For the first 11 minutes of the second half, Boston College men’s basketball held visiting High Point scoreless. The Eagles displayed a stifling defense that has been lacking in years past, and it was more than enough to coast to a dominant 59-33 win on Wednesday night.
Although BC (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) didn’t have its best night scoring the ball, it beared down defensively to run away with this game. High Point (0-3) continued its rocky start to the season, with head coach Tubby Smith looking to lead his team to its first win of the season during the round-robin Gotham Classic.
It was a sloppy start for both sides in the kickoff game of the early-season tournament. High Point was plagued by turnovers and missed shots in the opening frame. The team committed four turnovers in the first three minutes of the game, and it took four minutes for them to score their first points.
For the half, the Panthers coughed up the ball a whopping 14 times, while shooting a mere 29 percent from the floor. They weren’t able to get anything going offensively, due in part to their failure to convert on many open looks. High Point’s self-destructive play, coupled with BC’s energetic defense, created a big hole for the Panthers through 20 minutes of play.
BC, though, struggled to put High Point away early on. For the majority of the opening frame, the Eagles looked like they were rushing their shots and allowing the pace of the game to slip out of their control. With 6:08 left in the first half, Rob Peterson III drained a 3-pointer to cut the BC lead down to just two. That’s as close as it would ever get.
The Peterson bucket flipped a switch for the Eagles. After some early struggles—misses on his first five field goal attempts—Derryck Thornton came right back down the court and soared over three defenders for his first points of the game. On the following High Point possession, Steffon Mitchell came up with a steal and answered with an emphatic and-one layup to stretch the BC lead back out to six.
The steals kept coming for BC. Next possession, Thornton swiped an inbounds pass out of the air, leading to a heads up tip-in basket by Jared Hamilton. Over a minute later, Hamilton continued the BC push, nailing a corner 3-pointer off a feed from Julian Rishwain.
“When you’re not making shots, it’s not easy to keep that intensity up the whole time,” head coach Jim Christian explained. “It’s huge on a night that you’re not shooting well to be able to get out and create some offense from defense.”
By the final media timeout of the half, the Eagles had embarked on a 10-0 run to take control of the game, 26-14. Hamilton was the one constant in a tumultuous offensive half for the Eagles. He scored all 12 of his points in the opening frame on 5-of-6 shooting.
BC carried its momentum into the second half. On its second possession of the period, Thornton drove straight down the lane and found Mitchell for a tough and-one layup, his second of the game. On the other end, a blocked shot by Mitchell caused another High Point turnover. A layup by Jay Heath would then extend the BC lead to 19. Mitchell put together another strong performance on both ends of the floor, finishing with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) along with four steals. Christian praised Mitchell’s ability to make so many winning plays, exclaiming that out of the 350 coaches in Division I basketball, “350 D-I coaches would kill to have him.”
For High Point, it only got worse. The turnovers and misses continued at a staggering rate. Seven minutes into the half, a second-chance bucket by Heath increased the Panther deficit to 30. In fact, Cliff Thomas Jr.’s layup marked the Panthers’ first points of the half with 9:28 to go. The younger High Point team was simply overwhelmed in this game, finishing the night with 29 turnovers and a 25 percent clip from the field on 48 shots.
Christian explained that the game plan on defense was to disrupt the Panthers’ “pattern-oriented” play. “We just tried to make them uncomfortable, tried to force them to make their own plays,” said Christian, adding how that allowed them to “get out and force some turnovers.”
Eagle fans suffered a scare five minutes into the second half. Thornton came up limping after landing awkwardly on his leg playing defense. Thornton was held out for the rest of the contest, but only for precautionary reasons. It was the quietest performance of Thornton’s young BC tenure, as he finished with seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.
The exclamation point on this win came from an unlikely pair of teammates: Junior Luka Kraljevic and freshman CJ Felder. After being double-teamed on the baseline, Kraljevic made a no-look, behind the back pass to a cutting Felder, who jammed it home. The junior forward got the entire bench on its feet with that dime, contributing four points overall in his season debut.
BC will look to remain undefeated in the next game of the Gotham Classic when it takes on a formidable Belmont team this Saturday. Up against an 11-seed from last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Eagles will need to maintain their defensive intensity to compete with the experienced Bruins. Christian knows it will be a tough task, but his team is ready for those moments.
“We’ve signed up for some really tough games,” he said. “But we wanted to be a team that had a chance to compete against the best.”