Saturday afternoon, the men’s basketball team suffered their 16th straight loss, a 76-71 defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech. Despite outplaying and outshooting the Yellow Jackets in the second half (going 46.9% from the field, compared to GT’s 33.3%), a slow start plagued the Eagles in their fourth single-digit loss of the season.
Naturally, the Eagles are a first half team, tending to lose momentum in the second half; this, however, was not the case on Saturday. The Eagles first half field goal percentage was 52%, which isn’t too bad, but compared to the Jackets’ 72.7%, it would prove costly.
The Eagles went on a 19-8 run to pull within two of the Yellow Jackets at the halfway mark of the second. Nonetheless, their second-half push was not enough to erase their 13-point halftime deficit. “We played a team that, especially in the second half, played extremely hard and did a lot of good things against us,” said Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory. "They really gave us a lot of problems."
Jim Christian credits the Eagles' demise to their failure to get to the line, comparing their 33 fouls against the minuscule seven fouls committed by Georgia Tech. Not to fault the team for fouling, but rather the Eagles' inability to get fouled when driving to the basket. “You’re not going to be able to win if they shoot 33 free throws and you only shoot seven. It’s just not going to work,” said Christian. "They were doing a much better job getting fouled on similar plays."
Eli Carter led the offensive effort with 25 points, followed by Dennis Clifford with 17, and Sammy Barnes-Thompkins with 15, his highest on the season. Despite the high numbers they posted, and some clutch plays by Matt Milon, the Eagles couldn't foster a full comeback.
Many may argue that going 0-for-ACC play should be grounds for some changes to the coaching staff. In his second year on the job, Christian is going to have another losing season; going 13-19 in the 2014-15 season and 4-14 in conference play. This season, he has the potential to go winless in conference play --- with only two ACC games remaining --- while currently boasting a 7-22 record overall.
Arguably one of the worst years for two of BC’s biggest revenue sports, the Eagles could be the first group to go winless in conference play for both football (0-8 ACC) and basketball as a power conference school in the post-World War II era.
There could be an argument for the injuries this team has suffered: Johncarlos Reyes absence with a foot injury, Jerome Robinson suffering a fractured wrist, and AJ Turner’s misfortune of a high ankle sprain. With the lack of some of their biggest producers, the Eagles could make the argument that they are reeling from that hardship, but Christian is not going to make excuses when he has 11 other players on his roster.
“We’re trying everything we can to try and be better,” says Christian on his team's progress. "I've never once made an excuse, I never will."
Playing in the best conference for college basketball, is not going to be easy for any team, let alone a team in the middle of a rebuild. To further exacerbate the issue, the ACC is home to some of the biggest names in college basketball, including: Duke, UNC, UVA, Syracuse, and Louisville.
It is the conference that has sent the greatest amount of players into the NBA (75), and six teams in the conference are currently ranked in the AP Top-25 (No. 3 UVA, No. 7 UNC, No. 11 Louisville, No. 12 Miami, No. 15 Duke, and No. 23 Notre Dame.) That is hard even for a team with experience and a veteran roster.
"It’s very difficult when you’re in the bottom of this league, you’ve gotta build your way out of it, because the top is very heavy and strong," said Christian of the competition BC encounters each week.
It is not as though the Eagles aren't putting up a fight; they battled hard with UNC, holding a lead over the powerhouse until there were seven minutes left in the game. BC pulled out to an early lead against Miami, but the inexperienced team failed to execute in the second half and hold off a Hurricanes' comeback. They are proving to be a challenge to some of the nation's top teams.
This isn't a quick fix that will happen within a season. Christian is still working on bringing in his own group of recruits to the Heights and making this the team he believes can become a contender in the ACC. His first recruiting class has proved to be a good one, with the unfortunate injuries to Turner and Robinson other freshmen have stepped up in an attempt to fill the gap. "I know we will (turn the corner) and I’ll give full credit to them," said Christian.
With eight freshmen there is going to be an obvious learning curve and it is going to take time; and with Clifford and Carter as the only two experienced leaders out on the court, the young guys are getting involved and having to mature early on. No team is going to make a mark on the best college basketball league in a year unless they are bringing in the best in the game --- and BC is not.
The fact of the matter is, BC is bringing in good guys, but given the standards off the court they aren't going to get the best of the best. BC is not looking for players that excel solely on the court, but rather guys who can show success and perform at the same academic level of their peers as well.
“They’re building it the right way, and it’s hard to do it in this league, man it’s hard. Especially when you don’t have everybody out there,” said Gregory. “When you have a young team in this league, you’re gonna get your brains beat in; you get knocked down all the time, the character of the kid has to be so strong.”
The Eagles will continue to come out each game and fight, but they are taking the process one step at a time. Every team has its rough years, and with more experience, this year's freshman class has potential to rise above the adversity and become a contender in the coming seasons.
BC travels to NC State on Wednesday and looks to regroup and go for win number one against the Wolfpack (14-15). If Milon plays a consistent game, Barnes-Thompkins continues to play at the level he has in the last few matches, and with the possible return of Turner, the Eagles have the potential to be successful in the coming matchup.
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