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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The 2018-19 Boston College basketball season began a little over three weeks ago with one major question facing the Eagles. The team returned four starters and its entire nucleus off the bench, but it lost arguably its biggest piece with Jerome Robinson now with the Los Angeles Clippers. His departure created a 20-point per game absence that left prognosticators and fans wondering aloud how the Eagles would recover.

Game Day Central – vs. Sacred Heart – 7 p.m. ET
Game Notes: Boston College (PDF)
Internet: BCEagles.com (audio) | WatchESPN (video)
Radio: BC IMG Sports Network (WEEI 850 AM; XM 193; Internet 955)
Buy Tickets: Sacred Heart

It turns out, though, that BC’s early-season strategy is to not necessarily “replace” Robinson’s offensive output.  Instead, the Eagles are dedicating themselves to a stingy defense, a method propelling them to a 5-1 start for the second straight season. 

“Our defense leads to our offense,” forward Steffon Mitchell said. “If we make stops, we can get in transition and get (players like) Ky (Bowman) in his strengths. It’s easy to get buckets if we can get those stops.”

The Eagles enter Thursday’s game against Sacred Heart with a plus-nine scoring margin advantage. Opponents are shooting 36.5% from the field and hitting an average of five fewer shots per game. Diving into the metrics, BC ranks 69th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, with a 97.6 mark – which means that BC would yield 97.6 points per 100 possessions by an opponent.  Additionally, the Eagles are 20th-best in effective FG%, which factors in shooting percentages from inside and outside the arc.

Tuesday’s win over Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge accentuated those percentages, along with a good, old-fashioned emphasis on controlling the glass. The offense finished with good performances, including 18 second-half points from Nik Popovic (9-9 FG) and 17 points from freshman Wynston Tabbs, but it required an all-around performance. 

BC led by one at the half – 33-32 – on a night where both Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman failed to connect consistently. But it pulled away in the second half thanks to a number of performances in all three phases. Mitchell scored six of his eight points at the free-throw stripe, then grabbed 13 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. 

Bowman more than made up for his shooting, in the same way, grabbing 11 rebounds – 10 of which were on the defensive glass – to go along with his 12 points. He finished with a plus-12 advantage on the floor.

“In the first half, we made good stops, but I thought we rushed the ball in transition,” head coach Jim Christian said. “We aren’t shooting the ball well, and we have not been consistent. We have not shot threes well. We’re hanging our hat on our defense right now, but those things will come.”

When it does come, the Eagles will likely become one of the ACC’s toughest tickets to play against. Mitchell is developing into one of the ACC’s staunchest defenders and leads the ACC in rebounding, at 9.5 boards per contest. 

“(Minnesota’s) a really good basketball team,” Christian said. “When you hold a team to that type of shooting, it’s a combination of two different things. One is good defense. We didn’t give up easy shots, and we did a good job of recognizing on our scouting report who we wanted to play off of. And then a team just has to miss some shots. It’s a combination of both things.”

Tuesday’s win felt good for BC because it handed a power conference team its first loss of the season. It was also a hard-fought victory over a team receiving national votes. It mirrored a win over Loyola-Chicago – a team that advanced to the Final Four a season ago – setting the stage for the Eagles to make a national impact.  BC plays Sacred Heart on Thursday night, and holding serve on home court against the Pioneers would set the stage for a huge game next Tuesday against Providence.

“(Minnesota) was the ACC/Big Ten Challenge,” Christian said. “We haven’t won one since 2012. It was big for us to win and represent the league the way we’re capable of. We were playing at home. It’s big. I told the team after the game that you play the games one team at a time, but this one is big. I think (the Gophers) are going to have a really good season. If we can do the things that we can do, this one will look really good when we want to look really good.”

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