The red-hot Boston University men’s basketball team returns to Case Gymnasium Sunday afternoon to close out its season series against the University of New Hampshire.
The Terriers (14–11, 8–4 America East) are on a three-game winning streak that has them sitting in third place, 1.5 games behind Stony Brook University, who sits atop the America East.
Their most recent victory came in a tough game against second-place University of Vermont Tuesday night. Despite some early troubles, BU was able to battle throughout the game and ultimately outlasted the Catamounts (16–8, 9–3 America East), 64–59.
Sunday’s game against the Wildcats (6–16, 2–8 America East) can go either way. BU was only able to make it out of Durham, N.H., last month with a five-point victory.
When the two went head-to-head Jan. 19, poor defense allowed UNH to make several comeback attempts. Fortunately for BU, its collection of shooters was able to contribute by bailing the team out with 3–pointers.
“When you play New Hampshire you really got to defend, and we need to be ready to defend all the way on Sunday,” said BU coach Joe Jones.
Something Joe Jones touched on after the previous win against New Hampshire was having an “x-factor” on the court, putting BU over the top against its opponent. In that game, the “x-factor” was sophomore guard Malik Thomas, who recorded 11 points, four rebounds, three steals and an assist.
The question going into Sunday remains the same. Who is going to be the Terriers’ x-factor?
Tuesday night, freshman guard John Papale played that role as he led the team in scoring with 19 points. Papale’s shining moment against the Catamounts came with about three minutes remaining, when a series of passes around the arc put the ball in his hands. He promptly put it in the net to give his team a nice four-point cushion. That margin was all the Terriers needed, as they held on to the lead for another victory.
“It’s been [junior captain] Travis [Robinson], it’s been [junior captain] D.J. [Irving], and it’s been [junior captain] Dom [Morris],” Jones said. “I think different guys on different nights can step up.”
Morris will be looking to have another big game on Sunday as well. Last week, when BU took on the University of Maine, Morris set a career high in points (20) as the team went on to win big. He has been having big games all season and the last time he went against UNH’s slew of big men, he put up 18.
“We hope he plays well, he’s been pretty consistent,” Jones said. “What I really like about Dom is he’s locked in. He has really bought into our philosophy.”
One of the other aspects of the Terriers’ game that will be spotlighted during and after Sunday’s game is the play of Irving. Going into this season, Irving was expected to be the team’s best producer, yet he has been rather quiet recently, suffering from slight inconsistencies in his scoring.
In Tuesday’s game, Irving finished with just seven points, all of which came in the second half. However, he finished with seven rebounds and six assists.
“D.J. has done a great job,” Jones said. “We’ve asked him to rebound and lead by example. He’s done exactly that, just as the rest of the captains.”
Meanwhile, New Hampshire, which was on a seven-game skid the last time it faced BU, continues to struggle, going 2–4 since the teams’ last match. It ranks second-to-last in America East in points per game (59.8) and field goal percentage (.383).
However, the Wildcats rank first in 3-point defense, only allowing opponents to shoot 25.6 percent from 3-point range. This could pose a challenge to the Terriers, who shoot 38.2 percent from beyond the arc, good for first place in America East on the season.
Forward Ferg Myrick currently leads all UNH scorers, averaging 13.8 points per game — eighth best in the conference. His classmate, guard Chandler Rhoads, chips in 11.2 points per game, while forward Patrick Konan adds an average of 11.1 points.
Jones said he is confident that someone will step up and have a good game for the Terriers against UNH’s impressive 3-point defense.
“I don’t go into games looking for specific players to step up. It’s got to be about us playing well as a team,” Jones said. “The big thing that we’ve shown is that every single night someone steps up.