Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Fall Just Short Against Providence in Overtime Thriller

Entering Tuesday’s contest against Providence, Boston College men’s basketball hadn’t lost to the Friars in Conte Forum since the 2003-04 season. That season, current Friars head coach Ed Cooley was serving as an assistant to former BC head coach Al Skinner. Since then until 2018, the Eagles were 6-0 against their Northeast rival, though just one of those six games was decided by more than 10 points.

Tuesday night, that streak came to an end. Fittingly, it was Providence guard A.J. Reeves, a freshman who attended high school at Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Mass., who had the biggest hand in breaking the Friars’ skid. He led his team with 24 points, and buried a deep 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to send the game to overtime before Providence pulled away in the closing seconds to hand BC a 100-95 loss. Finally, the Friars found themselves on the winning side of a close game between them and their old Big East rival.

When the game started, it wasn’t immediately clear that the Eagles (6-2) would feel the loss of Nik Popovic—who reportedly suffered a concussion in practice—if only because Providence (7-2) simply couldn’t miss from distance. Three different Providence players hit shots from behind the arc in the first six minutes, as the Friars opened up an early 15-9 lead.

BC slowly climbed back into the game, as Jordan Chatman knifed into the paint for a pretty up-and-under layup, before Jairus Hamilton found an open lane and rocked the rim with a slam that ignited the Conte Forum crowd and narrowed the deficit to just one point. However, just as the Eagles appeared ready to take control of the game, Providence started to exploit the loss of Popovic by attacking the Eagles down low. Nate Watson, who stands 6-foot-10, was particularly effective off the bench, beasting his way to eight points and three offensive rebounds in the first half, as the Friars extended their lead to 33-22.

Sparked by its backcourt, BC responded. Chris Herren Jr.—who entered the game having made just four shots from long range all season—hit three 3-pointers as the Eagles rattled off a 15-2 run to seize a 37-33 advantage. It was a surprising source of offense to most fans, especially after star Ky Bowman went to the bench with his second early foul, but not to head coach Jim Christian.

“Chris has played well, Christian remarked postgame. “When he’s gone in, he’s played with a lot of confidence. I’m not surprised by the way he played and how confident he played.”

The next player who ignited the BC offense certainly wasn’t surprising. Wynston Tabbs, who entered the game as the Eagles’ second-leading scorer, logged BC’s last four first-half points, hitting on a pull-up jumper before sinking a pair of shots from the charity stripe, and the Eagles entered the locker room with a 43-39 edge.

When the second half opened, Chatman took on the starring role. He stepped back for a long 2-pointer, then came off a screen and connected on a 3-pointer, before drawing a foul on his next attempt and swishing three consecutive free throws. All told, the senior’s eight-consecutive points to begin the half stretched the BC advantage to 51-44.

The Eagles appeared to be in an excellent offensive rhythm, but Providence wasn’t fazed. Alpha Diallo, the Friars’ leading scorer entering the game, finally got going. After shooting a woeful 0-for-8 from the floor in the first half, the junior forward reeled off seven points in a row in the paint, exploiting the Eagles’ frontcourt to tie the game at 53.

After Diallo knotted the contest with 15:40 to play, the teams were like a pair of heavyweight fighters trading blows. Neither side was able to open up a lead greater than six points, and big shot after big shot fell. Tabbs got free on an inbounds play and threw down a dunk, before showcasing some dribble moves and pulling up for a 3-pointer that gave BC a 64-63 lead.

Chatman followed by hitting his third shot from behind the arc, but Reeves hit three free throws and a jumper of his own to cut the Eagles edge to 71-70, before pulling up for a deep triple to put Providence back on top, 73-72.

Hamilton was the next to step up, cutting to the basket and banking a touch shot off the glass while being fouled. He followed that by setting a screen for Chatman and rolling to the rim, catching an excellent bounce pass and slamming the ball home to give BC an 84-81 lead and setting the stage for a nail-biting finish.

Maliek White hopped into the lane, then banked an impressive layup off the glass while being tripped as Providence tied the game with 48 seconds left. Ky Bowman was fouled on the other end and hit 1-of-2 at the line. On the Friars’ next possession, Reeves flipped up a shot that was swatted by Steffon Mitchell, and White jacked up a 3-pointer that clanged off the rim before Diallo fouled Chatman as he leaped for the rebound.

The senior calmly hit his shots from the charity stripe with 11.8 seconds left, setting the stage for Reeves’ game-tying shot. There were questions postgame about whether BC should have fouled when Providence brought the ball into the frontcourt, but Eagles head coach Jim Christian was doubled down about his team’s strategy.

“With 11.8 seconds to go when the Friars inbounded, we usually go small, switch out,” Christian remarked. “If it was seven [seconds left], we probably would have fouled.”

The game had enough fouls to go around, anyway. By the time the contest was over, the teams had combined for 56 fouls, 29 for Providence and 27 for BC. The overtime period was particularly egregious, as the officials blew the whistle 12 times, disrupting the flow of an entertaining game and leaving both sets of fans frustrated.

In the end, the Friars had just enough firepower to survive. Providence hit 9-of-14 free throws in the extra period, and Reeves and Watson both added layups for the Friars’ only overtime baskets from the floor.

The Eagles were superb from the line, hitting 36-of-45 foul shots for the game, but also missed crucial shots at inopportune times. Tabbs, an 87 percent shooter for the year, watched a pair roll off the rim, and Bowman missed a shot that would have narrowed the BC deficit to one point with 27 seconds remaining.

But, it wasn’t until the junior guard missed a layup at the rim with 20 seconds left and the Eagles trailed, 98-95, that Providence was able to salt the game away. A contested rebound ended up in the hands of Isaiah Jackson, and the redshirt junior hit two free throws to ice it.

Though not enough in the end, it was another inspired performance from the Eagles that drew effusive praise from Cooley.

“I love Coach Christian’s team a lot,” the Friars coach said. “I think people are missing out on a hell of a product. Those young kids are terrific.”

The loss certainly stings for BC, but Eagles fans can take heart that their team’s backcourt looks as dynamic as ever, and BC was able to remain competitive even without Popovic, who has been one of the team’s standout performers to begin the year. For the rest of the season, the Eagles should remain competitive, even in the ever-tough ACC. With the team gelling the way it has early in the season, there’s no reason it can’t earn a postseason berth for the second-consecutive year.

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / For The Heights     

December 5, 2018