BC Men’s Basketball vs. Baylor Game Preview

(Photo by Graham Beck/Heights Editor)

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

The gimmicks are over, and the real test is about to begin for the Boston College men’s basketball team. A strong surge in the final 10 minutes pushed the Eagles past Florida International University in the season opener on Sunday, but the game was only a small test for the upcoming season. The Golden Panthers ran a bunch of full-court presses and switched-up zones with their smaller players, and it’s a look that BC probably won’t see again for the rest of the season.

“I thought there were a lot of good things,” said head coach Steve Donahue after getting a chance to look at the tape. “Obviously there’s a lot of room for improvement, but I thought we did a good job of attacking the pressure for the most part, but then we got lazy and made some careless mistakes, in part to do with the fact that I think they did a good job staying with [the press] the whole game. We’re just not used to that. The defense was good in spurts, but at other times, I thought in particular dribble penetration really hurt us.”

Stopping dribble penetration will be especially important when the Eagles open up the Charleston Classic with No. 16 Baylor on Thursday.

“It’ll be more of a—you know, they won’t be pressing the whole time and changing defenses every possession or in the middle of possessions like Florida International did,” Donahue said. “In that case, it’ll be more of a game like we’ll see more this year.”

The Bears are led by senior guard and preseason Big-12 Player of the Year Pierre Jackson, who has had no trouble getting to the rim so far this season. The quick and elusive guard is deadly off the dribble, and the Baylor offense becomes extremely difficult to stop once he gets into the lane. Freshmen guards Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon will have a size advantage over Jackson, but Rahon, especially, had trouble staying in front of FIU’s Deric Hill, who is around the same size but not nearly as skilled.

“Baylor’s very good,” Donahue said. “There aren’t many teams more talented than them, with their length, experience, skill level, it’s just a terrific basketball team.”

If Jackson can beat the BC guards off the dribble, then Baylor’s length becomes even more effective. Seven-foot-1 freshman center Isaiah Austin is expected to play against the Eagles after suffering an ankle injury in the Bears’ first game, and the big man will be a tough matchup for BC center Dennis Clifford. Clifford struggled to defend the pick-and-roll against FIU, and Austin has the ability to flash all the way to the three-point line for a triple or roll hard to the rim for an alley-oop. If Clifford struggles to stay with Austin, the Eagles may need to rely on transfer Andrew Van Nest again on the defensive end.

“They have great length, no matter if Austin plays or not, they still have great size and more importantly length and the kid Austin—he may be seven feet but he’s a long guy, skilled, and one of the best recruits in America,” Donahue said. “So no matter what, I think it’s a great challenge for both our bigs to figure out how to get around that. When you’re playing around really good length and athleticism you’ve got to be a little smarter, a little more understanding of the size around you, but I expect both of them to really accept that challenge and really go play their game.”

The Eagles have been game-planning for Baylor since the beginning of the week, and it’s something Donahue feels much more comfortable doing compared to last season.

“The last two days, for instance, we focused in on Baylor, where last year I just literally had to talk about how to compete in a college game,” Donahue said. “I think the guys get that now. It’s just a different vibe. I think we understand how we’ve got to play and what we’ve got to do against any opponent, but in particular we can give them things now in preparation for Baylor where I think it would be a positive, where last year we could start overloading that too much and guys start going in the other direction.”

While Clifford tries to check Austin, sophomore forward Ryan Anderson will have his hands full with Baylor forward Cory Jefferson, who has been averaging over 20 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks in the Bears’ first two games. Both Jefferson and Austin have done a great job attacking the rim during Jackson’s penetration, which has lead to easy dunks. The Eagles rotated poorly against FIU on defense, and that will have to improve if BC is going to hang with the Bears. Freshmen forwards Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers also present size and length challenges, while guard Brady Heslip, who transferred from BC after Donahue took over, will force Lonnie Jackson to chase him around multiple off-ball screens on his way to the arc, which Jackson struggled with in BC’s first game.

With the FIU defense switching between different zone defenses for most of the game on Sunday, BC didn’t get many opportunities to run Donahue’s motion offense in the half-court, but the Bears will be a good litmus test for the offense.

“I think it’s a game where we can see where we’re executing and see where we are,” Donahue said. “And I said that to our guys. We really didn’t do a good job of executing in the half-court when we had our opportunities. I think that’s a real good test to see where we’re at with that as well.”

Anderson led BC with 29 points on Sunday, but most of those came from either finding gaps in the zone for easy buckets or by running the floor in transition. BC will have to work the ball around more effectively for clean looks against Baylor.

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