On March 10th, the first year of newly instated coach Earl Grant came to an end. The Eagles’ loss to the Miami Hurricanes came in heartbreaking fashion as the Hurricanes raced down the court to a wide-open layup as time expired after the Eagles botched their final possession with a trip to the semifinals on the line. It was gut-wrenching, a feeling all self-proclaimed ‘sickos’ have grown accustomed to over the last decade.
Yet, I would be remiss in not stating that BC getting to that position in the ACC Tournament was nothing short of amazing. The Eagles were certainly not expected to make it that far into the tournament after a sub-par 11-19 regular season record and after finishing just 6-14 in conference play. Pittsburgh appeared to be a winnable contest, but after that, Wake Forest was expected to trounce the Eagle, especially after beating the same BC team by 30 around a month prior. But, the Eagles stayed resilient, dug their heels in and pulled off an overtime upset that effectively pushed Wake out of the Big Dance. A truly incredible feat.
In spectating the last two weeks of the ACC tournament, I found myself enjoying watching this team play. Their fervor and drive to compete was contagious and at one point my FitBit said my heart rate reached 120 BPMs when the Eagles were down to the wire against Miami. At no point in this season had I experienced such an adrenaline rush watching the Eagles and, to be honest, I truly missed that feeling.
After the dust settled on a tough loss against Miami, I went to the mental drawing board and started looking back on this season. After their longer than expected run in the conference tournament, it truly dawned on me that there was no reason why the Eagles could not compete with any of the other teams in the conference this season. But, nonetheless, the record shows that the Eagles struggled this year winning just 37% of their games, so there clearly were some lapses.
With this in mind, I piled all my emotions, research and pure speculations into coming up with four adjectives to describe what I saw on the court. I settled on two negatives and two positives that I believe encapsulate BC’s 2021-22 season well and give even us ‘sickos’ some reason to look forward to next season on the Heights…
It has been a common thread across the past few seasons that there has always been a feeling of inconsistency in the program, especially from a shooting perspective. The Eagles ended up finishing 12th in the ACC in shooting percentage at 42.8% on the season. They finished with 8 games shooting under 40% and 9 games above 50%. Interestingly enough, however, in my research its clear that shooting a high percentage is not always correlated with success. On days where their shooting was on point (i.e. >50%) the Eagles lost every single one of those games.
This was a bit of a head scratcher. At first I blamed the competition they were going against in those game, which is a plausible assumption as losses came against UNC, Syracuse and Miami in those contests. But, similarly in those high shooting performance games, the Eagles also lost twice to Georgia Tech, St. Louis and URI. This led me to think of a different area of inconsistency that was not solely shooting based.
I cam to the conclusion that inconsistency for this team was primarily player-based. For most of the season, I recall there being a lot of instances where we would go into a game not knowing who was going to help propel the Eagles to a victory. In other words, who was going to be the one playing hero-ball. Some nights it was James Karnik popping off, other nights it was DeMarr Langford Jr.
This BC team struggled mightily in the beginning in searching for its identity. Grant was gifted a mixed bag of players from the previous coaching staff and a handful of transfers that had to settle into new roles on their new team. It was expected that there were going to be some creases that Grant had to iron out, and that stuff takes time.
Fortunately, as the season the progressed, we saw more pronounced roles for the players and successes were beginning to be had. TJ Bickerstaff earned the role of our Glass-Eater, Brevin Galloway our three-point attack, Jaeden Zackery our floor general, Karnik our post-presence, and the Langford brothers doing a little bit of everything. Once it all came together in the later half of the season, each player began to showcase their innate skillsets in a more rounded and consistent manner. Unfortunately if one of those players was injured or off one night, there was not much depth and experience the fill their void which proved problematic. But when the Eagles were clicking, they were truly clicking.
Chalk this up to potentially lack of experience in clutch moments, but seemingly every time the Eagles were neck-and-neck with their opponent in the closing minutes, things seemingly just fell apart. It seemed that everyone on the floor would catch a case of the jitters and fail to execute in the most crucial minutes of the game.
The Eagles played a total of 4 overtime games on the season; Georgia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame and Wake Forest. But the Eagles only walked away with one overtime victory, against Wake in the conference tournament. In overtime games this season, the Eagles were outscored 33 to 38. On paper, not too bad of a margin. It was more so the shot selection in those losses that left me in utter disappointment.
The Eagles consistently seemed like they did not set up a play design or, if they did, did not execute it all that well. They also turned the ball over fairly consistently in these dire moments which was difficult to watch.
Going forward, I believe these issues should be rectified, as now that these players have been placed into these situations, and have seen that they are indeed capable of winning in crucial moments, their confidence should only grow in this area.
Now, on to the positive adjectives. It is no doubt that everyone can see that this team fought their way through each contest. Granted, there are some games where this team did seem a tad absent-minded out there, but I can confidently say that I rarely saw this team hang their heads when they had their backs against the wall like I have seen in past teams.
In breaking down the full log of their games the season, on average the Eagles scored 66.8 PPG to their opponent’s 68.1 PPG. Overall, that truly is not bad for a team that lost 19 regular season games on the season, let alone against some decent ACC competition. This shows that Eagles were effectively in each of their games. Granted, like with any data set, there are outliers (i.e. Wake’s 30 point win in January), but even still the Eagles did not keel over when their shots at making the Big Dance looked more and more bleak.
The game against Clemson stands as a true testament to this team’s desire to win. Battling back from a 23 point deficit to eke out a win, on the road mind you, was a true bright spot on the Eagles’ schedule this year.
The Eagles also shined bright in their paint presence. Karnik and Quinten Post were absolute forces to be reckoned with down-low in the rebounding department. BC finished at the top of the ACC table in RPG with 31.6 total and in ORPG with 9.2. Down in the trenches, one of the grittiest areas of the floor, the Eagles proved resilient even against top-tier competition.
Their tenacity was truly infectious and also spoke to the type of character that Earl Grant is looking to mold.
On day one of watching this Eagles team, I had no idea who more than 75% of the players were on the court. Nobody truly stood out and nobody had really made a presence for themselves on the Heights yet. Plus, of course, a new coach meant a new scheme, new identity and new style of play.
At the end of the year, we saw pretty much all of these things change under Grant’s team. Grant has proven that he has the ability to build a solid rapport with his players who clearly showed that they enjoy playing under his leadership. He has also proven that he likes his players to give 100% every single time they hit the floor and wont accept any lollygagging.
Grant puts a lot of trust in his players, even when they are in a shooting slump. While some may disagree with that rationale, it shows that he wants his players to gain confidence in their style of play and truly develop into themselves. He even gave a lot of minutes to freshman Kanye Jones, who really struggled in the start of his collegiate career, so as to give Jones a taste of ACC-level competition and get his feet wet even if it meant that he was going to make some mistakes.
Grant also showed how he was capable of adjusting his schemes on the fly. Against Wake and Miami he was not afraid to switch from man to a zone that ended up proving pretty effective in stalling out opponents on the offensive end. Furthermore, at times, he showed emotion on the sidelines unlike in the Christian-era where it became so characteristic to see JC make a troubled look and simply slink back to the bench. It was a pleasant feeling to see more energy from the sideline.
All-in-all, despite a rough season (which was to be expected) there were a lot of optimistic notes coming from Grant and his team this year. It is evident that this team likes playing for Grant and that they give it their all time in and time out, which I think is critical on the recruiting trail and in the locker room. Players want to play for a coach who believes in them and I think Grant does just that, leaving fans a lot of hope going into next season.
Of course, there are a plethora of adjectives I probably left out of this post-mortem article. In my closing remarks, I must say that this season went a lot better than I expected. It sometimes is not easy to see the positives in a losing record, but I truly believe there is a lot of hope on the horizon for this program. With solid recruits filing in next season, experience and chemistry creased out a bit, and Grant’s first season as an ACC head coach under his belt, there appears to be no other way than up from here. And I am certainly going to stick around for the ride.