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Postgame Thread: Boston College Edges Out NC State 71-68

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The Eagles pull it off, but they didn’t make it easy.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

In yet another reminder that nobody understands what this team’s performance levels are, your Boston College Eagles defeated NC State 71-68 this afternoon to climb back to .500 on the year and 7-8 in conference. Derryck Thornton led all scorers with 22 points and Jay Heath had 16. Meanwhile, Devon Daniels and Jericole Hellems had 15 each for the Wolfpack.

The Eagles built a lead early and held it steady for most of the game; they trailed for just 59 seconds in the entire contest and shot a blistering 56% from the field in the first half. But as all BC fans know, that hardly guarantees an easy victory. Their lead never got higher than 12 and they led by single digits or trailed for the final 15 minutes of the game.

The first half was actually a pretty great chess match between the coaches. BC came out hot from deep and forced NC State to change up their defensive scheme - the Wolfpack went from a standard man defense to nearly full court pressure and a zone in the halfcourt. The Eagles countered with more interior play with Jairus Hamilton, CJ Felder, and Nik Popovic and dominated in the paint for a bit. When NC State started to collapse inside, Mitchell and Popovic started hitting some inside-out passes to Heath and Thornton to maintain the lead. We saw a lot of the same on the other end as well, where it was clear that BC had put an emphasis on shutting down the three, which saw Braxton Beverly passing up shots to feed the bigs like DJ Funderburk inside (NC State finished with 40 points in the paint, though that may be, in part, due to foul trouble for Steffon Mitchell early in the 2nd half).

The game, in general, just felt like boxers exchanging blows with little urgency until the closing minutes, at which point both teams exponentially ramped up the intensity. The Wolfpack pressure forced BC into some bad turnovers, but the Eagles responded by clawing back and forcing some TO’s of their own. The highlight sequence was no doubt Steffon Mitchell deflecting a pass in the closing seconds, scrambling to recover it, somehow avoiding the refs noticing that he stepped out of bounds, and feeding Jairus for the fastbreak dunk to put the Eagles up by three. A bad call by the refs, but the effort was both unreal and what we have come to expect from the junior forward.

I’ll also say: we’re at the point in the season where the lessons one can take away from this game are very much the same lessons as from all the other games. This team can be good; they are at their best when they are playing energetic defense, working within the system Jim Christian has set up for them, and hitting their shots. They are bad when they get lackadaisical on defense and play hero ball on offense. All of those are controllable except “hitting your shots,” yet time and time again the Eagles seem to forget that.

At the end of the day, it was a bounceback win for a team that badly needed one after last week’s loss to Miami. That we can all agree on. Let’s go celebrate

Other Game Notes:

1) Apologies for the pretty scatterbrained (and late) recap. I usually write these while the game is going on but technical difficulties prevented that today.

2) Popovic looks to be comfortable again on offense, if not the most effective. He started his first game in over two months today and had some beautiful jumphooks and a punishing dunk, but some unspectacular efficiency (14 points on 17 shots). And he looked really out of it on defense, particularly on the break. I saw at least four lobs where he was badly out of position. Hopefully that comes back quickly, as the Eagles need to

3) I cannot overstate how important Jairus Hamilton is to this team. NC State’s surge to tie the game and take the lead near the end of the first half coincided with him stepping off the floor for a few minutes to tend to a knee injury (Mitchell had already been off the floor for quite a bit at this point, and the Eagles really needed another big boy next to Pop). His athleticism lends himself as a bail out option on both offense and defense, and when he’s on the floor

4) No idea when Jared will be back. He sat again today in street clothes.

5) Shoutout to Thornton today, who hit all 11 of his free throws and was instrumental in the win. The team went 15/18 from the charity stripe today, a much needed improvement that was absolutely necessary for the win.