5 takeaways from BC basketball’s defensive-minded win over High Point

“When you can get off to great starts in each half, it’s a big confidence booster."

Jim Christian has guided the Eagles to a 3-0 start.
Jim Christian has guided the Eagles to a 3-0 start. –Barry Chin/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

Late Wednesday night, with the outcome between Boston College and High Point essentially decided, the main drama quickly became how long it would take the Panthers to score their first points of the second half.

Shots clanged off the rim, the Eagles forced a steady stream of turnovers, and HPU couldn’t buy a bucket. Eventually, that initial basket came, but not before Boston College had extended its lead to 34 points with 9:28 remaining.

BC played suffocating defense all night, forcing 29 turnovers and holding High Point to 25 percent shooting. The Eagles never got into a total rhythm themselves offensively, but it ultimately didn’t matter as they cruised to a stress-free, 59-33 home win and allowed the fewest points they ever have under Jim Christian.

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Steffon Mitchell paced BC with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals, and he finished a team-best plus-29 in 19 minutes. Jay Heath added 14 points, Jared Hamilton chipped in 12, and the Eagles dominated throughout despite getting a combined 11 points from their two leading scorers in Derryck Thornton (seven points) and Nik Popovic (four).

Boston College (3-0) blasted High Point (0-3) in the paint (38-12) and in points off turnovers (24-4), earning another early-season win prior to what figures to be a tougher matchup against Belmont this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Conte Forum.

“I liked the defensive intensity for the whole game,” Christian said. “It’s not easy to do. When you’re not making shots, it’s not easy to keep that intensity up the whole time, but we did it. That’s getting to be our identity.”

Here are five takeaways from the win:

They started both halves quite well. 

The second half stood out purely because of the unusual amount of time that elapsed before High Point got on the board, but the Eagles also started the first half in extremely impressive fashion.

Hamilton splashed a 3-pointer and converted inside, Heath stole an inbound pass and raced the other way for two, and Mitchell added a layup to extend the margin to 10-0. High Point responded with a 7-0 spurt of its own, but the cushion the Eagles built up early allowed them to stay in front when that flurry came.

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BC increased its lead to 33-18 at the half. Against Wake Forest, in their season opener, the Eagles watched as a 15-point halftime lead nearly disappeared. High Point isn’t as talented of a team as Wake, but the Eagles still deserve credit for never letting the Panthers come close to an upset.

BC opened the second half on an extended 19-0 run, and by that point, the game was well out of reach once High Point finally got more comfortable.

“When you can get off to great starts in each half, it’s a big confidence booster,” Mitchell said.

Steffon Mitchell continues to do a little bit of everything.

Coming into the season, much was made about Mitchell’s growth as a jump shooter.

Last year, he shot 42.5 percent overall, 1 for 18 from 3-point range, and 56.5 percent from the line. This year, in a limited sample, Mitchell is shooting 40 percent from the floor, 0 for 4 from beyond the arc, and 5 for 11 from the stripe.

Looking at his numbers and questioning his shooting percentage would be quite unfair, though, because Mitchell has been the Eagles’ most versatile player to this point. He does a little bit of everything for BC, and that approach is more than enough for Christian.

“I have total confidence in him,” Christian said. “He’s going to become a really good offensive player for us.”

Mitchell finished in traffic, swiped the ball from helpless High Point players, and found his teammates near the hoop. He set up Kamari Williams’s first collegiate bucket midway through the second half on a pinpoint wrap-around pass from right to left, and he only turned the ball over once despite having it in his hands frequently.

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In games like this, where the energy naturally droops a bit – simply because of the lopsided margin – Mitchell has a knack for providing a steady presence and bringing out the best in his teammates.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Christian said. “There’s 350 Division 1 coaches. Three-hundred-fifty Division 1 coaches would kill to have him.”

Jared Hamilton shined on both ends.

Mitchell wasn’t the only member of the Eagles who impressed all over, all night, as Hamilton turned in his best game of the young season.

He had struggled from the floor coming in, shooting 4 of 14 and averaging just 4.5 per contests (again, small sample size), but Wednesday provided a chance for him to get going offensively.

Hamilton finished 5 for 6 from the floor, including 2 for 2 from beyond the arc, and he provided a put-back dunk late in the first half to extend BC’s lead to 13.

“Coach pointed out to me in a film session that I used to run in recklessly, not even paying attention,” Hamilton said. “He told me to keep my eye on the ball and see where it’s going to bounce. I did that on that play, and it helped me out.”

Christian was encouraged by Hamilton’s performance on that end, but he’s perhaps even more impressed by his defensive versatility. He praised the senior guard for his length, activity, and knack for making the opponent uncomfortable.

Hamilton is a key piece in what the Eagles are trying to do, because he has a gift for getting his hand in passing lanes and turning defense into offense. That’s an area the Eagles have excelled at early in the season, and Christian believes Hamilton is a major reason why.

“He’s becoming the captain of our defense,” Christian said.

They struggled from the field the bulk of the night.

The final score looks peachy, and there was a whole lot BC did well against High Point, but it wasn’t all picturesque.

Boston College shot 37 percent (24 for 65) from the floor, 12 percent (3 for 25) from 3, and 61.5 percent (8 for 13) from the line. Those numbers were plenty against the Panthers, but the Eagles know they won’t be enough against tougher teams.

It wasn’t like the ball movement was poor. In fact, it was pretty crisp the bulk of the night. It largely came down to missing open looks, and that’s the good news for BC. Thornton, for instance, was 2 for 9, as several jumpers he usually sticks with ease happened to roll around and out.

Popovic only took four shots, and made one, but he was still a plus-24. Make no mistake, this was a defensive-minded game throughout.

After Mitchell gave them a 12-7 edge with 14:52 left in the first half, the Eagles only scored two points over the next six-plus minutes.

It’s not like the Eagles have a false sense of security. They know they’ll need to shoot better and avoid those lulls going forward, but their inefficiency ended up not being a problem Wednesday.

“I’m proud of how hard we played when things weren’t going well for us in terms of making shots,” Christian said.

BC earned praise from longtime coach Tubby Smith.

High Point head coach Tubby Smith has watched a lot of basketball over the years, and he was impressed with the way the Eagles competed – particularly on the defensive end.

“I think Jim’s going to have a pretty good team,” Smith said.

Smith was pleased with the way his team defended the Eagles for the most part, but he wasn’t as thrilled with the way the Panthers played on offense. Smith pointed out that a lot of that had to do with the Eagles.

After winning the turnover battle, 17-7, against Wake, and losing it, 27-20, against South Florida, BC turned HPU over 29 times while only coughing it up 13 times itself. Christian insists the South Florida game was an anomaly, and he pointed out the Wake game was likely an anomaly as well.

“I’m not worried about that,” Christian said. “I think everybody reads into one game. The first game, we had six turnovers, and that’s not us, either. Averaging six turnovers in the ACC would be a record. We’re not at (27), either. It’s all about decision-making and getting better.”

The Eagles have done that every game thus far. They haven’t played their best yet, and they’re still 3-0. They’ve shown that if they play at this pace, with this activity on defense and a little more consistency on offense, they’ll be a tough out for anyone.

Said Hamilton: “Everyone’s just been locked in on what we’re trying to do.”