BU faces first test of season against St. Peter’s

It’s time to shut up and play.

After an extremely disappointing campaign last season, the Boston University men’s basketball team has been surrounded by talk of rebuilding, of bouncing back, making the America East playoffs and returning to the top of the conference since practices began this summer.

Tonight, the Terriers will get their first chance to put an end to all the hype and begin a new chapter on the hardcourt when they take on St. Peter’s College in their season opener.

BU does not have to look far for motivation against St. Peter’s. Last season, the Terriers went nowhere fast in their season-opening road trip (0-5), a losing trend that would follow them for the rest of the season.

This season, St. Peter’s is first on a seven-game, five-site road campaign trip lasting until Dec. 12, and BU is hoping this time around the ride will be a little less bumpy.

“It’s very important that we get out of the blocks better than we did last year,” said BU coach Dennis Wolff.

“St. Peter’s is a good game to start off with,” said sophomore forward Paul Seymour. “Hopefully we’ll do better than last year when we started 0-5.”

If BU was looking for an equal matchup to start the season, it probably couldn’t have found a better team than St. Peter’s.

As was the case with the Terriers, the Peacocks’ 1999-2000 season was one they’d soon like to forget — they were a paltry 5-23 overall and 3-8 in the Metro Athletic Atlantic Conference and — like BU — started the season 0-5.

St. Peter’s is in the midst of a turnover in the program as well, one more intensive than BU’s own transition. The Peacocks will be directed by a new head coach in Bob Leckie, a St. Peter’s alumnus, who has spent the last 13 years coaching high school in the New York City Catholic High Schools League, commonly regarded as the mecca of high school basketball.

St. Peter’s will be without their go-to player from last season due to graduation, Ricky Bellinger, who averaged 15.1 points per game and was is the school’s all-time career points leader. Center Jermaine Johnson also graduated after registering a team high 45 blocks and 4.3 rebounds per game last year. In addition, two of three freshman recruits from last season have transferred.

The resulting roster: five freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and four seniors, three of whom saw limited time last season in supporting roles. And BU’s roster? Five freshmen, three sophomores and five juniors.

The Terriers and Peacocks are in eerily similar situations, right down to changing their styles of play from last year. St. Peter’s Leckie is used to a fast-paced, guard-oriented offensive style that features almost constant full court presses and constant movement on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

And BU, with the addition of freshman guards Derrick Breland and Kevin Fitzgerald and the return of sophomore guard Matt Turner from academic probation, has also shifted to a faster style of play that favors increased ball work on offense, a system geared toward swingmen Seymour and freshman forward Jason Grochowalski.

All in all, the Terriers and Peacocks are so similar they could switch jerseys and remain nearly the same team, but it is a contest BU is ready to play, according to Wolff.

“They have a new coach and a lot of young guys and even some injuries like us,” Wolff said. “They have a lot of enthusiasm that comes with an almost new team. They play a real up-tempo style and they are going to try to make us play real fast.”

Wolff said the Terriers will work with several schemes on both ends of the court to keep the Peacocks from running away with the game.

BU’s starting lineup will include only one starter from last year (Seymour) while Grochowalski, who redshirted last season, and freshman forward Ryan Butt will fill in the front three. Junior transfer Stijin Dhondt will start at guard in his first game ever in a scarlet and white uniform, joined by freshman guard Kevin Fitzgerald, who surprised many with his 11 points and four assists in BU’s second exhibition game Nov. 11.

For the Terriers, tonight’s game against St. Peter’s could set the tone for the rest of the season, and it’s an opportunity they do not want to lose.

“We had a good spirited practice [yesterday]; this is an important first week,” Wolff said. “The kids are excited and ready to go. St. Peter’s is our biggest test, with the age of [our team]. We are only thinking about our next opponent.”

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