Boston College men’s basketball was in a bit of a funk before its game against Columbia. The Eagles were scheduled to travel to College Station to face Texas A&M in their first true road test of the season. But with weather and mechanical issues hindering the flight, BC would not be able to make it in time for the game on Saturday afternoon. The two teams were unable to agree on a revised game time, and thus the contest was canceled. As a result, BC returned to Conte Forum to host the Lions.
Nik Popovic suffered a concussion in a practice prior to the Eagles’ game against Providence, and his absence was certainly noticed. BC looked like it would be returning to full strength against Columbia, but that would not be the case. The Eagles lost another one of their core contributors when it was announced that Jordan Chatman, who led the team in scoring with 28 points against Providence, had rolled his ankle in practice and wouldn’t be able to suit up.
Even with a week of up and downs and confusion, BC still managed to fight off its Ivy League foe. Despite falling behind at one point during the outset of the second half, the Eagles used double-doubles from Ky Bowman and Nik Popovic to pull away late in an 82-73 victory.
“We had to shrink our package, and we had to teach Chris [Herren Jr.] the plays from the three at 11 o’clock today,” head coach Jim Christian said of Chatman’s unexpected absence. “Wynston [Tabbs] has to learn the one and the two. Jairus [Hamilton] has to learn the four and the five. It’s not as easy as everybody says.”
Bowman had 24 points and 10 rebounds in the win for BC (7-2), while Popovic chipped in 22 points and a season-high 14 rebounds off the bench. And, when either of them were unable to find open space, Tabbs was happy to shoulder the load to the tune of 14 second-half points and 19 overall.
With Columbia (3-7) entering the night as a sub-.500 team, one would think that this would amount to an easy non-conference victory for BC—especially with Lions’ leading scorer Mike Smith out with an injury. Columbia came into the night knocking down 10.6 treys per game, good for 13th in the country, and shaped up to be a team that could cause problems for the Eagles on the perimeter.
Despite the dangers that Columbia presented, the Eagles started off well. Tabbs and Herren Jr., who was thrust into the starting role, each recorded two buckets early. A scary moment came when Hamilton was fouled during an alley-oop attempt and took a hard fall. The freshman was slow to get up, but he was unhurt and proceeded to go on a scoring run. He made several free throws and had some fantastic finishes, which culminated in an explosive dunk to put the Eagles up, 31-20.
Columbia’s Princeton offense kept the Eagles on their toes. The Lions were able to keep themselves in the game as they executed the pick and roll very well in order to set up quality 3-point attempts. Bowman had largely been quiet up to this point, but with under four minutes to play in the half, the junior point guard converted two-straight 3-pointers to extend the Eagles’ lead. Despite missing its last five field goals in the first half, BC went into the break with a six-point cushion.
The Eagles’ shooting woes carried into the second half, though. BC stayed cold from the floor, whereas the Lions were hitting their stride. Columbia ultimately built a 15-1 run that dated back to the end of the first half, and the Lions took their first lead. Christian, clearly frustrated, called a much-needed timeout so that the Eagles could regroup.
Christian told his team, “Stop shooting 3’s. Go to the basket. Get out in transition. Raise our energy level on defense. Maybe not as nicely as that, but that’s really what the message was.”
Taking his coach’s message to heart, Bowman drove right into the paint for a layup to tie the game. Columbia’s Patrick Tape, the 6-foot-10 forward who had been bullying the Eagles all night long in the paint, responded with a basket of his own. The Eagles fired right back, though, as they rattled off a 7-0 run that was punctuated by another Bowman 3-pointer. BC was able to retake the lead, and they never relinquished it.
The second half saw the trio of Popovic, Bowman, and Tabbs continue to carry the bulk of the load in terms of scoring. Tabbs was huge in the second half, and finished with at least 17 points and four rebounds for the fourth game in a row. Bowman chipped in with 15 after the break, and the trio scored all but two of their teams’ points—singular free throws from Hamilton and Johncarlos Reyes—in the final 20 minutes.
From a stats standpoint, this was a solid showing for BC. Columbia knocked down 10 from 3-point land, but it took 32 attempts to reach that mark. The small starting lineup that Christian rolled out—Reyes and Popovic were noticeably absent—was able to stymie the Lions on the perimeter. When Popovic was in, the Eagles dominated the glass and grabbed 12 more boards than Columbia. BC hit 51 percent of its shots, while the Lions only converted on 41 percent. That said, the Eagles turned the ball over 11 times compared to Columbia’s six, and BC only shot 62 percent from the charity stripe, 17 percent worse than the Lions.
Being able to pull out a win against a feisty opponent like Columbia is even more impressive considering the fact that the Eagles were missing Chatman. This victory also comes at an important time, as BC needed a bounce-back win after its frustrating overtime loss to Providence. With a 7-2 record, the Eagles have done a nice job in navigating the non-conference part of their schedule.
BC had been working out kinks early in the season—this was evident in games against St. Francis and IUPUI. But the Eagles started to display their true potential when they won the Fort Myers Tip-Off and prevailed over Minnesota. Injuries to Popovic and Chatman have slowed down BC the last two games, but if the Eagles are able to shake their injury bug, they could become a real threat once ACC play kicks off in 2019.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor