It was opening night at Conte Forum tonight for the Boston College Men’s basketball team and there was certainly a feeling of optimism in the air. There were a bunch of new recruits on the Heights and all of the Eagles faithful were excited to see what they could bring to the table against a Cornell team who clinched an Ivy League tournament bid back in the spring.
The beginning minutes of the game showed an explosive Eagles team coming out firing on all cylinders. Highly touted recruit, Prince Aligbe, tried to make a splash early by shooting just about every opportunity he had. Unfortunately, he started out on the floor shooting 0-5, but his early confidence was surely admirable.
Defensively, the Eagles stood firm through the first six minutes of play, holding the Big Red to just a single field goal and forcing four turnovers early on. The script was beginning to be written as a show of sheer dominance by the Eagles. However, as the game went on the growing pains started to slowly present themselves and the wheels gradually started falling off.
Cornell was able to find itself in a bit of a rhythm, becoming more efficient and mindful of their shot selection. The Big Red managed to close a once double-digit lead into a single possession game, led by sophomore Nazir Williams and returning starter Chris Manon, who would combine to finish with 20 of Cornell’s 41 first half points.
For the Eagles, there was initially a clear lack of chemistry which came as no surprise with all of the new faces on the court. After having an early edge in the turnover department, the teams finished the half matching the total turnovers margin at 10 each.
Additionally, it seemed like every newcomer wanted to use the stage to shine in their debut instead of treating this matchup with a bit more poise, grace and connectivity. It is for these reasons that I think the Eagles shot themselves in the foot towards the end of the half and let Cornell back into the contest, as BC was only able to head into the locker room with a 43-41 lead. Nonetheless, it was clear from the jump that there is some explosive talent on this team - in the early goings everyone was able to make some type of impact the second they stepped on the court. Despite this, I guarantee one of Grant’s messages at half was to go into the second with a bit more discipline and to play more as a unit instead of one man show.
The beginning of the second saw just that from the Eagles. Boston College came out with a newfound energy that was put on full display in the first few minutes of the half. TJ Bickerstaff continued his strong performance from the first with an aggressive block and Prince Aligbe continued his aggressive campaign to try to find his way to the basket. While this was all good to see, the Eagles were still having a tough time putting their money where their mouths were.
Cornell continued to stick around and not give in to any type of intimidation tactic from the Eagles. The Big Red managed to go on a 10-0 run and eventually found themselves with their first lead of the game with just under 11 minutes to go in the game.
However, the Eagles stayed resilient. They were able to get two quick jumpers to cut Cornell’s lead to just 1 point. After this, both offenses appeared to run dry as neither team could really find itself a sense of rhythm. Then, all of a sudden, there was a burst. CJ Penha started finding his way into the paint with ease to put in some solid layups for BC. Yet, Cornell always seemed to have an answer. It was Nazir Williams for the Big Red that sucked some more life out of the Eagles with tough to swallow and-1 opportunity that pushed Cornell’s lead out to 4 with 7 minutes to go in the contest.
It was all Cornell for the next four minutes before some big time baskets from Aligbe and and Makai Ashton-Langford helped to bring the Eagles back to within two points. A big inbound steal by Bickerstaff and handoff to Ashton-Langford for an easy layup tied the game back up. It was then Aligbe who then slammed it home to get BC their first lead since the ten minute mark of the second.
After some careless fouls by Cornell, and some crucial free throws hit by Mason Madsen, the Eagles were able to go on a 12-1 run. Greg Dolan did hit a buzzer beater two pointer for the Big Red to bring the game to 77-74 and keep things interesting. And interesting it stayed. After a first missed three point attempt by Cornell that bounced out of bounds, giving BC possession, an errant inbound pass forced TJ Bickerstaff out of bounds with the ball and gave Cornell one last gasp for air. The Big Red certainly capitalized off of that chance, as Max Watson was able to drill a corner three over Aligbe to tie the game once again at 77 a piece with 29 seconds to go in regulation.
And then, in dramatic fashion, the Eagles came out of a timeout with 17 seconds remaining and put their faith in the new recruit, Prince Aligbe. Ashton-Langford drew the defense in leading to a beautiful pass downlow to Aligbe who was able to muscle his way up for the game-winning layup.
Overall, this was a sweat-inducing win for the Eagles in their first game of the season. A lot will need to be reviewed in the tape-room. Turnovers were certainly an issue for both sides, but BC cannot expect to go into ACC play with 19 per game like they did tonight. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear as though any BC players stepped up to be the team’s three-point weapon as the Eagles finished just 4-17 from beyond the arc. More will hopefully develop in that department as the season continues.
Huge shout-outs to TJ Bickerstaff and Prince Aligbe who are both my players of the game. They played with sheer excellence, grit and tenacity. Bickerstaff finished with a double-double, collecting 10 boards and having some beautiful putbacks to earn him 12 points on the night. Aligbe, despite a rough start, finished shooting 8-17 on the night with 16 points and 9 boards. The Eagles faithful were hoping to see something big from the newcomer and I must say he certainly didn’t disappoint in his collegiate debut.
There is certainly an identity to be built with this team and I can only imagine that the way this team will go from here is up.
Next up, the Eagles will welcome the Detroit Mercy Titans for a 1 PM Friday tip-off.
(P.S. Another huge shout out to the student body who showed some love tonight for the team. Your enthusiasm and commitment to this team was contagious even as I streamed the game all the way out here in Colorado. Keep it up y’all!)