For the first time since winning four in a row in December, the Eagles won two games in a row this season by completing the season sweep over Notre Dame before finally snapping a winless streak against Syracuse that went back to 2018. With a winnable (yet not to be overlooked) matchup against a decent FSU team on tap before taking on Duke at Cameron, let’s break it down:
- Finishing games.
It’s been a struggle all year. The Eagles have lost five of their six ACC games by less than 10 points. The outlier? The 11-point loss to a ranked Clemson squad. It seems like we have seen familiar game patterns all-too frequently in some of these close losses, in which BC digs itself into a hole, wakes up and starts battling, but ultimately cannot make that final push to seal a win. Though it is never easy with this team – see the last minute of the Notre Dame game – the fact that BC was able to close out these two teams is a promising sign. When the Eagles went on their 21-0 run against Syracuse, connecting at will and forcing the Orange into tough shots, it looked like BC might run away with the game. As the Orange started to creep back in, chipping away at the lead, and getting their large number of fans at Conte into the game, I really thought BC was going to fall apart. Grant pulled a classic “I refuse to use a timeout,” and when Maliq Brown’s layup cut the BC lead to two with over nine minutes still left to play the Orange had all the momentum. Yet the refusal to buckle, the determination to gut out the win, was on full display (and it really, really helps when Claudell Harris is hitting shots and then dancing all over the court). Like the first matchup, the ND game was messy, muddled affair and though the Eagles gift-wrapped a chance for the Irish to tie the game with seconds left, once again they did just enough to secure the win. And that is all that matters for a team sitting at 4-6 in conference play.
- Chas Kelley’s growth.
Since Kelley’s insertion into the starting role, he has really started to look more comfortable. As Grant said, he’s the quarterback of the offense and the best true point guard on the roster. Defensively, he’s been excellent this season. My biggest concerns with Kelley have been on offense with turnovers and shot creation. I think the ball security will only improve with time, especially if he stays in this starting role and starts seeing 20+ minutes consistently every night. The shot creation aspect is the one I want to hone in on. I don’t think Kelley will ever be a number 1 or even 2 option in BC’s offense (until maybe his senior year), but that’s not his game. What he does need to be able to do, however, is effectively penetrate off the dribble and hit open shots. Zackery does a lot of things excellently on this BC team, but when the ball is in his hands he relies on his size and craftiness to get to the hoop; he just does not have the raw athleticism. Kelley has the twitch and length to do it, we just have not seen it consistently yet. Instead, there’s a tendency to over dribble, pass around the perimeter, and force shots. The Syracuse game, however, showed Kelley at his best. He had modest stats – 7 points, 4 dimes, 1 board and 2 TO’s – but he only took 3 shots, did not miss one of them, and made great decisions of when to attack and when to pass. He was a difference-maker, and we need more of it.
- How nice is it to have some shooting?
Like I mentioned earlier, BC had not beaten Syracuse since 2018; that is not a coincidence given the awful lack of shooting on some recent BC rosters combined with the Orange’s famous zone defense under Boeheim. Though Syracuse largely has shifted to more man defense under Adrian Autry, they still mix in some zone to try and catch other teams off guard. Sure enough, they tried to do just that against the Eagles – and it did not work. Much of that is due to Claudell Harris, who connected on 5-9 of 3-point land, but McGlockton, JZ, Hand, Madsen and Kelley all connected from deep too. Most importantly, it was efficient – BC shot an insane 10-20 from deep, which is unsustainable but also a sign that when the Orange gave the Eagles looks, we took advantage. There are multiple guys on this BC roster that opposing defenses need to guard on the perimeter – Post, obviously, Harris when he’s right, Zackery has looked more confident recently, Hand will shoot from wherever, Madsen has found his stroke – and all this floor spacing does wonders for the offense. BC is averaging 76.4 points per game this season, a whopping 10 points more from last year. Progress.