Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Win 2K Empire Classic Consolation Game Over Rhode Island

In a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Rhode Island, Boston College men’s basketball had a lot to be thankful for. A double-double performance from the newly instated Wynston Tabbs, a stellar off-the-bench game from Rich Kelly, and most importantly, a win, were all reasons for gratitude this holiday season. 

Just one day after falling to No. 3 Villanova, the Eagles secured their first win of the season in dramatic fashion: a 69-64 result over Rhode Island in the 2K Empire Classic. After the Eagles’ perennial stars—Jay Heath, for one—shone a night earlier, Thursday was a big night for the less heralded players. 

In addition to a big game from Kelly, Luka Kraljevic came off the bench late in the game to re-energize the team. BC head coach Jim Christian said that he and the team have long known that their depth will be a major factor this season, but it’s about showing the rest of the country that that’s the case.

“It’s teaching everybody else who sees us play that we have great depth, that we have great chemistry, that the kids love playing together,” Christian said in his postgame press conference. “We knew it. Our team knew it. The minute we hit campus, we knew it. … You just don’t know with this team whose night it’s going to be. … Every night could be somebody different because that’s who we are.”

Kelly, a rotation player last year who played minimal minutes, finished the night with 11 points, two rebounds, and two assists in 26 minutes off the bench. Tabbs notched his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in his second game back from an injury sustained midway through the 2018-19 season. 

“Just the work that I put in over the summer and during quarantine,” Tabbs said about what helped him gain confidence in his game. “I trust my work, I trust my work ethic. It was a little uncontrolled in the first half, but I knew that I would bring it back, and we got the win, so that’s all that matters.”

But although a win is a win, this win was a messy one for the Eagles. BC struggled to find its footing throughout the first half, shooting just 40.91 percent overall and 28.57 percent from deep. Luckily for the Eagles, though, URI fared even worse on the shooting front, putting up a dismal 11.11 percent from deep in the first half. 

BC trailed 31-30 at halftime, but down the stretch, some big-time plays put it away for the Eagles. Steffon Mitchell grabbed an offensive rebound off of an errant Makai Ashton-Langford shot with 1:46 to go in the game. Though he was contested, he put up a layup and drew the foul from URI’s Makhi Mitchell, sinking both the layup and the free throw, essentially sealing the game for the Eagles at 67-60. 

“My goal is to go to the glass as much of the time as I can,” Mitchell said of his late rebound. “I think I’m one of the best offensive rebounders that we have, and my goal was just to find a way to affect the game to get us to a W. I saw that my guy’s back was turned, so I tried to wedge him out underneath and then finish the layup and get my free throw.”

The late game surge was reminiscent of BC’s matchup with Villanova the night prior, but this time, the Eagles came out on the right side of it. 

“We had to find a way to win tonight, so that’s what’s going to happen,” Christian said. “Back-to-back nights are not an easy thing, especially for a guy like Wynston Tabbs. … But you’ve just got to find a way to make plays down the stretch, and we were lucky enough to do it.” 

The Rams, who were previously ranked at No. 99 by KenPom entering the matchup, slipped to No. 101, and BC ascended to No. 82. The teams will meet again on Dec. 4.

“They’re a great team,” Mitchell said of Rhode Island. “They have a lot of depth and a bunch of great shooters on the team. [Daron] Russell is such a great guard and gets his team involved and is a great finisher, so we have to do better next time.” 

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

November 27, 2020