The Boston University men’s basketball team extended its winning streak to six games with its 72-58 victory over Loyola University-MarylandMonday night in front of an excited crowd of 1,411 at Agganis Arena.
The Terriers (13-6, 6-0 Patriot League) overcame a challenging first half to top the Greyhounds (8-9, 3-3 Patriot League) to remain undefeated in conference play.
Major absences in both sides’ starting lineups highlighted the beginning of the contest. Loyola’s top guard and the NCAA’s sixth-leading scorer, Dylon Cormier, sat on the bench to start the game, which, according to Greyhound coach G.G. Smith, was a decision made regarding the team’s policy on missing practice.
For the Terriers, senior guard D.J. Irving and sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr. were not included in the starting lineup.
“I don’t really have anything else to say about it other than I love them both,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “They’re great players, they’re great kids. They’re great for our program, but it was a coach’s decision.”
BU started the game playing an energetic zone defense. However, the sharpshooting of Loyola guard Eric Laster led to three straight field goals for him and a 7-0 run for the Greyhounds.
The tempo picked up slightly five minutes into the contest when the coaches allowed Cormier and Irving into the game, with Cormier making an immediate impression. During his first possession on defense, he stole the ball from senior forward Dom Morris on the perimeter.
Cormier continued to get involved, earning multiple trips to the foul line. Then, with 11:10 left in the half, the Patriot League’s leading scorer backed down a much taller defender in junior forward Malik Thomas and laid the ball in to give his team a 13-12 lead.
Guard Denzel Brito hit a 3-pointer off a pass from Cormier with 9:56 to go in the half, and then on the next possession Brito converted again on a midrange jumper.
What became a 10-0 run for Loyola was halted when Morris made his first mark on the game offensively by getting to the line and hitting a pair of free throws.
Watson made his initial impact on the game with a midrange jumper out on transition, and then, after a steal from freshman guard Cedric Hankerson, Watson cut the Greyhound lead down to three with an aggressive drive to the rim and a left-handed finish.
With two minutes left in the half, the Terriers regained the edge when Watson fired the ball to sophomore forward Nathan Dieudonne, who reached above the rim for an emphatic slam.
The first half ended on a high for BU, as Watson caught the ball with five seconds remaining and drove the length of the court for a reverse layup that dropped in as the buzzer sounded, giving the Terriers a 32-27 lead.
Watson would continue to orchestrate BU’s offense in the second half. About three minutes into the period, Dieudonne tipped an offensive rebound out to Watson at the top of the perimeter where the point guard drained a 3-pointer.
At the 9:20 mark, Watson carried the ball in transition before finding sophomore guard John Papale for a 3-pointer that gave the Terriers a 12-point lead. Papale put on a strong performance, shooting 5-for-8 from the floor for 13 points.
“They did a great job of finding [Papale], he did a great job of spacing,” Jones said. “John shoots threes, but he’s more than just a shooter. He can put the ball on the floor, he’s a good defensive player, he makes no mistakes. He’s a lot better player than he gets credit for.”
Then, with less than six minutes remaining, BU’s backcourt came together on offense to put the game out of reach. Irving hit two straight corner 3-pointers after Watson continued to find holes in Loyola’s defense and kick the ball out to the perimeter, giving the Terriers a 59-45 lead.
In 25 minutes of play, Watson ended with 19 points and six assists. In his 23 minutes on the floor, Irving was a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and finished with 14 points.
During the final minute and a half, Watson made all four of his free-throw attempts as the Terriers put the Greyhounds away.
Even though the team’s perfect conference mark remained intact, Jones said he was cautious of celebrating too early.
“There’s no champion that gets crowned in the month of January,” Jones said. “And it’s all about who’s going to be the best team in March, and can we continue to take steps to be the team we want to be? That’s my motivation everyday.
“I have a great senior class. They came in as champions. I want to see them go out as champions. That’s what I’m concentrating on right now. And I’m not perfect, and I’m trying to get better everyday as a leader of this program.”