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Men’s basketball wins first 4 Patriot League contests

Exiting winter break and entering the heart of the season, the Boston University men’s basketball team remains undefeated in conference play and sits atop the Patriot League standings.

“Now, I think we’re shooting the ball the way we’re capable of shooting it,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “The biggest thing for our team is we have to get better defensively. If we can do that, at the end of the day, I feel good about our chances of having a really special year.”

Despite the positivity surrounding the Terriers (11-6, 4-0 Patriot League), their play over winter break left some unanswered questions about the team’s ability to play through 40 minutes and compete consistently in tough situations.

BU showed some of this inconsistency against George Washington University on Dec. 11, as the Terriers were on the verge of their first victory against an Atlantic-10 Conference opponent since 2011, but fell just short.

The Terriers led the game at halftime and boasted an eight-point lead with 12 minutes remaining in the second frame. The zone defense to which the Colonials (13-3) switched troubled the Terrier offense, which watched its lead vanish and transform into a 70-60 Colonial victory.

Ten days later, the Terriers traveled down to College Park, Md., to take on Atlantic Coast Conference member in the University of Maryland. BU was fresh off of a home loss against Norfolk State University, but bounced back in spectacular fashion with an 83-77 victory over the Terrapins (10-7). The victory marked the Terriers’ second win over a member of the ACC in three years.

Despite being in foul trouble, senior point guard D.J. Irving put on a show, scoring 25 points in only 22 minutes of play, going 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc. Even though Maryland hit 51.5 percent of its chances from the field in the second half, the BU offense led by Irving put up enough to come out on top.

“It was more down the stretch, in the second half of games, the last 10 minutes of the game, the last eight minutes of the game, we had a hard time finishing those games off against quality opponents on their floor,” Jones said. “That was the first time we were able to do that and I thought it was a breakthrough for us, so I hope our guys are able to feel good about what they accomplished that day, but we’re not satisfied.

“Once we won the game, we talked about how we didn’t want it to be the highlight of our season, we don’t want that to be the only thing people say.”

The following weekend, BU hit the road again, this time facing another Atlantic-10 opponent in Saint Joseph’s University. The game served as a Philadelphia homecoming for a handful of Terriers such as Irving, sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr., senior forward Dom Morris and senior forward Travis Robinson, who all grew up in the area.

BU started out the game strong, heading into halftime with a 35-28 lead, hitting 45.5 percent of its shots. With eight minutes remaining in the contest and the Terriers holding onto a slim four-point lead, St. Joseph’s (10-5) woke up from their first half struggles and went on a 20-4 run over the course of seven minutes to take a commanding 67-58 lead on their way to winning the game by a score 73-67 over the Terriers.

In the Terriers’ Patriot League opener against the College of the Holy Cross at Agganis Arena, the team showcased its mental toughness.

BU took the lead seven minutes into the first half and appeared to have the game in hand. With 12:33 left in the game, however, the Crusaders (7-9, 1-3 Patriot League) were able to pull within two points, but the Terriers amped up their defensive pressure, forced turnovers and moved the ball around efficiently to produce open shots.

Role players like sophomore forward Justin Alston and freshman guard Cedric Hankerson drained their looks, distancing the Terriers from the Crusaders, giving BU a 70-60 victory.

Just three days later, BU took on another conference foe in Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., getting into a situation similar to its previous game. BU held an eight-point lead with 2:31 remaining in the game, but allowed Lehigh (8-9, 1-3) to claw back and take a one-point lead with eight seconds left in the game.

Although down by one, Irving drew a foul and went to the line with two seconds left. The co-captain stepped up, hitting both shots and giving BU its second victory in the conference.

After hitting the road, the Terriers came back to Commonwealth Avenue to host the U.S. Naval Academy. An early 13-3 run in the opening minutes of the first half helped jumpstart the Terriers’ offense. Despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field, Hankerson, Watson and Morris each posted double-digit point totals, leading to BU’s third-straight win.

Looking to win their fourth Patriot League game of the season, the Terriers had one of their best shooting outputs on the road against Lafayette College. BU scored 89 points, shot 55.6 percent from the field and hit a season-high 15 3-pointers. Sophomore guard John Papale led the way with 16 points and was one of five Terriers to score at least 10 points for the game.

The Terriers’ next game will be against a tough Colgate University team. Despite their sub-.500 record, the Raiders (6-9, 0-4 Patriot League) have stayed close in games against quality teams from major conferences like Syracuse University and Georgetown University.

“We’ve just been taking this one game at a time,” Jones said. “We’re really trying to understand what things we have to get better at, things that we’re doing well. That’s our mindset right now.

“I think we’ve got to continue talking about taking care of the basketball, getting quality shots each and every time down the floor and then defensively just improving and really getting better.”

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