Boston University men’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff has the reputation of being a defensive strategist extraordinaire. It’s what he preaches nonstop in practice and what the rest of the America East coaches respect him for. But for the most part, his players spend the game guarding opponents in a man-to-man scheme.
Last night, however, it was Wolff’s decision to switch to a 3-2 zone defense for the entire second half that helped the Terriers (1-1) overcome a 16-point first-half deficit and escape Bucknell University (0-2) with their first victory of the season last night at Sojka Pavilion, 71-68, in overtime.
The Terriers’ suffocating second-half defense forced the Bison to shoot 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from the field in the second half and total 16 points. Bucknell’s hottest shooter in the first half – Justin Castleberry (17 points, 3 3s) – was held scoreless in the second frame, as BU allowed seven first-half 3s and only one in the second half and overtime.
Junior guard Corey Lowe rebounded nicely from his poor opening-night performance, scoring a team-high 19 points (7-of-15), while freshman forward Jake O’Brien (15 points) and sophomore forward John Holland (12 points, 6 rebounds) turned in their second consecutive impressive performances. Senior co-captain Matt Wolff collected a career-high 13 rebounds, making up for the absence of BU’s best rebounder last season, junior forward Scott Brittain (concussion).
‘Bucknell came out with a little more urgency than we had,’ Dennis Wolff said. ‘We had a stretch toward the end of the first half where we were bad in defensive transition and gave up four 3s in a row. That said, we showed a lot of grit in the second half and through the overtime. We had different guys step up and make a lot of good plays. To get a road win given the circumstances – Brittain not playing and that we’re still capable of playing better – we’ve got to be very happy with it.’
Prior to overtime, Holland had been dormant offensively, but he asserted his presence in the extra session. The sophomore wingman scored seven consecutive points – two foul shots, a difficult pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer from the right side – answering every basket by Bucknell.
‘I think [Holland] just woke up. Maybe he thought the game started later than everyone else did,’ Wolff said jokingly.
With the score knotted at 66, Lowe put the ball on the floor and drove hard to the basket. Though he kicked the ball out on some of his previous drives, Lowe finished strong with the right hand and put the Terriers up two with 37 seconds remaining. A travel by Bucknell’s Enoch Andoh (10 points) summarized a frustrating second half for the Bison and co-captain Tyler Morris followed with two free throws to give BU its largest lead of the night, 70-66.
Though Morris was 1-of-8 from the floor, he pulled down six rebounds, dished out five assists -helping facilitate BU’s unselfishness during the comeback – and turned the ball over once.
‘I thought he played well. He probably had four shots rim out. He’s going to get his shot back, he just has to stick with it and keep shooting,’ Wolff said of Morris’ early season shooting struggles.
At the end of regulation, with the score tied at 59 after a pair of free throws by Holland, Lowe had a chance to ice the game with a 1-and-1 opportunity with 0:01 remaining in regulation after a loose ball foul on Castleberry. Lowe couldn’t cement the win, though, as the co-captain missed the front end.
It’s the second consecutive game in which Lowe has missed high-pressure free throws, as he failed to convert two in the season opener against George Washington University last Friday with 12 seconds remaining in OT. The Newton native converted 1-of-2 with five seconds left in overtime to give Bucknell a chance at a miracle 3, but the attempt failed.
O’Brien stood out for the second consecutive game, once again touting his ability to step back and knock down 3s and score inside. In addition to three triples – the most important of which trimmed Bucknell’s lead to 44-42 early in the second half and capped an 11-1 Terrier run after trailing 43-31 at the break – O’Brien also nailed a mid-range baseline jumper (a shot he attempted at least four times) and a right-handed runner to start the second half.
While the Terriers turned the ball over 16 times, they also collected 12 steals that led to 27 points off turnovers. In contrast to their season-opener against GW, the Terriers were extremely proficient from the charity stripe, converting 20-of-26 free-throw attempts.
Game Notes: Last night marked the first time the Terriers have played back-to-back overtime games since 2006-07, when they needed extra sessions to decide games against the College of the Holy Cross (Loss, 73-70) and the University of Hartford (Loss, 80-75, 2 OTs). ‘hellip;’ The Terriers didn’t have their first lead of the game until junior guard Carlos Strong’s layup put them up, 55-53, with 5:03 remaining. ‘hellip; Freshman Jeff Pelage scored his first collegiate points from the charity stripe and added two athletic put-backs to finish with six points. ‘hellip; Last night marked the second straight game in which O’Brien has fouled out. ‘hellip; The Terriers out-rebounded Bucknell, 26-16, in the second half and won the game’s rebounding margin, 41-40. ‘hellip; The game marked the first of four scheduled contests between the two schools.