Photo courtesy of BC Men's Basketball / Twitter

Eagles Show Signs of Life in Close Loss to No. 3 Villanova

The Boston College men’s basketball team opened its season on Wednesday night in the 2K Empire Classic. For fans who have long called for head coach Jim Christian’s firing, a hard-fought 76-67 loss to third-ranked Villanova should be as good a reason as any to pump the brakes.

The Eagles looked inspired in the late stretch, sticking with one of the nation’s top teams every step of the way before seeing the game slip away in crunch time. Boston College led by as much as nine points and maintained an advantage well into the second half. College basketball fans celebrating the sport’s long-awaited return across the country were bombarded with “upset alert” notifications.

Outstanding backcourt depth will likely be the main attraction at an empty Conte Forum this year. Transfer guard Makai Ashton-Langford looked like a star in the making in his BC debut. The junior tallied 15 points, and was flanked by guards Wynston Tabbs and Jay Heath, who scored 11 and 16 respectively. Rich Kelly also gave the Eagles some good minutes off the bench. This quartet will likely play a substantial role for Christian’s squad in 2020.

Tabbs showed flashes in his long-awaited return from his season-ending knee injury. The team's efficiency from the floor should follow as he readjusts himself to the speed of the game. Heath, meanwhile, looks to have picked up where he left off in his freshman season. The sophomore averaged just over 13 points per game last season for the Eagles and looks like a potential primary scorer for the 2020-2021 iteration.

Ultimately, Villanova’s star power proved too much for the Eagles despite a strong performance. Wildcats forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl finished with a game-high 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, making a litany of clutch shots down the stretch. Guards Justin Moore, Collin Gillespie, and Caleb Daniels all finished in double digits, matching Boston College’s backcourt production.

Size may be an issue for Christian’s squad as the season continues. The Eagles seem to lack a capable post scorer. Forward Steffon Mitchell has always been a rebounder and defender first and foremost. Asking him to shoulder a sizable scoring load may be unrealistic.

Forward CJ Felder could be the answer to that question, but at 6’7”, he’ll have a tough time matching some of the ACC’s bigs. With continued strong play from the guards, the size disadvantage could be overshadowed, but struggles against post-heavy teams seem inevitable.

A Thursday date with Rhode Island awaits in the consolation game, and with forward Antwan Walker and guard Jeremy Sheppard each tallying 19 points in a close loss to No. 19 Arizona State, the Eagles will need to guard the perimeter well again. While the Wildcats shot just 8-of-23 from three-point range, the Rams knocked down half of their attempts on Wednesday, and will likely emphasize the long ball once again.

However, Wednesday’s strong performance, even in a loss, should instill some faith in Eagles fans accustomed to a culture of losing basketball. For the first time since the Ky Bowman-Jerome Robinson days, it appears that Boston College has a chance at some upward mobility in the ACC.

Be sure to follow @BCGavelSports for all of the latest updates on Boston College athletics.

Born and raised in New Jersey, but I’m a Wisconsinite at heart. I talk way too much about the Green Bay Packers, Bruce Springsteen, and It’s Always Sunny.