Top Story, Men's Basketball

Plagued by Foul Trouble, Eagles Lose Their Lead and Fall to No. 10 Virginia Tech

Two years ago, Jordan Chatman connected on 9-of-11 shots from 3-point land against Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum. The sophomore tallied 30 points, and, despite his heroic effort, his team still fell to the Hokies by six points. Back then, Boston College men’s basketball did not carry the same promise that it does now. On Saturday, the Eagles once again ventured down to Blacksburg, Va. with the hope of knocking off its first ranked opponent of the 2018-19 season. While Chatman did lead the team in scoring with 18, he did not have the same luck with his stroke from deep—the senior missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

With backcourt mate Ky Bowman also cold—he finished 2-of-8 from distance just a game after a 5-of-8 performance en route to a career-best 44 points—and Wynston Tabbs sidelined by injury, Chatman and the shorthanded Eagles watched a two-point halftime lead slip away. Plagued by foul trouble and cold shooting in the second frame, a chance at a huge win over the Hokies quickly disappeared, and BC dropped its second game in a row, 77-66.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 25 points on just nine shots from the field in the win for No. 10 VTech (13-1, 2-0), who shook off early shooting struggles. Kerry Blackshear Jr. used his size inside en route to 20 points and seven rebounds for the Hokies, who are off to their best start since 1982-83.

The Eagles (9-4, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) kept the game fairly close even though they were missing one of their core contributors in Tabbs due to a leg injury suffered in Monday’s loss to Hartford. Steffon Mitchell was able to return from his quad injury, but he was clearly operating at less than 100 percent, only pulling in two boards on the afternoon. With these injuries, BC came in as a 14.5-point underdog to VTech and did not seem to stand much of a chance.

But, the Eagles gave the Hokies a run for their money in the opening frame. Both teams exchanged 4-0 runs in the opening minutes. The Hokies then held a five-point advantage, but Bowman drilled two 3-pointers coming out of the media timeout to give BC the lead. The entire half was a back-and-forth affair, as the teams traded mini-runs to retake the lead. VTech held a 23-18 edge with six minutes left to play in the half, but Hamilton provided a spark from 3-point range, nailing two-straight triples.

BC went into the intermission possessing a 32-30 lead, the product of answering every spurt from VTech with one of its own. Jairus Hamilton, who entered shooting 21.7 percent from distance, led the team in scoring in the first half with nine points off of a trio of 3-pointers, while Chatman and Bowman followed close behind with eight apiece. The Hokies, meanwhile, entered converting 45.3 percent of its 3-pointers, a mark that ranked among the nation’s best, but struggled mightily to replicate that in the opening 20 minutes—providing hope for BC.

The upset never came to fruition, though. The momentum appeared to carry over from the first half into the second as Bowman scored the first four points for BC, but he was held in check for the rest of game, only recording two more points from that point forward. VTech head coach Buzz Williams’ fast-paced offense, which was uncharacteristically inefficient during the first frame, began to wear down the Eagles. BC struggled to keep up and quickly ran into foul trouble, piling up six fouls in the opening four minutes of the half. A 13-2 run gave the Hokies a sizable lead that they would not relinquish.

With nine minutes remaining in the game, BC’s starting lineup had totaled 16 fouls. The Eagles were forced to play more hesitant defense, which VTech relentlessly exploited, as it consistently found space in the paint. Pair this with BC’s shooting woes—the Eagles regressed to shooting 3-of-14 from distance during the second half—and it became clear that any hope of an upset was all but gone.

As VTech continued to bully BC, it eventually built up a 15-point lead with only a few minutes left to play. At this point, it appeared that the game was over. But, the Eagles showed signs of life by stringing together a solid run to put itself within eight on the backs of Popovic, Bowman, and Chatman. Popovic would foul out, though, and he was followed by Herren Jr. as the Hokies would hang on for the 11-point victory.

Foul trouble ultimately spelled the Eagles’ doom. BC’s starting lineup—Bowman, Chatman, Mitchell, Herren Jr., and Popovic—combined for 20 fouls, with the latter two fouling out. Tabbs’ injury made the Eagles, a team that lacks great depth, already short-handed, and the foul trouble only exacerbated the problem. As a result, head coach Jim Christian mainly kept his starters in as he had no viable alternatives on the bench. What followed was tentative defensive play in which the Hokies drove to the rim and scored at mostly free will.

As the Eagles have been unable to recuperate to full health, the lack of depth on this team has become a major concern. Jared Hamilton, who put up eight points on the afternoon, provides a nice spark off the bench, but there is no one behind him to fill in when the injuries and fouls mount. While BC may be able to battle and win in the first half, it doesn’t have the firepower beyond the starters to keep pace with the class of the ACC. The starters on the Eagles will likely be able to carry the team to wins against the bottom-half of the conference, but against teams like VTech, North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia—who will visit Conte Forum on Wednesday—the odds are stacked against them.

Featured Image by Don Petersen / AP Photo 

January 5, 2019

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