Men's Basketball

Notebook: Strong First Half Goes to Waste in Loss to No. 10 Virginia Tech

A bad week for Boston College men’s basketball got worse on Saturday afternoon when it traveled to No. 10 Virginia Tech to play its first ACC matchup of the season. After losing in an extremely disappointing fashion in overtime to Hartford, the Eagles jumped out to a halftime lead against the Hokies, only to give up 47 points in the second half and lose by a final score of 77-66.

The Eagles (9-4, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) played a strong first half, going into the break with a two-point lead, but they were out-run, out-hustled, and simply outplayed by a deeper, more athletic VTech (13-1, 2-0) team in the final 20 minutes. The Hokies were too quick for BC, breaking at every available opportunity and taking the ball to the hole with relative ease against a tired Eagles defense that quickly ran into foul trouble. BC will need to bounce back from this tough week in due time, with undefeated No. 4 Virginia coming into town on Wednesday. Here are three ups and three downs from the loss to the Hokies, the first time in three years that the Eagles failed to win their conference opener.

Three Up

1) Perimeter Defense

One thing that BC managed to do well against the Hokies was to largely limit what their opponents do best—shoot the deep ball. Coming into the game, VTech was shooting 45.3 percent from distance—one of the best marks in the country—and had connected on 11 in its conference-opening win over Notre Dame on Tuesday. Head coach Jim Christian did a great job gameplanning for the Hokie sharpshooters, as the Eagles managed to hold their opponents to 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) shooting from beyond the arc. Guards Ahmed Hill and Justin Robinson, who were shooting 50 percent and 40 percent from deep respectively coming into the game, were a combined 0-of-7 on the day. The Eagles were effective in closing out shooters, making it more difficult for the Hokie marksmen to make shots, and VTech never established its typical rhythm.

2) The Hamilton Brothers

This game served as a coming out party for the BC basketball brothers as Jairus (13 points, three rebounds) and Jared (eight points, four rebounds) played a large part in the Eagles offense. Without Wynston Tabbs in the lineup, Christian needed other players to replicate the production, and the Hamilton brothers filled the void nicely. They each went on runs that were important in keeping the game close for a short period of time, and the outcome would certainly have been even worse if it were not for these two. Jairus, a freshman forward, made three 3-pointers late in the first half to spark the run that put the Eagles ahead at the break, while Jared, a junior transfer guard, played high-energy defense—a prominent block of Nickeil Alexander-Walker stood out—and made some important shots as well.

3) Depth

Last season, BC leaned heavily on four players when it had the ball—Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, and Nik Popovic combined to account for 80 percent of its scoring. This year, though, Christian regularly goes nine players deep on his roster, and while it’s the product of injuries at times, more players are able to find their way onto the scoresheet. BC has found its core eight guys who can be trusted to play meaningful minutes and score. Five players had eight or more points in the loss to the Hokies—and that was with Tabbs out, Chris Herren Jr. struggling to find any space, and Mitchell playing just 16 minutes. There are more players this season that have all had moments where it looked as if they will be able to score consistently. This is a key progression from last year, where it was clear that if two of the main four went cold, it’d be tough sledding for a win.

Three Down

1) Health

BC has had to deal with a plethora of injuries this season, and this game was no different. Tabbs missed the contest after leaving early against Hartford with a left leg injury, which was a huge blow for the Eagles, considering that they were up against a team as athletic as the Hokies. Mitchell returned after missing two of the last three games with quad issues, but he was far from 100 percent and played just 16 minutes. Chatman had 18 points but missed all six of his 3-point attempts—he’s now missed seven in a row from distance since sitting out three games due to an ankle injury. This has been a larger problem all season for the Eagles, where different key players have missed time, forcing Christian to mix and match lineups depending on who is ready to go. The frustrating thing for BC is that all of the core players have played exceptionally well at times, creating the feeling that this team could make a run if only everyone was healthy.

2) Foul Trouble

The referees called a tight game for both sides, but foul trouble had a much larger effect on the Eagles than it did on their opponents. BC had 22 personal fouls called against them to VTech’s 18, but it was the Eagles’ starters that piled them up at at the outset of the second half. Chris Herren Jr. and Nik Popovic both fouled out late in the game when it looked as if BC was starting to mount a comeback. Steffon Mitchell, Jordan Chatman, and Ky Bowman each picked up at least three fouls in the contest, making it difficult for the team to defend effectively on the fast break as it had done in the first half. The Eagles were forced to play matador defense, sliding out of the lane when a Hokie player was driving so that they would not pick up another foul and be relegated to the bench.

3) Defensive Rebounding

The one consistent mistake the Eagles made during the course of the game was the inability to grab loose rebounds on the defensive end, giving VTech multiple second-chance opportunities. BC was outrebounded by nine boards in the game, including a 10-5 deficit on the offensive boards. This not only allowed the Hokies to get more easy points in the paint, but it also created a disparity in shot volume between the two ACC foes. At times, it looked as if the Eagles players’ hands were covered in butter, as they simply couldn’t grab the ball. One particularly egregious play was when Popovic and Bowman collided going for a rebound, and the ball kicked out of bounds for VTech to regain possession. Christian, with a pained look on his face, could be seen afterward saying “grab the ball.” Second-chance opportunities were back-breakers in the game, and the expressions of the players’ faces after losing yet another rebound opportunity showed their frustration that encapsulated the entire game.

Featured Image by Don Petersen / AP Photo

January 6, 2019

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