Last Saturday, Boston College men’s basketball lost by 16 to NC State after once trailing by 30 and working its way back into the game. On Wednesday, BC’s matchup with Wake Forest followed a similar pattern. The Demon Deacons worked their way up to a double-digit lead early on and maintained it for most of the game. Neither the Demon Deacons nor the Eagles were playing their best, but more of Wake Forest’s shots were going in.
With just over five minutes left, the Eagles fought back into contention. Two minutes later, BC had turned its 12-point deficit into a one-point gap. The surge was short lived, however, as Wake Forest retook the reins and powered its way through the final minutes to ensure a 69-65 BC loss.
Though the Eagles got starter Makai Ashton-Langford back for the game, they are still missing six players following COVID-19 issues. One of those six is Wynston Tabbs, a starting guard for BC who had been making a bid for Comeback Player of the Year. With a fragmented lineup, the Eagles have struggled to play in their normal mid-season form.
“We’re happy to get guys back, but it’s a pretty daunting task to try to come back out from that far of a layoff for anybody,” BC head coach Jim Christian said. “I’m proud of the effort but … shot making is what’s costing us right now.”
Making shots plagued BC’s offense all game long. After getting the tip-off, BC missed its first seven shots. Rich Kelly finally broke the streak on a pair of free throws to tie the game at two, and a CJ Felder 3-pointer gave BC an early lead. From there, BC’s shot percentage went on the uptick, but the game slowly slipped away. A seven-point Wake Forest run took the lead back and gave the Demon Deacons control for the rest of the half. BC came within striking distance multiple times but could never quite topple Wake Forest’s lead.
At halftime, Wake Forest led BC 30-22. BC shot just 25 percent in the first half, and although the Eagles managed to limit their turnovers, they struggled to grab rebounds. Wake had 14 more boards than BC, a differential which would continue to grow into the second half.
The second half started unremarkably for BC, and Wake Forest continued to hold its lead of about 10 points for just under 15 minutes. BC’s resurgence with 5:09 remaining after a foul on Kelly led to two points, and Kelly converted a Wake Forest turnover immediately after. Jay Heath then hit a 3-pointer to cut Wake Forest’s lead to one.
“Jay’s a big shot maker for us,” Christian said. “He hit one then we came and ran the same action. He had a good look and just didn’t make it. … He’s a great player—he’s going to make that more than he misses it. I’d sign up for that every night.”
Unfortunately for BC, a series of calls went in Wake Forest’s favor, and the Demon Deacons walked away with a narrow victory when BC couldn’t convert on back-to-back drives.
“You’ve just gotta shoot the ball better … and keep getting more confident,” Christian said. “We had a bunch of opportunities, not all great ones … but most of them were pretty good, and … we’ve got to make a play at the end of the game.”
BC shot 40 percent from the field. The Eagles’ real struggle, however, came from behind the 3-point line, where they took 18 shots and made just five. The Eagles’ rebounding troubles also continued into the second half. When the buzzer sounded, BC had been outrebounded 52-34.
“It’s got to be more of gang-style rebounding,” Christian said. “I thought our guards in the beginning of the game did a great job, and then as the game got going a little bit in the second half I didn’t think our guards got down in there rebounding as much as they need to. And I give [Wake Forest] credit. They were a really good offensive rebounding team.”
While Wednesday’s game served to expose the work that the Eagles have yet to do before they can return to full form, Felder still put his talents on display with a double-double. The forward led the Eagles in rebounds with 14 and came in second to Heath in scoring for BC with 17 points. After playing under 30 minutes in BC’s first 10 games, Felder has exceeded that mark in all of BC’s last five games. While his most points of the season came in his 24-point showing against Duke, Wednesday’s 14 rebounds are Felder’s season high.
Heath scored 20 points of his own on a season-high 22 field-goal attempts. With the prolonged absence of fellow guard Tabbs, Heath has been forced to carry more of BC’s offensive weight. A number of BC’s bench players have had to step up recently and fill in for missing players, Christian said.
“We’re getting closer,” Christian said. “Every day the guys get a little bit closer to being able to do more things. … It’s really good just to see them at practice. … It’s good to see them back at the games cheering on their teammates. … It takes a while to get back.”
Earlier this season, Clemson men’s basketball was 9-1 before a positive COVID-19 test derailed its season. Following some time off, the then-No. 19 Tigers lost their first three games back by 35, 18, and 19 points respectively. BC’s road to recovery has not been quite as bumpy as Clemson’s, but the Eagles will have to be careful not to follow the pattern with another blowout loss in Saturday’s matchup against Syracuse.
Featured Image By Charles Krupa / AP Photo