Despite a forgettable opening-night performance against George Washington University on Friday, Boston University men’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff addressed the media following practice in Case Gymnasium and bluntly said his team is going to win a lot of games this year.
It may seem simple or superfluous, but that optimistic statement is one that would not have escaped Wolff’s mouth this early (or perhaps at all) during BU’s last two seasons.
So why, on the heels of a game in which BU (0-1) missed seven free throws, shot below 30 percent from the field, and failed to convert at least 10 lay-ups, is Wolff so confident?
‘We played hard as hell,’ Wolff said. ‘Everybody played very hard defensively, rebounded enough to win and we didn’t really turn it over. From a strategy and preparation standpoint, our offensive scheme was way better than it was last year.’
Offensive flow and a commitment to playing hard for 40 minutes were an issue prior to the Terriers’ whimsical turnaround last season, during which they won nine of their last 12 games. It appears as though multiple aspects of the team’s play during that run have carried over to this season. Coupled with the experience of an upperclassmen-heavy group and the amount of talent in BU’s heralded backcourt as well as an underrated frontcourt, Wolff’s claim doesn’t look so outlandish.
That said, BU’s chance to dissociate itself from a team that failed to capitalize on a five-point overtime lead and 26 GW turnovers comes tonight at 7 p.m. at Bucknell University.
The Bison (0-1) also dropped their season opener in ugly fashion, 81-52, against the University of Maryland.
‘Part of it would be attributable to first-game jitters and a pretty hostile environment,’ Bucknell’s first-year coach Dave Paulsen said of his team’s play on Friday. ‘Our offensive execution was very poor in terms of shooting the ball, in terms of turning the ball over and in terms of recognizing what the defense was giving us and wasn’t giving us. To say we were bad offensively against Maryland would be an understatement.’
Bucknell was 19-of-60 from the field (31.7 percent) but was hampered by 20 turnovers and a 47.8 percent free-throw clip. Six-foot-8 junior forward Patrick Behan led Bucknell in scoring with 12 points, but was the only Bison to crack double digits.
Reigning Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, junior Stephen Tyree, was expected to be a vital part of Bucknell’s lineup, but he injured his knee in a pickup game in September and will miss the remainder of the season.
Though the Terriers’ injury situation isn’t quite as dire, they will be without the services of junior Scott Brittain (concussion) for the second consecutive game. It’s the first time in his career the 6-foot-9 forward will miss back-to-back contests.
Brittain won’t make the trip to Lewisburg, Pa., due to medical reasons. He’s had three concussions in the past, so BU isn’t taking any risks.
‘The medical staff told me that a trip on a plane and a three-hour bus ride is not going to help [him] get any better,’ Wolff said.
With Brittain out again, freshmen forwards Jake O’Brien and Jeff Pelage will be once again be tested.
O’Brien has garnered praise from various sources since his collegiate debut ‘-‘- and with good reason. His defensive presence against a taller, more experienced forward (Rob Diggs) made it seem as though the 6-foot-8 Boston College High School graduate had been in the league for years.
‘It’s a big blow to a team when they lose a veteran guy [Brittain] who’s done great things in the past. Obviously that’s going to hurt them, but the flip side is Jake O’Brien played and competed very well for a freshman,’ Paulsen said. ‘I think he’s going to be a terrific player and then when they get Brittain back it might turn out to be a long-term blessing for Dennis and his team.’
In addition to Paulsen, Wolff had glowing words regarding his rookie forward, who will be matched up against Bucknell’s 6-foot-11 center Josh Linthicum.
‘I’m not turning him into Larry Bird here, but he can shoot 3s no problem. He made an [up-and-under] post move at a clutch time that no one’s made here in two or three years. And for anybody that thought he was soft, he blocked shots and he got rebounds,’ Wolff said.
Wolff’s praise for Pelage was just as noteworthy.
‘Pelage was better than I thought when I watched the tape,’ he said. ‘He’ll finish some of his missed shots, but he bodied up, didn’t get pushed around in there, caught the ball in the post and moves the ball well.’
The obvious criticism of this year’s Terriers is that their interior talent can’t match the skill of their guards ‘-‘- that the big men won’t be an imposing enough physical presence. But if BU’s newcomers have Paulsen convinced after just one game – a loss nonetheless – then perhaps Wolff’s statement regarding winning isn’t just lip service.
‘I think [BU’s] more balanced than people give them credit for and I think that’s going to be a challenge for us,’ Paulsen said.