After the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies held the Eagles to a season-low 22 points in the first half, BC’s senior captains Craig Smith and Louis Hinnant made sure their last game at home wasn’t a loss.
It wasn’t pretty; both teams failed to shoot 50% from the free-throw line and, at one point, the sellout crowd at Conte Forum rained down an angry storm of “boos” on the officiating crew. The back-and-forth contest came down to a missed buzzer-beater by Virginia Tech’s Zabian Dowdell, allowing Smith, Hinnant, and company to pull out another come-from-behind win. It’s not like that was new territory for them.
“We’ve been down before,” Smith said after the game. “But I knew my guys had my back.”
After their sluggish first half, the Eagles turned to Smith in the second to erase a seven-point deficit. The senior forward responded by scoring four of his 12 points within the first minute of the second period. His two quick buckets sparked an 8-0 BC run that gave them a 30-29 lead with 17:36 to play. That was the turning point of the game, according to Smith.
“We got those two quick lay-ups,” he said afterwards. “Then the other guys picked it up.”
One of those “other guys” was Louis Hinnant. With his family in the crowd to honor him on Senior Day, Hinnant didn’t score his first points until 9:15 to go in the second half - but they came at the right time. Virginia Tech was holding on to a one-point lead when Hinnant charged the basket and converted a three-point play to give BC a lead they would never relinquish.
“I think we were rushing things a little,” Hinnant said about the Eagles’ slow start. “There was a lot of energy out there and my emotions were running high. Once I was able to relax a little, we started playing better.”
Hinnant went on to score eight points, all in the second half, and added six assists and six rebounds. When he wasn’t hitting clutch shots to preserve the lead, he was doing the little things that have come to epitomize his career. With 23 seconds to go in the game and BC leading by two, Hinnant snatched an offensive rebound off a missed free-throw by Jared Dudley. Seconds later, Tyrese Rice sank two from the stripe that sealed the victory.
Virginia Tech’s full-court press in the first half gave BC ball-handlers a lot of trouble in the backcourt. The Eagles uncharacteristically turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, which prevented them from establishing their methodical, half-court offense. BC entered the game with a 1.36 assist-to-turnover ratio, the best in the ACC. Maybe it was the early, noontime start or the hyped atmosphere of Senior Day, but the Eagles couldn’t break the press as easily as they have in the past.
“When we don’t handle the ball well, it really hurts our offense," Skinner said after the game. "We were too passive, too slow. In the second half, we were more aggressive.”
Not all of that aggression came from the players. Some of it came from Skinner himself, whom the officials slapped with a technical foul with 13:01 to play. Skinner was upset with some controversial foul calls (and non-calls) and his arguments from the bench went further than the refs could handle. It ignited the fans, who weren’t shy about expressing their opinions. More importantly, it ignited Skinner’s team, who exploded for a 17-4 run, anchored by nine of Dudley’s game-high 16 points.
With an impressive, inaugural ACC regular season behind them (24-6, 11-5), the Eagles are off to Greensboro, North Carolina for their first-ever ACC Tournament. Having earned a first-round bye, their first game is Friday. Ready to prove they’re capable of beating the best the ACC has to offer, the Eagles are confidently awaiting an opponent.
“We’re not done yet,” Smith said after the game. "We still got three games left… [We’re going to] try to make something happen, try to let everyone know the newcomers are here to stay.”