The Boston University men’s basketball team welcomed an important win Saturday, beating rival Northeastern University, 79-72, in its America East conference opener.
For the Terriers, it was a must-win game despite being only six games into their season. Coming off a lackluster defeat to Harvard University Tuesday and entering Saturday’s contest against Northeastern with a 3-2 record, BU found itself in desperate need of a win to rejuvenate its spirits and its record. Add the significance of an early-season conference victory and the Terriers had all the motivation they needed to pull out a win.
“This was a real important game for us,” said BU coach Dennis Wolff. “We obviously played very poorly Tuesday night and when you have a team as young as we have, that very next game is important. Coupled with playing an arch rival, this was a good win for us.”
The Terriers and the Huskies looked to be equally matched entering the contest, and that was certainly the case during Saturday’s game — BU and Northeastern changed lead five times in each half, and the score was tied four times in the first half alone.
It was a see-saw affair from the opening tip. The Huskies grabbed a four-point lead with 11:38 left to play in the first, but the Terriers came right back to regain a one-point edge, going up, 21-20, with 6:12 remaining on a fastbreak layup by junior forward Billy Collins.
Northeastern then rattled off a 10-3 run to put the Huskies up, 31-24, just 18 seconds before halftime, the largest margin of the first half. BU cut the lead before the half ended, however, as sophomore guard Paul Seymour drained a three-pointer at the buzzer.
In the opening half of a crucial game, the Terriers saw an efficient Huskies’ offense, prompting some cause for concern, according to Seymour.
“We knew we had played hard and that they had shot the ball real well, but we were a little worried that we hadn’t played as well as we should have,” Seymour said. “We thought if we just kept playing hard, hopefully their shots would stop falling and we would crash the boards like we did.”
Indeed, the Terriers owed a great deal of their success Saturday to rebounding. BU only out-rebounded Northeastern, 37-30, in the game, but pulled down numerous offensive boards when it counted late in the second half. Aggressive play under the glass was personified in the form of fouls, as BU took 26 trips to the line in the second half alone, converting 21 points.
“The free-throw shooting was great, and the guys did an excellent job on the boards, particularly when we needed to take over rebounding in the second half. It was a team effort. We had a bunch of different guys getting rebounds at key times,” Wolff said.
The Terriers remained behind the Huskies for nearly 10 minutes into the second half, as Northeastern opened up leads ranging from three to eight points. BU came back to tie it at 49 with 10:48 left in the game when sophomore guard Matt Turner knocked down a trey. Shortly after, junior forward Jerome Graham was good on two free throws to put BU up, 57-56, and the Terriers would hold the lead for the rest of the way, though not without the Huskies right on their heels.
In a game when BU needed all the help it could get, Graham stepped up in a big way, contributing 11 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and four rebounds.
“I’d like to single out Jerome Graham, who has worked very hard and he played very, very good minutes [Saturday]. He was very big for us,” Wolff said.
Behind its solid free-throw shooting, BU was able to hold its lead and never let Northeastern come within three points of the lead after going ahead.
“I thought it was a real well-played game by both teams,” Wolff said. “I was proud of the way our kids hung through being down in a good bit of the end of the first half and the start of the second half.
“I did think it was going to be a very tight game. They have a good team and they played well in their last two games. They’re a little bit undermanned right now, so I’m sure when they get some of their other guys back they’ll play better.”