Not a lot went right for Boston College men’s basketball Saturday afternoon. Down several key players as a result of continued COVID-19 precautions, the Eagles had trouble finding open shots and stopping NC State on defense. Even the Eagles’ wide-open shots often landed off target. Long stretches of the game followed that pattern of offensive mistakes by BC leading to easy NC State layups.
BC had its moments—notably a late comeback to cut the Wolfpack’s lead in half—but when the clock flashed 0:00, the Eagles were left on the floor a tired, beaten-down fragment of the team that seemed to be finding its footing almost a month ago against Miami.
BC (3-11, 1-7 Atlantic Coast) returned to action against NC State after three weeks off due to COVID-19 protocols. The Eagles had to postpone their last five games before finally taking the court to face the Wolfpack (8-7, 4-6), only to fall 81-65. Although the Eagles were still without key players such as Wynston Tabbs and Makai Ashton-Langford, three of their starting five were healthy and on the court to start the game.
“I’m proud of them,” BC head coach Jim Christian said. “That’s not easy to do, sitting out … 21 days without a game. It’s not easy to get yourself going and playing a really good basketball team in North Carolina State, but you can’t do anything but be proud of those guys [today].”
BC had plenty of bright spots despite the double-digit loss. Four Eagles scored in double figures, including Jay Heath with 20. Almost half of those points came late in the second half when Heath tallied nine points in a 1:17 stretch. BC’s 15 turnovers matched the 15 from NC State, but the Wolfpack scored 11 more points off of turnovers than the Eagles did.
The Eagles’ obvious need for improvement greatly overshadowed the few upsides. BC scored the first five points of the game. NC State responded with five of its own and kept going, never looking back. The Eagles started out playing tight defense, but as the half went on and NC State’s press wore down BC’s diminished lineup, points became easier and easier for the Wolfpack to come by.
Eventually, the game fell into a pattern of BC taking the ball down the court, making a mistake, and NC State scoring without much of a fight. This pattern morphed into a 37-3 run for NC State early in the first half. The Eagles eventually started scoring again, but it was too late. At halftime, BC was down by 20.
“If you don’t make shots, then obviously you’re going to be on defense a lot longer, and the energy levels probably are not going to be as high,” Christian said. “When balls go into baskets, guys tend to play a little bit harder. That’s just basketball.”
Shots were not going into baskets, at least not for the Eagles. BC shot 28.6 percent from the field in the first half and just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc. NC State’s unrelenting press worked for a couple of Wolfpack takeaways, but its real effect was keeping the tempo up. The press, combined with BC’s signature zone defense, kept the Eagles running all game.
“If you watch us play, we play a lot of zone, so … guys can’t get a rest,” Christian said. “It’s hard chasing guys around on offense and defense from a conditioning standpoint, and we’ll get better at it.”
It took until the end of the second half for BC to regain energy and shake off some rust. NC State came out of the gates at halftime with a 9-0 run that eventually led to a 32-point lead. With seven minutes left in the game, NC State seemed poised to outdo Syracuse’s December blowout win over the Eagles. Just as all hope began to fade, BC hit its stride.
Heath led the late charge, but CJ Felder, Rich Kelly, and Steffon Mitchell contributed as well. Mitchell scored 14 points on the afternoon with six coming from 3-point range, a new trend for the big man this year. When the buzzer sounded, BC had reduced NC State’s 32-point lead to just 16.
Another main contributor to BC’s late run was Andrew Kenny, a player who has not seen much action this season. Kenny is part of a group of non-scholarship players dubbed “The Martians,” who earned their nickname for the green jerseys they wear in practice. Saturday was Kenny’s biggest performance of the season so far, as he came off the bench and scored six points on two 3-pointers in 18 minutes of action. Prior to Saturday, Kenny had just 11 minutes and five points all season.
Featured image by Jonathan Wiggs courtesy of AP Media