Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Notebook: Inconsistent Performance Not Enough to Down No. 3 Wildcats

Boston College men’s basketball had an opportunity to send shockwaves through the college basketball world on the first day of play, and it nearly did. Up by as many as nine midway through the second half, the Eagles (0-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) faltered down the stretch in a 76-67 loss to the No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big East) in the 2K Empire Classic.

The effort highlighted great individual performances from what looked like a very strong BC backcourt, only to fall apart in the final quarter of play, heightening the team’s inconsistency and coaching deficiency that has become commonplace in the men’s program.

Here are some takeaways from the tilt against Villanova:

Ashton-Langford Shines in BC Debut

It is hard to scare nationally ranked teams without strong individual performances, but Makai Ashton-Langford supplied just that on Wednesday night. In his BC debut—and his first game in 618 days—the Providence transfer shined with 15 points and six rebounds. Even though he only played for 27 minutes, Ashton-Langford was impressive to watch, staying in front of defenders and getting crafty around the rim. Fifteen points is the second-most points he has ever scored in a single college game. The most? Twenty, also against the Wildcats back when he played for Providence.

Jay Heath Picks up Where He Left Off

Jay Heath came to BC as a three-star recruit out of Washington D.C., and the shooting guard is widely outperforming his expectations. Notching 16 points on 50 percent shooting against UNH, Heath showed no signs of a sophmore slump. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.1 points per game last year, handling much of the offensive workload next to Derryck Thornton. Although Health only shot 25 percent from 3-point range against the Wildcats, he possessed a balanced attack on offense and did not turn the ball over once. If Heath can consistently produce performances like this one, NBA scouts might need to add Chestnut Hill to their travel schedules.

Lack of Discipline

The Eagles showed glimpses of brilliance. Athleticism and strong ball movement on the offensive end went along with strong rotations and individual play on defense. CJ Felder and Steffon Mitchell both recorded four blocks and two steals each. BC showed that it could hang with and nearly beat the No. 3 team in the country, but the Eagles were undone by themselves. It was a stark contrast to watch an Eagles team—playing with the lead—lose track of their men on defense and force up 3-point attempts, while Villanova—playing from behind—remained calm and committed to its game plan. 

BC earned the lead by getting to the rim, using its superior quickness to force Villanova into difficult rotations. When the offense stalled, strong isolation play from Ashton-Langford, Heath, and, in the second half, Wynston Tabbs bailed the Eagles out. But when BC abandoned its motion offense all together in the waning moments of the game, it became easier for the Wildcats to play one-on-one defense on the Eagles’ backcourt. 

On defense, BC went to man defense against a team that returned four of five starters from a season ago. Villanova found its rhythm and used BC’s best weapon—getting to the rim—against the Eagles, frequently gashing the porous man defense on the way to the rim. If the game had ended after 26 minutes, BC would have played a disciplined, complete game and knocked off the Wildcats. But college games are 40 minutes, and the best teams play all 40, rarely getting flustered, which is why Villanova hung on to beat the Eagles last night.

Mishandled Coaching Strategy 

Last season, BC played then-No. 7 Duke to a close game at home, only to blow a 10-point lead. In that game, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski threw a full-court press on the Eagles, closing the lead and leading to a BC timeout. It was Eagles head coach Jim Christian’s turn to make a move that would impact the game, but, unlike Krzyzewski, he was unable to do so. Duke took the lead with 6:15 remaining in the game and went on to win 63-55.

On Wednesday, the script was eerily similar. The Eagles had a nine-point lead over the No. 3 team in the country and ended up losing by nine. With 11:44 remaining in the second half and BC up by five at the time, both teams went to the huddle. Villanova outscored the Eagles by 14 from that point on, ruining the Eagles’ chance at a massive upset on the first night of college basketball.

Christian’s best strategic decision was to put the team into a 3-2 zone out of dead ball and scoring situations from the tip. Villanova did not look comfortable facing a zone defense, and the Wildcats struggled to penetrate the zone and hit outside shots. Villanova head coach Jay Wright admitted that the Wildcats were not prepared to face a zone and credited Christian in his press conference. Only adding to BC fans’ frustration, Christian pulled the Eagles out of a zone as Villanova began to make a comeback in the second half. Sure enough, the Wildcats got to the rim and found open looks, shooting 10.1 percent better from the field and 9.2 percent better from 3-point land in the second half.

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

November 26, 2020