With the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament in hand, the Boston University men’s basketball team will open up postseason play Wednesday, facing Lafayette College in the quarterfinals of the conference playoffs.
Following a season in which BU (22-9, 15-3 Patriot League) was banned from the America East Conference Tournament due to its transition into the Patriot League, the team has fulfilled the preseason expectation of becoming conference champions. The Terriers clinched the regular-season conference championship Saturday after a 68-64 road victory versus College of the Holy Cross. The title is the team’s first regular-season conference championship in more than 10 years.
“It’s very exciting to have a chance to play in the postseason,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “You know last year we didn’t have that chance. To have the opportunity to play in front of your own fans is really special. We’ve worked especially hard this year and stayed committed to our goals, and I’m glad we’re back here.”
Twice this season the Terriers have matched up against the Leopards, winning both games. In the first game, BU took a 37-34 lead into halftime, but pulled away in the second half, beating Lafayette 89-78 on Jan. 11. The second game on Feb. 8 was a different story, however, as the Terriers dominated the entire game at Agganis Arena en route to the 88-54 victory. Sophomore forward Justin Alston led the way with 17 points and senior guard D.J. Irving finished with 16 of his own.
The Terriers’ final two regular season games against the Crusaders (18-12, 12-6 Patriot League) and the U.S. Military Academy, on the other hand, were won in unconvincing fashion. In these games, BU won by a combined margin of five points. Feb. 26, the Terriers barely survived a last second scare against Army (14-15, 10-8 Patriot League), eventually holding on to a 71-70 victory following the cancellation of a potential game-winning basket.
Meanwhile, the Leopards (11-19, 6-12 Patriot League) come into Wednesday’s matchup riding a hot streak. After losing 11 games in a row midway through the season, including their first nine conference games, the Leopards have won seven of their last 10 matchups.
“They’ve gotten hot at the right time,” Jones said. “They’re not an easy team to play right now.”
Since the return of leading scorer forward Seth Hinrichs at the end of January, Lafayette has played more consistent basketball. The Leopards lost all 10 games while Hinrichs recovered from injury. His return has helped make Lafayette one of the hottest teams in the Patriot League.
“[Hinrichs] is definitely not an easy guy to stop,” Jones said. “The only thing we can do is make it hard for him. We have to get out on the perimeter and contest his shots.
“They’ve also got some other guys that can beat you with the threes and it’s the same for them. We have to get out and make everything harder on them. No basket should come easily.”
Hinrichs, a three-year starter for the Leopards, shoulders much of the offensive responsibility for his team. Averaging 16.4 points per game in just over 30 minutes a contest, Hinrichs is an efficient scorer. He also provides matchup problems for the opposition due to his 6-foot-7 frame, and ability to hit outside shots.
According to Jones, the key for the Terriers will be their defense. The Leopards run an efficient offense that generates a team field goal percentage of 47 percent. Playing well of late, Lafayette has scored more than 80 points in each of its last two games.
Jones has reason to be confident in his team, however, as the Terriers held the Leopards to under 35 percent shooting in their last matchup. Lafayette, heavily reliant on the deep ball this season, shot just 6-of-21 from 3-point range in the blowout.
Down to win-or-go-home mode, Terrier seniors are focused heading into this quarterfinal game. Having played in the NCAA Tournament once already in their BU careers during the 2010-11 season, the group is hungry for another berth.
“[The seniors] are really excited,” Jones said. “They accomplished one of their goals Saturday and they want to keep going. They’re excited at the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament again. Having played in the tournament before, they know what it’s like and they want to add another conference championship to their resumes.”