The Boston University men’s basketball team split its final regular season series against Army West Point this weekend. In the away series for the Terriers, the first game ended in a 75-63 victory while Army got the upperhand in the latter game 57-55. The series split gave the Terriers the No. 7 seed in the Patriot League Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament.
The Patriot League announced Thursday there would be an expansion to the tournament from eight teams to 10, allowing for all league basketball programs to be included. Although this lifted the threat of an early end to the season for the Terriers, seeding was still in limbo in their final two games.
Coming off three straight losses, the Terriers not only had the opportunity to go into the tournament with a better seed, but also to gain some momentum to propel them through the final stages of their season.
“It definitely helps us when we’re able to play in a rhythm, good things happen,” head coach Joe Jones said in a post-game press conference Saturday. “Hopefully, [the three-game losing streak] made us all look in the mirror at ourselves to try and improve this thing.”
To start the game Saturday, the Terriers were down early on in the first half, but quickly gained the edge. With precise and selfless passing, BU was able to create a 12-point deficit midway through the half.
“We’re happy that we won, but it’s more about how they played and how they focused,” Jones said. “Nobody cared who scored. That’s our team. When we play like that, we’re good.”
The Terriers were able to completely take control of Army in the latter stages of the first half, at one point extending their lead to 20.
A huge part of the Terrier tally was a total of eight three-pointers made by the away side in the first half, four of which came from junior guard Jonas Harper. Harper would finish the game shooting 67% from beyond the arc and scoring 18 points — four shy of his career high.
“They did a good job of finding [Harper],” Jones said. “Jonas is someone that obviously is a really good shooter.”
Army junior guard Josh Caldwell and senior forward Alex King combined for 19 points in the second half, but their efforts were ultimately not enough to break the Terrier lead. Apart from a couple of defensive slips, the Terriers coasted through the second half, not giving up a lead smaller than eight points.
After strong free throw shooting in the dying minutes of the game, the Terriers guaranteed the win and ended their losing streak.
Going into Sunday, much was at stake for both teams as a quarterfinal spot was still up for grabs. Army needed a win to capture a first round bye and home advantage, while the Terriers needed a victory to avoid playing in the first round.
However, on Army’s senior night, it was the home side that ran the court to start out the game. Despite putting out a weaker starting five due to the occasion, Army looked defensively stout out of the gate. Army only gave up five points to their opponents in the opening ten minutes of the game.
“You got to give Army credit, they were terrific in the first half of the game,” Jones said. “We were back to being sluggish, not moving the ball, not playing with the level of energy that you have to play with to be a good team.”
On top of a dismal offensive performance by the Terriers in the first half — which can be summed up by their 26% shooting percentage — BU also struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The Terriers gave up 39 points to Army in the first, nine of which coming from King, who would close the game with 19 total to his name.
The Terriers went into the halftime break with a mountain to climb in the form of a 22-point deficit.
In his halftime talk, Jones said he stressed to his players that the win was still in reach.
“I said, ‘Listen, we’re down 22. There’s enough time to win the game. I’ve seen a ton of games like this that turn real quickly. It’s all about trying to get some momentum,’” Jones said at a post-game conference.
The second half would fare much better for the Terriers, as they slowly grew into the game as the clock ticked on. Although it wasn’t blatant BU domination in the second half, the Terriers grinded out points and slowly chipped away at Army’s lead.
Senior guard Javante McCoy led the offensive effort for the Terriers, scoring a team-leading 16 points by game’s end, while junior forward Walter Whyte made an impact on both ends on the court, earning himself a double-double in points and rebounds.
As the game came down to the final minutes, the Terriers’ comeback started to truly come to fruition. With less than two minutes left in the game, a big steal and score by McCoy and a subsequent layup by Whyte cut down the Army lead to a single possession.
Another steal and score by Harper and layup by McCoy tied the game at 55-55 with seven seconds left on the clock. With the game almost destined for overtime, the ball was inbounded to King and the senior sank a jumper as the buzzer sounded to give Army a senior night win and a home quarterfinal game.
“We didn’t quit, we fought, we clawed, we were one possession away from being down 22 to coming back and winning the game,” Jones said. “That just shows you how good we can be when we focus and we get our minds right and we’re doing the things that we know we’re capable of doing. For me, that’s the thing that we got to take away from this.”
With a loss and a seventh seed placement, the Terriers will take the court March 3 at home in the first round of the Patriot League tournament against Lehigh University.