Twice this season, Boston College men’s basketball has failed to close out games against non–Power Five opponents in Conte Forum. On Nov. 14, the Eagles recorded their first loss of the season against Maine, and on Dec. 6, BC fell to New Hampshire for the first time in 23 contests. The latter defeat was sandwiched between blowout losses at Duke and against Villanova.
“It’s been painful,” BC head coach Earl Grant said of BC’s first 12 games of the season. “This hasn’t been exactly how we drew it up two months ago going into the year when we were scrimmaging Harvard and Seton Hall. We had a whole team [then], you saw how we looked.”
Injuries to Makai Ashton-Langford, Prince Aligbe, Quinten Post, DeMarr Langford Jr., and Donald Hand Jr. have hindered the Eagles’ potential, contributing to a 5–6 record heading into Tuesday’s game against Stonehill—a fellow Massachusetts team that became a Division I program just this year.
But with a mostly available roster—subtracting Post and Hand—the Eagles (6–6, 0–1 Atlantic Coast) avoided another collapse against a Northeast foe Tuesday, narrowly defeating Stonehill (4–8) 63–56 in BC’s last non-conference game of the season.
Fueled by three late-game steals, BC pulled out the victory.
“What changed was we defended,” Grant said of closing out Tuesday’s game to snap a four-game losing streak. “We were more to our identity defensively. … We were able to get the stops we needed and we made some crucial free throws.”
BC struggled to get quality looks early, looking rusty on the offensive end with soft passes, missed shots, and a lack of intensity. Jaeden Zackery, however, took matters into his own hands, splashing two 3-pointers to put the Eagles up 10–9 six minutes into the first half.
After missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, Ashton-Langford made his return Tuesday, coming off the bench on restricted minutes. His layup gave BC a three-point advantage, and the graduate finished with seven points in 20 minutes of action. But the Eagles only mustered two points in the ensuing four and a half minutes.
Stonehill’s Shamir Johnson put the Skyhawks up 16–14, but Langford Jr. responded with a jumper—his first basket of the night. Ashton-Langford executed a steal and score for BC’s 10th straight point to put the Eagles up 24–16 with 4:56 left in the half, forcing the Skyhawks to take a timeout while injecting some life into the Eagles’ offense.
The run grew into eight more unanswered BC points, with CJ Penha Jr. leading the way off the bench with two 3-pointers. Penha totaled 15 points in the victory.
Johnson connected on a 3-pointer to cut the Eagles’ lead to nine points heading into halftime. Johnson’s score was just the Skyhawks’ fourth 3-pointer of the night in a game in which Stonehill attempted 23 shots from behind the arc.
“We knew they were gonna shoot a lot of threes, so we were trying to run them off the line more,” Zackery said. “But they still got open shots.”
BC’s lead grew to as many as 13 points two minutes into the second frame after Aligbe notched a point from the free-throw line. The Eagles, however, couldn’t put the game away, drawing comparisons to their losses against Maine and New Hampshire.
Stonehill’s Maxwell Zegarowski and Andrew Sims led the Skyhawks’ comeback effort, combining for 32 points.
With five minutes left to play, Zackery netted an aggressive layup to put BC up 56–50, but Sims answered with a post move to cut the Eagles’ lead to four.
Zackery totaled 16 points, three rebounds, three assists, and three steals in the game.
Three BC steals in the final 75 seconds of the game saved the Eagles. The second steal, from Mason Madsen, resulted in Madsen driving to the hoop on a fastbreak and tallying two points after officials reviewed the play for goaltending on Stonehill’s part.
“We look at every team the same way, as we should,” Zackery said. “The way Grant goes ‘gritty not pretty,’ that’s something we gotta develop again this year.”
With 24 seconds on the clock, Sims fired back with a 3-pointer, but two Madsen free throws and a Zackery steal with 11 seconds left punched in the victory for the Eagles.
“I would say I’m really excited about the character that they showed, because it’s been hard,” Grant said. “The guys really handled it well.”