Sometimes you catch a guy on one of those nights where there's just nothing he can do wrong. That’s what happened to Boston College Wednesday night as they dropped a tough game to Penn State, 58-67.
The stage was set for a huge night in favor of the Eagles. They were making their return to the B1G/ACC Challenge after sitting out last year. The game was an opportunity to beat Penn State and avenge the football team’s heartbreaking Pinstripe Bowl loss from a year ago. Although students showed up to witness possible revenge (or for the free T-shirts and pizza), Penn State’s Shep Garner quickly squandered any hope on the BC side.
The game started much like it would end. Garner knocked down four threes before anyone else on his team made a bucket. Defensively, the Eagles came in looking to shut down the Nittany Lions' leading scorer, forward Brandon Taylor, but he was not the Eagles' biggest problem. Taylor, who averages around 17 points and six boards a night, finished with two and three. Part of this came from a little foul trouble, part from good BC defense and part because he had no need to score with how hot Garner was.
Garner finished with 30 points on the night, played all 40 minutes and tied the Conte record for threes in a game, going 8-12 from long range. Christian saw this as a defensive lapse saying, “When you got a good player and you blow defense assignments back to back times early, and [again] early in the second half when he hit back to back transition threes, it’s going to be difficult.” While mostly true, BC failed to stop the ball on the break and went under way too many ball screens; with such a hot shooter, you can’t put it all on the defense. Garner arguably shot the lights out hard enough to stop any defense.
AJ Turner stepped up and kept the Eagles relevant in the beginning of the game. In what was easily the best 20 minutes of his season, Turner had three threes of his own, took three trips to the line, and grabbed four rebounds.
The Eagles went into halftime leading 30-29. They opened the half, scoring seven points quickly thanks a fantastic five-minute stretch from Dennis Clifford, but Christian said his team took their foot off the pedal. Coach repeatedly stated that his young group “didn’t compete for 40 minutes.” It sounds cliché, but it was just too true. The first half wasn’t the best shooting performance BC has had, but it executed a clean offense. They finished the first 20 with only a single turnover to seven assists. But with just over 17 minutes to go and a seven point lead, the switch flipped.
The defense appeared lazy and unfocused, allowing Garner to knock down a trio of long balls in 64 seconds, turning a five-point BC lead into a four-point cushion for Penn State. At the same time as this defensive collapse, the offensive play completely stalled. BC no longer moved the ball against the Nittany Lion 2-3 zone, they stopped making aggressive cuts and they couldn’t get anything on the offensive glass. The Eagles only offensive movement was a five minute stretch with just three points. Penn State pushed the lead to eight there and never looked back.
Despite a promising start, BC’s young group couldn't put the game away when they had the chance. Christian attributed the loss to the team's competitive level, rather than the young age. “That’s on me. We just didn’t go for the kill,” said Christian.
Clifford looked the best he has, maybe ever, leading the team with 17 points and doing it with good efficiency to boot. Cliff said that this game, and really the whole year, he has felt great from a health stand point. In large contrast to last year which he said “was just about staying healthy.”
Matt Milon who torched the Harvard zone from long range, didn’t attempt a shoot against a PSU defense giving BC the same look.
BC was again killed on the glass, out rebounded 27-40, with Penn State grabbing nine offensive boards.
Idy Diallo showed more discipline on the defensive end, only one foul in 11 minutes.
The Eagles will look to snap their four game skid when they take on UMass Lowell Sunday at 2pm in Conte Forum.
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