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Coach's Corner: Improvement In The Eagle Zone Attack

Milon, Clifford shine against tough SU zone, but Orange turn mistakes into points as Eagles drop to 0-12 in ACC.

Clifford, Milon give Eagles spark vs Orange
Clifford, Milon give Eagles spark vs Orange
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

BCI basketball writer, "Coach" John Fidler, analyzes the Eagles 75-61 loss to Syracuse.

This one is a bit harder and yet at the same time, very easy to put a finger on why the Eagles fell to 0-12 on Sunday, dropping a 75-61 decision to an ever-improving Syracuse squad at Carrier Dome-East, better known as Conte Forum.

The Orange road a 16-3 first half run and a 21-4 second half run, mostly fueled by transition baskets off Eagle turnovers to the win.  The second half run in particular was devastating at it came on the heels of BC taking its only lead of the half on a Dennis Clifford three point play and turned what was a 41-39 Eagle lead into a 60-45 deficit.

Those two runs encompassed 4:38 of time in the first half and 5:19 in the second and although it's a bit like asking, "other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?", BC, even further undermanned, down AJ Turner to go along with fellow frosh, Jerome Robinson, played with confidence and executed reasonably well, considering the same SU team had held them to just 40 points and 32% from the floor only a month ago.

Unfortunately, you can't simply throw away that time or those turnovers, which were not excessive (just 13, slightly under their season average) but were converted into 23 Orange points. The points off turnover margin of 23-10, pretty much mirroring the 14 point final deficit.

Unquestionably though, BC improved its attack against the Syracuse 2-3 zone, so what exactly changed and how might this help the Eagles through the final stretch of the season?  Let's take a look.

In the first matchup in upstate New York, BC scored just 40 points for the game, including a paltry 15 in the opening half.  The approach was to run their standard 2-3 zone offense which rotated the four guards through the two wings, the point and the free throw line.  This left Dennis Clifford and Idy Diallo alone, usually at or near the low post.

Trouble was that the Eagles were all too often left with no one filling that critical free throw area, the soft spot in the middle of the zone and when the guards got to that area, they were ill prepared to operate out of that area or under sized to do it effectively.

Yesterday, BC operated out of 1-4 high set with Ervins Meznieks and Dennis Clifford filling the two high posts at each elbow and as the ball was entered Meznieks rolled out and Clifford roamed the free throw line area, all the way down to the low block.

Whether it was the confidence he gained against North Carolina last week or not, Clifford did a more than admirable job in a spot that is very difficult to play.

In the past we've discussed your options when catching the ball at the high post area.  Shot.  Dump. Reverse. In other words, shoot it from that free throw line area, dump it down to the post to your partner big or reverse the ball back opposite of where you got it from.

It all sounds simple, but this is something you are asking a 7 footer to do, who hasn't done it before.

He wasn't great certainly.  Clifford didn't face the basket immediately on the catch, (in the post area he is used to playing with his back to the basket), but just having him in that spot and being more than marginally effective (7-11 FG for 16 points) constricted the zone and opened up the wing players above the free throw line extended.

All he really needs is someone, like..oh, say Ryan Anderson to partner with!

Operating below the free throw line against that zone, short of having massive size and offensive rebound opportunities is a difficult proposition at best.  The Orange trap the short corner (the space about midway between the block and the corner) and really make you play everything much further away from the basket than you would like.  Outside of some transition chances and those offensive rebounds, BC's day was no different than most.

But just collapsing so slightly as well as Clifford's ability to pass out of the middle of the zone while not turning it over (4 assists, just 2 turnovers) opened the perimeter shooters, particularly Matt Milon.

At this stage in his career, Milon is the perfect zone player.  He moves simply and intelligently on the perimeter and is best as a catch and shoot, or catch, a single dribble and shot, player.  His shot preparation is outstanding, giving him a quick release and as so many lefties have, his form is pure.  When he was asked to be more creative than that, he struggled.

Syracuse couldn't locate him and despite Eli Carter (all game) and Sammy Barnes-Thompkins (first half)  not being able to take advantage of those chances, Milon was there to fill the bill, pouring in a career high 25 points, 20 of those coming in the first half, shooting 5-7 from beyond the arc.

It is no coincidence the first half was where the BC offense flourished, shooting 58% against a team giving up 40% in ACC play.  When the Orange got more keyed into Milon, his shots dried up and it was left to others to chip in and the Eagles shooting percentage plummeted down to 38% in the second half.

What does this all mean going forward?  Well maybe nothing and then again, maybe something. BC won't see much zone out of its future opponents, but the confidence that Clifford gained from the past two games and Milon for the game yesterday have gained should carry over.

It is not a stretch to say that the Eagles have now exited the toughest part of their schedule.  It's hard to believe that any team faced the type of  Murderer's Row schedule that BC has seen to date, but the Eagles finish their ACC slate against the bottom half of the conference, with the two games against Clemson, who has been on a down tick lately, their toughest task.

Despite 0-12 in the ACC, Coach Christian still has this team's attention and it's respect and it shows in the improvement on the court.  There is a win or two and maybe as many as three out there to be had, execution like this on the offensive end will help bring one of those wins home.