Men's Basketball

Behind Breakout Game From Herren Jr., Eagles Down Fairfield

Boston College men’s basketball had to be very pleased with its 2018 recruiting class, which featured an ESPN Top 100 recruit in Jairus Hamilton and a three-star guard in Wynston Tabbs. Chris Herren Jr., originally a 2019 recruit, added his name to that class when he reclassified and arrived at BC this fall. The unheralded son of a former NBA and BC player was expected to provide depth at the guard position, but not much was said about him in the run-up to the year.

Whether it was hitting three 3-pointers against Providence or stepping into the starting lineup last game against Columbia, the guard has recently challenged his role player status, and he only furthered that cause on Sunday afternoon against Fairfield.

With Jordan Chatman and Steffon Mitchell out because of ankle and quad injuries, respectively, Herren Jr. filled the void and ignited the Eagles’ offense by displaying the scoring prowess that scouts saw when he was in high school. Having never recorded double digits at the college level, Herren Jr. took control and led BC in scoring with 22 points, helping the Eagles triumph over the Stags, 77-67.

“Definitely starting last game and gradually getting more minutes, I have been able to get more confident and comfortable playing out there,” Herren Jr. said. “It’s slowed down in my head. I think that’s the biggest problem a lot of freshmen have.”

The Portsmouth, R.I. native demonstrated that poise early in the game for BC (8-2). Right out of the gate, the Eagles largely struggled to hit their shots—but Herren Jr. was on point. In the middle of the half, he scored five-straight points for BC, hitting a jumper and a 3-pointer. Tabbs also excelled in the first half, as the freshman went 4-of-7 from the floor. But with the Stags (2-9) relentlessly firing off 3-pointers, the game was tight in the early frame. The Eagles closed out the half with a slim three-point edge, following the typical non-conference game pattern thus far this year.

Herren Jr. and Tabbs accounted for almost all of BC’s scoring production, each putting up 13 points. The rest of the team struggled, shooting just 2-of-14 from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Bowman, who had tallied 24 points in BC’s win against Columbia, missed all six of his shots in the first half but did drilled 4-of-5 from the line and came down with seven rebounds.

The Eagles started to pull away in the second half, as they extended their lead. A big reason why BC was able to create distance was Herren Jr., who stayed hot. He tallied seven points in the first few minutes of the half to grant the Eagles a better cushion. Tabbs continued to contribute, and he would finish the game with 20 points, six assists, and five boards. This outing was the fifth-straight game in which the freshman has recorded at least 17 points and four rebounds.

While BC retained a lead for a large portion of the half, the Eagles’ grip on the game was jeopardized in the final minutes. With three minutes left to play, BC led, 71-63. That lead was cut to four as Jonathan Kasibabu made a free throw and Calvin Whipple drilled a shot from deep. Whipple had been a thorn in the Eagles’ side all afternoon. The freshman guard came into this game averaging just nine minutes per game and had hit just one shot from 3-point land all season. But, in a similar breakout to Herren Jr., the sharpshooter would finish the game as Fairfield’s leading scorer with 21 points—with all 14 of his shots coming from beyond the arc.

The Stags wouldn’t score again after Whipple’s triple, though. In the final minute of regulation, Nik Popovic came up with a big dunk and a block to keep the game in BC’s hands. Bowman was sent to the line twice in the dwindling seconds, and he converted all of his free throws in the clutch to help the Eagles prevail over a feisty Fairfield team.

Bowman and Popovic each recorded their second-straight double-double. Popovic totaled 11 points and 10 rebounds, meanwhile Bowman did not have the prettiest performance, as the junior guard struggled from the floor only shooting 4-of-17. Still, he netted 11 of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe to finish with 19 points and 12 boards. Even on a day when Bowman wasn’t at his best, he was the Eagles’ third-leading scorer while picking up the slack on the glass with Mitchell unable to play.

Although BC has now won two in a row, neither has been a cakewalk. The Stags were always in the game, and the Eagles did not put them away until the final seconds. The absence of Chatman and Mitchell certainly played a part in that, but their injuries allowed the depth, namely Herren Jr., to shine and further develop.

“We were down two starters. Take away two starters off of any team in the country, and it’s going to be a struggle,” head coach Jim Christian said. “These things are giving other guys opportunities to grow. In the long run, they’re probably good things, in the short run, they’re not. That’s how the game’s going to be until we get healthy.”

Christian would describe his two missing starters—Chatman and Mitchell—as day-to-day in terms of their injuries. While a 10-point victory over a two-win team doesn’t look that impressive on the surface, one has to consider the circumstances—BC actually fell to Fairfield last year, but it still topped the Stags this year despite being being heavily undermanned. With these vacancies in the lineup, freshman such as Herren Jr. and Hamilton are able to develop and gain valuable minutes as they improve every day on the court.

But, with a tough matchup on the docket against DePaul in Chicago on Saturday, BC will likely need its starters to get healthy, as well as have their bench players continue to contribute, if it wants to pick up its third-straight non-conference win.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

December 16, 2018