For the Boston University men’s basketball team, execution has not been an issue. Rather, the team’s main focus heading into the second half of conference play has been learning to close out games.
The problem has been somewhat of a constant throughout the season, but it presented itself most recently in the Terriers’ (14-7, 7-1 Patriot League) last two contests against American University and Bucknell University.
At American (12-7, 8-0 Patriot League), BU was outscored by 20 points in the second half en route to an 86-56 loss. After shooting 45.5 percent from the field in the first half, the Terriers could not find the basket, resulting in a second half field-goal percentage of only 21.4 percent. The team also went 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the second frame, adding to the Terriers’ shooting woes.
Against Bucknell (9-10, 4-4 Patriot League) in Lewisburg, Pa., the Terriers dominated every aspect of the game from the get-go and led 52-32 with 7:39 remaining in the contest. From there, BU took its foot off the gas and allowed the Bison to charge back and go on a 26-7 run to cut the Terrier lead to one with 30 seconds remaining in the second half.
Fortunately for the Terriers, the team was able to squeak by the Bison by a score of 64-61, thanks in part to the strong free-throw shooting of sophomore guard John Papale.
“It hasn’t been every game, but it creeps up and we have to learn how to fight back,” said BU coach Joe Jones about his team’s second-half struggles. “We need to learn how to focus for the full 40 minutes.”
Watson leads charge
For anyone who has watched a BU basketball game within the past year, the stellar play of sophomore point guard Maurice Watson Jr., is no secret.
This season, however, Watson’s performances have garnered national attention. Watson currently leads the Patriot League and ranks seventh in the NCAA in assists, averaging 6.6 helpers per game. The sophomore is also fourth in the conference in points per game with 14.7.
The Philadelphia native was named Anaconda Patriot League Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 30. On Monday, the conference awarded Watson with Honorable Mention Patriot League Player of the Week honors for his play against the Eagles and the Bison. Watson averaged 15.3 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals during the two-game stretch.
Watson said his confident play can be attributed to the attitudes of his teammates.
“Coming into conference play, I told our guys that this is our year,” Watson said after a 66-58 win over Colgate University on Jan. 15. “This is our season. My teammates trust me, and the confidence that they have in me boosts my own confidence.”
Bench remains strong
Not only have the Terriers had solid play from their starting five, but the Terriers also have the collective strength of their bench going for them.
Senior guard and tri-captain Travis Robinson has been called off the bench and to start in four games this season due in place of Watson and senior guard D.J. Irving. Robinson thus far has averaged 19.2 minutes per game and has put up 6.1 points per game.
Junior forward Malik Thomas has also been a key player off of the bench, averaging 5.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 18.3 minutes per game.
Jones said he is proud of the efforts of the second-string players and that the play of the bench has given the Terriers more depth.
“That’s the thing that I’m most pleased with right now is that we have more guys that can contribute at a higher level,” Jones said of the bench. “Obviously, with D.J.’s talent, experience and toughness and Mo Watson’s talent, experience and toughness, it’s hard to take those guys out, but our bench has done a great job backing them up.
“[Sophomore forward] Justin Alston is just going to get better. Malik Thomas was a starter last year and could start on most teams. He’s been much more consistent this year for us. [Robinson] has also given us some good minutes. I like our bench.”