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Curran’s Corner 3: Claudell Harris is a Bucket, but the Defense is Losing its Grit

Not a good start to ACC play

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

With the holidays behind us, students soon returning to campus and the ACC slate fully underway, we are officially back. Unfortunately, the return to play has not been very kind to the Eagles. Since dismantling an overmatched Lehigh team over break, they lost two heartbreaker swing games to Wake Forest and Syracuse (the latter of which was maybe the worst game of basketball I’ve seen from BC) sandwiched around a victory against Georgia Tech that required turning around a 13-point deficit. Let’s get into it:

  1. The defense is losing its grit:

Three years into Earl Grant’s tenure, the mantra “gritty, not pretty” has become his teams’ calling card and the basis around which BC plays. That has always started on the defensive side of the floor. When BC is at their best, we see them playing hard every night, rebounding aggressively, blowing up passing lanes, and creating turnovers to spark transition offense. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen none of that. The Eagles only generated four steals against Syracuse, four against Georgia Tech, and six against Wake Forest. Their turnovers in those games? Five against Georgia Tech, 10 against Wake, and a horrifying 22 against Syracuse. They are not taking the ball away as much and coughing it up way more frequently. Turnovers aside, the defense in the past few games has been shaky, and at times downright bad. In the first halves against Wake Forest and Syracuse, BC came out looking disinterested, slow, and soft. I was getting flashbacks to BC Football's notorious slow starts. Somehow, we were only down by 13 to GT and 10 to the Orange at halftimes of those games, but the issue is that BC seems to be more comfortable relying on their offense to dig them out of holes. This is not a recipe for success. Sure, we were able to put up 95 against Georgia Tech, but they are just not good — the Yellow Jackets just lost to a bad, bad Notre Dame team. Against Syracuse, we came all the way back only to fade away again down the stretch. We allowed Syracuse to score 69 points, despite the Orange shooting 37.7% from the floor (and don't get fooled — Syracuse was just missing shots, rather than our defense actually playing well). The bottom line is, it is true — with the likes of Post, Harris, McGlockton (!), and others, this BC offense at its best has a much higher ceiling than any of Grant's other BC teams. Yet improving on offense cannot come at the expense of defense. At 1-3 in ACC play with a tough trip to Clemson on tap, BC needs to rediscover their defensive identity immediately. That is where they will find success.

2. Claudell Harris, Flamethrower

I wrote earlier in the season that Harris could be that bucket-getter that BC so desperately needs. Since then, he’s just taken his game to another level: 29 points, 10-15 from the floor vs. Lehigh, 15 points, 5 boards and 5 assists vs. Wake Forest, 26 points on 8-10 from the floor vs. GT, along with 16 points against Syracuse. He just scores. He can score in isolation, he can space the floor, he absolutely loves flying off of pin downs for quick-release 3s — just an absolute weapon for the Eagle’s offense. Perhaps most importantly, he can just catch fire. Against Lehigh, he scored 13 of the Eagles’ first 15 points en route to making seven 3s. He was everywhere against Georgia Tech, hitting all four of his triples. Despite struggling for most of the game against Wake, with three minutes to play and the Eagles down 77-67 he scored 10 of BC’s 11 points to draw the Eagles within one point at 79-78 with a minute to play. He just took over, hitting multiple midrange jumpers and an insane, and-1 trey to give the Eagles all the momentum. (Going back to my first point in this article, BC lost that game because Devin McGlockton just decided not to guard his man, leaving a dangerous 3-point shooter wide open in the corner to kill the comeback attempt). Beyond the numbers, Harris just seems engaged. He’s got a swagger and a competitiveness around him, getting into the other teams’ heads and playing with an edge. Against Syracuse, while he was on the bench with just minutes to play, you could see he was itching to get back into the game (more on this later). He wants the ball in his hands, he wants to be taking that big shot. I’ve said it before, but he just fits this offense so well. He will need to maintain this level of play if BC wants to climb out of this 1-3 hole in the ACC.

3. Earl Grant’s Game Management

Grant has always managed games his own way. If you are reading this, the chances are that at some point while watching BC basketball, you have stared at your screen in total confusion as the Eagles surrender a lead yet Grant refuses to call timeout. He likes to let his guys play through it, encouraging them to regroup on the floor and maintain a level head. I have mixed feelings about this; in principle I like the grittiness it should instill in his players and shows his level of trust in his team. However, sometimes it just feels like Grant is way too adamant against a timeout when his guys clearly need a breath to draw up a play and halt the other team’s momentum. Regardless, I want to talk about some other aspects of his game management — particularly the way he handled the Syracuse game. First off, he needs to find a way to get his players more ready to play from the opening tip. I’m not as worried about this, because Grant has shown he can do it, but it's twice in a row now that BC has come out completely flat in an early-season swing game. Against GT the Eagles were able to recover; against the Orange they could not. Yet we had every opportunity down the stretch to win against Syracuse. BC was winning with seven minutes to play, and it stayed winnable until around the 1:30 mark. I just could not understand some of Grant's decisions down the stretch. The most obvious is Claudell Harris — with BC going bucket for bucket with Syracuse, Harris did not see the floor from around the 7-minute mark to a FT with 3 minutes to play, by which the Eagles were already down multiple possessions. Post also wasn’t in the game, which is a little more excusable given he had maybe the worst game of his career and was in foul trouble. Yet it was Harris and Madsen’s shooting that got the Eagles back into the game, and rather than ride their hot hands, Grant had a struggling Zackery (0 points on the night, 0-7 from the floor) out there with Aligbe (who looks more and more lost with every game and is totally inept offensively). Moreover, with BC down between 3 and 5 with something like 6 minutes on the clock, Syracuse literally ran the same Maliq Brown pick and roll action four times in a row. Every single time Donald Hand switched onto the mismatch, got bullied down low, and led to either a Brown dunk or FTs. Hand was switching onto a guy with three inches and 20 pounds on him; he was obviously struggling to front him and yet Grant would not adjust his defense. Again and again, McGlockton would switch the screen and it led to Syracuse points. Ultimately, I’ve learned to trust Earl Grant. I think he will right the ship. Yet for now, all the talk of turning a corner and Tournament chances need to be stashed away.