The Eagles notched their first quality win Thursday night, against a New Mexico Lobos squad that came in as a heavy favorite. BC controlled the game from start to finish thanks to some much needed shooting, stellar help defense, and a transition game that had the Eagles looking quite athletic on a couple of occasions. Below are three things I took away from the game, both positive and negative:
1) Olivier Hanlan
Without our Canadian leader, there is no way that the Eagles would have pulled off this upset or even stayed in the game for that matter. Hanlan was impressive all night, but it was the way he took over the game late in the second half that had the Lobos realizing why he is considered one of the best guards in not only the ACC, but the nation. Olivier finished with 20 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds, proving that he really can do it all. Thanks to a couple of clutch drives and miraculous finishes in the final minutes of the game, the Eagles snag the win and move on to the Semi-Finals, Friday at 5pm.
2) 3 Point Shooting
The percentage isn't exactly stellar at 28.6%, but the Eagles did drain 8 shots from behind the arc, using their long range game to pull away every time New Mexico seemed to be closing the gap. Hanlan and Aaron Brown both connected on three shots from downtown, with Odio and Heckman hitting the other two. It is a significant improvement from the first two games, but BC still has work to do if they hope to advance any further in this tournament and compete in the ACC.
3) Dennis Clifford
Big Cliff played a modest game on the offensive end, scoring only 6 points, but did some impressive things on the defensive side of the floor. Dennis finished with 8 rebounds and 1 blocked shot, looking much more comfortable overall. There were two sequences stood out, showing me that DC is starting to find a rhythm after almost 2 years off the court. The first was an offensive rebound underneath the backboard which led to him taking one power dribble and going straight up to slam it home through two Lobo defenders. The other play that stuck out was seeing Dennis sprint down the floor and finish with a huge alley-oop slam off of a beautiful Hanlan pass. Great game Dennis, keep improving.
For the second straight game, John Carney played fairly significant minutes for an Eagles squad that is severely undermanned in the post. If that wasn't bad enough, Jim Christian was also forced to play Steve Perpiglia for a minute, just to give Hanlan a rest, which promptly resulted in a turnover and New Mexico dunk. Now I have nothing against either of these players, but there is no reason that they should be playing in a close game against a quality opponent like the Lobos. The injuries to Idy Diallo and Lonnie Jackson are really starting to hurt BC. Heck I'd even take Caudill back at this point.
2) Foul Trouble
It's now back to back games that the Eagles found themselves in foul trouble. Overall, BC committed 23 fouls with Heckman, Owens, and Batten each tallying 4, causing them to grab some bench at crucial points in the game. All those fouls resulted in 28 trips to the free throw line for the Lobos, to only 12 for BC. The Eagles should be thankful that all those freebies didn't add up to a New Mexico win as the Lobos missed 7 free throws and only lost by 4. BC needs to start playing defense with their feet instead of their hands and eventually the amount of fouls will decrease.
3) Losing big leads
That's three games in a row now that BC has let a double digit lead slip away, making the games much closer than they needed to be. Luckily only one of those games resulted in a loss, but New Mexico could have easily stolen this game. It seemed to me that the Eagles were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. There were multiple instances late that saw the Eagles swing the ball around the perimeter, let the shot clock wind down, and then jack up a three pointer. BC needs to be aggressive in those situations instead of settling for tough threes. Hanlan should assert himself in spots like that and take it straight to the tin.
Overall, this is a fantastic win for the Eagles and a great momentum builder early in the season. BC showed that they can not only compete with an NCAA Tournament caliber team, but they can beat them too. Bring on West Virginia.
Also, a quick shout-out to New Mexico guard Cullen Neal who went down with what looked to be a pretty nasty ankle injury. BC did a great job containing him while he was in the game, but that doesn't change the fact that he's one of the best offensive players in the country. Hope it's not too serious, Cullen.