team that was previously 5-0 and receiving votes in the AP poll—to just 29.2 percent shooting en route to a 12-point win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. So with Sacred Heart, a team that had lost to Binghamton less than a week prior, rolling into Conte Forum, there was certainly the potential for a letdown.
The Eagles appeared to put that out of the question early on, jumping on the Pioneers early and grabbing a 26-8 lead in the first half. Yet Sacred Heart slowly crawled its way back into the contest, refusing to go away and cutting the BC lead to six in the final minutes. But in the end, the Eagles had just enough to put away a pesky Pioneers team, squeaking out an 81-73 win.
It took the Eagles (6-1) some time to find their rhythm. After four minutes, BC was just 1-of-6 from the floor, and was knotted at two with the Pioneers. As he has frequently done this season, however, Wynston Tabbs provided a spark.
Ky Bowman drove to the basket, drawing an extra defender, and swung the ball out to the right wing, where Tabbs was waiting. The freshman buried a 3-pointer before backpedaling down the court, yelling “Let’s go!” to his teammates. Tabbs, who would finish with a season-best 28 points, ignited a 10-0 BC run that was capped off by a fastbreak layup from Vin Baker Jr. and forced a Sacred Heart (3-5) timeout.
The Eagles were quite happy to continue attacking the visiting Pioneers when play resumed. Baker Jr. hit two free throws, and then Jairus Hamilton—who had hit just 2-of-14 3-pointers on the season entering Thursday’s contest—drilled back-to-back shots from behind the arc to stretch the BC lead to 20-4. The freshman scored 10 points, all in the first half, to reach double digits for the second time this season. On the other end Sacred Heart, which had scored at least 73 points in each of its first seven games, suddenly couldn’t buy a basket.
Tabbs hit an up-and-under layup, then spotted up for a jumper just inside the paint as the Eagles extended the advantage to 26-6, and it looked like they would be able to coast to the finish line. Instead, BC relaxed a little bit, and all of a sudden the Pioneers slowly started to crawl back into the game. It was a similar shift in momentum to the IUPUI loss earlier in the season for the Eagles, who had built a 14-point lead but watched as it slipped away.
“We started the game taking away all their strengths,” head coach Jim Christian said. “As the game got on and we got up a little bit, we allowed them to get back in the game and we allowed them to make runs at us with their strengths.”
One of Sacred Heart’s strengths is 3-point shooting—it entered the game shooting 37 percent as a team from behind the arc. Largely contained in the early going, the Pioneers used that proficiency to their advantage to climb back into the game. In the last five minutes of the first half, Sacred Heart connected on four 3-pointers. The last of these, a spot-up triple from Sean Hoehn—who shoots it at a 42.85 percent clip from distance—with four seconds left in the first half, cut the Eagles lead to just 34-24 going into the break.
The second half was much the same story. BC appeared to be on the verge of pulling away many times, only to watch the Pioneers put up a strong fight.
On the first possession out of the break, Bowman used a pretty crossover to wiggle his way into the lane and draw a foul before hitting two shots at the charity stripe. Seconds later, Johncarlos Reyes pivoted in the paint and hit a soft hook to give BC a 38-24 lead. Hoehn responded, though, hitting an acrobatic layup while being hacked, and finished off the old-fashioned 3-point play.
Minutes later, with BC’s advantage at a comfortable 11 points, Tabbs pushed the ball on the fastbreak and used a nifty euro step to evade a pair of Pioneers defenders before sinking an off-balance layup. The next possession, the Eagles were able to once again break out in transition after Hoehn missed a shot in the paint, and Jordan Chatman, who injured his ankle early in the game but managed to return, contorted his body to avoid a flying Jare’l Spellman and banked a shot of the glass to stretch the lead to 15.
And so it went. BC led by double-digits for the majority of the second half, but simply couldn’t create significant separation. Tabbs tried his best, calling for the ball in the left corner and hitting a step-back 3-pointer over a helpless Cameron Parker, then fighting through contact to bank a shot off the window to put BC on top by 16 with a little under five minutes left.
E.J. Anosike—who led the Pioneers with 22 points—hit four free throws and a tough put-back to spark one last-ditch Sacred Heart push, as Hoehn’s bucket with two minutes to play finally cut the deficit to single digits at 71-63. But the Eagles—thanks in large part once again to Tabbs—were able to finally run the clock out.
The Pioneers put the full-court press on, and resorted to fouling to try and get back in the game, but Tabbs proved to be cool under pressure, draining six-consecutive free throws and handling the ball well under duress to keep Sacred Heart at bay until the final buzzer.
The Eagles may have underwhelmed as a team, but Tabbs certainly didn’t. The freshman, who has rapidly turned into one of BC’s most consistent scoring option, finished 9-of-15 from the field and added seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals. It was a statline befitting Bowman, his dynamic backcourt mate, and suggested that BC might not miss Jerome Robinson—now plying his trade with the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA—as much as many expected this offseason.
“I’m getting more confident,” Tabbs said. “Letting it come to me, playing defense, and doing whatever I gotta do to help my team win.”
That confidence—unexpected from a freshman, especially one overshadowed in the backcourt—was on full display Thursday, and will need to continue to be ever-present if the Eagles hope to continue to pile up wins in non-conference play.