SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Ky Bowman stood at the top of the key, his eyes toward the Carrier Dome ceiling and his right arm still outstretched in the contest that had been whistled a second earlier. Boston College’s sophomore guard had fouled his Syracuse counterpart, Tyus Battle, shooting a 3-pointer, and that’s when the entire game flipped.
BC coach Jim Christian, standing on the sideline, threw up his hands and spun away from the court. He pointed at Bowman, then at his temple.
“Think!” he yelled.
Until then, BC had seized control by nailing four consecutive 3-pointers. Though Battle missed two of the three free throws, the offense of Syracuse (14-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) roared to life after that, shooting better than it had all season, to drop BC, 81-63, on Wednesday night in front of 21,262 fans. The Eagles have not won in the Dome since 2014.
“They got to the rack any time they wanted, the free throw line any time they wanted,” said BC junior forward Jerome Robinson. “We played awful on defense today . . . That’s why we got beat so bad.”
At halftime — after the Eagles (13-8, 3-5) allowed Syracuse’s best half of the season with 47 points — Christian told his team the keys to the game were turning over the ball less (the Eagles had seven in the first frame) and improving its one-on-one defense.
In the second half, the Eagles had 10 more turnovers and Christian saw no defensive improvement. More concerning to Christian than Syracuse star guards Frank Howard and Battle combining for 42 points was allowing a career-high 12 to freshman forward Marek Dolezaj and another 14 to defense-first center Paschal Chukwu.
“If you give up that to [Dolezaj and Chukwu], then . . . ” Christian said, his voice trailing off. Then, he added: “We couldn’t guard ’em. We did an awful job. We gave up lanes and rhythm shots . . . We’ve got to get tougher on defense. You can’t let teams shoot 60.4 percent and expect to win on the road.”
Syracuse and BC play their starters the highest and third-highest percentage of minutes in the nation, respectively, but Christian, Robinson, and Bowman all dismissed disparate rest as the explanation for the lopsided game. Syracuse was coming off a weeklong stretch without a game, while BC lost at Louisville Sunday. Bowman thought the Eagles lagged, but not because they were tired. He thought Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone “got inside our heads.”
Told of Bowman’s explanation, Christian furrowed his brow.
“What?” he said. “It didn’t get in our head. We couldn’t stop ’em. They shot 60.4 percent. That has nothing to do with zones.”
As Syracuse’s offense ran at a blistering pace, BC leaned on Robinson, the ACC’s leading scorer in conference play. His cuts and outside shooting exploited the weaknesses in the 2-3 zone and, as Syracuse tried to pull away, he reeled the Orange back in. Late in the first half, Robinson drove from the left wing and quickly pulled up. The jumper cut the deficit to single digits for the last time.
An NBA scout, watching from the crowd, leaned back in his seat with his eyebrows raised and turned to another scout.
“He needs to take over the game,” the first scout said. The second scout nodded.
Robinson, who led the Eagles with 21 points, never had the chance.
Syracuse maintained its double-digit lead throughout the second half. Each time Robinson knifed through the zone for a layup or dish, Syracuse seemed to have an answer at the other end.
“They’re a very good offensive team,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. “If we hadn’t shot so well, it would’ve been a tight game.”