Despite Boston College men’s basketball’s overall struggles this season, the Eagles proved last Wednesday against Duke that they are still capable of hanging around with top opponents. The Eagles ultimately lost 83-82 but led by as much as 16 points in the first half, and the Blue Devils only gained the lead in the final minutes of the game.
BC matched up against another strong Atlantic Coast foe on Saturday, facing off against No. 22 Virginia at home. The Eagles showed some of the same pluck that they did against the Blue Devils, hanging close with the Cavaliers for much of the game. Virginia’s offensive firepower and strong defense proved too much for the Eagles (2-9, 0-5 Atlantic Coast) in the end however, and the Cavaliers (7-2, 3-0) ran away with it in the final ten minutes of the game to secure a 61-49 victory.
Center Jay Huff led the Cavaliers on both sides of the floor, leading all scorers with 18 points as well as tallying five blocks. Huff’s 7-foot-1 stature and impressive shot-blocking ability proved overwhelming on defense for BC’s bigs. CJ Felder and James Karnik, who both stand at least four inches shorter than Huff, shot a combined 5-of-19 from the floor and were often forced to shoot from the perimeter as they struggled to penetrate the paint.
“[Huff] was just creating havoc out there,” BC head coach Jim Christian said in his postgame press conference. “He was coming out of nowhere, blocking shots—he’s a phenomenal, phenomenal player.”
Virginia similarly contained the Eagles’ guards to the outside and had little more success from long range than did Felder and Karnik. Jay Heath and Wynston Tabbs, the Eagles’ top two scorers on the season, combined for 2-of-19 shooting from the floor and 1-of-7 from 3-point range, with Tabbs failing to register a single point on his nine attempts.
Injuries compounded BC’s struggles. Makai Ashton-Langford missed his second straight game with a knee injury, and Steffon Mitchell sat out with a calf issue. Christian said that he learned of Mitchell’s absence just half an hour before game time and did not yet know the severity of the injury as of postgame.
The game was a story of streaks by both teams. Virginia jumped out to a 13-5 lead six minutes into the game on the back of six points from Huff. Heath sniped a deep 3-pointer late into the shot clock with 13:42 to play in the first half to end a nearly three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought, and the Eagles made a charge from there, going on a 20-5 run to take a seven-point lead with four minutes left in the half.
BC’s defense was spectacular during the charge—as it was for much of the game—and the Cavaliers failed to score for nearly nine minutes. Freshman center Justin Vander Baan played just seven minutes in the game, but three of them came during the 20-5 surge. In that time, he was dominant defending the rim, notching blocks on back-to-back possessions that gave the Eagles opportunities to go fast in transition.
“I thought our defense tonight was exceptional for most of the game, for the first 30 minutes I should say,” Christian said. “I thought we played unbelievably hard. We fought against great size.”
DeMarr Langford Jr. played aggressively and was the only BC player consistently able to get into the paint. He finished the game with a team-high of 14 points.
Virginia took over the final minutes of the first half, regaining the lead and going into the break with a 29-26 advantage. The Cavaliers’ dominance continued in the second half, and with 12:30 to play, they led 41-31. The Eagles refused to go down easily, cutting the lead down to five off a desperate 3-point heave from Rich Kelly as the shot clock expired.
Virginia quickly extended the lead back into double digits and held onto the margin this time, leading by as much as 17 in the final ten minutes of the game.
“We took care of the ball, we just didn’t make shots, and we’re not gonna win many games if our guys that had been very consistent offensively—Wynston and Jay—have the numbers that they have,” Christian said.
Featured Image courtesy of BC Athletics