On the bus home from Chase Family Arena Saturday night, Boston University men’s basketball coach Joe Jones explained his team’s 66–58 loss to the University of Hartford.
“They played better and harder,” Jones said of Hartford’s (12–10, 5–4 America East) effort. “They just played better, executed better, played harder, did a better job, outplayed us.”
The Terriers (11–11, 5–4 America East), who had entered the matchup on a three-game winning streak and looked to be gaining more momentum with every victory, were simply outworked and out-competed by the Hawks.
There is no other suitable way to describe the defeat that dropped BU back to the .500 plateau, according to the bench boss.
Junior guard D.J. Irving led the Terriers with 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting and snagged a career-high eight rebounds.
Freshman guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10 points) and junior forward Travis Robinson (11 points) were the only other Terriers to score in double figures.
Forward Mark Nwakamma recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 boards to pace the Hawks, who shot a blistering 51.1 percent from the field and scored 30 of their 66 points in the paint.
For the first time in 14 years, Hartford swept the season series against BU, a sidenote that did not concern Jones too much, considering that he put more emphasis on his squad’s level of competitiveness.
“You never want to lose to somebody twice in a season,” Jones said. “The streak is not as important as what we need to do on a daily basis to be better. Right now, our biggest issue is around the fact that we need to compete a lot harder and get the job done.”
The Hawks stormed out to an early 10–5 advantage, buoyed by a Nwakamma layup and 3-pointer, but the Terriers quickly stormed back and seized a 15–14 edge with 8:51 remaining in the first half after a 3-point play from sophomore guard Zach Chionuma.
That was BU’s last lead of the game, as Hartford countered with a 7–0 run of its own and never looked back from there. Coach John Gallagher’s squad rode its scorching hot start from the field (59.1 percent shooting) to a 36–26 halftime lead.
Hartford’s largest cushion of the session was 12 points, but freshman forward Nathan Dieudonne cut the lead back down to 10 with a dunk three seconds before the halftime buzzer expired.
Still, the Terriers’ performance right out of the gate in that first half was not up to par with their coach’s expectations.
“We talked all week about going out and competing,” Jones said. “We need to go back to working hard. It’s more about the team competing harder and working harder.”
Freshman guard John Papale drained a triple to reduce Hartford’s advantage to seven at the 3:55 mark of the second half. BU was able to close the gap to six points four times in that final frame.
After a Watson Jr. bucket made it a 62–56 game with 48 seconds left, Nwakamma and guard Corban Wroe buried the Terriers with four free throws to clinch the victory.
As the final whistle sounded, both benches immediately emptied when Robinson and Hartford’s Yolonzo Moore II got into one another. The emotions between the two teams finally erupted.
“I can’t tell you exactly what happened at the end of the game,” Jones said. “I don’t know what things were said. One thing led to another. I don’t think there were any punches thrown. I hope not.”
For Jones, the message is clear for BU heading into its next tilt on Tuesday against the University of Maine.
“It’s very obvious that we’re not competing hard,” Jones said. “It’s evident. That’s what we have to emphasize now. We have to go into the game and we have to compete. We have to play with more energy defensively. We need to be able to win a game where we don’t shoot 50 percent. We gotta be able to win a game where we shoot 38 percent and be able to grind it out.
“With the [University of] New Hampshire game on the road and the [University of] Vermont game at home, we’ve had great character wins for us,” he added. “We’re just having a hard time sustaining that energy night-in and night-out. We just have to be able to get it done.”