Men's Basketball, Basketball, Winter, Sports

Notebook: Led by Zackery and Rebounding, Eagles Overcome Sloppy First Half to Defeat Louisville 

After finishing its regular season as winners of three of its last four games that included upsetting then-No. 6 Virginia on Feb. 22, Boston College men’s basketball looked to carry its momentum into the ACC Tournament—where just a season ago the Eagles shook up the conference by knocking off NCAA Tournament hopeful Wake Forest and taking an eventual Elite Eight team in Miami to overtime.

But over several shaky minutes in the first round of the ACC Tournament against No. 15-seed Louisville, it appeared as if No. 10-seed BC would squander its late-season momentum following a blistering 10–0 run from the Cardinals to tie the game at 25 apiece.

Jaeden Zackery—leading the Eagles without leading scorer Quinten Post, who was sidelined due to injury and without Makai Ashton-Langford for a large portion of the first half due to foul trouble—dug BC out of its 34–31 halftime deficit and hurled the Eagles to an 80–62 victory. 

Here are four observations from the win. 

Undisciplined First Half

A slow first half almost doomed the Eagles in their previous matchup against Louisville, but BC seemed to have avoided the same fate for much of the opening 20 minutes of Tuesday’s game. Led by a pair of early Ashton-Langford 3-pointers, the Eagles quickly settled into an offensive groove, sailing out to a 25–15 lead with just under six minutes to play in the first half. 

Louisville, however, roared back with a 10–0 run to tie the game, exposing a BC team playing undisciplined on both ends of the floor. The Cardinals turned that into a 19–6 run to close the half.

The Eagles’ woes began on the defensive end, where they struggled to defend without fouling. BC’s undisciplined defense culminated in a rare five-point play, in which T.J. Bickerstaff fouled Brandon Huntley-Hatfield following a made 3-pointer from JJ Traynor. The two teams’ first-half free-throw disparity—Louisville attempted 15 free throws to BC’s four—forced the Eagles to take a 34–31 deficit into the locker room at halftime. 

BC’s foul trouble translated into offensive struggles as well. Ashton-Langford picked up his third foul at the first half’s 8:24 mark, and the Eagles stumbled offensively without him. Instead of patiently working the ball inside to get higher percentage paint looks, BC was content with flinging often-contested 3-point shots, en route to a 3-of-11 first-half performance from deep. 

Jaeden Zackery to the Rescue

Despite Post and Ashton-Langford leading the team in scoring, averaging 15.2 and 12.1 points per game, respectively, Zackery can make a strong claim for the title of BC’s most important player. Prior to Tuesday’s matchup, the Eagles were 6–0 when Zackery scored over 15 points. 

And with another 15 points from Zackery against Louisville, BC moved to 7–0 in regards to that statistic. The Eagles’ offense ran through Zackery for much of the game, as the sophomore guard finished with a team-high 31.7 percent usage rate

Zackery played a critical role in BC’s second-half surge as a distributor, his eight assists marking a season high. But more importantly, Zackery asserted himself by driving fearlessly to the rim, either drawing fouls or converting on difficult layups in the process. Not everything went his way—Zackery missed six of his nine second-half free throw attempts—but by leveraging his 215-pound frame in the paint, Zackery opened up the floor for his teammates, allowing BC’s offense to flourish.   

Second, Third, and Fourth Chances

BC’s frontcourt—despite missing its leading rebounder Post—dominated, picking up 40 total rebounds compared to the Cardinals’ 29. The offensive glass in particular was where the Eagles made the most damage in the second half. 

Thirteen of BC’s second-half points came off offensive rebounds, with some of those being the second or third offensive boards secured during a possession. The Eagles tallied 11 offensive rebounds in the second half and 14 overall. Louisville, meanwhile, totaled seven.

A pivotal sequence at the second half’s 15:30 mark exemplified the Eagles’ tenacity on the glass. Following two straight missed layups from Bickerstaff, Ashton-Langford put up another layup, which also refused to fall. Bickerstaff, however, fought through a sea of Cardinals to grab his second offensive rebound of the possession and flipped home a reverse layup to tie the game at 45 apiece.

Bickerstaff finished the game with a team-high seven rebounds. 

A similar play unfolded at the 6:47 mark when the Eagles pulled in three offensive rebounds in a single possession, resulting in a Mason Madsen 3-pointer that extended BC’s lead to 61–51.  

Overcoming a Familiar Foe

Facing a halftime deficit—down their leading scorer and with their second-leading scorer in foul trouble—the Eagles never wavered. 

And why would they? 

Whether it was suffering Quadrant 4 losses on their own home floor or losing Post for the first 13 games of the season, the Eagles have grown intimately familiar with adversity this season. Forged through these experiences, BC’s unique toughness has helped it win four of its last five games. 

BC will need to lean on its hard-earned resilience on Wednesday night, as Armando Bacot’s North Carolina awaits—a team that has already defeated the Eagles once this season. 

March 8, 2023