Not showing up today would have been so easy to do. Coming off a disappointing loss to Fairfield, facing a regional rival, but not a team that the modern day Eagle players view in the same way past editions may have, a 4:00 PM tip, smelling Mom's cooking, some gifts from Santa and time off with family and friends firmly in sight, following three games in the past five days, there were a lot of reasons to pack it in and just go home, but to BC's credit they didn't do that.
Yes, it got hairy for a minute (a minute and 36 seconds to be exact) when Friar boss Ed Cooley finally decided to force an Eagle team seemingly ill equipped to deal with full court pressure to do just that. Suddenly what was a 20 point lead with 3:45 left was down to six with 2:09 left, but BC weathered the storm and came away with its biggest and most convincing win to date, beating Providence, 79-67.
This was my first chance to see the Eagles in person and you always feel a bit different doing that than what you pick up on TV. Needless to say, I picked a good one.
Just some general thoughts on what I saw:
- Life is just better when the ball goes in - I've said this many times before, but scoring the basketball covers up a lot of ills. BC shot 71% (20-28) from the floor, including 8-12 from beyond the arc in the second half, which was a major reason for a 25-2 run between the 10:59 and 4:13 mark in the stanza.
- 25-2 means some good defense too - No question that Providence shot the ball poorly for the vast majority of the game, but the Eagles deserve some credit too. BC did a good job contesting shots and limiting PC to one shot per possession, particularly during that run.
- Ky Bowman continues to improve - With Ty Graves now gone, this is something that is now a necessity more so than a nice to have, but as Jim Christian mentioned in his post game presser, Bowman is getting better every day. Yes, at times he is still a bull in a china shop, but virtually all of his issues are ones where he is trying too hard to do something. Those are ones any coach will be happy to live with and work on and the energy he brings to the game is infectious.
- Sharing is a good thing - The Eagles notched 13 assists on their 20 second half baskets, with AJ Turner contributing 5 and and Jerome Robinson 4. Yes, BC needed to knock down the shots off those passes, but in particular, these guys got Mo Jeffers going in the paint. When Jeffers could just catch and finish as opposed to making defended moves, BC got a lot more productivity. The approach gained the team a lot of confidence.
- I'll be home for Christmas - I was a bit curious to see Ed Cooley's comments in the post game about the team needing a break. These pre-holiday break games are ones that coaches need to have more of a heavy hand with as it is so easy for the players to get distracted and PC was out of sync pretty much all day. Extending pressure following the 25-2 run was definitely the right thing to do, but with his team lacking energy (they look like they shut it down around the 6 minute mark) and not scoring, was a way to at least artificially inject some life and waiting that long was suprising..speaking of which
- How will the Eagles handle pressure? - It wasn't uncommon in the 80s to see teams who pressured for 40 minutes. BC was one of them under Tom Davis and Gary Williams, but for the most part, outside of Havoc or Press Virginia, that part of the game has changed. With the Eagles down to Ky Bowman at the point, expect to see more teams at least try to extend against BC. Bowman is still and will be for a while, one of those players who will make a bunch of plays and also give back a lot of plays, the ultimate plus/minus player. When Bowman went out, that burden went to Jerome Robinson, tough to ask your primary scorer to also be your primary ball handler for extended periods and under the late Friar pressure, Robinson looked very shaky passing and just valuing the ball. Although he had 8 assists for the game, he also had 8 turnovers, so your starting backcourt contributed 12 turnovers, that won't work in the ACC and hasn't worked most of the year so far.
- Rebounds finish possessions - One area of real improvement to date is rebounding the ball. BC has improved its rebound rate by 7% (45-52%) from 2015 to 2016. This will definitely be tested against ACC competition, but the Eagles are getting contributions all around and watching guys like Jeffers go for the ball with two hands the way he does and guards like Bowman and Robinson active on the glass is a positive sign for this team.
- Noticeable difference athletically - One of the real obvious differences in the two teams was the level of athleticism and quickness. Outside of Robinson and Bowman, BC is limited with guys who can get to the rim and create their own shot. AJ Turner, although he played more aggressively vs the Friars, plays the game very upright and lacks physical strength and those both contribute to his inability to be a consistent offensive threat. When the PC guards stopped trying to shoot threes and drive it, like we saw the other night against Fairfield and have seen in other games too, they had success. Mo Jeffers and Nik Popovic need to catch the ball squared up to the rim as opposed to being post move threats, to be effective and I am really worried about Connar Tava who looks completely over matched as a post presence against this level of competition. He doesn't shoot it or handle it well enough on the perimeter to be effective and was just swallowed up by the PC length when he got it to the rim, something which is only going to be more noticeable against the ACC.
- Is this team talented enough to win in the ACC? - That's the question everyone wants to know. Coach Christian believes that when his team plays to its potential, it can beat anyone in the country, although he also acknowledges they can and have lost to pretty much anyone too. From my viewpoint, there are a few parts here, but the Eagles are woefully thin in the post, have limited ball handlers over space, struggle to defend off the dribble, commit way too many turnovers, shoot the ball really poorly from the stripe and tend to play at the pace dictated by their opponents. At this point, I am going to go with the Auburn and Providence games as more the aberration than the norm and although I do think there are a couple of ACC wins out there to be had, the conference is so incredibly deep, they will be hard to come by.