Here’s what’s ailing BC basketball, and how the Eagles can fix it

BC needs to learn how not to let the damage escalate.

Derryck Thornton is hoping to help the Eagles get back on track.
Derryck Thornton is hoping to help the Eagles get back on track. –Charles Krupa/AP Photo

COMMENTARY

All five of the Boston College men’s basketball team’s losses this season have followed a remarkably similar pattern.

Against Belmont, DePaul, Saint Louis, Richmond, and Northwestern, the Eagles (4-5) started strong, let the other team go on a significant run, tried to come back, then ran out of time.

Their 82-64 home loss to Northwestern (4-3) on Tuesday was a microcosm of the season to this point. BC has shown flashes of potential in all nine of its games, but in five of them, the other team’s flurry has simply been too much to overcome.

The Eagles have lost four in a row after starting 4-1, and they’re sputtering into Saturday’s showdown at Notre Dame trying to figure out how to curb a troubling trend.

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“You just can’t keep letting that happen,” BC head coach Jim Christian said. “You can’t keep digging holes. We just keep digging holes.”

Here’s how the Eagles can get back on track.

They need to learn how not to let the damage escalate.

It’s easier said than done, naturally, but these massive runs from the other team are the main reason the Eagles are below .500.

In their 100-85 loss to Belmont in mid-November, they trailed just 49-47 early in the second half before allowing the Bruins to catch fire and go on an extended 30-7 run. BC closed strong and still ended up losing by 15.

Against DePaul, the Eagles were down just one early in the second half. The Blue Demons then pieced together a 13-3 spurt to take a 45-34 lead. BC cut it to one with 1:36 left, but was never able to pull back in front.

When Saint Louis came to Conte Forum, BC was in need of a win, yet they couldn’t capitalize after taking a 35-34 edge early in the second half. The Billikens used a 19-0 burst to seize momentum. The Eagles cut it to six before they ran out of time.

In Richmond, the teams were knotted at 30, but a 23-2 run made BC’s modest answer irrelevant.

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Finally, against Northwestern, the Eagles took a 20-19 lead on a layup from Nik Popovic with 9:01 remaining in the half, then they went frigid in the next six minutes as the Wildcats outscored them 16-0. They cut it to 10 late in the game, yet once again, the comeback was for naught. The Wildcats shot 58 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3, and 90 percent from the line on the evening, out-rebounding the Eagles 38-21 and getting 27 points from their bench compared to 15 for BC.

There were plenty of individual bright spots for the Eagles – from CJ Felder’s finishes in traffic to Steffon Mitchell’s jump shooting to Jairus Hamilton’s versatile play – but the rut late in the first half overshadowed those performances.

The concerning part for the Eagles is that these momentum shifts keep happening. The encouraging part is that they consistently respond and chip away at the deficits. They know that if they play consistently throughout the game, the way they’re capable of, they can quell what’s been ailing them.

Sometimes it’s easy to tell they’re discouraged based on their body language and the pace at which they play. Christian said they made some “double mistakes” on Tuesday, as turnovers led to open 3s and other mishaps after initial miscues.

“It’s obviously unacceptable what we’re doing, so we’ve just got to keep getting better,” Christian said.

They have to figure out ways to get easy looks when they’re cold.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins was quick to praise BC for its ability to make plays in the open floor. He said a big part of the Wildcats’ preparation coming in was getting back on defense, and he was pleased with the way his team stayed disciplined in that regard.

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“When they get out in the open court, in space, they become difficult to guard,” Collins said. “That’s when they’ve been really good so far this year. We wanted to try to just make them be a half-court team.”

In the half-court, the Eagles have struggled offensively at times, both against zone and man-to-man defense. During Northwestern’s 16-0 run, the Eagles went 0 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over five times.

They didn’t give themselves a chance on several possessions, and when they did, they settled for contested looks.

The rest of the game, BC only turned it over six times, which is an ideal number. It was really that one stretch that sabotaged what they had worked for to that point.

On Saturday, the Eagles will go up against a Notre Dame team that, as of Tuesday night, is first in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82). The Eagles are 259th (.84). It doesn’t get any easier, so they need to figure out how to take care of the ball and get easy looks in transition to jump start them during these dry spells.

“We’re just struggling trying to figure out the right lineup,” Christian said. “Who’s committed to playing simple basketball and playing hard the whole time? I think we just keep going through these lulls, and if you’re not scoring you’ve got to make up for it with effort.”

They can’t let one loss spiral into several.

Lack of consistency is the underlying theme here. It’s not like this team isn’t capable of winning games. The Eagles have already beaten Wake Forest, South Florida, High Point, and Eastern Washington.

While it’s likely none of those four will be NCAA Tournament teams, each win showed something a little different.

The Wake game showed that the Eagles could find a way in league play. Against USF, they proved they could win on the road despite turning the ball over repeatedly. They never let High Point hang around, and they won a tight one against Eastern Washington.

This team can get back above .500 heading into the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference play. Even if they Eagles lose to the Fighting Irish on Saturday at 2 p.m., they can still beat Albany, Central Connecticut, and California to improve to 7-6 before facing Duke on New Year’s Eve.

Now is the time to regain momentum and confidence, like they had to start the season. They know they’ll need it in ACC play.

“We have to get back to being the aggressive team we were early in the year and not letting the previous game affect this game,” Christian said. “I think there’s been a little bit of that, a little bit of the ‘Here we go again’ type thing, and we’ve got to fight through that.”

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