Sports, Winter, Basketball, Men's Basketball

Eagles Fall to No. 21 Clemson 89–78

Facing its first ranked opponent of the season, Boston College men’s basketball Saturday afternoon matchup against No. 21 Clemson was destined to be a challenge. 

But that challenge became exponentially more difficult when news broke that the stomach flu was ripping its way through the Eagles’ locker room. 

“Our trainer thought maybe it could be something, just something that we ate, because it all hit us at the same time,” BC head coach Earl Grant said.

Illness sidelined starters Prince Aligbe and Quinten Post—BC’s leading scorer—along with reserve player Armani Mighty, significantly depleting BC’s front court. Grant inserted Mason Madsen and true freshman Elijah Strong into the starting lineup, leaving only two players on the bench.

“Look, we’re gonna use what we got and try to go out and execute to the highest level,” Grant said before the game. 

Despite a strong first-half effort, BC’s (10–6, 1–4 Atlantic Coast) seven available players just couldn’t keep up with Clemson’s (12–4, 2–3) offensive firepower, and the Eagles fell 89–78 to the Tigers. Joe Girard III led the way for Clemson with 26 points on 5-of-11 shooting from deep. 

“We needed to do a better job of working for a shot that was right for us to give our defense a chance to get set up,” Grant said. “And we didn’t, and they made us pay. They got a couple of threes in transition, and the game went from four points to 10 points pretty quick.”

Clemson wasted no time pressuring the rim in the opening minutes. PJ Hall, the ACC’s second-leading scorer, feasted in the Post-less paint. The senior center logged 12 of his 26 total points in the first half.

The Eagles’ defense didn’t fare much better outside the paint, either. Out of sync and late on rotations, BC let up three 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes and fell behind by seven points at the 10:27 mark. 

But BC hung around. In what it lacked in size, the Eagles’ four-guard, small-ball lineup made up for with increased intensity. Chas Kelley III set the tone, hustling to the floor for a steal that led to a Jaeden Zackery fastbreak layup with 5:46 left in the half. Zackery scored a team-high 18 points with efficient 8-of-12 shooting. 

But while the Eagles cut their deficit down to two at the 4:12 mark, foul trouble hampered their upset bid. The Tigers scored six of their final 13 first-half points at the free throw line to take a game-high nine-point lead into the locker room by halftime.

Then, just four minutes into the second half, the Tigers threw its biggest haymaker of the afternoon. A 9–0 Clemson run extended its lead to 17, and the Eagles appeared to be out of options. 

“We got a little bit fatigued and started settling for some perimeter shots,” Grant said. “We didn’t value the possession at the level we needed to.”

Though BC kept its deficit under 20, its thin roster—made thinner after starting center Devin McGlockton fouled out with 4:55 left to play—couldn’t sustain enough offense to mount a comeback.

BC’s limited lineup did, however, provide an opportunity for Strong to shine against a quality ACC opponent. In his first-career start, Strong recorded a season-high 14 points in 26 minutes. 

“[Strong] played a really good game for a freshman in a hostile environment, and so I was proud,” Grant said. “He’s a good player, and we learned that he could help us.”

Despite the loss—BC’s third in four games—Grant praised his team’s resolve amid illness-induced adversity. 

“I thought the guys played hard, showed great character, and came up short,” Grant said. “I thought we did some good things in the game and you can build on it.”

January 14, 2024