Basketball, Men's Basketball

Notebook: Inconsistent Perimeter Play Dooms Eagles in Loss to Louisville

Boston College men’s basketball’s skid to open conference play continued on Wednesday night, as it suffered an 80-70 loss at Louisville. Unfortunately for the Eagles (9-7, 0-4 Atlantic Coast), they once again were not fully healthy, as Wynston Tabbs did not make the trip. And, while Steffon Mitchell did return to the rotation, he still appeared to be hampered by his quad injury. Facing the Cardinals (12-5, 3-1) was a tough draw for BC—Louisville came into the contest with five losses, but four of those came against teams ranked in the Top 25. With the Cardinals recently pulling off a convincing 21-point upset of North Carolina, it seemed like it would be quite difficult for the Eagles to garner their first ACC victory.

Down at the KFC Yum! Center, BC looked to have a legitimitate shot of snapping its losing streak in the early going. The Eagles started off fast and led by as much as 12 with seven minutes left in the half. But Louisville’s Jordan Nwora kickstarted a 13-0 run, and by the end of the half, the Cardinals held a double-digit lead. Louisville’s momentum carried over in the following frame, as the Cardinals built up a 21-point edge, but BC did not give in. Trailing, 73-52, the Eagles mounted a valiant comeback effort and came within five points of their ACC foe in the final minute, but Louisville ultimately pulled away and secured the victory. This was yet another tough ACC loss for BC—which remains the only team without a conference win. Here are some takeaways, both positive and negative, from Wednesday night’s contest.

Dynamic: Ky Bowman, one of the most versatile guards in the ACC, has put up impressive numbers after Jerome Robinson’s departure for the NBA. The junior guard consistently tallies high totals in points, rebounds, and assists. Wednesday night was another example of Bowman’s ability to influence the game in a variety of ways, as he recorded a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, in addition to seven assists. But it certainly wasn’t a flawless performance. Bowman missed all six of his 3-point attempts, had five turnovers, and committed four fouls. Carrying such a large burden for this team is a tough task, but Bowman needs to cut down on his mistakes because ACC opponents will make him pay more often than not.

Déjà Vu: BC’s outing against Louisville was quite similar to last year’s. Both times, the Eagles staged impressive comebacks that fell short. In 2017-2018, BC trailed the Cardinals by 17 with five minutes left to play. A 22-7 run cut that deficit to two, but the Eagles ended up losing, 77-69. BC suffered a very similar fate on Wednesday. This time, Louisville led by 21, and BC rattled off a 16-0 run to put the game within five. Yet, like last year, the Cardinals held off the Eagles’ comeback attempt en route to a 10-point victory.  

Return: Up until tonight, Jordan Chatman was not enjoying a strong senior year. While he played well in the beginning of the season, the guard sustained an ankle injury in practice that cost him three straight games. When he returned to the court, he clearly was not himself. In the Hartford game, Chatman committed a costly foul near the end of regulation that resulted in the Hawks forcing overtime and later pulling off the upset. In the first three conference games of the season, Chatman converted only 11 percent of his 18 triples. Even though the Eagles fell to Louisville, they witnessed a vintage Chatman performance. The BYU transfer led his team in scoring with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting from downtown. It was a much-needed effort, as BC greatly struggled to score without Chatman hitting his shots at a reliable rate. If Chatman can build on this performance, it will bode well for the Eagles’ prospects in the ACC.

Three: Besides Chatman’s success from distance, the rest of his teammates have had a hard time finding any sort of rhythm from beyond the arc. BC’s struggles from 3-point land have been well-documented this season, as the Eagles have knocked down only 30.3 percent of their 3-pointers. Other than Chatman, only one BC player connected on a 3-pointer, and that was Jairus Hamilton, who has recently enjoyed some success shooting the deep ball. Bowman was also shooting well from beyond the arc during conference play, but his numbers came crashing down on Wednesday. Chris Herren Jr., Jared Hamilton, and Nik Popovic also combined to go 0-of-5 from deep.

Brothers: With Wynston Tabbs inactive and Steffon Mitchell dressing but not starting, Jared Hamilton made his first appearance in the starting lineup. His brother, Jairus, also started, and this marked the first time that the two brothers have ever started in the same lineup together. They only just played with each on the floor for the first time in the previous month against DePaul, a game in which their parents flew from North Carolina to witness the momentous occasion. This time around, the Hamilton brothers played a combined 39 minutes. Jairus was relatively quiet with three points, but Jared tallied seven points on 60 percent shooting.   

Streaky: The duel between the Eagles and Cardinals was a back-and-forth affair, in which each team proved capable of composing an enormous run to take control. In the early minutes, Louisville jumped out in front with a 5-0 run. The Eagles later responded with a 9-0 run and led by as much as 12, but the Cardinals ended the half on a 27-5 surge. To start the second half, both teams traded blows before Louisville further cemented its dominance through a 16-4 run. Not a team to fold, the Eagles responded with 16-straight points. The Cardinals did not collapse in the end, concluding the contest on a 7-2 run. It was a thrilling game to watch, as each team produced exceptional and explosive scoring streaks.

Perimeter: A recurring theme throughout the season has been the Eagles’ inability to defend the perimeter. It was a major issue last year, and it still plagues BC now. The Eagles’ shoddy perimeter defense was on full display against Louisville. Coming into the contest shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc, the Cardinals made it a point of emphasis to attack BC from deep, heaving up 29 triples and connecting on 12 of them. Nwora and Dwayne Sutton provided the bulk of production from 3-point land, combining to shoot 50 percent on their 3-point attempts. Nwora was especially impressive for the Cardinals, tallying 32 points on 75 percent overall shooting—this performance comes after the forward hit only two of his shots against the Eagles last season.  

Depth: In what was an encouraging sign for BC fans, Luka Kraljevic and Johncarlos Reyes both received playing time against the Cardinals. Kraljevic—after scoring a few points against Virginia and Notre Dame—is slowly starting to build on these performances and look more comfortable on the court, a year removed from averaging 9.4 minutes per game. Against Louisville, the Slovenian native recorded four points on perfect shooting. Reyes also provided a bucket during his two minutes on the court. While these contributions are undoubtedly small at the moment, it marks progress from earlier in the season. It’s crucial for head coach Jim Christian to give his bench players time on the court so that they can develop their game and become valuable options in relief.  

Featured Image by Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo)

January 17, 2019