Boston College men’s basketball fans weren’t expecting any semblance of a competitive season this year following the departure of program legend Ky Bowman and the devastating loss of Wynston Tabbs to a season-ending injury. The BC faithful had accepted another brutal season in the cellar of the ACC, but one closer to last year’s ho-hum results than to the 7-25 nightmare that was 2015.
However, after Saturday afternoon’s 64-44 loss at Richmond dropped the team to a mediocre 4-4, BC fans should be bracing for the worst moving forward.
The game didn’t start out entirely gloomy for the Eagles. BC played Richmond competitively all first half and even pulled away for brief spells. Both teams came out of the gate locked in defensively and traded sporadic buckets for the first few minutes of the game.
After going down 10-5 at the 15-minute mark of the first half, the Eagles shot ahead on a quick 10-0 run featuring three-point shots from Julian Rishwain and Jay Heath. After a minor Spider response cut the lead to 15-14, BC sprung forward yet again with a back-to-back three and layup by Jairus Hamilton in his return to the starting lineup.
Steffon Mitchell then roared to life on the glass and punctuated the Eagles’ run with a three-point play when he ripped down an offensive rebound and rattled it into the net with defenders draped all over him.
Mitchell’s Herculean effort attained what would be BC’s largest lead of the afternoon at 23-14 with 4:40 to play in the opening half, but again failed to maintain any kind of separation as Richmond quickly shot themselves back into it. BC would head into the break with a slim, yet more than acceptable 26-25 lead, but their ice-cold stretch over the last few minutes of the half would be a harbinger of the disaster about to unfold.
The Eagles lead dissipated on a Richmond three just a minute into the second half, and they would never recover as the Spiders thrashed BC’s weak perimeter defense from deep en route to a 23-2 run over a nearly 10-minute stretch.
Jim Christian’s squad looked out of sync all half, and frequent defensive lapses on switches led to several easy Richmond buckets in the paint.
Offensively, the Eagles simply just couldn’t knock down shots, and the team as a whole shot a paltry 28% for the half. As the Spiders continued to expand their lead, Christian continually flipped his personnel to merely stop the bleeding and BC began to settle for more desperate jumpers early in the shot clock, but nothing seemed to be working.
The Spiders, led by the backcourt duo of Jacob Gilyard and Blake Francis, continued to bury threes and penetrate easily on BC’s guards; the Eagles frankly looked like they didn’t know how to respond to the repeated punches getting thrown at them.
With a major roster overhaul, growing pains and shaky offensive chemistry are expected in the early season, but the Eagles failed to even slow down the same offensive sets they faced time and time again.
The team often struggled fundamentally, shooting just 5-11 from the free throw line and committing 18 turnovers. Derryck Thornton was entirely out of control at times driving to the rim and was one of six Eagles to commit multiple turnovers.
One of the most concerning aspects of the game was the lack of poise BC showed down the stretch. Thornton wasn’t the only player to look hectic down the stretch, and the team’s failure to catch its collective breath only exacerbated the ballooning deficit throughout the half, leading to the ultimate 64-44 demise.
Steffon Mitchell, the team’s vocal leader, was as loud as always on the court on Saturday, but his repetitive barking had seemingly no effect on his teammates.
The coaching in Chestnut Hill has been rightfully criticized for a few seasons now, and this game presents another excellent opportunity for criticism. Jim Christian not only failed to adjust in the second half, but also put the burden of motivating his players and keeping them working as a unit on the shoulders of a college junior.
Mitchell, who was one of the Eagles only bright spots on Saturday, should keep bringing his fiery attitude and elite defense to the team—although his free throws could use some work. BC needs to demand a lot more out of its coaching staff, both strategically and intangibly, if it wants to succeed this season with a team chock-full of freshmen.
While former five-star Derryck Thornton can do his best, Ky Bowman isn’t going to come to the rescue and win games down the stretch on sheer talent alone for Jim Christian and company anymore. Christian is going to really rely on his system for the first time in a while here at Boston College, and the challenge to doing so is getting his freshmen contributors comfortable and involved as much as possible, while getting Chris Herren Jr. back to his form from last season.
This season is going to be a massive puzzle for a team in search of its identity—nobody thought it would be anything otherwise—but that doesn’t excuse Christian from a 4-4 start against softer competition, including several major second-half meltdowns. If he can’t figure it out during the upcoming stretch against Albany and Central Connecticut before ACC play ramps up for good, it might be time to realize that Jim Christian never will at BC.
As for now, the team needs to regroup and focus on one of their tougher challenges so far, when Northwestern comes to campus on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.