Coming off what head coach Jim Christian described as the most upsetting loss of his six-year career at Boston College, the Eagles (13-13, 7-8 Atlantic Coast) responded with a thrilling 71-68 victory over visiting NC State (16-9, 7-7).
After leading by as many as 12 points in the first half, the game tightened up in the second half, and BC relinquished its lead with 2:48 remaining in the game. Clutch defensive play by Steffon Mitchell led to two thunderous dunks by Jairus Hamilton and a three-point lead for the Eagles with eight seconds to play. Poor execution on the Wolfpack’s final inbounds sealed the victory for a BC squad who has now placed itself in the conversation for a March Madness berth. The Eagles play three of their final five games at home, with the season finale looming against No. 8 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fl.
Some takeaways from the win over NC State:
Both squads played uptempo in the first half, but play slowed in the second half as NC State varied its defensive schemes and both teams tired. The Eagles often ran abbreviated versions of their offensive sets due to the Wolfpack’s press and the success that the BC guards, Derryck Thonton and Jay Heath in particular, had penetrating the lane and kicking to open shooters. The Eagles also shot the ball at a blistering rate in the first half, converting 55.6 percent of their field goal attempts. The Eagles cooled off to 35.7 percent in the second half, which allowed the Wolfpack to close the seven-point halftime advantage.
Both teams often only used up 10 to 15 seconds of the clock per possession, attempting to capitalize on the soft on-ball defense played by both teams. Open perimeter shots and good looks at the hoop were commonplace, but the Wolfpack was unable to capitalize, shooting 2-of-19 from deep. BC had better success shooting the ball, but the fast pace of play caused the Eagles to turn the ball over 18 times.
Popovic Shows Glimpses of His Past Self
In the second half, the Eagles were relentless in getting to the hoop, but Wolfpack defenders did a better job staying in front and were able to block, or at least affect, shots near the rim. After recently returning from a back injury and struggling in his first few games back, Nik Popovic looked like the dominant presence under the rim that Eagles fans are used to seeing. He was getting a bounty of looks from close range, but the center only shot 6-of-17 on the night. Although it was a difficult night statistically, Popovic showed glimpses of the confident focal point that he had been prior to his mid-season injury. The center did not hesitate to shoot jumpers nor attack the rim, breaking from a pattern of tentative play that he had displayed in January.
The Wolfpack switched between a 1-2-2 and a 2-2-1 full-court press while also transitioning between man and zone defense in the halfcourt. The varied looks caused the Eagles to alter their pace of play, but NC State found most of its defensive success with the 2-2-1 full-court press and its halfcourt zone defenses. This combination helped the Wolfpack even the game up as the Eagles struggled to transition into their offensive sets against the zone, turning the ball over and struggling to get quality looks.
Thornton, Other Starters Play Big Minutes, Come Up Big
With Jared Hamilton out with injury and Julian Rishwain unable to play major time because of injury as well, Christian relied on his starters to carry the team to victory. Guard Derryck Thornton played 39 out of a possible 40 minutes, leading the Eagles with 22 points, one point shy of his career high. Jay Heath chipped in 16 points in 36 minutes, while Popovic contributed 14 points. Steffon Mitchell picked up his fourth foul with 15:55 remaining in the second half, taking him to the bench until just under nine minutes were left to play. In a postgame press conference, Christian said that he trusted Mitchell as a junior player to play without fouling and felt he needed to insert the forward as the game as getting away from BC. CJ Felder was the only bench player to score, totaling four points.
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo