Upon the release of the Patriot League preseason poll on Nov. 1, the Boston University men’s basketball team and Lafayette College were projected to be playing in the final game of the Patriot League Tournament. Instead, a rough season for the Leopards led them to face No. 1-seeded Terriers in the quarterfinal round Wednesday night at Agganis Arena.
Led by 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds from sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr., BU (23-9, 15-3 Patriot League) defeated Lafayette (11-20, 6-12 Patriot League) by a 91-54 margin to advance to the semifinal round of the conference playoffs. The 37-point margin of victory was the largest in a Patriot League quarterfinal since 2005, and BU’s 66.1 field-goal percentage set a new tournament record.
To start the game, Lafayette controlled the tip-off and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead off of a layup from center Nathaniel Musters. BU quickly responded with a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Nathan Dieudonné to grab the lead.
It seemed the Leopards were going to pick up where they left off in the first round against Loyola University-Maryland, where Lafayette shot a red-hot 63.6 percent from the field. That would not be the case, however, and after the score was tied at five, the Terriers went on a 12-3 run behind successful offensive play by Watson to build a lead they would never relinquish.
“I just wanted to be super aggressive,” Watson said. “I felt like I had to come out and be one of the leaders of the team.”
The Terriers continued their dominance throughout the half off of the impressive shooting of their backcourt. At the half, BU held a 42-27 lead. Thirty-one of those points came from the combined efforts of Watson, senior guard D.J. Irving and freshman guard Cedric Hankerson.
Watson led the trio with 15 points, shooting 6-for-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Irving and Hankerson combined to shoot 7-for-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep. As a whole, BU shot 68 percent from the field on 25 shots and went 7-for-9 from the 3-point arc in the first half.
“You want to be playing your best basketball in March, and they’re locked in,” said BU coach Joe Jones.
The Leopards started the second half down by 15 points and tried to jumpstart their offense with some quick 3-pointers out of the gate. Tight defense by the Terriers forced two consecutive missed 3-point attempts, though, and the Terriers went for easy baskets on the other end to pad their lead.
“In Loyola we were feeling it, but today Boston played a really good defensive game, said Lafayette captain Seth Hinrichs. “[BU] really got on our shooters and forced shots.”
Although the Leopards called a timeout with 16:14 left to try slow the down the Terrier offense, the momentum of the game continued to go against Lafayette. Less than 30 seconds later, Watson connected with Dieudonné for an alley-oop to take a 52-31 point lead, appearing to be an early dagger.
For the rest of the half, Jones and his club had to find the balance between saving energy for Saturday’s possible semifinal matchup and keeping the foot on the gas pedal to close out the Leopards.
The Terriers did not falter, though, holding onto their big lead to defeat Lafayette 91-54 and win their first-ever Patriot League Tournament contest. With the win, the Terriers will host the U.S. Military Academy in the semifinal round of the tournament Saturday at 3 p.m.
“The last time we played Lafayette we were able to sustain our effort,” Jones said. “To be able to do it again shows that we’ve taken another step in the right direction.”