BU’s season went beyond the stats

(The following is part one of a two-part series, reviewing the Boston University men’s basketball team’s 2000-01 season.)

If you take a look at the Boston University men’s basketball team’s record this season, 14-14 overall and 9-9 in the America East, you may not be that impressed.

But if you start to peel away the layers and take a look at what it took for the Terriers to get there, you’ll probably be surprised and impressed.

BU began its season without a senior on the squad. Its two most prominent leaders last season, point guard Mike Costello and center Jean Avebe, were both lost to graduation, and junior Stijin Dhondt and sophomore Billy Collins stepped into the role of co-captains in the offseason. Dhondt and Collins were both proven players that had transferred to BU and had spent a year with the program, but neither had ever played a single game for the Terriers before this season.

That is not to say either captain wasn’t qualified for the job, but they certainly had a difficult task in leading a young and relatively inexperienced BU team. Aside from Dhondt, the Terriers carried three juniors, forwards Nacho Rodriguez and Jerome Graham and guard Mark Michalek. But the majority of the Terriers were freshmen and sophomores, five and four, respectively, that made up more than half the team.

BU’s inexperience was undoubtedly its biggest question mark heading into the season, but if the Terriers could avoid the injuries that were a significant reason they were hampered to a 7-22 record last season, they were confident they could have a successful year.

And BU’s season definitely began with a bang. If anyone was worrying about the Terriers’ youth, it wasn’t the team itself, which leapt out to a 3-0 start after three non-conference away games. BU beat St. Peter’s University, 77-64, Nov. 17, then went on to avenge a last-second loss to Liberty University last season with a 55-54 win before holding on against Quinnipiac University, 66-60, in a tournament at George Washington University.

A talented George Washington squad finally handed BU its first loss of the season Nov. 25, a 92-76 decision, but the Terriers would start 5-2 overall in its first seven contests. After a difficult and lackadaisical loss at Harvard University, BU bounced back with back-to-back wins against Northeastern University and the University of Maine to open with a 2-0 conference record.

Not bad for a bunch of young players who were only supposed to be getting exposed to the college level, according to some.

When they entered the winter break just before the new year, the Terriers were 6-4 and most likely flying high after going just 2-8 during their first 10 games last season.

In that stretch, BU remained as healthy as could be hoped for, but it did suffer one major casualty. Sophomore forward Jacob Kudlacz, a developing force in the paint for the Terriers, suffered a foot injury, and after BU’s 79-72 win at rival Northeastern, BU learned it would be without his services for the rest of the season.

But compared to the rash of injuries that had nearly depleted BU’s entire squads in years prior, a blow such as the loss of Kudlacz was unfortunate but tolerable.

The Terriers’ opening stretch of the season wasn’t perfect, but it was satisfactory, and the second half of its season, the bulk of which consisted of conference games, would be the true test.

Maybe it was a lull in the season or maybe the Terriers underestimated their opponents; whatever the reason, BU struggled to gain momentum in the month of January, going 3-6. All nine contests were against conference opponents, and suddenly the Terriers’ goal of a regular-season conference championship seemed far off, and their goal of a high tournament seed only a fraction closer than that.

The Terriers’ run in January wasn’t easy: two games against eventual America East champion Hofstra University, one against powerhouse University of Delaware and two against spoiler Drexel University. Despite the losses, perhaps BU’s most difficult game to swallow was a 58-54 home victory against the University of Vermont. The Terriers squeezed past the Catamounts, but lost Collins to a stress fracture in his left foot that he had been battling all season. Collins was just beginning to regain his form and had scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Vermont, but an inadvertent step after the game ended his season — and left BU with a co-captain on the bench.

“I was really disappointed after sitting out last year also,” Collins would later say. “It’s frustrating because I felt good. I still feel like I’m a part of the team; I have to cheer my teammates on and stay positive.”

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