It was, at times, painful to watch, but the Boston College men's basketball team strolled to a fairly easy win over UNH in the season opener, beating the Wildcats 58-50 in Jim Christian's Conte Forum debut. The final score was a little misleading, as BC stretched out a 47-29 lead with 9:35 remaining before sloppy BC shooting and a bit of a garbage time run by UNH closed the gap.
BC started slowly, falling behind 11-4 in the opening minutes and taking 7:36 to register their first field goal, but once they settled into the game they handled their overmatched opponents. A combination of solid BC defense and (quite frankly) UNH ineptitude held the ‘Cats to one field goal in the final 12 minutes of the first half, letting BC take a 28-18 lead into halftime.
"The hardest thing to do in basketball is to defend well when you're not making shots," said Jim Christian after the game. "And I thought we did that well."
Indeed, the box score reveals that this was not Steve Donahue's Eagles, for better or for worse. It was only UNH, but it was nice to see an opponent held to 15-for-49 (30.9%) from the field. On the flip side, a team that sank or swam with three pointers under Donahue won tonight despite shooting 1-for-15 from behind the arc. In the first half, they were 0-for-6. Shooting overall wasn't great for BC, with the Eagles finishing the game 19-for-53 (35.8%).
"It's not that we weren't getting shots," said Christian. "We were 1-for-19 from three. We had not shot the ball poorly in our two exhibition games, but we did tonight...we weren't in sync."
While the Eagles never really had an explosive run of dominance, they had something resembling one midway through the second half to put the game fully out of reach. Aaron Brown converted two three point plays in a two minute span as part of a 13-3 run that stretched the Eagles' lead to 44-26 with 11:32 remaining.
Despite some bad shooting down the stretch that led to the game remaining somewhat tight, you never got the sense that UNH was going to come back, and they didn't, with BC starting the season in the win column.
Aaron Brown was probably the story of the game, scoring 21 points to lead the Eagles. Brown already looks like he's going to be a key player for the team, and his shooting touch kept BC in control early in the game even as others around him, including Olivier Hanlan, struggled from the floor. Hanlan went 1-for-6 in the first half, and no Eagle other than Brown had more than one field goal.
A second half bright spot was Will Magarity, who looked lively and in to the game. At 5:25 of the second half Magarity slammed home a rebound after a defensive stop to elicit one of the few semi-loud cheers of the night from the crowd. A few minutes later, Magarity added another bucket with a smooth turnaround jumper. If he can keep both of those weapons in his arsenal he'll be a valuable player for BC. Magarity finished with 8 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes on the floor.
Dennis Clifford didn't show any signs of ill health, playing 24 minutes in his return—but if you're counting on him to be a savior it's probably not going to happen quickly. He finished the game with 6 points and 4 rebounds, so not a huge day for the Big Maroon Dog, but nonetheless it was good to see him out there looking healthy again.
I'd be lying if I said anyone else really stood out to me from a BC perspective—aside, perhaps, from Eddie Odio's team leading 8 rebounds. This performance won't really put much fear into UMass, BC's next opponent, and the Eagles will certainly have to play a lot better if they're going to win that game. However, what I did see was signs of a team with better balance, capable of playing better with Jackson and Diallo inserted into the lineup and with a little more crispness and energy overall.
Though he's a newcomer to the team, Brown is no stranger to the fact that BC has had trouble closing out games in this year, noting in his postgame remarks that BC lost a lot of tight contests late in games. He said that Christian "did a good job emphasizing rebounding to us. Everybody's starting to get it—the difference in the game is rebounding."
BC lost the board battle 39-35, but his point still stands regardless: BC showed emphasis tonight on improving upon the things that really did them in the past few seasons. BC now has one day to rest up then prepare to face an NCAA tournament-caliber team in UMass. Sunday should be a pretty telling day for this group. For now, they will take the win and move on.