With just over a minute to go in the game, Steffon Mitchell poked the ball away from Markell Johnson, diving to the floor as the ball rattled between Johnson’s legs. Gaining control of the ball, Johnson tossed it backward to Jay Heath. Heath flicked it ahead to Jairus Hamilton, who sent Conte Forum to its feet with a thunderous slam. Mitchell came up with another steal 40 seconds later, passing to Hamilton, who gave the Eagles a three-point lead with another huge slam.
NC State botched its final play, tossing up a desperate 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Eagles escaped with a 71-68 victory over the Wolfpack. BC led the game for 36 out of 40 minutes, rebounding from its 27-point loss to Miami last week.
The Eagles got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 10-4 lead after three minutes and going into halftime with a 40-33 lead. BC shot over 50 percent from the field in the half and connected on five 3-pointers in 20 minutes.
“Offensively, it is the best we’ve executed—30, 40 points at halftime,” Eagles head coach Jim Christian said.
The Wolfpack pressed BC for most of the game, but Heath and Derryck Thornton handled the pressure well and only coughed the ball up twice apiece. Thornton turned in a huge performance, deftly facilitating BC’s offense for 39 minutes on the floor and scoring 22 points—one shy of a career-high. He made clutch free throw after clutch free throw and finished the night a perfect 11-of-11 from the stripe.
With Jared Hamilton out due to a foot injury, Christian was forced to play his starters nearly the entire game. Steffon Mitchell was the only exception because he had to sit for large stretches of the second half after picking up four fouls.
Only CJ Felder and Kamari Williams saw more than 10 minutes of action off the bench. Julian Rishwain only played for five minutes, and Christian explained after the game that he is dealing with a nagging lower body injury. Injuries continue to plague the Eagles game after game, including Nik Popovic, who recently returned from a back injury.
“We’d like to have more, healthier bodies,” Christian said. “Julian has tried, he’s really banged up, he can’t even move, but he’s giving us what he can give us.”
NC State began to press into BC’s lead around the halfway mark of the second half. Jericole Hellems muscled his way to an and-one with 11:39 left, and Devon Daniels got another and-one on the next possession. Both players connected on their free throws, cutting BC’s lead to just four points. Johnson used a beautiful crossover to get to the basket with 3:12 left, putting the Wolfpack up 66-64 and giving his team its first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
While Popovic only shot 6-of-17 on the night, he was decisive with his moves and constantly aggressive in his drives to the basket. His confident play was a sharp departure from the tepidness that he has demonstrated at many times this season, particularly since his return from injury.
Apart from the Eagles’ destruction at the hands of Miami, BC has put together a string of impressive performances over the last eight contests, and Sunday’s showing added another game to their tally.
“Minus the Miami game for about five minutes in the first half, I think we have done that for about seven straight games,” Christian said. “We played really well, home or away, except that game. We bounced back tonight: Guys who played poorly against Miami played well tonight, and that’s all I care about.”
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo