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Eagles show progress amidst expected growing pains

December 30, 2016 Columns No Comments

If Jim Christian and his staff could bottle up a good portion of the second half against Providence for the rest of the season, they would surely do it. It’s been a while since Boston College played like they did when they took over the game.

“Offensively, in the second half, minus the last four minutes of press-break, was about as well as we could play at both ends of the floor,” said Christian after the Eagles’ 79-67 win over Providence. “The ball moved, the right guys had the ball and made shots, we moved the ball, guarded, took advantage of transition situations.”

Of course, we were reminded during those last four minutes that Christian referred to that while those stretches – a 25-2 run in particular – are rare even for very good teams, this team still has a long way to go.

“Coming out of non-conference play, we’re still trying to find consistency,” said Christian. “We’ve shown that, when we play the right way and play hard, we can beat anybody in the country, I really believe that. When we don’t, we’ve already proven we can lose to anybody in the country, so we’ve got to find that balance with our team.”

This season was bound to be one with reason for optimism, but also one where growing pains were going to show. BC will go into ACC play at 7-6, and while nothing about that record suggests contention, it’s improvement, not contention, that was expected. The Eagles have had some good moments, like the win over Providence and a win at Madison Square Garden over Auburn on a late tip-in, but they have also lost to the likes of Nicholls State and Hartford at home. The loss to Fairfield right before this one probably raised a few eyebrows, but the Stags should make some noise in the MAAC and it was a neutral site game, so it doesn’t quite belong in the same category as the other two losses.

BC is near the bottom of the ACC in most statistical categories, but the most troubling one might be turnovers. They lead the ACC in that category, and when you have as little margin for error as this team does, turnovers hurt a lot. That showed up during the final minutes of the win over Providence, as the Friars pressed them into submission. BC had held down their turnovers until that point, and ended up with 18, two above their season average.

Christian knows that’s one big key to this team picking up a few more wins.

“We have to limit our turnovers,” the third-year head coach said. “We have to try to eliminate the ones that we can eliminate, the catches, the passes when there’s no angle to throw the ball. We’ve just got to keep getting better at it. That’s something that’s been a nail for us all year long, but we’re going to have to fix it because those numbers have to get better.”

The backcourt is where that begins, and the Eagles have an emerging duo in Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman. Robinson is second in the ACC in scoring, breaking out after showing promise a year ago. Bowman was named ACC Rookie of the Week after a 33-point outing against Fairfield and another nice game against Providence. Both, however, have more turnovers than assists, so they are part of the problem. Robinson had eight assists against Providence, but gave it away eight times as well.

Bowman is starting to come into his own, and the staff was high on him all along in large part because of his mental makeup. Christian said after the loss to Fairfield, Bowman approached him with an admission that his defense was not very good and had to improve. Bowman also gives the Eagles the option to play faster at times, but they have to get stops for that to be a possibility.

There are solid complements like A.J. Turner, who is turning into the consummate glue guy, and graduate student Mo Jeffers, who had a nice outing against Providence. BYU transfer Jordan Chatman also had a nice game against the Friars, and he gives them another potential option on the perimeter. Nik Popovic has shown promise inside.

The Eagles start ACC play with Syracuse at home on New Year’s day. The Orange have not played well, so this could be a game the Eagles snag. A repeat of last season’s winless ACC slate would be a shocker. How many wins they pull off during this building process depends largely on how they cut down on turnovers. The ACC figures to be a grind and then some, with potentially 11 teams going for the NCAA Tournament, so giving away possessions will be a recipe for disaster. It will also keep them from potentially winning a game they should or hurt their chance to snag one they should not.

It would also cancel out a great stretch like the one against Providence. The Eagles need many more of those for chances to win ACC games.

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