For head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s Boston College women’s basketball team, the postseason’s mantra has been to shake things up. With two conference rivals opting out of the season, the No. 13-seed Eagles went into the ACC Tournament as the last seed, making them a significant underdog in all of their matchups.
Coming off Wednesday’s win against No. 12-seed Pittsburgh, Thursday’s second-round game would require the Eagles to play with the same determination not to let their season end. BC faced off against No. 5-seed Syracuse, which had already won the teams’ two previous meetings on the season. The matchup between BC (7-12, 3-12 Atlantic Coast) and the Orange (13-7, 10-7) was the second time that two teams met in just three games. Despite holding within striking range for all 40 minutes, Thursday’s contest proved too much for the Eagles, bringing their season to an end with a 67-61 loss.
“We’re disappointed,” Bernabei-McNamee said in her postgame press conference. “I think that we had more than our share of opportunities to do well and sort of take over the game, but then we didn’t really hit the shots in this game. I think when we started to make a run there’d be like an and-one foul call or something that just kind of set us back to being able to get the momentum on our side.”
Coming off a career-high 33-point performance on Wednesday, BC guard Cameron Swartz showed no signs of cooling off early. She opened the scoring for BC with six points in the first quarter, but two early fouls meant that Swartz spent most of the half on the bench.
With Swartz—who has been the team’s leading scorer in two of its last four games—out for the entirety of the second quarter, other Eagles had to step up to keep the game close heading to the break.
First-team All-ACC selection Taylor Soule, who had an uncharacteristically low-scoring game on Wednesday, made her presence known early on, adding seven points and three rebounds in the first half. Heading into the locker room, the Orange held just a four-point lead.
Coming out of the break, the Eagles looked to cut into the Orange lead, but despite scoring twice early on, never quite clawed back into it. While the offense was quiet for both squads and shots struggled to fall, Syracuse extended its lead to nine.
As has been the case in many of their games this season, the Eagles did not roll over easily and seemed to catch a second wind, determined to extend their season. After the ease with which 3-pointers seemed to fall the night prior, the early parts of Thursday’s game were a stark contrast.
Even so, Makayla Dickens, who leads the team in triples on the year, drilled two in a row from beyond the arc. On the next trip down the court, Clara Ford drew a huge foul on Kamilla Cardoso, her fourth, sending her to the bench. It appeared to be a change in momentum as the Eagles pulled within two. But soon enough, Syracuse went on a 7-0 run to take a commanding lead at the final under-five media timeout.
Syracuse’s lead reached nine with around two minutes to play, and it seemed unlikely that the Eagles would come back from such a deficit. Soule, however, moved through traffic in the lane to score, and immediately after, forced an Orange turnover.
Bernabei-McNamee called a timeout and drew up a play that left Ford open for an easy layup, cutting the deficit to five. On Syracuse’s next possession, it appeared as though BC had prevented a score as the Eagles recovered a rebound on a rushed shot to prevent a shot-clock violation. But the Orange forced a jump ball and were awarded the ball back. Amaya Finklea-Guity scored two on a jumper, on which she was fouled and made the and-one chance.
With the clock winding down, freshman Ally VanTimmeren made her two free throws. Consecutive 3-pointers from Swartz and Dickens, combined with missed free-throw shots by the Orange, gave the Eagles some last-second hope and brought the score to within four. But that was as close as the Eagles would get.
With no hope for the NCAA Tournament and the 2020-21 season in the past, the Eagles now look forward to their next campaign and hope to build on the lessons learned from this season. With no seniors on the roster, BC will likely retain its full roster.
“Every coach knows that the offseason is where players become great,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “During the season, you become a great team, but in the offseason, you become a great player. And I think that this team is really fired up as individuals to start working hard.”
Soule echoed a similar sentiment as she looks forward to her senior year.
“I’m really excited for next season, but I’m really bummed that we had to end with a loss like this,” Soule said. “But we have everyone coming back next year, and so, I know that we’re all going to come back a lot stronger and smarter.”
Featured Image by Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP Photo