Emerging victorious in yet another close Patriot League game, the Boston University men’s basketball team remains just one game out of first in the conference. This time, the Terriers can thank their bench for turning in one of its best games of the season against the United States Military Academy.
The Terrier (15-7, 8-1 Patriot League) bench outscored Army’s (10-10, 6-3 Patriot League) 42-30. Highlighting this stellar performance were junior forward Malik Thomas and freshman guard Cedric Hankerson.
“Tonight [Hankerson] and [Thomas] were huge,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “We’ve been looking for more contributions from [Thomas] especially. But it just shows how deep we are.”
Thomas played 28 minutes against a physical Black Knight offense, logging one steal and one block. On the offensive end, the former starter tallied 18 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
The key player in the Terriers’ 86-81 overtime victory, however, was Hankerson. The Miami native put up a team-high 19 points in only 17 minutes of play. Scorching hot for the entire game, Hankerson shot 5-6 from behind the arc and 6-8 from the field; both season-highs. On one particular BU possession in the second half, Hankerson threw up a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring and hit nothing but net. It was just that kind of night for the freshman.
“After the first couple of shots, I knew the ball was just coming off of my hands well,” Hankerson said. “So I just kept on putting it up. My teammates kept finding me, and I just tried to keep them motivated and intense throughout the game.”
“[Hankerson] had it going,” Jones said. “He was playing so well that we needed to find him some time on the floor. So we went with him and he delivered for us. He’s a talented kid. He’s still got a lot to learn but he’s getting it.”
The BU bench has been forced to shoulder more offensive responsibility of late with the struggles of senior forward Dom Morris and sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr.
In his last four games, Morris has shot 25 percent from the field, well-below his career average of 51 percent. Against the Black Knights, Morris had one of the worst games of his career offensively, going just 3-16 from the field and turning the ball over twice.
The usually consistent Watson has also had his struggles of late, with ball security becoming a major issue. In Wednesday’s overtime thriller, Watson turned the ball over four times, contributing to a starting squad that turned the ball over 18 times as a whole.
“We did a really poor job inbounding the ball against their pressure,” Jones said. “Our guards didn’t work hard enough to get open. We had 10 turnovers between our inbounders and then [senior guard] D.J [Irving] had five and [Watson] had four.”
Watson has also struggled from the field of late, shooting just 30 percent over his last three contests.
Quality minutes were once again delivered by sophomore forward Justin Alston, who provides a defensive presence off the bench. On Wednesday, his shot-blocking presence was felt by the Black Knights’ guards, as he caused many contested shots. Alston has seen increased minutes in recent weeks.
As the Terriers make their way toward March, Jones certainly understands the advantage his bench provides him.
“We’re a talented team and we have really good players,” Jones said. “On any given night, there are a lot of guys that can step up to the plate and get it done. We just need to be consistent. We need to do things the right way and carry ourselves the right way all the time.”