Last season, Boston College upset No. 1-ranked Duke in its ACC opener. The result marked a high point for the Eagles’ basketball program, which had won only twice in the conference in the previous two years and had not experienced a winning season since 2010-11.
A year later, BC confronted Virginia, a No. 4 team and ACC foe. This time, BC was humbled, 83-56, on Wednesday night.
The Eagles’ program has displayed signs of rebounding under coach Jim Christian, who guided them to a 19-16 record last year in his fourth season at BC. But the confrontation with the Cavaliers was a reality check. The game exposed BC’s lack of depth and also the team’s need to find a replacement for Jerome Robinson, who combined with Ky Bowman to give BC one of the nation’s most lethal backcourts last season.
In the Duke upset, by a score of 89-84, Bowman scored 30 points, Robinson 24, and Jordan Chatman 22. Against Virginia (14-0, 2-0), Bowman was limited to 15 points and Chatman to 7.
Christian believes the Eagles (9-5, 0-2) need to take lessons from last year’s group.
“We haven’t been all together, so it’s actually hard to compare the two,” Christian said. “That’s not an excuse. I’m totally disappointed in myself, totally disappointed in our team, the way we performed in the second half of this game. It starts with me and has to spread to them. I mean, they have to become a more committed group. We were a very committed group last year. We were very committed individually, defensively. We were committed to playing the right way for 40 minutes and we have only done that in our two ACC games for 20 minutes.”
BC was hardly the first team to sustain a blowout against Virginia. The Cavaliers had outscored opponents by an average of 23 points before Wednesday, and led by as many as 29 points in the late going of a 65-52 win over No. 9-ranked Florida State on Saturday.
“I mean, we shot 46 percent in the first half against Virginia, so you’re playing the right way,” Christian said. “Obviously, they’re going to ratchet it up a little bit. It was the same thing at Virginia Tech [77-66 loss]. It starts with me, I’ll take responsibility for it because that’s my job. But individually, they have to look and see where are they dropping the rope here, as all players do. What more can they do to help the team? And we need more guys in all areas, off the court, on the court, looking at themselves and saying what more can I give? Because in order to win in this league you’ve got to have your heart and soul in it. My heart and soul’s in it — I’ve got to better a job but my heart and soul’s in it. And we need to make sure that they understand that their heart and soul needs to be in it.”
BC might have become demoralized by Virginia’s consistency and high level offensive execution.
BC had pulled to 6 points, holding Virginia scoreless for the first 2:36 of the second half. But everything seemed to fall apart quickly. The Cavaliers went on a 16-0 point run over a 6:05 span midway through the half, taking a 64-41 lead with 8:34 remaining.
Without Steffon Mitchell (leg), the Eagles struggled in their matchup zone defense, especially against Mamadi Diakite (18 points) and projected NBA lottery pick De’Andre Hunter (18 points).
“We’re not a very deep team to begin with and we would miss anybody that didn’t play,” Christian said of Mitchell. “That’s what not deep teams do when starters are out.
“We had nine turnovers, that’s a pretty good number. They guard very well, they blocked some shots around the basket, they’re an excellent defensive team, they’re a premier defensive team for a reason. But if you only have nine turnovers, force them to 11 – they average like 6-7, whatever it is – I thought they hurt us on the backboard more than that. They’re not a great offensive rebounding team, but they hurt us early in the game and did a good job keeping us off the board.”
Last year, the Eagles compiled a 7-11 conference mark after going 0-18 and 2-16 in consecutive ACC seasons. They faced reality checks such as a 96-66 loss at North Carolina on Jan. 9, 2018.
But BC last season also displayed some of the resilience that characterized past teams. After the blowout at North Carolina, BC recovered with consecutive victories. A year later, the Eagles face potential nightmares at Notre Dame on Saturday and Louisville next Wednesday. Those games could determine whether this was a wake-up call.