Boston College BB: With Confidence Restored, BC Looks Ahead in 2021

Boston College BB: With Confidence Restored, BC Looks Ahead in 2021

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The holiday season handed Jim Christian a required respite. The Boston College head coach watched his team endure a blowout loss to a longtime rival, and COVID-19’s precautionary tidewaters shifted the Eagles’ game against Cal to a matchup against Maine. The switch happened during the team’s preparations for final exams, a time reserved for academic stressors unlike many Division I schools.

Nothing amounted to an excuse for the team’s recent losing streak, but the Maine game offered an important switch. BC won and stepped into its Christmas break with confidence, and the week-long break anchored a piece of the team that seemingly went away against the Orange. That confidence remained into Wednesday’s game at NC State, but a late-game breakdown cost the Eagles their third victory of the season in a 79-76 defeat.

“We came into the game with a lot of confidence,” Christian said. “I thought, in the beginning, we didn’t execute, on defense especially, in the beginning, and in the interior. There’s going to be points in the paint, but we did a great job and showed a lot of fight and heart. They just made a really good defensive play at the end of the game.”

BC trailed by as many as 15 points but mounted a furious comeback before Wynston Tabbs’ three-pointer handed the Eagles a 76-75 lead with 90 seconds left. On the next possession, NC State failed to move the ball with any type of fluid passing, and an airball with 1:02 remaining solidified the Eagles’ standing. After the miss, Tabbs incited an animated conversation with Devon Daniels after bumping the Wolfpack guard at center court.

Neither team drew a call, but the duo continued to jockey after play resumed. It forced the ball over to Jay Heath, but he missed a step-back jumper with 36 seconds on the clock. NC State subsequently ran up the court for an 18-foot jumper by Shakeel Moore off a pick by Jericole Hellems to stake the Wolfpack back to a 77-76 lead.

NC State fell back into a halfcourt defense off the ensuing inbound pass, and Daniels circumvented a James Karnik pick to force a turnover on an exchange between Makai Ashton-Langford and Tabbs. It gave the ball back to NC State, and BC failed to foul off a full-court trap. Moore slammed a wide-open opportunity, and the intense game ended with a momentary overflow of emotion as the buzzer sounded for the three-point win.

“We tried to trap and get a steal,” Christian said. “We should have fouled; we didn’t decide not to foul. We had no timeouts, so we tried to get a trap and steal. That’s a chance we should have found a little bit earlier. It was the play before that, that cost us the game.

“We had a pretty good trap in the corner but had a rotation problem,” he added. “We should have fouled. If we had a timeout it would have been a little clearer, but I thought that was something we’ll obviously learn from.”

The ending shifted headlines to the final 90 seconds after BC spent much of the second half whittling NC State’s double-digit lead. Tabbs scored 11 points in the final 5:34 as part of a larger, 12-point second half on an 18-point night. Jay Heath finished just behind him with 17 points and 10 in the second half, and Steffon Mitchell’s first double-double of the season included 12 points and 12 rebounds.

“(Mitchell) played great in the Maine game,” Christian said. “He’s had to go back to being what he is and not worrying about whether the shot goes in or any other things. (He needs to) be just Steff Mitchell, and (he) keeps us in games with hustle. On the offensive board, he made some huge plays, a couple of slip screen plays. He did some great things, but I think everyone contributed (against NC State).”

The team’s offensive shot improved nearly 12 percentage points from the Syracuse game, and the Eagles hit on more than 20 percent more three-pointers. The logical, steady improvement was a solid showing beyond the arc after they went 9-for-32 on threes against Maine, and the four players in double figures included an eight-man rotation with Rich Kelly and James Karnik combining for 15 points off the bench.

“(Tabbs) made some great shots,” Christian said. “It wasn’t only him. Everybody made some plays down the stretch. There were hustle buckets. Rich Kelly played the point guard position pretty good, and Jay (Heath) made some big plays. It was a good game, and on the road like that, you just have to make one more play than (your opponent). We had our opportunities and didn’t do it.”

The loss dropped the Eagles to 2-6 on the season and continued a BC winless streak at NC State that dates back to a 74-58 victory in January 2007. The team returns to the Conte Forum court on Saturday, January 2 to start the 2021 portion of its schedule against Louisville. 

Tip-off is at noon and can be seen as part of the ACC’s Regional Sports Network coverage. Local coverage in Boston of the game is on NESN with radio broadcast available via WEEI 850 AM.

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