Sitting atop the Patriot League standings as the end of the regular season draws to a close, the Boston University men’s basketball team has a chance to make some noise on the national landscape.
The Terriers (20-9, 13-3 Patriot League) have advanced to the NCAA Tournament on seven occasions, but the team has not earned a berth into the tournament since 2011. Last year, BU lost to Loyola University-Maryland in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament
This season, the Terriers are first in the Patriot League and control their own fate going into the conference tournament. BU had the chance to clinch the regular season conference title Sunday at home against Bucknell University, but squandered a nine-point second-half lead en route to a 63-53 defeat.
The Terriers, however, still maintain a one-game lead over American University with two regular season games left to play. One win in either of these final two games will give the Terriers the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the tournament. Both games will be on the road against the U.S. Military Academy and College of the Holy Cross, respectively.
“The first thing we have to do is just get back to competing,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “Practice has been especially competitive for the past couple months, but today we ratcheted it up a notch. We have to embrace the loss and rebuild a strong mindset. We know that if we can compete to our highest level, we’ll have success.”
Recent defensive efforts
With just two games left in the regular season, the Terriers are showing the defensive muscle needed to make a Cinderella run late in March.
In four of its last six contests, BU has held its opponent under 63 points. In these games, the Terriers have held the opposition to shoot 38 percent from the floor, while causing an average of 15 turnovers per game.
The Terriers are second in the conference in both steals per game (6.9) and rebounding per contest (34.1), which complements its run-and-gun style of play. As Jones has said all year long, the Terriers are at their best when they create turnovers on defense and take care of the ball on the offensive end.
“Even on Sunday, we played good defense,” Jones said. “We’ve been playing especially well for the past couple weeks. If we can keep our defensive intensity up, we’ll be in good shape.”
Irving’s battles through illness
Picked as the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year, senior guard D.J. Irving has not played up to his potential in the past few games.
Playing through sickness Sunday against the Bison (14-13, 9-7 Patriot League), Irving had a rough day on the offensive end, going 0-for-5 from the field, while making just 50 percent of his free throws.
Irving has scored in double figures just once in his last four games, and has made only three 3-pointers during this stretch. Even Irving’s normally consistent free-throw shooting has hit a funk. Irving, a career 79 percent shooter from the charity stripe, has made just six of his last 12 from the line.
However, earlier this year, Irving showed his ability to make buckets. This season, he has had five 20-plus point games, including one against Atlantic Coast Conference opponent University of Maryland in which he scored 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He also had a two-game stretch versus Army (13-14, 9-7 Patriot League) and Lehigh University where he averaged more than 23 points per game and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc.
When Irving is healthy and efficient, the Terriers are a difficult team to beat. Going into the postseason, BU will lean on Irving extensively for his leadership as well as his big-play ability.
“He’s our guy,” Jones said. “We feed off of his energy and playmaking skills. He’s helped us win a ton of games in his four years and that won’t change at the end of this [season].”