Sports, Winter, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Notebook: Turnovers, Perimeter Defense Cost Eagles in Loss to North Carolina

North Carolina entered its second-round ACC Tournament matchup against Boston College men’s basketball desperate and hungry—and for good reason. 

Prior to the game, the narrative felt already written—a loss and the Tar Heels would become the first preseason No. 1 team to ever miss the NCAA Tournament in the 64-team era.

North Carolina needed just a few minutes to display its desperation, jumping out to a 26–12 lead by the first half’s 10:22 mark. From the 16:12 mark—when the two teams were tied at 10 points apiece—on, the No. 7-seed Tar Heels thoroughly outclassed the No. 10-seed Eagles to the tune of an 85–61 blowout

The loss marked the end of head coach Earl Grant’s second year running the program—a season in which the Eagles made significant strides but was ultimately cut short.

Here are four observations from the loss. 

Weak Perimeter Defense

Entering the ACC Tournament, Grant said he felt satisfied with his team’s perimeter defense. 

“We’ve been really good on the perimeter lately, guarding,” Grant said on Monday.

The numbers, however, tell a far different story. BC sits second to last in the ACC and 330th in the nation in opponent 3-point field-goal percentage. Perimeter defense has been a struggle for the Eagles all season, especially so in their regular season finale against Georgia Tech, where the Yellow Jackets drilled 11 3-pointers. Seven of those came in the second half. 

And on Wednesday night, it was a perfect storm of defensive errors that allowed North Carolina to sink 10 total 3-pointers. The Eagles were either late, overaggressive, or sometimes just flat-out slow on closeouts, giving the Tar Heels a seemingly endless series of open catch-and-shoot threes.  

With a combined seven made 3-pointers, R.J. Davis and Caleb Love made BC pay for these mistakes with 40 combined points. 

Turnover Woes

Down by double digits less than 10 minutes into the game, BC needed to generate some sort of offensive continuity in order to mount a comeback. 

Doing so, however, became all but impossible once the Eagles started playing sloppy and reckless with the ball. BC finished with 13 turnovers, a stark difference from its four-turnover performance on Tuesday against Louisville. Many of those turnovers came off errant passes, inexplicably sent toward empty areas of the floor. North Carolina took advantage via easy transition buckets, totaling 16 points off turnovers.   

T.J. Bickerstaff, who played only 13 minutes despite starting, struggled mightily in this department, committing a turnover on a team-high 67 percent of individual possessions. Mason Madsen did not fare much better, recording a 37 percent turnover rate. Even Quinten Post—BC’s offensive engine who entered the game averaging 1.9 turnovers per game—registered a team-high four turnovers. 

As a team, the Eagles finished the game with a 21 percent turnover rate. 

Bacot vs. Post

Due to similar ankle injuries, the battle between the ACC’s Most Improved Player, Post, and an ACC Player of the Year finalist, Armando Bacot, never quite lived up to its potential. Post suffered an ankle sprain on Saturday against Georgia Tech, causing him to be a game-time decision prior to tipoff on Wednesday. Bacot, meanwhile, landed awkwardly on his ankle during Wednesday’s game, forcing him to exit the game at the first half’s 4:34 mark before eventually returning in the second half. 

That being said, the brief clash between the two big men served as a microcosm of the game itself. From the opening tip, Bacot had his way, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.

Though Post finished with 13 points and five rebounds, Bacot’s presence limited his effectiveness. With all 6 feet and 11 inches of the senior draped over Post down low, the Eagles struggled to complete successful entry passes to their big man. On the offensive end, Bacot absorbed contact and drew fouls, even when unable to finish at the rim. 

Ashton-Langford’s Last Act

Despite the loss, graduate guard Makai Ashton-Langford turned in a characteristically gritty performance. In what will almost certainly end up his final game donning the maroon and gold, Ashton-Langford logged 16 points on 50 percent field-goal shooting—the kind of performance that Eagles fans have grown accustomed to over his three years on the Heights.   

Ashton-Langford ignited BC in the early minutes, scoring seven of its first 10 points. 

In his time at BC, the Providence transfer developed into Grant’s lead guard and go-to scorer. He finished the 2022–23 season averaging a career-high 12.4 points. And though the Eagles certainly did not finish their season in the fashion that they had hoped, Ashton-Langford’s final act in a BC uniform ended his collegiate career on a positive note. 

March 10, 2023