Boston University men’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff picked an interesting adjective to describe the Terriers’ 69-53 win at Binghamton University on Sunday.
And the adjective wasn’t “quality,” “hard-fought” or even “gutsy.”
“Once again, in a hostile environment, the kids came out and played with great effort,” Wolff said after his team’s 12th straight win and 23rd in its last 24 games, as it closed out the regular season by clinching the top seed in the America East Tournament. “It was very typical of how the season has gone for us.”
Sunday’s game at the sold-out Events Center in Vestal, N.Y. actually was “typical” for the Terriers (23-4, 17-1 America East), who outclassed yet another conference opponent, earning their 10th consecutive double-digit win. During the 10-game span, BU has won by an average of 15 points to elevate itself head and shoulders above everybody else in the league.
The Bearcats (14-15, 10-8) stayed with the first-place Terriers in the game’s opening 14 minutes, but Rashad Bell powered a 16-3 run over the last five and a half before intermission to give the Terriers a 37-26 advantage. Chaz Carr’s steal and floating layup just before the buzzer (0.1 before, to be exact) capped the first-half scoring and prepared Binghamton to be placed under the “everybody else” heading.
Bell scored on three straight possessions during the run, hitting a three, grabbing an offensive rebound for a put-back and knocking down two free throws. The junior forward finished with a game-high 22 points and added 10 boards.
“This was as well as he’s played all year,” Wolff said of Bell. “He’s been working very hard in practice to get his game back to the level it was at last season.”
While the Terriers turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, they shot 48 percent from the floor, hit five of 10 three-point attempts and were a perfect 9-9 from the foul line.
Binghamton, on the other hand, struggled at the line all afternoon, hitting just three of nine free throws in the first half and missing the front ends of several one-and-ones.
The Bearcats’ struggles continued after the break, and not just from the foul line. The Terriers held Binghamton to just 7-23 shooting and did not allow a Bearcat field goal for almost 12 minutes in the middle of the half.
BU’s offense looked as good as its defense when it pushed the lead to 19 with just under six minutes left on a play that featured, arguably, the team’s best ball-movement of the season.
All five players swung the ball around the three-point line before Kevin Fitzgerald tossed a skip-pass to Carr on the right wing. Carr dribbled to the paint, drew two Bearcats and dropped the ball between them to a wide-open Bell, who threw it down with two hands.
“The intensity picked up [in the second half] and we were able to get a couple baskets early and really push [Binghamton],” Wolff said. “Our defense has really been the story all season.”
The Bearcats didn’t give the 4,823 in attendance much to cheer about and never threatened the Terriers, who stretched their road winning streak to 12 games, trailing only No. 2 – and still unbeaten – St. Joseph’s University (13 games) for the longest current streak.
The outcome may have been decided before the game’s final minutes, but the attention shifted to Carr, who hit the first of two free throws with just under two minutes remaining for his 1,000th career point. The junior finished with 11 and became the 26th Terrier – and second this season after senior Jason Grochowalski – to reach the scoring milestone.
“[Carr]’s played great all year, and it’s a huge accomplishment to do that as a junior,” Wolff said.
Grochowalski added 14 points and Matt Turner chipped in with 10. Binghamton’s 7-foot center, Nick Billings, hit his first four shots but only finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.
The Terriers totaled 20 turnovers, while the Bearcats had 18. The difference, though, was foul shooting. While Binghamton shot an abysmal 13-28 from the line, BU was 21-22.
With the win, BU clinched its third consecutive regular season title and will have the chance to host the America East Championship Game on March 13. The Terriers will next play in the tournament quarterfinals at Walter Brown Arena on March 6 at 2:30 p.m., when they will face the winner of the Stony Brook University-University of Maryland, Baltimore County first-round matchup.
Wolff said the Terriers have to move past the completion of the regular season and keep their straight-ahead mindset as they progress toward the playoffs.
“We need to focus on the next phase of the season and concentrate on winning three games in the tournament,” the coach said.
Such a typical response.