Did you think you would see the day? For a long time, it sure didn't seem like it. The Eagles have been close so many times this year, but unable to get over the proverbial hump. Yesterday, they never really allowed it to be in doubt, racing to 17-point halftime lead and cruising to a 79-63 win over North Carolina State, breaking their nine-game losing streak.
A lot of people will look at the game and find fault with the way the Wolfpack performed and rightly so. Coming off their win over North Carolina, this was a team on the rise and had seemingly played their way off the bubble and into the tournament, but as we have said before, your level of effort is exponentially related to your results and for the majority of the game, the Pack gave a 75% effort and the Eagles were there to capitalize.
Let's take a look at what went right in getting the Eagles that 2nd conference "W" and a few things still that need some work.
Five players in double figures
For weeks and weeks now, it's been the Olivier Hanlan and Aaron Brown show. Hanlan has been option 1A and 1B and Brown, 1C, with nary a sign of another player ready to step up and assist when it comes to scoring the ball. Yesterday, that sure wasn't the case. BC put five players in double figures (Hanlan 24, Patrick Heckmann 14, Brown 13, Dimitri Batten 11 and Dennis Clifford 10) and spread that workload around the way any coach would want.
So often this season the other players either haven't gotten touches or have struggled to shoot when they have. By balancing out that score sheet, along with shooting at a high percentage, the Eagles forced NC State to cover more than just Hanlan.
The perfect formula for winning offensive basketball.
FG percentage offense
The Eagles shot a season-high 56.8% from the floor for the game, including 65.2% in the first half. Outside the inability to consistently attack zone defenses, the Eagle ball screen/weave offense has been pretty effective this year in creating shot opportunities and ball movement; it's simply that BC has lacked a post presence to be able to play through and hasn't shot the ball well.
Life changes when the ball goes through the hoop.
BC easily could have run offense the same way and just not made shots and we wouldn't be looking at it the way we are now, but the ball went in and that makes a huge difference.
FG percentage defense
Boston College held NC State to just 32.8% from the field for the game. Put that together with shooting as well as the Eagles did and you should have a fairly comfortable win and that's what happened.
NC State did help the Eagles by limiting paint touches for big men, which we know has been a season long concern as well as settling for jump shots, which they didn't hit.
NC State also ran less screen/roll than most teams do and I thought when the Pack did anything other than that, BC defenders closed out and put immediate ball pressure on handlers and did a good job contesting shots.
Life changes when the ball doesn't go through the hoop.
Honestly, I don't think BC defended significantly better than they have in previous games, but NC State settled for certain shots and didn't make either the open or contested ones they had. It's a results game though and yesterday, the Eagles had those results.
It would be foolish not to mention once again, how well Olivier Hanlan is playing right now. He may not win the ACC POY award, but no one in the conference has played better since the calendar turned to 2015 than the junior from Quebec. He didn't need to single-handedly carry the torch the way he has in recent weeks, but that didn't make his results any less spectacular.
His 24 points on just 11 shots, 7-8 from the FT line, and 8 rebounds were so effortless and efficient. He is playing with uber-confidence.
The other day, I was debating Hanlan's place in the pantheon of great BC guards. Not sure quite yet and the hold back is simply putting up wins, but no doubt, he is having one of the great individual seasons in Eagle history.
Up and down, up and down...UP.
Heckmann's been a roller coaster all year, but when his mind is right, his game is right and that was the case yesterday. 14 points, 7 assists, and missed just one shot from the field and one from the line.
The thing Heckmann does maybe better than any player in the country is using shot fakes. It's a lost art that I grew up using as a player to allow the slow white guy to get into the lane and help others score. Just look at how many times players fly by him on poor close outs which always open up multiple scoring opportunities.
NC State had some chances to close the margin and make it interesting, but BC kept them at arm's length and lot of that had to do with FT shooting. BC shoots 75.9% from the line for the game and takes 29 of them. Good way to close the door.
We said NC State, despite losing so convincingly, had their chances and a lot of that came from rebounding. An Achilles heel all season for the Eagles, it was really bad today. Remember, the Pack shot just 32% from the floor and BC shot almost 57%, so the Eagles should have had a huge rebound advantage just based on the percentages of how many defensive opportunities they got, but such wasn't the case.
NC State out-rebounded BC by 2 and snared 18 offensive rebounds in the process. Based on the shooting percentages, BC should have been +10 or more.
Not good...but not costly today. Another area unlikely to change.
Defending baseline screening action
NC State probably runs less on ball screening action than any team BC has seen all season—or at least in a long time—and their design generally offered BC the chance to provide easy screen side help so I thought the Eagles had reasonably good success today vs on ball screens. Where they struggled outside the rebounding piece of it, though, were defending baseline screens.
For most of the game, the Pack was running players off single baseline screens on one side and potentially doubles off the other side, and BC decided to consistently go over the top of those screens. State, as they should have done, flare cut that defensive strategy and were left with a lot of open corner jump shots—which, happily, they missed.
The strategy of how to defend those needs to be flexible and in most cases, particularly if the team is starting to hit those, involves better ball pressure on the passer and having the defender playing the baseline cutter, chasing him on his hip to take away that open jump shot look.
Executing under better defensive pressure
It was all too easy in the first half for the Eagles. NC State applied virtually zero ball pressure and that allowed the Eagles offense to get into a flow that lead to that 65% first half shooting percentage.
In the 2nd half, after the immediate 4-0 run to begin the frame, Mark Gottfried subbed out his entire lineup and brought in what he was hoping would be an energy on the defensive end crew and it did pay some dividends. BC was forced to deal with ball pressure and the results were more along the lines of what you would expect.
"Defense travels" is something you will hear a lot of coaches say as the reason why they are so defensive oriented. When you go on the road, it becomes harder to shoot and the consistency in the approach and effort by which you defend can be more of a constant. BC took advantage of weak NC State defense today.
Overall, it was a really good win. NC State had been playing well coming into the game with wins at Louisville and at UNC sandwiching a win vs Virginia Tech, so to beat a team of that caliber in any situation is something to be happy with and the looks on the players' faces said so. Smiles abounded and it looked like the weight of the world had been lifted.
The Eagles finish with two winnable games at Virginia Tech on Monday and at home vs Wake Forest on Saturday. A three game win streak...and a conference win streak at that, while it won't be easy is very much in play.