Basketball, Men's Basketball

Notebook: Breaking Down the Final Minutes of BC’s Loss to Notre Dame

Boston College men’s basketball fell to Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon in a heartbreaking 69-66 loss that handed the Eagles (9-6, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) their third loss in a row. As the score indicated, the game was close throughout, and featured a wild final five minutes with plenty of momentum swings and controversy. Here’s a look at the biggest plays of the final five minutes, ranked according to changes in ESPN’s Win Probability Model.  

1. Score After Possession: ND 67, BC 66, 0:02 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability: BC 81.2 percent → ND 95.3 percent.

Looking for a game-winning basket, the Irish (11-5,1-2) run a play for Prentiss Hubb, who gets into the paint and misses a left-handed shot while being met by both Ky Bowman and Wynston Tabbs. Tabbs rotates over from the other side of the paint to help and is called for a blocking foul, which gives Hubbs two free throws and Notre Dame the lead. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this call, and in this case it’s arguable that it should have gone the other way or been a no-call. Tabbs establishes legal guarding position outside the restricted area, is facing the defender, has both feet stationary and on the ground, and fails to reach or impede the defender in any way with his arms—which are by his side. In this case, Tabbs certainly fulfilled all requirements for being in the correct defensive position. Nevertheless, the call goes the Irish’s way and results in Hubb hitting two shots from the charity stripe that essentially won the game for Notre Dame.

2. Score After Possession: ND 65, BC 66, 0:15 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability: ND 56.6 percent → BC 64.8 percent.

After Tabbs turns the ball over, the Irish gain possession looking for a crucial score. Notre Dame fed the ball inside to John Mooney, who finished with a game-high 27 points, but, on this possession, Nik Popovic stays with Mooney before keeping his hands up and deflecting the shot. It deflects out to Bowman, who showcases his athleticism and open-court speed to blow by Hubb for a layup which puts the Eagles ahead for the first time since the first half. This point also marked the first time all game in which BC had a greater than 50 percent chance of winning.

3. Score After Possession: ND 65, BC 66, 0:08 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability: BC 64.8 percent → BC 81.2 percent

After Bowman’s layup with 15 seconds to play, BC needs one stop to likely win the game. It appears to get it, as Popovic manages to swat an attempted shot from D.J. Harvey and comes away with the rebound. In a truly unfortunate series of events, however, Bowman loses his footing and causes Popovic to trip, which results in the officials correctly calling a travel and awarding the ball back to Notre Dame.

There is another interesting element to the play, as Bowman adamantly attempts to call a timeout just before the whistle is blown. It’s difficult to fault the refs for not giving it, as Bowman is obscured by a crowd of players and Popovic has already fallen—and thus traveled—by the time it’s clear that Bowman is signaling for time. Thus, Notre Dame gets the ball back, and BC yet again needs a defensive stop to win.

4. Score After Possession: ND 63, BC 57, 4:15 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 69.7 percent →  ND 84.6 percent

This Irish possession is emblematic of many of BC’s issues on the defensive end this season. Mooney receives the ball in the post, drawing the attention of Bowman, before swinging the ball to Hubb. Hubb uses a simple pump fake to get Bowman off balance before penetrating toward the left side of the lane and forcing Popovic to come down and help. With Popovic stranded in the paint, Hubb makes the simple—but certainly correct read—to pass the ball to a wide-open Mooney, who is a 47.2 percent 3-point shooter. Popovic can’t rotate out quickly enough, and Mooney knocks down the open triple. Though it came with over four minutes left, this play still resulted in the fourth-biggest change in win probability in the final five minutes of regulation.

5. Score After Possession: ND 65, BC 62, 2:08 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 55.0 percent (when Bowman goes up for the layup) →  ND 67.7 percent.

Nate Laszewski misses a 3-pointer, and Bowman grabs a rebound with an opportunity for a transition runout. He manages to get to the rim but can’t get his layup to fall and fouls Laszewski on the rebound. The Irish were in the bonus, so Laszewski gets to shoot two free throws and knocks both down. The missed layup essentially resulted in a four-point swing. Clearly, that’s absolutely critical in a game that was eventually decided by three points, and it’s represented by the 12 percent swing in win probability here.

6. Score After Possession: ND 65, BC 64, 1:34 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 67.7 percent → ND 55.3 percent.

After Laszewski knocks down both free throws, the Eagles attack the Irish zone with more side-to-side ball movement, but this time manage to get an open entry pass to Popovic, who’s isolated with Mooney on the block. The junior forward uses a nice drop step to free up his left hand for the jump hook. On the other end, BC comes up with another stop, as Jordan Chatman runs into Hubb as the Notre Dame guard attempts a dribble handoff and draws a foul. There wasn’t a ton of contact here, and it could have just as likely been a no-call, but from the refs’ perspective it looks like Hubb turns his body after the handoff to block off Chatman. That was enough to warrant the call of a moving screen. Either way, the Eagles get the ball back with a chance to take the lead.

7. Score After Possession: ND 63, BC 62, 2:46 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 68.0 percent → ND 55.6 percent

BC gets lucky on the defensive end as Hubb—who hit four triples in the game—misses a lightly contested 3-pointer. On the next offensive possession, the Eagles attack the 2-3 zone—that the Irish played for most of the contest—with ease. They utilize side-to-side ball movement to stretch the Irish defenders slightly before Jairus Hamilton flashes to the free throw line and Tabbs is able to get the ball to him in the weak spot of the zone. Hamilton then sees Mooney, the middle defender, failing to challenge him and nets a mid-range jumper. This was textbook offense against a 2-3 zone from the Eagles.

8. Score After Possession: ND 63, BC 60, 3:30 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 84.6 percent → ND 74.2 percent.

After Popovic draws a charge foul on John Mooney, BC regains the ball looking for a basket. The Eagles run a dribble handoff play that appeared in the offense several times during the game, and Tabbs makes an incredible no-look pass to Hamilton. Hamilton could have chosen to shoot but makes the extra pass to an open Chatman. The senior sharpshooter finished the game just 1-of-6 from downtown but nails the open triple here to narrow the BC deficit to three points. This was arguably the best offensive set of the final five minutes for the Eagles.

9. Score After Possession: ND 60, BC 57, 4:43 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 80.1 percent → ND 69.7 percent.

Bowman uses a Popovic screen to draw Hubb and Mooney over before kicking to a wide-open Popovic. The junior forward, like Hamilton, could have shot but instead uses his dribble to get into the lane. There, a nifty spin move frees up the left-hand hook shot. Popovic has certainly been one of the Eagles’ most consistent scorers, and a lot of that has been his willingness to use his dribble to get into the lane from the perimeter. He shows off that skill here to cut the Notre Dame lead to three.

10. Score After Possession: ND 60, BC 55, 5:00 remaining.

ESPN Win Probability Change: ND 73.9 percent →  ND 80.1 percent

Here, Mooney receives the ball in the post and goes to the baseline. Popovic appears to have him covered, and Hamilton comes over to help. Popovic plays solid defense, straight up, and it appears that Hamilton does too, but he brings his arms downward, a movement that draws an official’s whistle most of the time. Mooney follows by hitting both free throws.

A lot of the outrage surrounding the game focuses on the final block-charge call, and while it’s true that it could have gone the other way, that’s not the only deciding factor in a game that featured many large swings in win probability in the final five minutes. The Eagles did display some good offensive execution down the stretch, but are left wondering what could have been with just one more defensive stop.

Featured Image by Michael Caterina / South Bend Tribune via AP

January 15, 2019