It’s a given that every win matters.
And, naturally, the Boston University men’s basketball team has prepared just as hard for its season-opening contest against George Washington University tonight at Agganis Arena as it will for every other opponent this season.
Those are the gold standards in sports. Or at least they are what you hear out of every coach and player’s mouth.
Don’t be surprised, though, if there’s a little extra motivation radiating from the Terriers when they commence the 100th season in the school’s history tonight at 7 p.m.
Sure, this win could matter more because BU was picked to finish first in America East for the second consecutive year. Or it could be because this group (with the exception of Carlos Strong’s 22-point outburst against GW two years ago) has never had a good game at Agganis. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the Colonials have beaten the Terriers nine straight times, including four in a row by 13 points, and hold a 15-1 lifetime edge over BU.
But, in actuality, the motivation runs deeper and is not based on any exterior distractions, statistics or superstitions.
‘I know what guys can do because I see it all day in practice and I know we have a good team, so it’s not about what other people think,’ junior co-captain Tyler Morris said. ‘I think everybody in this gym is going in to win the game Friday. We’re not going in to keep it close or give it a good try and say, ‘Damn, we lost but we made it close.’ We’re going in to win.’
Probably not something you would have heard from Morris two seasons ago, when GW came to Agganis following a 27-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Two contests, 18 turnovers, early foul trouble and gigantic rebounding deficits later, the Terriers may have paid enough of their dues against the Colonials to feel confident in their abilities this time around. They’re a team brimming with newfound buoyancy and a clear objective.
Confidence, however, won’t be enough to push BU over the George Washington hurdle.
‘To me, freshman year was more about the excitement of playing in our first college game, but now the atmosphere is more business-like,’ said junior co-captain and unanimous preseason All-Conference team selection Corey Lowe. ‘We just try to take that attitude into practice and into every game.’
On Monday, 16 players in flashy new Nike practice threads surrounded Dennis Wolff at Case Gymnasium with four practices remaining before BU’s season opener ‘-‘- a game that will mark the 15th season in Wolff’s coaching tenure at BU (the longest in school history).
‘You guys need to step up to the task,’ Wolff said as he began to point to his players. ‘You need to guard a 6-foot-7 guy, you need to guard a 6-foot-7 guy and you need to guard a 6-foot-8 guy.’
Given GW’s clear height advantage, BU will either need to shoot at an extremely high clip (which doesn’t appear likely given the team’s 35.2 field-goal percentage and 58.2 free-throw percentage in 12 games at Agganis) or keep the rebounding battle respectable.
Six-foot-7 senior Rob Diggs and 6-foot-8 senior Wynton Witherspoon return a combined 25.4 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game to a program picked to finish 11th in the Atlantic-10 Conference. Both Diggs and Witherspoon have hurt the Terriers in the teams’ past meetings along with 6-foot-8 junior Damian Hollis and 6-foot-7 sophomore Xavier Alexander.
‘I think their length last year hurt us,’ Wolff said. ‘The last two years we’ve played them, both times we kind of shot ourselves in the foot.’
Along with proven forward 6-foot-9 junior Scott Brittain, who has been called upon to neutralize GW’s bigs in the past, BU’s post players will be tested early by the Colonials size and strength. Freshmen Jake O’Brien (6-foot-8) and Jeff Pelage (6-foot-9) will receive significant playing time, with O’Brien potentially starting tonight, Wolff said.
Brittain (10.0 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game) suffered a mild concussion in Saturday’s scrimmage and hasn’t been as effective as Wolff would like thus far in practice. Meanwhile, Wolff is singing O’Brien’s praises and said the decision on who would start will be made at game time.
Players assured to compile BU’s starting lineup are the team’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, Lowe (18.1 ppg), along with America East Rookie of the Year, sophomore John Holland (11.4 ppg) and co-captains Morris (6.5 ppg) and senior Matt Wolff (5.6 ppg).
GW coach Karl Hobbs may have prophetically predicted the emergence of the aforementioned crop of players following his team’s 70-57 victory in November 2006 when he said: ‘Boston University isn’t a team I want to play two years from now.’
Is winning a necessity?
No. But would it go a long way toward turning what could be one of this team’s most promising seasons to date (and an opposing coaches quote) into a reality?