5 takeaways from BC basketball’s up-and-down performance against loaded Louisville

"I don't know if anybody's better than this team," Jim Christian said.

Boston College forward Steffon Mitchell, left, and Louisville guard Lamarr Kimble (0) roll on the floor while competing for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.
Boston College forward Steffon Mitchell, left, and Louisville guard Lamarr Kimble (0) roll on the floor while competing for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. –AP

COMMENTARY

After certain losses this season, Boston College head coach Jim Christian has pointed out ways his team could have changed the outcome of the game.

Following Wednesday’s 86-69 loss to Louisville, Christian spent more time focusing on the Cardinals’ prowess than his own team’s shortcomings. Christian always believes there’s more the Eagles can do to fine-tune their play, but on this night, he said BC (10-11, 4-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) simply lost to a supremely talented opponent.

“I don’t know if anybody’s better than this team,” Christian said. “This team is really good at a lot of different things. The thing about this team that makes them special is that they’ve got like nine starters out there.”

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The No. 6 Cardinals (18-3, 9-1 ACC) shot 44 percent from 3-point range and out-rebounded the Eagles 43-29. Jordan Nwora led the way with a monster 37-point performance, coming just two points shy of tying UConn legend Richard Hamilton’s record for an opposing player inside Conte Forum from back in 1999.

The Eagles hung around for much of the night, trailing just 45-43 at halftime, but Louisville pulled away late and showed why it’s a legitimate contender to win it all. Here’s more on how the night unfolded:

BC had no answer for Jordan Nwora.

Sometimes a player on the other team gets hot, and there’s only so much the team trying to stop that player can do.

Nwora, playing in front of Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, shot 11-for-20 from the field, 7-for-14 from 3, and 8-of-9 from the line. He scored 21 of his 37 in the first half, catching fire and answering everything BC threw his way.

Much of his production came off skip passes from his teammates, and the Eagles had trouble closing out when he caught the ball in rhythm.

“We were just a step slow,” Christian said. “Some guys you can be a step slow and still get there and contest it. Not with a great shooter like that. He makes you pay.”

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The 6-foot-7-inch Nwora’s quick release, paired with his length, made life difficult for the Eagles, as he scored more than all of Louisville’s other starters combined and set a new career high.

After taking just five shots in a win over Clemson on Saturday, Nwora looked for his shot more Wednesday.

“I can score 20 points every game if I really want to,” Nwora said. “It’s not really about that. This year, it’s about winning games. I don’t want to score 20 in a way that’s going to hurt the team.”

Louisville’s decision to play zone paid dividends.

The Eagles turned in one of their better offensive halves of the season to start the game Wednesday.

They zipped the ball around the perimeter with conviction, and Jay Heath and Derryck Thornton scored in a variety of ways. Seven different players scored in the first half for the Eagles, and Louisville coach Chris Mack highlighted their energy and execution.

“It looked like they were going a thousand miles an hour on offense,” Mack said. “They really put us on our heels.”

In the second half, Mack opted to switch to zone, and the adjustment worked beautifully. Nwora said the Cardinals don’t practice zone too much, but he was impressed with the way they executed it and stymied BC.

BC shot 33.3 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from three in the second half. The first half was free-flowing and favored BC stylistically, but the second half played more into Louisville’s favor thanks in large part to Mack’s prudent decision.

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“I feel like it was working,” Nwora said. “We did a great job containing them.”

The turnover battle favored BC early and Louisville late.

In the first half Wednesday, the Eagles forced the Cardinals into 10 turnovers and only turned the ball over three times themselves. At one point, they had a 7-1 edge in that category, and their ability to value the ball was a major reason why they hung around.

Then in the second half, the Eagles coughed it up seven times while Louisville only gave it away three times. Though the second half was less encouraging in that regard, the overall trend is still promising for BC.

For the season, the Eagles have forced the third most turnovers per game (16) in the ACC, behind only Florida State and Duke. The Eagles have had no problem generating steals all season, and they know that they’re able to stay in any game when they keep their own turnovers down.

That happened in the first half against the Cardinals, but eventually Louisville shifted the momentum in that area and many others.

Three key players started hot and then cooled down.

Thornton (17 points), Heath (16), and Jairus Hamilton (13) turned in solid offensive games for the Eagles.

Early on, Thornton converted inside and then buried a deep 3 with confidence. Heath canned two 3s early and hit another later in the half to cut the deficit to four. Hamilton continued to thrive in isolation after a strong showing against Virginia Tech, and he’s looked comfortable of late.

In the second half, all three players shot below 40 percent from the field. Louisville racked up 10 offensive rebounds in the second half alone, which prevented the Eagles from getting easy looks in transition and getting situated like they were earlier.

“Everything we did well in the first half, we just didn’t do as well in the second half,” Christian said. “You can’t do that against them.”

There’s lots of basketball left to be played.

This is arguably BC’s toughest stretch of the season, vs. Louisville, at North Carolina, and vs. Duke, all in less than a week.

The only silver lining is that this UNC team is experiencing an extremely rare down year and is currently 12th in the ACC. The Eagles are 10th, and they have a solid chance to finish in the top eight if they can go .500 or better in their final 10 games.

Boston College is hoping to get into the upper echelon of the conference. Regardless of whether that happens this year, finishing .500 in conference play would be a major stepping-stone for the Eagles.

They haven’t done that since 2010-11, and they were 0-18 in 2015-16. It’s not far-fetched to say the Eagles could win six of their final 10 and finish above .500 overall and .500 in ACC play.

Wednesday was a minor setback, but they can quickly regain momentum by beating North Carolina on Saturday and trying to knock off Duke on Tuesday.