Eagles’ Eye on Last Season: Auburn
By Ben Neuwirth
First posted on Bostoncollege.247sports.com
As the summer progresses and the 2017-18 Boston College Men’s Basketball season comes closer into focus, 247Sports will be combing through the most important games of last season, in an effort to better understand how last season’s team operated and how this year might look.
There’s no sugarcoating it, last season was a disappointment. But in the midst of a subpar season Eagles’ fans witnessed a star break out of his shell.
Ky Bowman was not highly regarded coming out of highschool. At least on the hardwood. It was widely reported that Alabama Coach Nick Saban offered Bowman a spot on his team and he initially committed to play football for his hometown UNC Tar Heels. Luckily for Heights fans, his greatest love is basketball..
Coming out of Havelock, Ky was ranked as the 350th best recruit nationally and 19th best in North Carolina. His BC career started off slow, as he initially came off the bench behind fellow freshman Ty Graves (we hardly knew you).
The first 9 games of the season, he averaged just 16 minutes a game and scored less than 7 points a game. BC was floundering, losing games to Nicholls State, Harvard and Hartford.
Their next game was at Madison Square Garden against BC alum Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers in the Under Armour “Reunion” game. Before the game, Coach Jim Christian had an important message for the young freshman
Christian “I told Ky Bowman before the Auburn Game that he’s my guy, he’s our Quarterback”
— WZBC Sports (@WZBCSports) January 1, 2017
A key to the game was Bowman’s chemistry with his backcourt mate, Jerome Robinson.
A little over 2 minutes in, Ky brings the ball up the court and Robinson comes off a flare screen from Connor Tava and is passed the ball at the top of the key.
Jerome then gives it right back to Bowman in a dribble hand-off, confusing both of their defenders. ‘Rome moves around a Mo Jeffers off-ball screen forcing the Tiger center to switch onto him. A quick head fake was all he needed to get into the lane and lay the ball in.
Jerome is best off the ball, when his bag of dribble tricks and head fakes can catch a defender off balance. By having Bowman on the floor, he’s able to face a defense that scrambling to contain another off the dribble threat and his silky smooth athleticism shines through.
Auburn started off extremely slow, scoring only 2 points in the first 4 minutes. That was mostly a function of Tiger sloppiness rather than suffocating defense from the Eagles.
BC replaced Bowman with Ty Graves and immediately Auburn started to press and were able to intercept a Garland Owens pass and slam it down on the other end. This was an issue throughout the game, 22 turnovers, and frankly the entire season. The Eagles simply did not have enough ball handling when Bowman and Robinson didn’t share the floor.
Freshman center Nik Popovic also showcased his obvious, but frustrating potential.
Popovic gets the ball at the top of the key, guarded closely by the Tigers’ bigman. A quick move towards the basket, has the entire defense focused on the 6-11 barrelling behemoth. Pop makes a nice pass to find sharpshooter Jordan Chapman, who buries the 3. It evoked shades of Draymond Green passing out to Klay Thompson.
However 1 minute later Pop was called for a moving off-ball screen and forced to the bench. This was a common pattern throughout the season. Nik would showcase his clever passing, wonky, but solid, post game or a glimpse of defensive prowess but shortly after commit a silly foul and be back on the pine.
He clearly has talent but has to cut out these mistakes if he’s going to be BC’s anchor down low in 2017-18.
The rest of the 1st half was back-and-forth and BC went into the locker room leading by 3.
A nifty righty hook from Big Poppa put the Eagles up 7 with 14 minutes left. He is quick and decisive with this move, swinging the ball between the 2 defenders, taking just one dribble before flinging up the hook. Eventually he’ll have to develop a left hand and up-and-under moves as counters, but Nik’s righty hook was money all season long.
A couple Eagle turnovers from Auburn’s press, brought both teams even and the lead oscillated throughout the final 10 minutes.
Down 4 with a minute-and-a-half remaining Ky Bowman runs a dribble handoff with Connor Tava and is promptly doubled. He crosses over a couple times and forces his way into the paint, slamming his right shoulder into the Tiger defender. The moment he pushes him back, Ky uses a pseudo-euro step to create a sliver of space and lofts a floater just above his outstretched arms that somehow goes in.
You can see the football physicality in his game but it’s his soft touch that often goes unnoticed. Even NBA players take years to perfect their floaters but Ky already looks like 2007 Tony Parker. Combined with his excellent shooting (47% from deep in ACC play) and overwhelming physicality inside, Bowman is developing an ability to score at all 3 levels.
A nice pass from Ky to another hook shot from Popovic brought BC even at 69 each with a little under a minute left.
After splitting a pair of fouls shots and a subsequent 2 makes from the charity stripe for Auburn, the Eagles were down 1 with 7.5 seconds remaining.
Bowman attempted to take the ball coast-to-coast but his layup rolled out. Luckily for BC, Popovic was able to tip in the rebound and win the game for the maroon and gold.
This was the start of Ky Bowman’s rapid rise that eventually landed him a spot on the ACC All-Rookie team as well as an impressive moment for both young Nik Popovic and stalwart Jerome Robinson. The team overall was very sloppy but each player showed promise and fought hard, earning a win against an Auburn team that was 6-1 coming in and ranked #19 in RPI.
It was the most impressive non-conference win last year and showed many fans, including myself, that while inconsistent, this team has serious talent and on their good days can beat almost anyone.