Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Hang Close but Fall to Villanova

Just eight players took the court for the Eagles in their January contest against Wake Forest last season. Luka Kraljevic, a seldom-used big man who had averaged less than a point per game up to that point in the season, started and played 20 minutes. Chris Herren Jr. played another 20 minutes off the bench, despite not even seeing the floor in a number of BC’s games last year. Even preferred walk-on Andrew Kenny played 27 minutes. Predictably, BC was never a factor in the game and lost 80-62. 

What a difference a year makes. BC’s (0-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) lineup in the season opener against Villanova (1-0, 0-0 Big East) looked nothing like the team that limped to a 13-19 record last year. The impacts were obvious, with the Wildcats relying on a desperate, late surge to pull out a 76-67 win. 

The likes of Kraljevic and Kenny were nowhere to be seen, and were instead replaced by a bevy of more dynamic threats including Providence transfer Makai Ashton-Langford and Wynston Tabbs, who returned to the court after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

Langford’s 15-point performance means that his top two highest scoring games of all time have both come against Villanova. He scored 20 points against the Wildcats back in 2019 when he was still a member of the Friars. 

Returners Jay Heath and Steffon Mitchell showed the same dominant play that they repeatedly demonstrated last season. Heath led the Eagles with 16 points on a clean 7-of-14 shooting and Mitchell notched four blocks and a pair of steals in a ridiculous defensive performance. 

A step back 3-pointer by Ashton-Langford with 12:59 to play gave BC a 57-48 advantage, but it was all Wildcats from then on out. After being limited to outside shots for much of the game, Villanova finally found itself able to get buckets inside and took full advantage, shooting 60 percent over the last 13 minutes and dominating the Eagles on the boards. 

Much of the Eagles’ defensive struggles came from the changes in their defensive scheme. Despite BC’s success playing zone defense in the first half and early parts of the second, the Eagles shifted to man defense for much of the second half and showed poor discipline tracking their assignments around the court. 

Just as the Wildcats took the Eagles to task down low, BC’s offense struggled to get to the basket and began to settle for low percentage outside looks.

“I thought they took better shots than we did towards the end, and I think that was the difference in the game,” Eagles head coach Jim Christian said in his postgame press conference. “We were relying on maybe a couple deep three’s when we were having a lot of success attacking the basket.”

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led the Wildcats with 18 points, picking up the slack for the offense as star guard Collin Gillespie struggled to a 5-of-16 shooting performance.

The Eagles’ opener was part of the 2K Empire Classic, an annual tournament that has run under different names since 1985. Arizona State and Rhode Island are the other two teams in the four-team bracket. The tournament is one in a series of tournaments that are taking place at the Mohegan Sun arena in Uncasville, Conn.

The tournaments are collectively known as “Bubbleville,” referring to the bubble-like conditions that the teams involved in the tournaments are operating in. BC will play a total of four games at the site. 

Christian extolled the Eagles’ ability to perform despite the difficult circumstances that the strange environment presented.

“You’re in your room and you only leave it with a security guard to eat and to go to practice, and it’s not the most fun thing in the world.”

Featured Image by Johnnie Izquierdo / Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

November 26, 2020