Five quick takes after Boston College evened its ACC record at 3-3, jumping out to a 21 point lead early in the second half, before holding on for an 81-75 win over Florida State at Conte Forum.
BC is now 13-6 on the season and a sparkling 11-1 at Conte Forum.
This a game that BC would not have won a year ago
On the surface, this goes without saying. BC won just two conference games a year ago and none in the year prior to that, but even holding that 21 point lead with 18:49 to go in the game, there is a real chance that previous Eagle teams would have coughed this one up.
This team has learned how to get to the finish line most nights. It wasn’t necessarily pretty down the stretch, but BC did a reasonable job limiting turnovers and made their free throws, offsetting Florida State’s depth, on ball pressure and attack of the paint and the backboard, to get this win.
BC went 12-13 from the line in the last 1:11, including 8-8 in the last 37 seconds to salt this one away.
A year ago, it was live ball turnovers and poor FT shooting that doomed many a close game. BC was #261 in the country in free throw percentage a year ago and #325, the year before that. This season BC is up at #141 over 72%, a far cry from the 65% just two years ago.
How the Eagles attack pressure and the future of that tactic
Much was made of how BC attacked the Florida State pressure. A lot of ball handling was done by players not named Bowman or Robinson with results I believe that far more people felt were positive than I did watching it.
FSU allowed Nik Popovic and Luka Kraljevic to catch the ball when extending the floor and it wasn’t all about wanting then to foul them because they were poorer free throw shooters. The Noles wanted to make them decision makers with the ball and take BC out of their offense.
In the day, we called this “lock up”. Let the big catch the ball and get off him, give him a few dribbles to get going and then pressure. Even a player like Popovic, fairly comfortable with the ball, doesn’t always know what to do with it and a pattern offense team like BC doesn’t have it in the play book to initiate offense in that manner.
Although BC won the game, that strategy was successful. BC ran very little offense in the second half and therefore was part of the reason that their shooting percentage dropped from 51.6 in the first half, down to 40 after the break.
I would have to go back through the tape, but time and time again, I kept saying “the wrong guy has the ball” and on those possessions, the Eagles were generally very disjointed. While they did score on some of them and they did attack for scores immediately off the press on others, for the most part, it took BC out of rhythm and did force poor decisions, poor possessions and poor shots.
Some have said that more teams will pressure BC this way, both for the reasons above and to wear down Ky Bowman, but I believe that is unlikely. Coaches play the way they play and almost no one in the ACC extends the floor the way FSU does. Leonard Hamilton did very little out of character in that game, but don’t expect to see a massive rush to go 94 feet of man or zone pressure from others in conference.
Nik Popovic’s play
Two games in a row now that Popovic has scored 14 points. Last night was infinitely more impressive than getting those against the Dartmouth JV team, where for the first time in six conference games, he was at or above 50% from the floor, shooting 6-10.
Popovic is the most critiqued player on the team and for understandable reasons. The Eagles are very thin, so there are only so many players to evaluate and he doesn’t just play the game, everything he does has a tangible impact that goes on fan’s score sheets.
Where Steffon Mitchell for instance, can have a so-so stat line and have a major positive impact (and last night was a classic case of this), Popovic is either plus or minus and never neutral and last night was more of the same.
Plus: 14 points on 6-10 from the field, 5 blocks and 3 assists. The feeds he had to cutters in the post, the driving move and lefty finish and the dunk on the 2 on 1 breaking the press all leave an impression in your head.
Minus: Just five rebounds, none offensive (BC was out rebounded 50-36, gave up 42 points in the paint, 21 second chance points..Popovic is that anchor) and was 0-2 from the three (why do people keep saying he should take this shot, he’s made just 3-16 on the season..let’s revisit in 2018-19).
But here was my brightest moment and the one that I believe this team needs most. 1:12 left in the game and Popovic goes up among four FSU players to rip down a huge rebound. There was a toughness to it that he generally lacks and that this team needs from a center.
It’s true that he has progressed, but he still has a long way to go and that isn’t a bad thing, because it shows how high his ceiling could be.
Ky Bowman’s massive role
Let no one be confused that the most indispensable player on this team is Ky Bowman. Without him, BC is essentially shot and last night was just a further example of that.
I am not saying that Bowman is a first team All American or even all ACC and maybe at this point, like Nik Popovic, that’s not a bad thing, because even though he does so many positive things, he still has room to grow.
Consider this though.
Both in the Dartmouth game and in the Florida State game and really it happens every time he isn’t on the court, BC struggles to just get the ball down the court and into offense. The coaching staff has gone to substituting for him around the TV timeouts to lengthen his actual rest, but still in the past seven games, Bowman has played all but 10 of a possible 285 minutes and half of that 10 was against the Big Green last Saturday.
I know he had 6 turnovers and he still forces things in situations where discretion should probably be the better part of valor, but he has no backup, fights for every inch of floor space, pulled down 13 rebounds last night...ALL DEFENSIVE ONES!...that’s insane. He now has four games of 10 plus rebounds as your point guard and three of those four are vs ACC teams.
I haven’t seen BC come out with any stats around how this compares to other Eagle point guards historically (my guess is that they can’t find it), but I can’t recall a BC point guard being this good a rebounder, particularly defensively, ever. His 52 defensive rebounds in ACC games and 119 overall are just short of twice the number Nik Popovic has.
He is also the team’s leading rebounder in ACC games overall.
So Bowman: scores, scores from range, scores at the rim, leads the team in assists, steals, defensive rebounds, is your only legitimate guard defender, essentially never fouls, is your only legitimate length of the court ball handler and point guard for entry into offense and oh, he never comes out of the game.
He’s earned his letter and all of our respect.
Hanging on for dear life
Last night’s game was two teams coming from two completely opposite directions in terms of rest. BC played Saturday, but against a far inferior opponent where they in essence played with great intensity for about 5 minutes, created a margin and then cruised home.
As we know, the Eagles go to their bench at pain of death, but were able to get some level of rest in a lower stress situation for a group of guys stretched to the limit.
On average, Florida State plays nine players 12 minutes or more each game and had five of them play 35 or more in a 2 OT win on Saturday vs Syracuse and followed that up just two days later with a plane trip to Boston.
As you might expect, BC came out flying. They were rested and sharp.
In the second half, the script flipped. The Noles, albeit tired, were spreading out minutes and continuing to apply pressure and the 21 point Eagle lead dwindled before BC was able to hold on.
BC gave up 50 second half points, 12 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over four times in the final 4:38 while shooting just 40% from the field including 2-18 from three.
We saw what happened to the Eagles when travelling to UNC on short rest.
I am not saying that BC couldn’t have won last night without a bit of help from the schedulers, but there will be other ACC games where BC won’t have the benefit of solid rest and will make it more difficult to pull games out like this.
Keep an eye on the game at Syracuse on January 24 and at Notre Dame on February 6, which are the two most obvious ones that fall into this category.