Sports, Top Story, Winter, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Aligbe’s Late Heroics Power BC to Season-Opening Win Over Cornell

Eight months removed from its last game, a bit of rust was to be expected from Boston College men’s basketball in its season opener against Cornell. 

BC (1–0) overcame its sluggish stretches, however, and secured a narrow 79–77 victory over the Big Red (0–1).

“You’re playing four freshmen—that’s really hard,” head coach Earl Grant said after the game. “But we figured it out.”

Jaeden Zackery picked up right where he left off a season ago, serving as the catalyst for the Eagles’ explosive opening minutes of play. Having averaged 1.73 steals last year—good for fourth in the ACC—the sophomore guard registered three steals in the game’s opening seven minutes.

Fueled by Zackery’s defense and his six first-half assists, BC was rolling early and established a 12-point cushion less than 10 minutes into the half. 

Jaeden Zackery’s defense and six first-half assists helped the Eagles establish an early 12-point lead. (Chris Ticas / Heights Staff)

Playing with a small, yet versatile lineup, BC consistently broke out quickly in transition, leading to 10 first-half fastbreak points. And despite the smaller lineup, the Eagles hounded the glass and created multiple second-chance opportunities—though they struggled to clean up on such chances.  

BC’s struggles near the rim were best exemplified when freshman Prince Aligbe—after collecting two of his own rebounds—missed two straight layups. 

Unable to convert on easy looks, the Eagles gave Cornell room to remain in the game—which the Big Red took advantage of via an 8–0 run near the end of the first half. After Cornell’s Greg Dolan drilled a late three-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer, BC entered the locker at halftime with its lead down to two points. 

With their double-digit lead evaporated, the Eagles began the second half in desperate need of a spark. 

And T.J. Bickerstaff, starting in lieu of an injured Quinten Post, delivered.

Four minutes into the second half, Cornell’s Nazir Williams found a seam in BC’s defense. But after losing his balance, Williams only mustered a feeble layup attempt, which Bickerstaff aggressively spiked into the student section—sending an already-raucous Conte Forum crowd into a frenzy. 

“We need that support,” Aligbe said. “I know [the crowd’s energy] definitely ran through us—you know the support was there.”

The crowd’s energy did little to alter Cornell’s play, though. Capitalizing off a series of BC turnovers, the Big Red went on a 10–0 rampage and seized its first lead heading into the contest’s final 10 minutes. 

Graduate transfer CJ Penha Jr. slowed the bleeding, providing eight straight points for the Eagles off the bench. 

“[Penha’s] been in these games,” Grant said. “Maybe not at this level, but he’s played a lot of games and four years in college.”

Just as Cornell had pushed its lead up to six points, however, Aligbe put together the kind of crunch-time performance that BC fans had hoped for when the four-star prospect announced his commitment last fall.

Prince Aligbe led BC’s roster with 16 points in his first collegiate start. (Chris Ticas / Heights Staff)

Just seconds after grabbing his eighth rebound of the night, Aligbe converted on a much-needed layup. On the other end, Aligbe ripped the ball away from Cornell, returning possession to the Eagles. The freshman added four more points over the next two minutes—amid a 12–1 BC run—to put the Eagles ahead by three with just under a minute to play. 

Following a clutch corner 3-pointer from Cornell’s Max Watson, one shot-clock-free possession for BC remained. 

As the final seconds dripped off the clock, the ball once again found its way into Aligbe’s hands. 

“I said we were going to [Aligbe],” Grant said of the final play. “He’s very efficient if he [catches] it around the basket.”

Aligbe looked toward the rim and gently flipped the ball through, giving the Eagles a two-point lead with 0.9 seconds left on the clock. And once Cornell’s desperation heave sailed well short of the basket, Aligbe’s teammates swarmed him in celebration. Despite his uneven start, the freshman had sealed his first signature moment on the Heights. 

“Just hit the shot when the time matters,” Aligbe said. “As a basketball player, you got to have a short memory.”

November 8, 2022