With his players trying so hard to cling to the slimmest of leads for one of the biggest of victories, Boston College coach Jim Christian exhorted them to make just one more stop. It was more exciting than tense. It was the sort of thrill of which a youngster dreams when he spends every afternoon shooting baskets in a Bethpage park, which is where Christian decided basketball was going to be his life.
This time, in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday afternoon, his team did make the big stop and did hold on for a major victory, 91-87, over North Carolina State at Barclays Center. “A huge step forward for our team, for our program,” the Long Island native said.
“I couldn’t be more happy for these guys, for the things that they’ve gone through,” he said of his players, who have picked up on their coach’s penchant for seeing the joy in challenges. Christian has been doing that since the 1970s, when he was a kid who focused on basketball in football-crazy Bethpage.
Boston College (19-14) is not a world-beater yet, but it is a whole lot better than it has been. The Eagles (seeded 12th in this tournament) have had only two winning seasons in the past 10 years and are 77-143 in regular-schedule conference play since joining the ACC 13 years ago. The win Wednesday over the No. 5 seed, which drew even from 15 down in the second half but never went ahead, might just rank as the most significant step the team has taken since the former St. Dominic High star became coach in 2014.
Jerome Robinson, who broke an 85-85 tie with 17.8 seconds left and stole an inbounds pass with 11.7 seconds remaining (after Christian’s exhortation), said, “This is my third year here. In my first two years, we had two ACC wins. We stuck with it, with Coach. It’s hard for some people to see the vision through a smoky mirror. Just sticking to it, man, we knew it was going to pay off. We just listened to Coach and he had the vision.”
Christian correctly envisioned a comeback Wednesday by N.C. State (21-11). “One of the best teams in the country,” he called the Wolfpack, “a team that is going to go to the NCAA Tournament and win games.”
But the Eagles did not wilt. Robinson (26 points) and Ky Bowman (24 points) kept making big plays. The latter hit two free throws after Robinson’s steal. It was N.C. State that buckled, with Markell Johnson calling a timeout his team didn’t have with seven seconds remaining in a two-point game. Christian found it telling that three of his players volunteered to take the pair of pressure-packed free throws after the technical foul. Robinson was chosen and calmly sank both.
That brought a roar from the Boston College contingent that included family members of the coach whose two sisters live in Hauppauge. “Special. It’s special,” Christian said. “First of all, it’s the ACC Tournament. It doesn’t get much more special than that. I love the group of guys I’m here with. But being from here, it makes it real special for me. It’s definitely not lost on me, no doubt about it.”
Louisville beats FSU
Louisville (20-12) possibly punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with an 82-74 win over Florida State (20-11) in the first game of the afternoon session. Quentin Snider and Ray Spalding had 19 and 18 points, respectively, for the winners.