It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
The Boston University men’s basketball team was in prime position to punch its ticket to the Big Dance after scoring 91 points in consecutive quarterfinal and semifinal tournament matchups. Certainly it had the makeup of a championship-worthy team, and had shown the offensive prowess all season to make any competitor shudder. For the preseason favorites to win the conference championship, and the highest-scoring offense in the conference this season, everything had fallen into place up until then.
But Wednesday night, it was a different story. The Terriers (24-10) could barely earn a basket all night, falling to American University by a score of 55-36 in the Patriot League title game and failing to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
It was the worst shooting performance by the Terriers all season — they went 30.8 percent from the field in the game, including 6-for-25 in the first half. Even more discouraging was the 3-point percentage — BU made just one shot on 17 attempts all night. The result? Just 36 total points for the Terriers, the fewest all season and the lowest total since a 2005 NIT loss to Georgetown University, in which the Terriers could only muster 34.
“Bad shots,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “We took bad shots. We took bad shots, we took quick shots, we took contested shots. Again, I hadn’t seen us play like that in a long time. And every time we took one, I kept thinking, ‘Alright, we’re not gonna take another one like that.’ And then we took another one like that. It proceeded just to spiral.”
Early on, turnovers kept the Terriers in the game. A couple of baskets from guard Darius Gardner and center Tony Wroblicky gave American (20-12) an early 6-2 advantage, and it would take a layup from sophomore forward Justin Alston to keep the Terriers in it.
On the other end of the floor, forward Kyle Kager threw down a dunk to give the Eagles an 8-4 advantage. Senior forward Travis Robinson responded with a 3-point basket to cut it to 8-7.
That was the closest it would get for the rest of the game.
In fact, Robinson’s shot was the only three the team would make all night. Sophomore guard John Papale was off the mark from 3-point range just a few possessions later, and the Terriers entered a spiral of 10 consecutive missed baskets and a 7:21-long scoring drought.
“I guess you start to second-guess yourself,” said senior captain Dom Morris. “I felt like we settled too much in the beginning, and then when we got our wide-open looks, some of the guys who normally hit shots, they might’ve second guess themselves because they missed the first few shots they took.”
Sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr. made a layup and earned an and-one with 7:04 left in the half to stop the bleeding. But even with those points, American had already jumped out to a 16-10 lead and showed no signs of being willing to relinquish that.
Sophomore forward Nathan Dieudonné tipped in a miss by Morris, making it 16-12. A few misses by both teams looked to give BU a chance to stay in it, but the brilliant play of Gardner quelled any hopes of that in the final three-and-a-half minutes. Eventual Tournament MVP Gardner ended the first half with 12 points, including a drained three with 12 seconds to go, preserving the score at 24-16 going into halftime.
And things did not get much better for the Terriers in the second half.
Wroblicky hit a layup about 30 seconds into the half, pushing the Eagle lead to double digits. Papale responded with a layup of his own 30 seconds later, and scored on a jumper a little while later to bring BU within six.
But Watson committed a foul, and Wroblicky hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 28-20. Wroblicky notched a layup on American’s next trip down the court, giving the Eagles a 30-20 advantage.
A couple possessions later, with 15:21 remaining, Watson danced around defenders to cut the American lead to 31-24. American kept scoring, however, and pushed the lead to 11 before Irving finally made his first basket with less than 10 minutes remaining, to bring the deficit to single digits, 35-26.
Guard Jesse Reed made a free throw about a minute later, though, to push the American lead to 36-26, and BU could not scratch its way back into single-digit territory.
On one of the few remaining good opportunities for BU, Papale attempted a three with about three-and-a-half minutes left. Like nearly every shot from 3-point range before it, it did not go in.
“I think we were all waiting for that one shot to happen, to kind of ignite us and get us going,” Jones said. “That was the one thing that had happened in especially the two previous games, we go make a play and then all of a sudden we get going. But you can’t rely on that in these types of games. You’ve got to play consistent basketball and we didn’t do a good job of that.
“I thought each guy tried to make that play to get us going. … That’s just not like us. You can’t win a game like that.”
Watson made a layup with 40 seconds left, which would be the last points of the game, making the final score 55-36.
BU’s regular top shooters were ice cold in this matchup — Irving went 1-for-10, Morris 4-for-10 and Papale 2-for-8. Watson, who committed one turnover and notched an NCAA season-best 17 assists in a semifinal matchup against the U.S. Military Academy Saturday, flubbed with seven turnovers and five assists on Wednesday.
The Terriers will play in the National Invitation Tournament as a result of winning the regular season Patriot League title, but as one of BU’s captains could attest, it was not the result the team wanted.
“You can’t really regret anything,” Irving said. “I did all I could while I was here. It just didn’t end the way I wanted it to.”