Eagles Score Key Opening Night Win in ACC Battle
By: Joseph Mahoney
On Wednesday evening, the Boston College Eagles rang in the 2019-2020 season in Conte Forum as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons traveled up to Chestnut Hill to start the year off with an ACC battle. While both teams are coming off of mediocre seasons that saw them towards the bottom of the ACC rankings. A 65-61 thriller that the Eagles won in Winston-Salem last year proved that we were in store for a great opening night contest.
Entering the game, the headlines for the Eagles were dominated by their newcomers: USC transfer Derryck Thornton, freshman guard Jay Heath, and freshman forward CJ Felder. For the Deacons, their lineup largely consists of experienced players, most notably senior guard Brandon Childress who will look to improve upon his 14.7 PPG from last season.
The scoring got started with Nik Popovic who hit a right-handed hook shot in the post to give BC the early advantage. The teams were clearly amped up early, as defensive intensity dominated the early minutes. Derryck Thornton, along with other BC guards, were on a mission to make things difficult for the Deacons. Jim Christian implemented a strategy in which defenders would switch all ball screens aggressively, leading to 10 first half turnovers for Wake.
After a nearly three-minute drought in the early going, Thornton was able to connect on a short jumper for his first points as an Eagle to break this trend. He paced the Eagles with 10 points in the first session. Perhaps a surprise to many fans, the initial spark came from BC freshman Julian Rishwain. With the game knotted up at nine, Rishwain converted a tough up-and-under scoop and followed this up with two hard-earned free throws and a beautiful pass to Popovic for an easy baseline jumper. Popovic contributed seven first half points for the Eagles. Finally, the crowd came to its feet after Jared Hamilton buried a corner three to cap a 9-0 run for the Eagles, forcing Wake to take a timeout.
While Wake tried to find answers, BC continued to pour it on. Spurred on by their offensive poise, reflected by only having one turnover in the first half, and defensive intensity, Felder, Thornton, and Heath pushed BC on a 20-3 run that saw them take a 15-point lead with seven minutes to go. Heath followed up Thornton’s double-digit first half output with eight points of his own.
Wake made a run towards the end of the first half. Their lone first half bright spot, Isaiah Mucius, was able to, almost single-handedly, keep his team in the game. He finished with 14 of his team’s 27 first half points and was able to sink a corner three as time expired to cut BC’s lead to 15 at the intermission, 42-27. Ultimately, Wake’s coach Danny Manning chalked up the Deacons first half struggles to their turnovers, inability to get to the free throw line, and their lack of aggression on the offensive end.
Coming out of halftime, Childress looked to assert himself on the offensive end as he knocked down a couple threes to cut into BC’s lead, he ended up with 24 points, of which 23 came in the second half. However, BC continued to fire on all cylinders as Thornton, Heath, and Popovic found early buckets to keep pace.
It seemed whenever the Deacons would get close, BC would have an answer. Most notably, with 7 minutes to go the crowd got a little on edge as Wake cut the leader down to 8 at 57-49. However, Thornton came up clutch once again with a big triple to push BC’s lead back up to double digits. Thornton finished with 23 points, four rebounds, and four assists in his debut.
The Deacons put together one more run as a three by Chaundee Brown got it the deficit down to 67-61 with just over two minutes to go. In the end, the Eagles were able to pull away behind key free throws from Thornton, a tough bucket by Popovic (who finished with 19 points), and several timely offensive rebounds from Jared Hamilton, Steffon Mitchell, and CJ Felder.
After a long final few minutes with an endless stream of fouls, reviews, and timeouts, the Eagles finally prevailed with a 77-70 win over their ACC foe. Boston College looks to ride this momentum into their first road game on Sunday at USF that should prove to be another tough early test for the Eagles.