Following a two-point loss to the University of Delaware on Dec. 21 at Case Gymnasium, after which Boston University men’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff said he was disappointed in his team for the first time all season, the Terriers turned out an embarrassing performance Monday night against Cornell University – an 89-59 stomping at the hands of the team picked to win the Ivy League this season.
Then again, BU was picked to win the America East Conference, but you wouldn’t know it after watching its last two outings, particularly Monday’s loss at Newman Arena in Ithaca, N.Y., which dropped the Terriers’ record below .500 (5-6) for the first time this season since starting 0-1.
Every team has high and low points throughout the course of a season, and it’d be very surprising if this wasn’t BU’s low point this year ‘- if not a low point in the careers of every member of this veteran team. The loss was one of the Terriers’ worst in six years. The last time they were beaten by more than 30 points was in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament – a 90-52 loss to the University of Cincinnati. That was also the last time BU gave up as many points as it did against the Big Red (6-6), which shot an astounding 63.2 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
Following a narrow defeat to the then-No. 12 University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Dec. 13, the Terriers have performed like a shell of their former selves – the exact opposite effect of what was expected after BU was able to hang with one of the top-ranked teams in the country.
A mere two games later, and just six after an impressive win over crosstown rival Northeastern University on Nov. 25, this is the reality of things:
‘I don’t have a lot of answers right now,’ Wolff said after Monday’s game. ‘We are at a crossroads, and we are going to either fight our way out of it or we’re going to be exposed as somewhat of a phony team. And that’s going to be determined by the way we handle the next few days.’
The main reason the next few days of practice (as well as BU’s final non-conference game of the season against the College of the Holy Cross on Jan. 2 at Agganis Arena) will determine whether the Terriers are in fact, as Wolff said, ‘phony,’ is because practices since the Delaware loss have been unenthusiastic. Still, despite all that it has been talked about and the number of games it has cost BU, the Terriers aren’t showing enough grit and determination on a nightly basis to be considered a standout team.
‘We weren’t ready to play [Monday],’ Wolff said. ‘We’ve kind of seen it coming and we thought we were at a crossroads. They’ve been practicing horrendously, acting immaturely and, consequently, we got totally, totally embarrassed tonight. Every negative thing a team could have happen, happened tonight.’
Due to the aforementioned poor practices, Wolff decided to shuffle his starting lineup, giving junior guard Carlos Strong the nod over sophomore forward John Holland, who had started all 10 games this season. It’s the first time all year Wolff has toyed with his starters, and while the move didn’t pay off in the game – Strong was a relative non-factor, playing only 11 minutes while Holland shot 2-of-11 from the field – it did send a message.
From the opening tip, Cornell’s energy consumed the Terriers, as 7-foot senior Jeff Foote recorded three dunks before the first media timeout, helping the Big Red to a 13-0 lead that swelled to 28-5 with 11:41 left in the first half. Foote made BU’s interior defenders appear as though they were cardboard cutouts, dipping under and leaping over them with ease on his way to four dunks, a perfect shooting night (8-of-8), 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Cornell had four players reach double figures, including junior forward Alex Tyler, who recorded 14 points and a career-high four blocks. Most impressive were Tyler’s baskets on feeds from Foote in the low post, some of which came on behind-the-back passes as the behemoth center finished with five dimes. As a team, the Big Red combined for 21 assists on its 34 field goals.
The statistical and literal dismantling continued with rebounding, as BU was killed on the defensive glass, 31-13. Just as Holland failed to record a defensive rebound against the Blue Hens, senior forward Matt Wolff (8 points, 5 rebounds) was blanked in that category against Cornell. The only positive was the Terriers’ offensive rebounding margin (18-7), but that was due in large part to the 43 shots they missed.
‘The whole demeanor of just about every guy has not been what you’d expect from a team that claims to want to win,’ Dennis Wolff said. ‘We’re going to have to take a hard look at ourselves when we get back to campus.’
For the first time all season, Wolff questioned the disposition of a team he’s praised for the majority of the non-conference campaign. Then again, after such a deflating loss, it’s hard not to.
Labeled as one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation coming into Monday’s game, BU once again struggled from beyond the arc, hitting 20 percent (4-of-20) of its 3s – one a meaningless trey by Strong in the final minutes. In their last two games, the Terriers have shot a combined 11-of-50 from downtown (22 percent), a major reason for their losses.
While there weren’t many positives, freshman forward Jeff Pelage was active in the career-high 19 minutes he received after recovering from flu-like symptoms that sidelined him against Delaware. He notched career highs in points (8) and rebounds (8), including five on the offensive glass. Junior guard Corey Lowe led BU with 14 points, while junior guard Tyler Morris was the only other Terrier to reach double figures (13).
‘We had decided to play [Pelage] more anyway,’ Wolff said when asked if Pelage’s minutes were a result of Foote’s dominating start. ‘We had decided to trap early on. It wasn’t their trapping necessarily, it was the guys that were supposed to be rotating in the other spots that just never got to where they were supposed to get, so we gave [Cornell] shot after shot in the lane.’
The point can be made that non-conference games don’t matter ‘- or that conference play doesn’t either ‘- in a one-NCAA Tournament bid conference such as America East. But that argument has its flaws, especially analyzing the current state of BU basketball. With conference play one game away, it’s up to the players and coaching staff to patch up a team that is turning sour rather quickly, given the impressive performance it recently displayed against Notre Dame.
‘I’m going to question the way guys behave on a daily basis in regard to their practice habits, their body language and their maturity,’ Wolff said. ‘[Monday] had everything. On the simplest plays, we had guys forgetting the simplest rotations. We totally got exposed in every area, so in a nutshell, that’s it.
Game notes: BU junior guards Michael Schulze and Sherrod Smith saw their first action of the season in the final minutes of the game. ‘hellip; The loss was the Terriers’ first double-digit defeat this season and third in a row. ‘hellip; The setback marked Wolff’s first coaching loss against an Ivy League school in 12 games and BU’s first to an Ivy this season. ‘hellip; For Cornell, the win was its 11th straight at Newman Arena. ‘hellip; Big Red senior co-captain Conor Mullen hit a 3-pointer for Cornell’s final points and his first of the season.