For most home games, Conte Forum is spotted with only the most diehard of Boston College men’s basketball fans scattered throughout mostly empty seats. With No. 7 Duke in town, however, what seemed like all of Boston packed Conte Forum Saturday evening.
A sold-out crowd featured over 15 NBA scouts, as well as Jayson Tatum, Brad Stevens, and BC football coach Jeff Hafley. Despite the noise of 8,606 fans cheering, the Eagles (9–14, 4–9 Atlantic Coast) came up just short of an upset win with a 72–61 loss to the Blue Devils (21–4, 11–3).
BC won the opening tip and set the tone for the night early, crowding the paint with physical play and taking advantage of James Karnik’s size and Jaeden Zackery’s speed.
A loud student section encouraged the Eagles’ play. A crowded bleacher section donning mostly blue, however, met the BC supporters’ cheers.
“We had a lot of Duke fans here,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in his postgame press conference. “Our guys love a capacity crowd—whether it’s in Cameron [Indoor Stadium] or anywhere.”
For Duke, the sold-out atmosphere is the norm, but for BC, a packed Conte Forum is hard to come by.
“[The crowd] gave me a good picture of what it should look like as we continue to try to build a program,” BC head coach Earl Grant said. “Hopefully we can get to the point where it’s always like that, … but our guys played hard. They fed off the energy.”
BC’s aggressive play—like its early 4–0 lead—did not last long. As Duke adapted on defense, the Eagles took on a slower pace, resulting in two shot clock violations against BC. The Eagles shot 46.7 percent in the first half, compared to their 40.9 percent season average. None of BC’s points in the first half came from 3-point range.
“We wanted to play paint ball,” Grant said. “Traditionally when you play against Duke, they’re going to deny you on the perimeter, and they’re gonna pressure the ball.”
On defense, the Eagles emphasized protecting the paint. They compensated for their size disadvantage with physical defense, forcing mid-range and deep shots from the Blue Devils.
Duke held a small lead until the final minutes of the half, when momentum started to swing in its favor. The Eagles took the ball up the court several times without scoring, while Duke kept applying pressure with a 3-pointer, a dunk, and two additional points from the free-throw line. Suddenly, Duke’s four-point lead had turned into a nine-point advantage at halftime.
BC kept the deficit from extending too far into double digits for most of the second half, but Duke’s size outmatched the Eagles’ physical attack. Paolo Banchero scored 16 points, and four other Blue Devils hit double digits.
“[Banchero] couldn’t get anything going in the first 15 minutes,” Grant said. “In the last five minutes they moved him to the elbow, and it’s hard to double when you’re facing the basket from the elbow. … I thought they made a really good adjustment.”
Momentum shifted BC’s way with just over 10 minutes left to play, giving the Eagles a shot to work their way back into the game. An 8–0 BC run cut Duke’s lead down to seven, but the Blue Devils quickly brought their advantage back to double digits, where it remained for the rest of the night.
Karnik scored 21 points on 52.9 percent shooting.
“Karnik played great tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “When he plays well, … he owns the game. Pretty much for a while, he was owning this game until our big guys started responding.”
Saturday’s game marked Krzyzewski’s final trip to Conte Forum before his retirement at the end of this season. Duke and BC have played 27 times with Krzyzewski as head coach, with Duke winning 24 of those games.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy ever in coaching,” Krzyzewski said. “Fourty-seven years at West Point and Duke, 11 years with [Team] USA—you can’t get luckier. It’s been an honor.”
Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor