Boston College opened its 2015-16 men's basketball season with a solid 75-49 victory over last year's Northeast conference regular season champion, St. Francis (Brooklyn) Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum. With essentially an entirely new roster and coming off a less than impressive pre-season win over D2 Bentley, there were serious doubts about how this young group would respond in the season opener, but the Eagles put the game away in the first half behind a strong performance from grad student transfer Eli Carter and true frosh guard Jerome Robinson.
To say the season has a long way to go of course would be something of an understatement, but with expectations so low for this Eagle team, there should be at least a bit of cautious optimism around the way this team played.
This team will gather an identity as the season progresses, one game won't be the indicator of what we will see this season, but let's take a look at some things that unveiled themselves as well as those who shone and those who didn't.
Boston College came out ready to play - With only two players in the lineup who got any sort of time in 2014-15 (Dennis Clifford and Garland Owens), and eight true freshman getting minutes, this easily could have been a very ugly encounter, particularly at the offensive end of the floor, but it wasn't.
The Eagles, at least for the first 25 plus minutes of the game, executed like a veteran team. It certainly helped that Eli Carter looked like an all ACC performer, but when you turn the bright lights on and put on game uniforms rather than practice jerseys and let those freshman go for the first time, anything can happen and in this case, the anything was more like a team in mid-season form.
That said, it did fall apart somewhat in the second half. BC lead 32-9 with just over four minutes remaining in the first half and from there on out, outscored the Terriers 43-40. BC clearly did not execute with the same precision and discipline the last 24 minutes, that they did the first 16.
This team will play very much like last year's did - I noticed virtually nothing different in the way BC played schematically on either end of the floor. The Eagles stayed almost entirely quarter court man to man defensively and ran their four out, one in, high ball screen offense all game long. This seems to indicate the Coach Jim Christian is a program coach, recruiting to a system as opposed to necessarily fitting the scheme to the players, although this group seemed to do just fine running what Christian has installed.
The rules changes did not drastically change the way the game was played - Yes, Idy Diallo will be in foul trouble from the moment he steps on the floor most nights including this one, but both teams adjusted eventually to the quick whistles around post play and screening and the fouls slowed considerably as the game went on. As far as the shot clock was concerned, I didn't think that either team looked to change tempo more so than usual, the five seconds less to operate, really was inconsequential.
BC has some length on the perimeter that will help defensively - A lot was made of St Francis not scoring the first nine minutes of the game and getting just 16 in the first half, but I didn't think that BC's defense was as strong as it was made out to be. St Francis had success getting into the lane and creating kick out opportunities for three pointers that they missed. BC didn't give up layups, but they did have issues closing out to guard players on the perimeter, which lead to those drive and kick opportunities.
That said though, BC showed some promise defensively. The Eagles have long lean bodies on the perimeter and at least against this level of competition can pressure and provide help to get the basketball stopped. They wound up scoring 16 points off turnovers in the first half, 21 for the game.
Post play - The Eagles went with a small lineup, with Garland Owens at the four spot and Dennis Clifford at the five. This wasn't a huge factor against a mid major program like the Terriers, but you can see it could definitely be one as the season progresses. Will this team be able to defend with this lineup against teams with more size and will someone, anyone be able to score against those same types of teams. So much of what BC got for points in the paint was based on guard penetration rather than just throwing the ball to the post.
Let's take a look at the positives and not so positives:
Eli Carter - Carter simply does a little bit of everything. He was the primary ballhandler, scorer, offensive organizer and was extremely focused on the defensive end. He's got what I would call an "old man" game in that he understands how to get his shot off and seemed to be playing chess while everyone else plays checkers.
He was able to score at the rim, both right and left handed, mid range jump shots as well as from beyond the arc. He made shots with people in his face that grown men are paid big money to drain. Will he be able to handle the ball and make the same types of contested shots against ACC caliber competition he made yesterday, time will tell.
The only fly in his ointment was 1-5 from the free throw line.
Jerome Robinson - started at the shooting guard with Carter at the point and played with a confidence belying his age. Robinson was aggressive to basket early and proved he could score it and handle it.
Robinson filled almost every box you could fill in a stat sheet, 19 points on 7-13 from the floor and 5-5 from the stripe, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and only 2 turnovers.
As he matures and gains strength, he will prove a highly problematic cover for opposing defenses.
It will also be very interesting to see how many minutes and how effective Robinson gets at the point if and when Carter is on the bench.
Freshman confidence and poise - Robinson and A.J. Turner played like seasoned veterans in their first D1 game, but BC got solid contributions from all the freshman who played. Sammy Barnes-Thompkins provided instant energy and 9 points including 2-4 from beyond the arc, while Ervins Meznieks and Matt Milon totalled 40 minutes of playing time between them and certainly didn't hurt BC while they were out there.
Not one of them looked lost out there Maybe a little weak physically, but they played hard and with good (for most of the game - great for the 16 minutes) execution.
Hey it was a first game, so when in doubt, shoot first and ask questions later will happen.
I wouldn't go crazy based on one game, but it was a more polished and poised start for this group than most would have imagined.
The not so goods:
Dennis Clifford - I realize he had 11 rebounds including four offensive, but I saw no sign of improvement from last year to this, with the same problems plaguing him that we've seen in the past. Clifford couldn't finish at all around any body contact (1-7 FG) and at times got pushed around even on the defensive end against players significantly smaller than he is. He just lacks strength, balance and quick recognition required to do so. Clifford is the only possibility BC has to score through the post but it looks as if the problems doing so from last year, will be back again this year.
Rebounding - What you say? BC was a plus 10 for the game, but the fear is the offensive rebounds gathered by St Francis. BC gave up 14 offensive rebounds...the plus 10 is more a case of the horrid shooting percentage for the Terriers. Anything to do with the game in the paint, whether it's defending the paint, rebounding in it or scoring in it, is going to be a point of contention for the Eagles this season.
Focus and finish - Granted this is nit picky as BC was up 28 with just under 16 to go in the game, but the execution on the offensive end definitely dwindled as the game progressed. The freshman went a bit more one on one and got away from what had built them the big lead. I will say too that the team with nerves early on looked like St Francis and when those yips went away, and BC got a bit sloppy, the game evened out.
All said though, hard to call this game anything but a success! Up next Central Connecticut State on 11/19.