5 takeaways from BC basketball’s deflating loss to Belmont

The Eagles allowed 100 points in regulation for the first time since 2011.

BC coach Jim Christian expects his team to play strong defense every night.
BC coach Jim Christian expects his team to play strong defense every night. –Neil Redmond/AP Photo

COMMENTARY

Three days after allowing the fewest points they ever have under Jim Christian, the Eagles surrendered the most they have in regulation under Christian.

Boston College, which gave up just 33 points in a lopsided win over High Point on Wednesday, lost, 100-85, to Belmont at Conte Forum on Saturday. BC (3-1) scored consistently, but it couldn’t contain a Belmont (2-1) team that shot 53 percent from the floor, 58 percent from 3, and 86 percent from the line.

North Carolina was the last team to pour in 100-plus against BC in regulation, back in 2011. Christian was naturally disappointed after the Belmont loss, and he was much more discouraged by the defense than encouraged by the offense.

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“Nobody on our team played well.” Christian said. “Nobody. Not one person on our team did what we needed to do on defense to win this game.”

Here are five takeaways from a shootout that quickly got away from the Eagles after an even start.

BC kept pace with Belmont in the first half.

Despite the final result, the first half was promising in many ways for BC. Against High Point, the Eagles stooped down to the level of their opponent and struggled offensively the bulk of the night.

On Saturday, they kept pace with Belmont’s high-octane offense early. There’s a reason Belmont won a game in the NCAA Tournament last year and is a perennial contender. This team is sharp, yet BC found a way to keep pace in the first half.

Nik Popovic, who paced the Eagles with 23 points, hit a lefty layup and a 3-pointer early. Jared Hamilton converted in the paint and drilled a 3, Derryck Thornton scored six quick points inside, and BC took a 22-17 edge.

Thornton left with a lower-body injury, but he returned and continued to contribute. Steffon Mitchell and Julian Rishwain helped turn defense into offense, and CJ Felder was a force near the rim.

The Eagles finished with 42 points in the paint, compared to 28 for the Bruins. They shot 56 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc, and 85 percent from the line themselves.

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Most games, that’s more than enough. In this one, it was enough for a half. BC trailed, 49-45, at the break, and at that point it was still up for grabs.

In the first half alone, the teams combined for more points (94) than BC and High Point did in the entire game (92).

“This had nothing to do with offense,” Christian said.

Jim Christian was disappointed with his team’s lack of composure during Belmont’s run.

Problems that surfaced in the first half – such as miscommunication in transition that led to open 3s – burned the Eagles early in the second half. Belmont caught fire, turning a four-point game into a 25-point cushion with 12:06 left in the half.

That extended 30-9 run came in just eight minutes. That’s a 150-point pace for the game. Belmont crashed the glass, got out in transition, zipped the ball around, made the extra pass and buried 3 after 3. The Eagles scrambled to try and recover, but they were late closing out on shooters who can’t be left open.

“You let a team like that get in a good rhythm, it’s hard to get them out of it,” Christian said. “I was disappointed with how we guarded the ball, disappointed with how we rotated. All the stuff we had been doing really, really well, we didn’t do tonight.”

Christian said he doesn’t feel as though the Eagles stayed composed during that stretch. It wasn’t just about physically getting outplayed. It was also about the way they reacted to what happened.

He said the older players, in particular, didn’t stay composed. The younger guys, Christian said, “don’t know any better,” but he expects much more from those who have lots of experience.

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“We stayed connected in the first half when they made their runs,” Christian said. “In the second half, when they made a run, we got out of our rhythm, and we started trying to do a little too much individually. We didn’t stop them, but it was all the same kind of breakdowns.”

They made a mini run of their own, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

By the time the Eagles regrouped, they were staring at a 25-point deficit. At that point, a comeback was highly unlikely but not impossible.

BC chipped away, slicing the deficit to 16 with 6:32 left after a Thornton free throw. Then Thornton immediately committed a foul and drew a technical, giving four consecutive free-throw attempts to Adam Kunkel. Kunkel was just about unstoppable throughout the day, scoring 21 of his 35 points in the second half, and he calmly canned all four.

The sequence was somewhat of a microcosm of the entire day, as the Eagles made a positive play and immediately followed it up with two negative ones. Boston College made a little noise to make the final score more respectable, but it ended up not affecting much more than that.

“It’s disappointing,” Christian said. “That’s not who we want to be. It’s not who we’re intending to be, and we’ve got to get better.”

Several Eagles played well offensively.

Despite their overall struggles on defense, there were some promising developments on offense for the Eagles.

After an uncharacteristically sluggish performance against the Panthers, Popovic responded with his best game of the season. He shot 8 of 11 from the field, 3 of 5 from 3, and 4 of 4 from the line, flaunting the inside-out game that has made life tough for BC’s opponents over the years.

Thornton, meanwhile, added seven assists, Mitchell chipped in five assists, six rebounds, two steals, and a block, and Jay Heath scored 10 points.

Sophomore Chris Herren Jr. and freshman Kamari Williams also turned in their best offensive games of the season. Herren showcased a variety of skills, scoring six points in 18-plus minutes, while Williams added 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting.

Christian was pleased that Herren Jr. and Williams contributed offensively, but he wasn’t exactly giddy about it.

“I’m not worried about any one person,” Christian said. “I’m glad to see those guys make some shots and see them contribute, but I’m only worried about the team. I’m only worried about how we played collectively and what we need to do to get better.”

This is all about perspective, so look at it as you choose.

This is a classic glass-half full, glass-half empty situation.

The pessimist would argue that the Eagles should never give up 100 points, no matter the opponent. If they allow Belmont to score 100, life could get rather tricky when they face explosive ACC teams, such as Louisville, North Carolina, and Duke (back-to-back-to-back, no less) later in the year.

Not much went right for the Eagles in the second half, and this was a setback after a promising start to the season.

The optimist, however, would argue that the Eagles held High Point to 33 and scored 85 versus Belmont. If they put those two together, like they did to some degree against Wake Forest and South Florida, they’re tough to beat.

This would have been a big resume-boosting win for the Eagles. Instead, it’s a deflating loss after they had built up plenty of momentum in their first three games. The Eagles welcome Eastern Washington this Wednesday, at 7 p.m., a game they should win. They’ll have a chance to quickly bounce back and put this one behind them.

“We want to play good teams,” Christian said. “We’ve got a lot more coming up. This is what we signed up for. We’re not playing teams you just roll over every night. It’s great, because they expose a lot of things you need to get better at. We’ve got to get better. That’s what the early part of the season is all about.”