Men's Basketball

Notebook: Popovic, Bowman Guide BC to Win Over Columbia

While it seems that Boston College men’s basketball will never be at full strength—it played without Jordan Chatman (rolled ankle in practice) on Wednesday night—the Eagles have been able to make do with what they’ve got. Against Columbia, with two freshman in Jairus Hamilton and Chris Herren Jr. making their first career starts, BC leaned on an inside-out game between Nik Popovic, Ky Bowman, and Wynston Tabbs, en route to an 81-73 victory.

Here are 10 things that stood out in the Eagles’ (7-2) win over the Lions (3-7), which saw them continue their best start to a season since 2010-11.

1) Tactics: Columbia entered as one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, but, for much of the game, BC was able to contain the Lions—they hit just 10-of-32 from beyond the arc. Part of the reason for the poor shooting was how small and rangey the Eagles’ lineups were, with the bench big men Johncarlos Reyes and Luka Kraljevic combining to play just four minutes, while Vin Baker Jr. tied a season-high with 15 minutes.

2) Mindset: Popovic had arguably the game of his career, and it was a product of attacking the rim every time he got the ball down low. The junior forward has dealt with injuries this year, but, in 31 minutes off the bench, he had 22 points on just 10 shots, converting on 8-of-10 free throws. He also had 14 rebounds, tying a career high.

3) Secondary: While Popovic and Bowman combined for 46 points, the impact that Tabbs had can’t be lost. With just five points at the break, it seemed that the freshman guard was destined to snap a three-game streak in which he’d scored 17 or more points. Instead, he broke out for 14 second-half points, showcasing a dazzling array of weapons—he scored on acrobatic layups, mid-range jumpers, and even knocked down a corner 3-pointer.

4) Star: Bowman got what he wanted on Wednesday, and, even more importantly, he knew when to defer to the likes of Popovic and Tabbs. He filled up the stat sheet in the first half with nine points, seven rebounds, and four assists—then picked up the scoring when his team needed to. He finished with 24 points and 10 boards, an impressive mark for most, let alone a point guard.

5) Rotation: There were stretches of time when BC’s defense looked incredibly vulnerable. Columbia ran the pick-and-roll to perfection against the Eagles, catching them napping on switches time and time again. When the Lions had a 15-1 run that started in the first half and carried over after the break, it was punctuated by a wide-open dunk for Randy Brumant and then an easy look for Patrick Tape.

6) Uncharacteristic: For someone that consistently is the most well-balanced player (outside of scoring) on the floor, Steffon Mitchell wasn’t quite on his game. He didn’t record either a steal or a block for the first time since the IUPUI loss and managed just three rebounds after the break. Mitchell was solid on defense, but, since he hasn’t had much success scoring this year—he’s been held to single digits in seven of BC’s nine games—it’s easy for him to lose any impact when he’s not filling up the box score.

7) Inexperience: When you start three freshman, you can expect some frustrating choices to be made. Head coach Jim Christian’s frustration was evident on Wednesday night. Herren Jr. had one particularly bad run where he threw a pass to no one, then had a bad foul on the other side and was pulled. Hamilton took a 3-pointer early in the shot clock that missed, was pulled for the rest of the first half, then ended up playing just five minutes in the second half.

8) Explosive: Even if Hamilton was frustrating Christian, he had some moments that brought the less-than-packed house down. He picked off a pass and went coast-to-coast for a layup, then was fouled on an alley oop attempt in which he was soaring above the rim. Later in the half, he had an emphatic right-handed tomahawk dunk—two of his eight points in 17 minutes of play.

9) Running: Despite committing 11 turnovers to Columbia’s six, BC still managed to register a decisive 19-0 edge in fast break points. Everyone on the Eagles can push the ball up the court, with Bowman and Tabbs particularly devastating in slicing into the lane. Even Popovic is able to, although his ability to run the floor is often overlooked.10) Promising: Yes, the Eagles are still susceptible to leaving shooters open and making mistakes on switches. But, through nine games, BC ranks 128th in the country in 3-point percentage against (32.5 percent). While that ranking isn’t great, it’s a far cry from last year, where opponents hit at a 36.1 percent clip—239th in the nation. The Eagles will need to keep lowering that mark if they’re to find success once conference play starts. The first team they play in the ACC is No. 13 Virginia Tech, who sits at fourth in the country in 3-point shooting.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

December 13, 2018