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Steals crucial to BU’s defensive success

Immediately after losing the tip-off of its first overtime period of the 2012-13 season, freshman guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Boston University men’s basketball team stole the ball from Quinnipiac University’s guard Garvey Young and went coast-to-coast before getting fouled and earning a pair of free throws.

He hit both.

Thirteen seconds later, junior guard D.J. Irving picked up a steal off of forward Jamee Jackson. The turnover led to a tough bucket on a left-handed scoop shot down low from redshirt sophomore Malik Thomas.

The score changed from 52 apiece to 56–52, in favor of BU, in 42 seconds.

Watson Jr. finished the game with five steals along with 11 points. Irving tacked two steals on to his 14 total points. Both guards finished with a team-high four assists.

Turnovers were a primary deciding factor in the matchup. BU scored 30 points off turnovers, whereas QU mustered only eight such points.

Watson Jr. and Irving spent a lot of time sneaking under the hoop on defense to try to strip balls from QU’s big men. Jackson gave up a pair, but sophomore Ike Azotam, who ranked eighth in the Northeast Conference in offensive rebounds as a freshman, yielded none.

However, Azotam’s backup, classmate and Boston native Ousmane Drame, turned the ball over five times. Point guard Dave Johnson also struggled to keep possession of the ball, as he finished the game with five turnovers, as well.

“We wanted to just go and double them with our guards,” said BU coach Joe Jones about his team’s strategy defending QU’s frontcourt. “That caused a lot of turnovers for their bigs inside. We did a good job of getting some hands on balls.”

The final box score showed QU with twice as many turnovers as BU (22–11). In addition, the Terriers racked up nine steals to the Bobcats’ three.

In the first half, several scraps arose on the court after loose balls were forced under the BU hoop. The Terriers came up with the ball more often than not in these instances.

BU was out-rebounded for a majority of the game, losing the final tally, 43–36. At the half, BU was down 19–11 in the boards category. The 5-foot-10 Watson Jr. was tied with Thomas for the team lead with two. Watson Jr. had the team’s only offensive rebound at that point.

Jones said the game played out exactly as he predicted.

“We knew it was going to be a tough, physical battle,” Jones said. “With [the Bobcats’] style of play, they want to throw it inside almost every possession … They look to get their offensive rebounds, and that’s what the are really good at … It’s a simplistic game plan, but it’s hard to execute.”

Although the Terriers were unable to stop Azotam from pounding his way to a double-double from down low (19 points, 10 rebounds), they did manage to even the score in the category of offensive rebounds by the end of the game (11-11).

However, it was largely the scrappy effort of BU’s guards that carried the team to its fourth win in five games.

Watson Jr. was unable to score in “probably [his] worst half all year,” as Jones called it. However, a phenomenal second half and a career defensive effort from the starting point guard allowed the Terriers the opportunity to come back when trailing and to extend crucial leads.

BU now leads its opponents in steals this season by a margin of 74–55. Irving leads the team with 17 steals, while Watson Jr. and junior forward Travis Robinson follow close behind with 16 apiece.

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