CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Like a Disney movie, this past Saturday’s Boston College-N.C. State game was a tailor-made underdog story. Undermanned due to the COVID-19 pandemic and protocols – and dressing a half-dozen scholarship players – the resilient Eagles tipped off against a Wolfpack team that already owned a victory over them earlier in January.
The start of the game played out like a script. Consecutive baskets by Steffon Mitchell and Jay Heath were the real-life equivalent of those moments when the heavyweight champion is shocked by two quick punches. But reality has a way of being much harsher than the fictional Hollywood ending, though, and those first two baskets only served as a wake-up call to N.C. State. The Wolfpack caught up to BC and hit the gas pedal into the fast lane in the first half. Not even a hearty second half could change that and the Eagles dropped a 16-point loss to their conference rival.
“I was very proud of our players and the effort they put in,” head coach Jim Christian said. “The effort they put in, everybody played extremely hard. I thought we played the right way. When you don’t play for 21 days, shooting the ball and timing, things like that, I knew that would be a problem. I thought we shared the ball and competed really well, but we just have to keep getting healthy and keep getting better.”
BC threw its kitchen sink at NC State but was forced to battle back from an insurmountable lead early in the second half. The Wolfpack went on three separate runs, the first of which was an 11-0 run after those first two baskets. CJ Felder broke it up with a dunk, but another 12-0 run opened it up to a 16-point disadvantage. Felder again ended it with a free throw, but NC State finished the half with another flourish.
Things improved in the second half, but the deficit proved too much to overcome. Heath went 6-for-7 after the break for 13 points, second only to walk-on Andrew Kenny, who nailed two 3-pointers in the second frame. Four starters finished in double figures, led by Heath’s 20, as all four – Heath, Mitchell, Felder, and Rich Kelly – played more than 30 minutes. The team scored on more than half of their possessions in the second half, but those first 20 minutes doomed any hope of a miraculous finish.
“It’s a wait-and-see approach with every game and everything,” Christian said. “I don’t think it’s a motivational thing because kids love to play, and they’re going to be excited to go back out to play. They love to do it. I thought that was how they approached it. If you watch the game and see how they interacted with each other, I’m proud of them. This wasn’t easy to do. The amount of time that we sat out was 21 days without a game. It’s not easy to get yourself going, (and) you’re playing a really good basketball team in NC State. But you can’t do anything but be proud of those guys’ (effort).”
The outcome undeniably disappointed BC and the team’s 3-11 record and 1-7 conference mark is below both expectations and aspirations. That felt almost secondary on Saturday given the team’s long layoff, and the volume and excitement on the bench could be heard through the television broadcast.
It was an important moment given the long layoff, and the pivotal minutes came late in the half when the team’s walk-ons saw extended minutes. Kenny, a sophomore, saw the most time with nine-minute, and his hustle produced four boards and an assist with his two splashed threes.
Three of the team’s “Martians,” named as such for their green practice jerseys the group used to don in practice, finished with their most significant playing time of the season. “Our team sees them every day, and our team loves them,” Christian said. “Their role is unbelievably valuable to our team, every single day. For the most part, basketball is a different sport because they’re not recruited walk-ons. They’re students – BC students that want to be part of our team – and they are good players that are trying to contribute in any way that they can to help move the program forward. They’re absolutely loved by me, by our staff, and by our players.“
The Disney movie ending eluded the team, but the game itself will forever remain memorable for its uniqueness. It’s a stepping stone for what BC hopes is something to build on down the stretch of the season, a way to flourish into the last seven scheduled games. The next opportunity comes tomorrow night at home, at which point Christian and a hopefully-healthier team takes on Wake Forest in Conte Forum.
“Guys don’t really have their legs under them,” Christian said. “You can watch the way they run and down the floor. N.C. State presses, but trying to get the ball to our ball handlers, I thought we attacked the press well, getting the ball into the open court and play. It’s just preparing guys to play a game. These were the guys we had available, and I was really, really proud of them. I was proud of the way they executed things and how hard they played.
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