Top Story, Men's Basketball

Despite Trailing Bulk of Game, Eagles Escape DePaul With Narrow Win

Boston College men’s basketball has achieved early-season success, in large part due to the contributions from emerging freshman star Wynston Tabbs. Entering Saturday night’s game against DePaul, Tabbs had recorded 17 points in five-straight contests and had been named ACC Freshman of the Week, as well as CBS Sports National Freshman of the Week. But, in the early going against the Blue Demons, the freshman struggled to rekindle that same magic. Tabbs, along with the rest of the BC offense, was stuck in the mud. He missed his first five shots and finished the half 1-of-7 from the floor with only two points.

But, in the dwindling minutes of the second half, desperate to lift the Eagles past a resilient Blue Demon team, Tabbs flipped the switch and took over the game. He recorded 10 points in a row down the stretch to give the Eagles a three-point edge, their first lead of the game. BC wisely chose to foul on the ensuing DePaul possession to prevent a repeat of the ending of the Providence game, in which A.J. Reeves hit a 3-pointer to force overtime.

DePaul’s Devin Gage hit both of his free throws, and—following the inbound—the Blue Demons immediately fouled Nik Popovic. In the clutch, the 58 percent free throw shooter proceeded to knock down his pair at the line. With only 3.5 seconds left and no timeouts, Max Strus, the star guard for the Blue Demons, lobbed up a shot from half court, but it was blocked. Despite poor shooting throughout, BC was able to eke out a 65-62 victory.

Coming into the game, it was announced that Jordan Chatman would miss his third-straight game with an ankle injury. His presence could have been a boon to the Eagles (9-2) as he is their best 3-point threat, and DePaul (8-3) plays poor perimeter defense. But, on the bright side for BC, Steffon Mitchell returned to the court after sitting out the Fairfield game with a quad injury. The sophomore was desperately needed on the glass against a DePaul team that held a huge size advantage over the Eagles.

The first minutes of the contest were quite a bit to keep up with as both teams played fast-paced basketball. Four minutes in, DePaul held a five-point lead, thanks to two quick 3-pointers from guard Eli Cain. While the Eagles consistently crept back into the game as they cut into the deficit, the Blue Demons would respond each time with a run of their own.

The smooth shooting seen in the opening minutes drastically evaporated over time. BC hit its first 3-pointer, but the Eagles would follow that with 14-straight misses from deep. DePaul couldn’t find its stroke either, shooting just 25 percent from a distance in the opening frame.

At one point, though, the Blue Demons erupted for a 10-2 run to extend their lead over BC to 12. With only a couple of minutes left in the half, the Eagles needed climb back into the game, and that’s exactly what they did. BC rattled off eight-consecutive points to close the half and cut the deficit to four. Popovic and Chris Herren Jr., once again starting in place of Chatman, each led the team in points with seven, as Tabbs and Bowman greatly struggled in the backcourt.

The story from the first half mostly continued in the second half. BC came close to taking the lead, but, time and time again, the Blue Demons pulled away. A Femi Olujobi dunk followed by a Cain layup pushed the DePaul lead to 54-45 with only 5:41 left to play. Any momentum that BC possessed early in the second half had disappeared due to cold shooting, slow replay reviews from the referees, and pesky play from the Blue Demons. The Eagles needed a miraculous turnaround to steal this game.

Head coach Jim Christian called a much-needed timeout to allow for the Eagles to regroup. Out of the break, Bowman drilled a shot from beyond the arc, the first BC 3-pointer since the beginning of the first half. The Eagles’ hope of a comeback took a big hit when Strus laid down an emphatic dunk. Bowman would immediately answer, however, with a layup to keep the game within six.

Capitalizing off of an Olujobi charge, Herren Jr. connected on a clutch 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three. A minute later, Eli Cain missed from a distance, and Tabbs grabbed the rebound. The freshman ran down the floor and nailed a jumper to narrow the lead, 55-56. But DePaul responded with consecutive buckets from Olujobi and Strus, the latter of which came as an explosive two-handed dunk. The back-and-forth nature of the game was chaotic and yielded a plethora of surges from both sides.

Tabbs retorted with two-straight layups to cut the deficit to one. On the ensuing possession, the Suitland, MD. native notched a massive steal and sprinted down for the open basket—but Strus chased him down from behind and appeared to come up with a clean block. But to BC’s benefit, the referees ruled it as a foul, and Tabbs made both free throws, which put the Eagles up 61-60 and gave them their first lead of the afternoon.

On the following play, Strus missed from deep, and it was Tabbs who came away with the defensive rebound. He was immediately fouled, and, calm as ever, Tabbs proceeded to nail both shots from the charity stripe. DePaul hit both of its free throws after BC decided to foul with about eight seconds left to play. Popovic was then fouled, and the junior saw both of his free throws rattle off the rim, but luckily for the Eagles, they fell in. Strus’ desperation shot was blocked in the last seconds. After a tense five minutes, the Eagles could finally let out a sigh of relief.

In the end, this was an enormous victory for BC. This was the Eagles’ first true road test of the season, and to steal the game away and display true grit despite such poor shooting is truly remarkable. DePaul is one of the toughest opponents BC has faced in the non-conference slate—the Blue Demons were very even matched against the Eagles (DePaul came in at 101 on the KenPom rankings, while BC was slotted at 99). Even though the Blue Demons bullied the Eagles throughout the game, BC was the team that ultimately pulled through in the end and came up in the clutch. Popovic kept the Eagles competitive throughout, and it was Tabbs whose 10 points in the last minutes lifted BC to complete an inspiring comeback.

It’s a big relief to know that even if Bowman isn’t on his game, BC can count on one of its core pieces, whether it was Herren Jr. against Fairfield or Tabbs against DePaul, to take over and secure a win. And with junior transfer Jared Hamilton making his debut against the Blue Demons, Christian has the necessary talent and depth to ensure that the Eagles can prevail in any contest that they find themselves in.

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

December 23, 2018