Basketball, Men's Basketball, Sports

Despite Bowman’s 23 Points, Eagles Outclassed Against UNC

Late in the first half of Boston College men’s basketball’s game against North Carolina, the ball was passed out to Ky Bowman on the right wing. With the shot clock winding down, and no one else on the Eagles making any offensive movement, the junior guard was out of options, so he launched a 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded and hit nothing but net.

Not stopping to admire the shot, Bowman sprinted back on defense to collect a defensive rebound and pushed the ball the other way, creating a numbers advantage for BC that should have ended up in another basket. Instead, Luka Kraljevic missed a wide-open layup. It was an eerily apt summary of the Eagles’ 79-66 defeat to the Tar Heels Tuesday night. Bowman was ready to play. The rest of the team, for most of the night, wasn’t.

“He played the game right way,” head coach Jim Christian remarked on the junior’s performance. “I thought it was one of the better point guard games he’s played.”

That shot from behind the arc was the junior’s fifth made 3-pointer of the half, but it was also BC’s only source of offense. The basket was the only time the Eagles (14-15, 5-12 Atlantic Coast) scored in the final eight minutes of the opening frame, and that certainly wasn’t enough to keep up with the highest-scoring offense in the ACC. Following the make, UNC (25-5, 15-2) still led, 39-25, and closed the half with a 9-0 run, entering the break up, 48-25, after Bowman missed a desperation heave at the buzzer.

The second half was much the same story, as the Tar Heels continued to score basically at will. Nik Popovic—who tallied 18 of his 20 points in the second period—kicked off the half well, backing down Garrison Brooks for an easy hook shot off the glass before running the floor and throwing down an authoritative dunk. UNC responded, though, as two free throws from Nassir Little and a dunk from Brooks put the Tar Heels up, 63-42, before BC’s biggest push of the half—which featured four more points from Popovic and Bowman’s seventh and final 3-pointer of the contest—narrowed the deficit to 63-49.

It was as close as the Eagles would come. Four straight layups for the Tar Heels—who finished with 44 points in the paint and 20 offensive rebounds—hiked their lead up to 71-49 and ended any shot BC had for an improbable rally. A dunk off an inbounds pass from Little added insult to injury, and UNC cruised to the finish line.  

In a harbinger of what was to come, the Tar Heels kicked off the game with an offensive rebound and easy bucket inside for Luke Maye, before Bowman, who finished with 23 points and a team-high nine rebounds, responded with back-to-back triples that gave the Eagles an early 6-4 lead. BC kept bombing away from downtown, and for a few minutes it paid dividends. Jordan Chatman knocked down a 3-pointer while Bowman hit his third long-range shot of the early going to help the Eagles keep pace with UNC’s interior assault.

But the Tar Heels, and especially Maye, kept working the ball inside. The senior forward notched 10 points—all of which came in the paint—in the first eight minutes of the contest, and finished with 17, as well as a game-high 20 rebounds. Much like in 2017-18 when the teams met in Chapel Hill and Maye tallied 32 points and 18 rebounds, the Eagles seemed to have no answer for the senior forward on defense and on the glass. And much like in that 96-66 defeat a year ago, UNC dominated on the glass, outrebounding BC, 60-35, on the night.

“There’s 351 Division I teams. They would hurt 350 of them the same way,” Christian said when asked about the Tar Heels’ prowess on the glass.

That UNC advantage was prominent from the opening seconds of the game, and when the Eagles stopped making shots, it became an untenable one. A hook shot from Nik Popovic, who followed up a career-high 24 points on the road at Georgia Tech with another 20-point effort, knotted the game at 16 with just under six minutes gone, but the Eagles wouldn’t score again for over five minutes.

In the meantime, UNC decided to continue its hot shooting outside the paint. Coby White pulled up for a mid-range jumper, and then Cameron Johnson and Brandon Robinson buried back-to-back shots from downtown to cap a 12-0 Tar Heels run that put them up, 28-16, and forced Jim Christian to call a timeout.

Yet another Bowman 3-pointer cut the deficit to 28-22, but UNC continued to counter from 3-point land, knocking down three more shots from behind the arc in the last eight minutes of the period to go into halftime with a commanding advantage—one that wouldn’t vanish.

In the end, the Tar Heels dominated on both ends of the floor, and the gap between the two teams was much larger than the end of regulation 13-point scoring margin suggests. The game, once again, was emblematic of the Eagles’ season. BC simply hasn’t been consistent enough on either end and that once again manifested against No. 3 UNC.

The absence of Jairus Hamilton—who suffered an ankle injury against Georgia Tech on Sunday—certainly hurts, but even when the freshman does play, the Eagles often still go through long scoring droughts and struggle on defense. Offensively in particular, it’s a stark contrast from the often free-scoring BC team that finished sixth in the conference in points per game last season, and a reminder that progress under Christian has stagnated in 2018-19.

“What we’re playing for is to improve. What we’re playing for is each other. What we’re playing for is culture. What we’re playing for is to keep building on what we’re doing. That’s what we play for. That’s what we’re about,” the fifth-year head coach stated after the game.

“We try to win, we try to get to the NCAA Tournament. We try to win each particular game. But those are byproducts of doing things the right way—the hard things, and we haven’t been consistent enough at that.”

If that consistency hasn’t come in year five, then perhaps it’s time to start wondering if it will ever come.

Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo 

March 5, 2019