Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Cede Fourth-Straight Game, Fall to Orange

Heartbreak is familiar territory to Boston College men’s basketball. After a one-point loss to rival Notre Dame last week, BC needed to bounce back. But despite its best efforts, the final game for BC in Conte Forum this season concluded with a defeat at the hands of Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. 

The Eagles (13-17, 7-12 Atlantic Coast) fell by a final score of 84-71 despite tallying a program-record 19 3-pointers. BC was unexpectedly shorthanded with key players benched, and it didn’t have enough to bounce back from its previous loss to the Orange (17-13, 10-9 Atlantic Coast) earlier in the season.

BC came into the game in a difficult spot for personnel. Injuries to Nik Popovic (back), Jairus Hamilton (knee) and Jared Hamilton (ankle) left BC head coach Jim Christian without three of his top rotation pieces. The trio have combined for over 27 points per game, which is certainly hard to replace. Freshmen Kamari Williams and CJ Felder entered the starting lineup along with Derryck Thornton, Steffon Mitchell, and Jay Heath, making up the 11th different starting five for the Eagles this season. 

Uneven size matchups were an issue for BC as well. Syracuse features two 6’10” big men in its rotation—Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj—while the Eagles have just one such player available in Luka Kraljević. BC battled for the whole game in the rebound department, largely thanks to physical defense by Steffon Mitchell. The Eagles were only outrebounded by four and showed aggression on the glass with 12 second-chance points. 

But despite some success on the boards, points in the paint were a glaring issue for BC, as Syracuse led in that category 28-12. BC was unable to get anything going offensively inside due to the tough matchups it faced down low. 

BC entered the game lacking a lot of size and key players, and Syracuse is notorious for its 2-3 zone defense. The Eagles, then, had to shoot from outside. BC elected to embrace that challenge. As such, the 3-point performance from BC was remarkable, as it made 19 3-pointers—the most ever allowed in a game by a Syracuse team. The Eagles shot 45.6 percent from beyond the arc, their second-best conversion rate of the season on 42 attempts from distance—their most of the season by a margin of 10. 

“Teams take a lot of threes against us, anyway, they went to an extreme, and I think they had to with the personnel they had,” said Syracuse head coach Boeheim. “They were smart doing that.” 

Derryck Thornton lit it up from beyond the arc for the Eagles. He began to heat up in the second half, as he made 3-pointers on three straight BC possessions. It was his best 3-point shooting performance of the season, as he shot six-of-10 from downtown. The graduate transfer finished with 18 points in his final home game as an Eagle.

Neither side was able to gain a huge advantage through the first 10 minutes. Williams jump-started the Eagles’ offense with an and-one 3-pointer to give BC a 6-4 lead at the 16:58 mark. On the next Syracuse possession, the Eagles forced a turnover and Williams finished the fastbreak on the other end with a vicious two-handed slam.

Julian Rishwain stepped in and provided some much needed scoring off the bench for BC as well. The most energetic sequence of the first half came when Syracuse failed to convert an alley-oop attempt on a two-on-one fastbreak. The Eagles secured the rebound, and after a few feeds, the ball found Rishwain in the corner for a 3-pointer. BC committed seven costly turnovers in the first 10 minutes yet still led 14-13 in that span. 

On the Orange side, Elijah Hughes was a force to be reckoned with. The top scorer in the ACC was getting whatever he wanted offensively, as he feasted on the Eagles’ defense for 28 points—just five shy of his career high. The junior forward notched his 11th game of 20-plus points as he continued to make his case for ACC Player of the Year. His quick and physical offensive game was too difficult for defenders like Williams and Rishwain to handle. Hughes was finishing from everywhere on the floor, from moving threes to turnaround jumpers with defenders in his face. 

Hughes’ statement play came with just over 14 minutes to play. He used a crossover to completely shake Williams and promptly drained a stepback jumper, pushing the lead to 13 and causing the Syracuse fans in the crowd to erupt. 

“Not many people have anybody to guard Elijah Hughes in this league,” Boeheim said. “When he’s shooting, it’s hard to guard.”

BC hung around with the Orange for as long as it could, but as the second half went on, the Eagles started to wear down. Particularly on defense, the Eagles began to get beat mentally, allowing the Orange to convert easy attempts under the basket off cuts and drives. Sidibe started to get it going inside for Syracuse, making three straight field goals. He capped it with a strong and-one finish that extended the Syracuse lead to 18 with 6:48 to go. 

“Defensively we just ran out of gas,” Christian said. “We had some guys playing a lot of minutes who don’t usually play a lot of minutes, and they just got tired.” 

The Eagles made some threes late in the last two minutes to close the gap, but Syracuse took the victory in deciding fashion. BC has just one game left for redemption—an away matchup against No. 11 Florida State. 

Featured Image by Molly Bankert / Heights Staff

March 4, 2020