Boston College hosted Saturday its second ranked opponent within the same week: after falling to No. 16 Virginia on Wednesday night, No.9 North Carolina visited Conte Forum at noon. The two teams are going in fairly different directions, as in the last five games BC is 1-4, while UNC is 5-0. The history of the series between these two teams is lopsided as well, the Heels having won the last nine meetings, including both games last year. However, this time the Eagles went down swinging.
UNC went on an early lead thanks to five quick points by Joel Berry II, paired by Ky Bowman, who at the beginning appeared to be the only Eagle up to the challenge – perhaps hyped by the fact that the fans were wearing a red wig that (supposedly) matched his own hair. Sophomore Jerome Robinson, who ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring (19.7), was unusually quiet and left the court halfway through the first half with two fouls and as many points. Nonetheless the Heels didn’t run away with the game and a three pointer by Chatman kept BC within two – a leitmotiv of the game. While a subsequent airball and a turnover by Bowman made BC trail by 7 in the blink of an eye, a three-pointer and a contested layup by Bowman himself brought his team again within two, 27-25. Bowman looked like a man on a mission; he was doing it all on offense – clutch shots… and unforced turnovers – to the point that even 802-win coach Roy Williams said “For a while it was the Ky Bowman show… He was unbelievable.”
In a less eye-catching way, on defense Mo Jeffers was controlling the paint with three emphatic blocks to go along with three rebounds. It was mostly thanks to his solid defense that neither Isaiah Hicks (5 pts) nor Kennedy Meeks (6 pts) had an impactful first half. Junior Justin Jackson was also a no-show for most of the half, engaged with Robinson in a matchup on defense that kept both talents away from the bottom of the net. The former, however, scored four points in the last moments of the half, which equalled the total amassed thus far. It was B0wman again, with his bucket from downtown to close the gap and leave UNC with a one-point lead at the half, 34-33. Jackson’s incredible half court heave went in after the horn – it would have gotten him a brand new Chevy during the break, had he entered the contest in place of a not-equally-lucky BC student.
UNC’s big men started the second half with a very different approach, combining for their team’s first six points. Among the players who picked up their pace was Jackson, whose deep three put the Heels up 43-38. Even when the visitors tried to pull away, BC responded, first with Bowman then with Nik Popovic. A dunk by AJ Turner kept once again the Eagles two points away from tying the game with 12:45 left in the game. As Meeks was dominating the paint on offense, Bowman had no fear picking up the dribble and penetrating despite Meeks’ presence: the center could just watch the smaller guard scoring two contested lay-ups to keep BC in the game, 60-58. The athleticism displayed by Bowman made it clear why UNC’s football coach Larry Fedora had recruited him to play WR, before he decided to stick to basketball and take his talents to Boston.
While the electrifying red-haired player was putting on a show with his 27th and 28th point of the contest, the game shifted the Heels’ way thanks to their far superior front court: UNC won the battle of the rebounds 21-9 in the second half, which brought 15 second chance points, including Theo Pinson’s tap-in which forced coach Christian to call a timeout with 4:40 to go and a 7-point deficit. A turnover by Jeffers and a clutch three by Berry brought UNC up 81-72; while BC played the foul game to the very last second, at that point the outcome was already clear for the sellout crowd of the Conte Forum – in large part wearing Carolina blue gear. A pointless bomb by Bowman lifted his career-high to 33 points and fixed the final score. Considering his box score when he went back to his natural color (10 points combined in two games), it’s understandable why coach Christian after the game said, “The black hair will never be back. Even my son, 7 years old, said don’t ever let him go back.”
Despite Bowman heroics, its also true that he contributed to BC’s 15 turnovers with 8 by himself. However, in a game in which coach coach Williams gave little breathing room to BC’s top scorer Jerome Robinson (18 pts on 7-21 from the field), it was necessary for Bowman to step up and prove his value to his team. His juvenile mistakes can easily be forgiven given the importance that he and Robinson, both NC natives, have in the rebuilding of the team. Next week BC travels to Miami, while UNC hosts Virginia Tech.
FINAL: BC 82 – UNC 90