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Coach’s Corner: Duke 93 BC 82, It’s The Whys, Not The Whats

We know the results, but like a science experiment, we need to understand why it happened

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, the Boston College men’s basketball team is as much science experiment as anything else. A petri dish of sorts where various components are added to the base and we see what results are produced. The dish is then reset and other items are added and evaluated and so on and so forth.

In sports though, the baseline of the petri dish changes as much as the various elements added to it and the results therefore can be exponentially different from one test to the other.

This definitely was the case at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday where both the Eagles and Duke Blue Devils morphed over 40 minutes like a kid with a ball of Play-Dho, the final result being a 93-82 win for the #8 team in the country.

The score wound up roughly indicative of the totality of the game, but of course, to those who watched it, it was more akin to a watching two different games played by two different teams.

It would be so easy to just say that if the Eagles don’t turn the ball over 17 times in the first half, the outcome may have been different, but as we said, this petri dish had a lot put in and a lot taken out during the game, so let’s focus a lot more on the “why” than the “what” when looking back at the game.

Why turnovers?

We know the what, 17 first half turnovers which resulted in 24 Duke points and mightily contributed to a 53-34 advantage at recess for the Devils, as well as 63.3% field goal percentage.

Duke is devastating in transition. They can attack off the dribble, have bigs who run the floor reasonably well and if you collapse to protect the paint, as is natural defensively, they can surround the floor with shooters.

We talk all the time about limiting live ball turnovers. Better to throw it out of bounds, travel, anything where although you lose possession, you live to fight another day as an organized 5 on 5 defensive unit, rather than a scattered, often outnumbered, usually mismatched group.

As Jim Christian told the Boston Globe in his post game press conference.

In the second half, the Eagles turned the ball over just four times responsible for five Duke points and although BC shot a more than respectable 46% from the floor in the first half, they shot an even better 55.9% in half number two and not coincidentally, outscored the Dookies by 8 in that half.

So why?

From my perspective the first five minutes of the game were fools gold, but the product of that gold was stoking the Duke flames for all the good it did the Eagles.

Going into the game, my biggest fear was the first 5-10 minutes of the game and how it would impact a team that outside of Garland Owens, hadn’t experienced Cameron..the crowd, the energy and of course the nation’s #1 team in the preseason poll and doing just fine at #8 thank you.

How would Ky Bowman in particular adjust?

We know that Bowman has no fear and while that is certainly a plus, would he try to do too much and ultimately cost the Eagles and how much would his teammates either freeze or simply play too fast for the moment.

And while the Eagles certainly shot it well to start, handling the ball, was another story. But like our petri dish, it wasn’t just because of what BC did or didn’t do, but had every bit as much to do with the Duke defense.

BC came out all amped up and certainly not in awe of Duke..which sounds good, but really played into the Blue Devils game, with or without Coach K on the sidelines.

BC was up 11-6 on a Bowman jumper with 15:53 to play and then in a matter of 1:05, the Devils went on a 7-0 run courtesy of an Amile Jefferson dunk, then back to back Bowman live ball turnovers, fueling a Matt Jones 3 and a Jefferson layup for a 2 point Duke lead.

While the Eagles would gain the lead back on an AJ Turner trey, more turnovers and offensive inefficiencies would result in the back breaking 20-2 run over the next 4 12 minutes that effectively was the deciding stretch in the game.

Back to our petri dish:

BC components:

  • Too rushed offensively - BC came out as if it were a hockey game, flying up and down the floor. Transition offense, jacked threes, very little in the half court, which is fine while it works, but it was really case of being able to play with Duke that way, but not able to beat Duke that way. As the legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden, would say, “be quick, but don’t hurry”.
  • Sloppy ball handling - Not all of these were a product of being “weak with the ball” as Jim Christian said, but certainly some of them were and most appeared to be a product of being in too much of a hurry.
  • Inability to pass and catch - As much as the strips off the dribble the simple ability to pass and catch the ball was noticeable. Mo Jeffers on two almost back to back possessions with his impression of Eagle football center, Jon Baker, as if trying to snap the ball between his legs, was the most obvious example.

Duke components:

  • Ball pressure - but while it is easy point at areas BC was deficient in, you have to look at what the Devils contributed to the petri dish and that was the trademark Duke defense and that all starts with ball pressure. There are few teams in the country that are willing to play up in your grill the way Duke does. It is not something the Eagles have seen often and not something that they themselves do, so it is very hard to prepare for. Pressure makes you focus on your defender as opposed to allowing you to see the floor and increases the speed with which you play. It can be an immediate effect, but also something that can be cumulative and although the Eagles weathered that first five minutes, it caught up to them pretty quickly after that.
  • Wing denial - once again, something that most teams don’t do and certainly don’t with the skill and the passion that Duke does. In today’s basketball, the goal is to keep people out of the lane and in front of you. While that is important to Duke, it is just as important to deny passing lanes and look to force turnovers and once again make the offensive play faster than it may want to because of the ball pressure that accompanies it.
  • The environment - as with the other two components, this Boston College team hasn’t seen that type of environment before. I know these are all talented players, but many a team has traveled to Cameron and been consumed by the environment and the energy that is provided to the Duke team because of it.

Our petri dish then concocted a fungus that although individual pieces of it may not be deadly, when mixed together formed a lethal mix.

Why the change?

In the second half, we know what happened. The turnovers slowed to far more manageable number and the Eagles clawed their way back into the game and although really never threatening to potentially win it, walked away seemingly understanding what it took to stand toe to toe with a team like Duke.

Let’s look at the petri dish for the second half.

BC components:

  • Offensive patience - one of the areas BC has been consistently solid with has been offensive execution. The result of the possession may not always work out, but BC moves the ball crisply and generally gets solid shots. In the second half, the Eagles got back to doing what they do well and Jerome Robinson came off the milk carton and started looking like the player we know he can be. It also was nice to see players not always known for attacking the rim in Jordan Chatman and AJ Turner to be more assertive that way. BC got high quality shots and they were not all threes.
  • Better ball handling - Whether you want to look at dribbling it or passing and catching it, it was all improved. It allowed BC to get shots (they took 34 in the second half to 28 in the first) and considering the percentage they shot, solved the problem at both ends of the floor.
  • Aggressive, but smart from both Bowman and Robinson - in the first half Ky Bowman was rushed and sloppy and Jerome Robinson essentially non existent. Both looked like all ACC players against a team of all ACC players.

Duke components:

  • Where did the defense go? - In past articles we’ve discussed effort related to output and that a 10% reduction in effort generally has an exponential and not linear relationship to results. With that in mind I give you the Duke defense. BC shot 56% from the floor in the second half and limited those turnovers, but where was the ball pressure and where was the wing denial? The Devils are a young team, who fed off the crowd in the first half and opened up that huge lead, but clearly lost focus defensively and to BC’s credit, they were there to take advantage.

What then does this tell us?

As you may be able to tell, if I had to put a value on what got the Eagles back in the game and had to attribute it to what BC did as opposed to what Duke didn’t do, my lean from a straight execution point, is definitely toward Duke being the determining factor.

Call it 70/30, with the let down on the Duke defense allowing BC to experience more success and reduce the turnover bug.

The team with more talent generally controls the flow of the game so that is not an unreasonable stance to take.

However, the biggest take for me out of this from a BC perspective was the resiliency of this team. Just yesterday, North Carolina beat NC State by 51 points after being up at the half by 33. Now I am not saying that NC State won’t bounce back against BC, but the Eagles could have easily rolled over at Cameron and had the same fate, but didn’t do that and regardless of whether Duke’s intensity and execution had a 10% drop or not, the Devils are still talented enough to have done the same thing..but they didn’t.

There is an awful lot of good for BC to take from this loss, but their belief in themselves, may be the biggest of all.