Sports, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Just Miss Comeback, Fall to NC State

It’s been a while since Boston College men’s basketball’s last win in ACC play. Ten months ago, the win came from a thrilling three-point victory over NC State at Conte Forum back on Feb. 16. On the road in Raleigh on Wednesday, the Eagles looked not only for another victory against the Wolfpack, but also for their first win streak of the 2020-21 season.

It appeared from the Eagles’ slow start to the night that this game would go much differently than that victory back in February. In what became a tale of two halves, however, head coach Jim Christian’s squad came up just short of a miraculous comeback, falling to NC State 79-76.

The Eagles (2-6, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) came out of the gate extremely lethargic, prompting Christian to call a timeout just two minutes into the game. Despite the timeout call, BC sank just one of its first five shots from the field and quickly found itself down 12-2 just over four minutes into the game. 

The Wolfpack excelled down low early, outscoring the Eagles 36-18 in the paint in the first half. This dominance was reflected in the 17 first-half points of 6-foot-10 forward DJ Funderburk in his return to the Wolfpack lineup after missing three weeks of action.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, BC was one of six schools to have two bench players—James Karnik and Rich Kelly—averaging in double figures. It was the bench that provided the much-needed spark for the BC offense in the first half, with Kelly and Karnik both draining clutch threes to get the Eagles going. After a three-point play from Makai Ashton-Langford, BC had cut the Wolfpack lead to 20-16.

As has been the case all season long, turnovers plagued the Eagles and allowed the Wolfpack to pull away once again. BC committed 10 turnovers in the first half alone, which already neared its season average of 15 turnovers per game. These turnovers led to 14 Wolfpack points on the other end, which made it difficult for the Eagles to remain in the game. BC ended the half on a 5-0 run, narrowing the Wolfpack lead down to just 10 points. All signs pointed to a blowout, but NC State only led BC 45-35 at the break.

The second half felt like a completely different ballgame. The Eagles took much better care of the basketball, and with Funderburk in foul trouble early on in the half, the Eagles had much more success in the paint both offensively and defensively. BC won the turnover battle in the second half and was only outscored in the paint by two points.

“On defense, especially in the beginning, in the interior, they scored too many points in the paint,” Christian said. “We adjusted and did a great job. We showed a lot of fight and heart. We adjusted some things at halftime that really helped us defensively in our zone. We’ve just got to be a little more sound.”

BC kept chipping away and took its first lead of the night behind top scorer Wynston Tabbs.  The guard had a rather quiet first half, but he caught fire from deep in the closing minutes of the second half, hitting a 3-pointer to give BC a 68-66 lead and another later on to give the Eagles a 76-75 lead with just 90 seconds remaining in the game.

Tabbs led the way for the Eagles with 18 points, while his backcourt running mate Jay Heath added 17 points. Steffon Mitchell and Ashton-Langford, with 12 and 11 points respectively, gave the Eagles four double-digit scorers.

Wolfpack freshman Shakeel Moore stepped up, hitting a mid-range jumper to give NC State a 77-76 lead in the waning minutes of the game. Down by one with 26 seconds remaining, Tabbs tried to work the ball down low, but NC State picked off his pass to seal the game.

“They made a really good defensive play at the end of the game,” Christian said of the Wolfpack. “They blew up a play we tried to run that we had a lot of success with throughout the night. These games on the road come down to one play here and there. We made some really big plays down the stretch and so did they.”

On the subsequent possession, the Eagles peculiarly did not intentionally foul and allowed the Wolfpack to score a layup to take a three-point lead with just two seconds to go. After an airball full-court heave, time ran out, and the Eagles found themselves on the wrong side of another narrow scoreline. 

“We tried to trap and get a steal,” Christian said of the last possession of the game. “We should have fouled them a little bit earlier. If we had a timeout, it would’ve been a little clearer. I thought that was something we’ll learn from.”         

Featured Image by Ethan Hyman / AP Photo

December 31, 2020