The Boston University men’s basketball team found itself in another tense game Monday night, but eventually emerged victorious over Quinnipiac University by a score of 69-66. The two schools fought back and forth throughout the contest, until a 3-pointer by senior guard D.J. Irving in the final seconds separated the teams for good.
Coming off of a one-point win over Saint Peter’s University this weekend, the Terriers (5-2) traveled to Hamden, Conn., to face the Bobcats (4-2).
The first 10 minutes set the tone for the rest of the game with closely contested play. Sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr. established himself as a threat early, hitting a 3-point shot just under six minutes in, then dished the ball to senior forward Travis Robinson for a layup a few possessions later. Watson had a strong start, as he scored 13 points and dealt four assists in the first half alone.
With five minutes left in the half, however, the Bobcats made a 7-0 run that was sparked by a 3-pointer from senior Shaq Shannon.
With 1:50 left in the first, Watson fired back, driving the ball to the rim for a layup. Yet it was Quinnipiac with the final points of the half, as forward Ousmane Drame banked in a hook shot at the buzzer, giving the Bobcats a 36-32 lead at the half.
In most statistical aspects, the Terriers outplayed the Bobcats in the first half. BU shot 48 percent from the floor, while Quinnipiac converted 44 percent of its shots. The Bobcats were also guilty of committing more turnovers, giving the ball away six times to the Terriers’ four.
Quinnipiac found an advantage in rebounding, however, as it led in that category, 22-12, as well as a 7-1 advantage on the offensive glass.
Drame proved to be a continuing threat early in the second half, converting two close-range shots, one of which turned into a 3-point play. The Terriers responded two and half minutes into the second half, when junior guard Malik Thomas sunk a shot from behind the 3-point arc with an assist from sophomore guard John Papale.
Papale was unusually quiet, shooting just 1-of-6 from the floor, in a game in which his brother, Quinnipiac’s Director of Basketball Operations Michael Papale, was on the sidelines.
Thomas’s 3-point field goal ignited a run of nine unanswered points by the Terriers, capped off by a driving layup from Watson.
But the Bobcats climbed back into the game through the strong rebounding presence they established from the start.
“Their whole offense is built around getting offensive rebounds,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “So everything they do is to rebound the ball. The way we tried to offset that is, obviously we didn’t want to get beat that poorly, and we wanted to get out in transition when we did rebound it and run.”
The game’s dynamic changed momentarily when BU briefly switched to a zone defense towards the middle of the second half.
With 10:49 remaining, freshman Kasim Chandler dribbled through the Terriers’ zone before finding senior Ike Azotam for a layup. A couple of plays later, Chandler found the same holes in BU’s defense, only this time converting a layup himself.
“Our zone was not effective at all,” Jones said. “Actually, it was really, really bad. We thought we could play a little zone, but we really struggled. We haven’t worked on it enough.”
Azotam and Drame made biggest scoring contributions for the Bobcats, finishing with 14 points and 16 points, respectively. In addition, the pair of forwards bullied the Terriers in the paint for the entirety of the game, grabbing a combined 26 rebounds, including 10 off the offensive boards.
With just more than a minute left in the game, the 6-foot-9 Drame powered over senior forward Dom Morris with a layup to tie the score at 66 apiece.
The Bobcats had the chance to take the lead with 17 seconds to go, but guard Evan Conti misfired his 3-point attempt.
On the next play, the Terriers put the ball in the hands of Irving, the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year.
Irving took his time, draining the clock down to three seconds, as he approached the 3-point line, where finally he pulled up and nailed what proved to be the game-winning shot.
While Irving was the hero of this game, the Chester, Pa., native came into the contest struggling, shooting just 30 percent from the field thus far.
“I think all players at some point in a season are going to struggle a little bit,” Jones said. “We’ve talked to [Irving] about having unbelievable confidence in him. He’s won a ton of games for us in the last few years, and we wanted him to stay aggressive. He was really aggressive from the start of the game.”
While Jones said he was impressed with Irving’s effort, he said he was more satisfied with the overall performance of the team.
“We have a lot of respect for Quinnipiac, their coach and their program,” Jones said. “They really test your manhood. They play so physically . We tried to do the best we could at matching their physicality. I’m really proud of our team, we hung tough on the road. It was a great win.”