WORCESTER – Coming into Saturday’s matchup against the College of the Holy Cross, the Boston University men’s basketball team had a lot at stake. A win would clinch the regular season Patriot League title and guarantee home-court advantage throughout the upcoming Patriot League Tournament.
Aided by the performances of senior forward Dom Morris and senior guard D.J. Irving, the Terriers (22-9, 15-3 Patriot League) got past the Crusaders (18-12, 12-6 Patriot League),68-64, to secure the program’s first-ever regular-season Patriot League championship.
“It’s fitting, the way the season’s gone for us that we had to persevere [to win],” said BU coach Joe Jones.
Much of the game’s momentum shifted back-and-forth between the two squads. At the 12:12 mark of the first half, the Terriers jumped ahead of the Crusaders 15-7 after a 3-pointer from freshman guard Cedric Hankerson, but were unable to keep the stretch going.
With a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a layup make, senior guard and captain Dave Dudzinksi started a 13-2 Crusaders run that would put them ahead of BU by three points with 6:15 to go in the half. In the first, the senior scored 14 points and went 6-of-9 from the field.
“I wasn’t pleased that he was scoring as much, but I was more concerned about us offensively,” Jones said. “They were dictating what we were doing offensively with their defense, they were pushing us out, denying passes, and so we had a hard time getting into a rhythm offensively and even though we had the lead, I didn’t think we were playing with a rhythm.”
For the remainder of the frame, the two teams went shot-for-shot, but the Terriers ultimately got the best of the Crusaders thanks to the play of Irving. In a span of 25 seconds, Irving sank two free throws, grabbed a defensive rebound on the ensuing Holy Cross possession and laid the ball in on a fast break to give BU a 30-25 lead with 54 seconds remaining.
On the final Holy Cross possession, the Crusaders answered, as guard Justin Burrell drained a 3-pointer to end the half with the score 30-28 in favor of the Terriers.
Led by Dudzinski at the start of the second half, the Crusaders went ahead 43-38 with 15:56 remaining in the game. To make matters worse, sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr., also picked up his fourth personal foul, which forced him to take a seat on the bench.
Following Watson’s exit, sophomore forward Nathan Dieudonne and senior guard Travis Robinson stepped in and hit crucial 3-pointers that helped BU go on a 10-0 run to take a 48-43 lead with 12:36 left.
Holy Cross would not go down quietly though, and a 3-pointer by freshman Malachi Alexander put the Crusaders behind 66-64 with 1:46 to play. On the following BU possession, Watson carried the ball down and drove to the hoop. Watson’s shot did not fall, but he was able to grab the rebound, allowing the Terriers to kill more time off the clock.
With 58.7 seconds left, Jones called a timeout to settle down his team. After running the clock down, sophomore guard John Papale took a contested jumper from the corner that did not fall.
On the other end, with about 15 seconds remaining in the contest, freshman Anthony Thompson tried to put a shot up against Morris, who stonewalled the guard, forcing him to drop the ball, resulting in a Robinson steal. The ball was kicked out to Irving, who was subsequently fouled with 8.7 seconds left. The senior ended up hitting two free throws, sealing the Terrier victory.
“I like that moment,” Irving said of being on the foul line. “That moment is the time where I thrive, I don’t really feel pressure at those times, I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do, so I go out there and do it.”
Irving ended the game with 15 points to go along with five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Morris added 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
With the win, BU will take on the winner of the game between Loyola University-Maryland and Lafayette College in the quarterfinal roundWednesday night at Agganis Arena.
Morris said the clinching of the regular-season title was an important achievement for the team.
“I would say we should allow ourselves to pat ourselves on the back,” Morris said. “It’s a great accomplishment no matter what conference, level or division you’re in.”