Earlier this month at Case Gymnasium, Boston University coach Joe Jones dubbed his men’s basketball team’s victory over the University of Vermont a “character win.”
Despite missing two starters in freshman forward Nathan Dieudonne and junior forward Travis Robinson to injuries, the Terriers (9–10, 3–3 America East) pulled off the first upset of the America East stretch of the season with a 10-point win over the defending-champion Catamounts (12–6, 5–1 America East).
Now, two weeks later, BU will face another litmus test Wednesday night in the form of the league-leading University at Albany, which has rattled off four straight victories after receiving a 25-point thumping by Vermont on Jan. 5.
“They got handled pretty good by Vermont like we did at Stony Brook [University] and that can happen,” Jones said. “They’re tough and they’ve proven it. They’re 16–4. They’ve been pretty good outside of that Vermont game, but that happens. That could happen on the road. They’re a very good basketball team.”
Former Albany (16–4, 5–1 America East) guard Gerardo Suero lit up countless scoreboards last season, finishing seventh in the nation with a 21.5 points per game average, and was a nightmare matchup on the offense for any coaching staff. But in mid-April, Suero was granted his release from Albany and left coach Will Brown without his most potent offensive player.
Still, during this campaign, guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati have picked up the slack on the offensive end, leading the team with scoring averages of 15.9 and 13.7 points per game, respectively.
The Albany offense is not to be taken lightly even without the services of Suero, Jones said.
“Their offense is very good, so we really need to do a great job of defending their offense,” Jones said. “They ball-screen a ton. They do a lot of things to get you into all different types of ball-screen situations, so ball-screen defense is really important. We have to be able to rebound with them and get back in transition.
“They’re an excellent transition team. They run their offense very well and they’re a very good rebounding team. They play very hard,” Jones added.
For the Terriers to record their fourth win in five games, Jones says they will have to focus on the fundamentals at both ends of the floor, which the team has been harping on in practice leading up to Wednesday’s tilt.
“We need to become more consistent with everything that we do,” Jones said. “Defensively, our ball-screen defense has got to really improve. Our defensive positioning has got to get better and our communication has got to improve.”
The Terrier defense ranks a modest fourth place in America East in points allowed per game with 63.2. Stony Brook University, the top team in the conference in the category, is almost five points ahead of BU in this category.
On the offensive end, Junior guard D.J. Irving leads BU in points per game with 14.3 and ranks sixth in America East in the category. The Terriers’ assist leader, freshman guard Maurice Watson Jr., ranks second in the conference in assists with 4.6 per game.
However, Jones said there is a lot of room for the team to improve on the offensive side of the ball.
“Offensively, we need to take care of the ball better,” Jones said. “Earlier in the year, we weren’t turning the ball over at all and now turnovers have really been an issue. … We [also] have to rebound. Those are the areas that we have to focus on.”
After earning its first conference road win at the University of New Hampshire this past Saturday, BU will have to maintain that same level of concentration in its matchup against first-place Albany.
“You have to have a different mentality when you go on the road,” Jones said. “You have to be mentally tough. You have to understand what you’re going up against. Obviously the crowd has a factor on the game whether we like it or not … so you have to be able to withstand that.
“You have got to be able to withstand all that stuff and be mentally tough enough to weather that storm and be able to get it done,” he added. “That’s the big message you want to be able to send. You have to have a different mentality when you’re on the road.”