On a cold Wednesday night, a couple of career highs were not enough for the Boston College Eagles to upset Rick Pitino's No. 10 ranked Louisville Cardinals. BC ultimately lost a very close and competitive game by a score of 72-81.
The game was yet another contest against an elite team that the Eagles had the chance to win. Unfortunately, much like its other contests against top teams, BC came up just shy down the stretch.
The Cardinals entered the game with arguably the best combination of any three players on one team in the country—point guard Chris Jones, shooting guard Terry Rozier and All-American power forward Montrezl Harrell.
Pregame analysis showed that the Eagles should have been very vulnerable to Harrell. After Duke's Jahlil Okafor torched the Eagles inside and Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas gave the Eagles trouble when he wasn’t on the bench for foul trouble, it would have made sense that Harrell (being the freak athlete he is) would give the Eagles' weak inside play lots of trouble.
Adding to the pregame forecast, the Eagles looked to be a phenomenally thin team in terms of depth—a team that would have to keep up with the daunting press run by Louisville. Looking at everything holistically before the game, it seemed like this would be a huge blowout. However, this was most certainly not the case.
The first, and most important, thing that the Eagles did to legitimately contend was mix up their starting lineup. While Coach Christian acknowledged that Boston College center Dennis Clifford is “still not 100 percent,” he noted that replacement Will Magarity “would have started anyway based on how well he played.” This was an understatement. Magarity took his first start in stride as he chipped in 9 points, shooting 66% from the floor and tying the team high in rebounds.
Clifford, on the other hand, didn’t hit a shot or grab a single rebound in regulation. During his time on the court, Clifford looked lost. Given how Magarity has provided the Eagles the ability to stretch defenses and score from the perimeter, I would not be surprised, and would fully support, if Magarity starts for the rest of the year.
The next spot to touch on is BC’s backcourt play. Obviously the strong suit of the Eagles, backcourt tandem Olivier Hanlan and Aaron Brown both had career highs, Hanlan in assists, with 9, and Brown in points, with 28. Brown’s success came exactly where BC needed it: behind the arc. He knocked down 5 three-pointers for the Eagles. Hanlan, on the other hand, showed his ability to be a pass first point guard in the toughest conference in the nation.
Another positive for the Eagles came from sophomore Garland Owens, who continued to show his limitless athleticism and hustle by making a couple of huge plays for the Eagles despite being checked by Harrell for much of his time on the floor.
Additionally, Dimitri Batten displayed his ability to crash the boards as he reeled in 6 rebounds for a BC team that played small for much of the night. Unfortunately, Batten’s over-commitment on defense and somewhat out-of-control offense cost the Eagles big time on several sequences. Batten, though, has the potential to be an X-factor down the stretch for BC if he remains calm, realizes his role as a sharpshooter and chooses his spots better on the defensive end.
On a final note, Patrick Heckmann had another phenomenal, jack-of-all-trades performance. He turned it on in the second half, providing some huge highlights on his way to a 5 rebound, 5 assist and 14 point night.
Unfortunately, though, this all was just not enough. Despite Harrell being held to a relatively quiet night, the other two members of the Louisville big three, Jones and Rozier, proved to be too much to handle. Jones put up 28 and Rozier added 23. As Jones played the role of a crucial run-stopper, shutting down every bit of the Eagles' momentum, Rozier showed off a wild array of turnaround jumpers and step-back shots. Christian took note to point out that both athletes are “phenomenal players” and that they each have had performances like this all year against all opponents.
On the winning side, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino had nothing but compliments to give to Boston College. He said that after watching film, BC was “the hardest team to prepare for all season.” Pitino raved about the complexity of Christian’s offense, saying, “they do things on offense that even great teams don’t do.” Pitino commented specifically on BC's addition of Will Magarity in the lineup. “The problem is, if you’re in a matchup zone, they put five guys on the court who can beat you off the bounce. Even their 5 man can shoot!”
Despite the loss, BC’s play was again encouraging. Behind the raucous crowds that Conte Forum had on Wednesday night, the Eagles are sure to get a home upset in conference play in due time. I will leave you with one other encouraging quote from Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino on BC’s coach and the Eagles' future: “I don’t say this because I recruited Jimmy when he was in high school. I am not patronizing him in any way. This young man is going to be a tremendous coach.”
High praise from one of the best to ever walk the sidelines.
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