After winning their season opener over Wake Forest, it is fair to say there was a bit of intrigue surrounding this year’s BC squad, maybe not optimism but certainly interest. However, as many will tell you, especially in the BC basketball fandom, one good game is not a cause for celebration, too many new faces and too many unknown elements. Many eyed the Eagles’ trip to Tampa Bay to play the University of South Florida, wondering if the promise the team showed on opening night was anything more than a flash in a pan.
For his starting five, Coach Christian went with Derryck Thornton, Jay Heath, Nik Popovic, Steffon Mitchell, and Jared Hamilton replacing Jairus Hamilton who was out with a knee injury. In Hamilton’s absence, the Eagles needed someone to step in and fill the void left by Jairus.
The first few minutes of the first half seemed to forecast disaster. BC had two turnovers before two minutes of game time had elapsed (which was a forecast of things to come). USF jumped out to an early 9 point lead and it just looked like the Eagles hadn’t really woken up yet. That USF lead was built on out-rebounding BC and BC turnovers. Fifteen minutes in, the Bulls had a five to one rebound advantage over the Eagles. BC quickly matched their number of turnovers from the Wake Forest game with seven. The Eagles’ were beating themselves. Jay Heath and Derryck Thornton were bright spots in the early going, but it didn’t seem like they could overcome the sloppy mistakes.
Then the cavalry came riding over the hill, or rather, off the bench. CJ Felder entered the game and had great layup which led to a three point play, which Felder quickly followed with a three pointer that cut the lead from 9 to 3. True freshman Julius Rishwain came off the bench and scored 8 points in 6 minutes and seemed to add a little spark to the BC offense. Steffon Mitchell and the rest of the squad started winning more and more rebounds. The contributions off the bench seemed to breathe new life into the Eagles as they finished off the half on a 26 to 6 run. Nik Popovic added a three at the first half buzzer to send the Eagles into the locker room with a 43 to 32 lead.
Despite giving up two quick USF scores to start the second half, BC kept rolling offensively, they maintained a double-digit lead for the rest of the game, despite many turnovers. However, fortunately for them, unlike in the first half, USF failed to capitalize on these turnovers, turning the ball over themselves. Combined with some dreadful shooting, and an inability to control the board, USF saw the game drift away. It didn’t help when star guard Laquincy Rideau was forced to sit on the bench after his third foul.
Even as the Eagles continued to turn the ball over, they (strangely) just controlled the game from the second half onwards. The only statistical category USF beat BC in was turnovers, 21 to BC’s 28. But the Eagles were the only team making any shots, finishing the game shooting an even 50% from the field while USF finished just 36% shooting. At no point in the second half did it feel like USF was going to make a comeback. The Eagles simply just cruised to a 14 point victory, with a final score of 74 to 60.
To sum up, I think BC fans should allow themselves to be cautiously optimistic about this team’s fortunes. I’m not predicting an ACC championship or even a national ranking, but I think this team may be better than we thought. This was a complete team victory, with no one player doing all the work. Popovic added 2 more threes after his buzzer beater to end the half to go with his 15 points and 8 rebounds, Derryck Thornton orchestrated the offense with excellent leadership, Steffon Mitchell put it all the dirty work on both ends rebounding, getting put-backs and assists, and Jay Heath continued to impress. Off the bench, CJ Felder and Julius Rishwain made notable contributions. The fact that so many of the Eagles’ young players are playing this well, this early, and that the team seems to be meshing already is optimistic. However, there is a giant, 28 turn-oversized, asterisk next to that optimism. Most teams, even bad ones, will punish you for committing 28 turnovers. The Eagles got lucky that USF went so cold in the second half, and committed 21 turnovers of their own. That type of perfect storm is not likely to happen again and especially not against the type of competition the Eagles will face in the ACC. This cautious optimism needs much more validation against stronger competition, but right now the Eagles are looking like they could be more than just bearable to watch. Dare I say they might even become entertaining?
BC returns to Conte Forum on Wednesday, November 13th to host High Point University.