The Boston University men’s basketball team continued its Patriot League dominance Wednesday, as the Terriers defeated second-place American University, 71-62.
After losing 86-56 to the Eagles (15-11, 11-4 Patriot League) on the road Jan. 22, the Terriers (20-8, 13-2 Patriot League) came into the game with a chip on their shoulders. The matchup also had playoff implications — a BU win would give them a two-game cushion in the Patriot League standings, while a loss would allow American to leapfrog into first place.
“We expected it to be a hard-fought game,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “American’s got a great program and a great coach. I was really proud of our guys for stepping up their intensity.”
The Terriers entered the matchup riding a four-game winning streak, having won six out of their last seven contests. Meanwhile, the Eagles had lost three of their last four conference matchups.
The Terriers’ extra motivation may have caused some jitters in the first half, allowing American to take an early lead. Struggling to get open shots, BU made just four of its first 16 field goal attempts to open the game. Meanwhile, American ran off its screens well and got open looks near the basket. By the 11:10 mark in the half, the Eagles had taken a 17-9 lead.
“Early in the game we were doing some good things and we were a little jacked up, to be honest,” Jones said. “Shots that fell for us early in games weren’t falling. We just needed to settle down. And once we got into a rhythm offensively and defensively, we got going.”
The Terriers got into a rhythm as the game wore on, however, and began to chip away at the deficit. After going down nine with just over four minutes remaining in the first, BU went on an 8-0 run to close out the half. Junior forward Malik Thomas contributed with a few tip-ins on the offensive glass and senior guard Travis Robinson splashed a 3-pointer. Going into the break, the Terriers trailed the Eagles 32-31, despite BU shooting just 39.4 percent from the field.
“Our seniors really played well,” Jones said. “Guys like [senior guard] D.J. Irving, who didn’t score much but made some big plays. Travis Robinson and [senior forward] Dom [Morris]’s play the whole game gave us an advantage. They did a nice job and we fed off their energy and their focus.”
Nine seconds into the second frame, BU grabbed its first lead of the night with a pull-up jumper from Irving. A dunk by sophomore forward Justin Alston put distance between themselves and the Eagles. The closest American could get to BU after this bucket was within five points after a 3-pointer from guard John Schoof with 4:45 to go.
“We just wanted to keep our intensity up [in the second half],” Jones said. “We needed to keep pressure on them. We were able to rotate our nine guys in and out, and we wanted to wear them out as much as we could. Then, that would allow our talent and athletic ability to have its effect on the game.”
Every time the Eagles hit a possible momentum-shifting 3-pointer, the Terriers answered right back with one of their own. Robinson and sophomore guard John Papale both hit 3-pointers in transition off assists from sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr. With these momentum killers, BU was able to hold off any potential late-game runs from American and hold on for the 71-62 win.
Watson had one of the most efficient games of his BU career, scoring 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting while dishing out seven assists with only one turnover.
“We play our best basketball when we’re taking care of the ball,” Watson said. “When we’re taking care of the ball, we’re able to find our shooters and play solid. When we’re a solid team, we’re tough to beat.”
Morris also supplied production from the low block, putting up 16 points and seven boards in 29 minutes of play.
With the win over a contending conference rival, the Terriers can breathe a little easier heading into their final three conference games.
“We’re just focusing on what we need to do to get better,” Morris said. “We’re not looking past games, we’ll just take them one at a time. We know after these next three games is a new season. But we can’t lose. So we definitely have to tighten up some of the things we need to improve on, but we’re not overlooking any one game.”