Men's Basketball, Sports

Notebook: Perimeter Defense Struggles, But BC Escapes

With Jordan Chatman (ankle) and Steffon Mitchell (quad) absent from the starting lineup, Boston College men’s basketball quickly found itself in a game against a resilient Fairfield side. The Eagles (8-2) led by as much as 13 points in the second half, but watched that lead dwindle to just four with two minutes remaining before escaping with the 77-67 win. Chris Herren Jr. had a breakout game with a career-high 22 points, Wynston Tabbs added 20, and Ky Bowman (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Nik Popovic (11 points, 10 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles.

The win was much closer than it should’ve been, considering the Stags (2-9) entered on a three-game slide and placed in the bottom half of the country in both offense and defensive efficiency. Here’s 10 things that stood out in the win, BC’s second in a row since an overtime setback to Providence.

1) Weakness: Last year, the Eagles finished 239th in 3-point defense, struggling mightily to close out shooters. On Sunday, Fairfield—who entered as a team leaning heavily on shots beyond the arc—exposed the fact that not much has changed. The Stags hit 14 triples, banking on BC’s complacent perimeter defense. Slow rotations and missed assignments cost the Eagles plenty—it’s this type of defensive breakdown that head coach Jim Christian’s team needs to move away from.

2) Unheralded: Fairfield freshman guard Calvin Whipple entered averaging just 1.5 points per game and had played double-digit minutes in just two games. Those numbers went out the window against a soft Eagles defense, as he found himself with plenty of space beyond the arc time and time again. Whipple finished the day with a team-high 21 points, connecting on 7-of-14 from 3-point land. It was a career day from the freshman, who will likely play a larger role in the Stags’ offense moving forward.

3) Off: Bowman still got his 19 points, but the junior wasn’t on his game for much of the day. He entered the break without a field goal, going 0-for-6, then scored 15 second-half points on 11 shots. Bowman recorded a double-double and was able to go 11-for-12 from the free throw line, but registered a 85 offensive rating—his second below-average mark in the last three games. He had a strong game against Columbia, but the inconsistency is something he’ll have to correct before conference play.

4) Breakout: Herren Jr. has proved in the early going that he can shoot, but Sunday was the first time he got to display that in a featured role with Chatman out. The freshman played a season-high 34 minutes and scored 22 points on 13 shots, displaying all the characteristics of an above-average two-guard. He was able to create his own shots by pulling up from mid-range and also proved equally devastating in transition, finding space along the perimeter for catch-and-shoot opportunities.

5) Reliable: Tabbs is only a freshman, but he’s quickly making it seem like he’s been on campus for years. The guard finished with 20 points and added five rebounds and six assists, additionally playing a remarkable 39 minutes without committing a foul. Tabbs even added some flair at the end of the game with a no-look pass for a Popovic dunk that sealed the deal. Tabbs has cleared 17 points in each of the last five games and also has a stellar 2.2 assist/turnover ratio in that span.

6) Switching: The perimeter wasn’t the only soft spot for BC on Sunday. On several occasions, players miscommunicated and let Fairfield center Jonathan Kasibabu into the paint unhindered for an open bucket. Kasibabu is 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds and someone that generally is easy to keep track of, but he would finish with nine points—eight of which came on open layups or dunks.

7) Lacking: What happens when you have two starters out and your bench slides into the rotation further? Struggles ensue to the tune of zero bench points. It was revealed on Sunday that after Herren Jr., there’s really nobody that can play meaningful minutes and have an impact off the bench. Christian trotted out Avery Wilson, Ervins Meznieks, Vin Baker Jr., Johncarlos Reyes, and Lukas Kraljevic at different times—and only Kraljevic registered a positive net rating. Baker Jr. was -5 in seven minutes of action, sliding further down the depth chart.

8) Absence: Mitchell entered as the team’s healthy leader in rebounding, averaging 9.2 per game as a physical, opportunistic forward. So, with him out, it was interesting to see who stepped up and outperformed their season averages. Bowman and Popovic predictably hit double-digits, with the former being one of the best rebounding guards in the country. Jairus Hamilton played well with eight rebounds, three on the offensive glass, while Tabbs and Herren Jr. combined for nine in the win.

9) Sprinting: Arguably the best thing about having Tabbs and Bowman on the court at the same time is the potential for fast-break points. The duo is especially adept at grabbing rebounds and flipping the court quickly, flying up the wings or even directly up the middle. That ability was on display against a Fairfield defense that was slow in transition, as the Eagles outscored their visitors in the fast break category by a decisive 23-2 margin.

10) Ahead: Luckily for BC, its next opponent, DePaul, doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer particularly well. The Blue Demons are 252nd in 3-point percentage, which seems to make the task of taking them on in Chicago less daunting. What should be interesting to track, though, is how Christian and the Eagles’ defense try to defend DePaul’s height—the Blue Demons feature the 36th-highest average height in Division I basketball and rank in the top 50 in rebounding, 2-point field goal percentage, and blocks.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

December 17, 2018