Coming off a game in which he shot his worst percentage since November, senior forward Justin Alston was nothing but optimistic about the remnants of his final season in Boston.
The Boston University men’s basketball team had just come off an 86-66 loss to Bucknell University, but that showing did not damper the hopes for Alston, who is looking to lead the Terriers (16-12, 11-5 Patriot League) to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
“Right now we’re really locked in,” Alston said. “We need to continue to be locked in, continue to do things the right way. Once we do that we’ll be fine. With this group of guys, everyone works hard and once we get it all together we’re going to be great.”
Alston knows what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the Patriot League, as he is one of the few holdovers from the 2013-14 Terrier team that reached the Patriot League Tournament finals against American University.
That was a season in which Alston served a minuscule role, averaging 8.6 minutes per game to go along with 2.8 points and had to sit idly by as his team was dismantled 55-36 in the finals.
That season, the Terriers went 15-3 in conference, exhibiting all the classic signs of a dynamic offense up until their encounter with the Eagles (6-21, 3-13 Patriot League this season).
“From that, me and the team as a whole learned that you can’t take anything for granted,” Alston said. “Even if you were one of the best teams, you have to come out prepared to win the game and get things done.”
Since that game, Alston has transformed from a bench player to a starter and the Terriers’ second-leading scorer. In his junior year, he averaged 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. Coming into his senior year, he would be relied upon as his team’s signature big man. And then eight games into the season, Alston went up in a non-conference game against Harvard University and came down on a broken foot.
Luckily, Alston was able to receive a medical redshirt and get a second chance at his senior year.
“It’s been a great opportunity just coming back,” Alston said. “God is good, I got to say that. Just blessed to come back a fifth year and play for my guys. This year is just about trying to get to the tournament — this is the last time, this is my last chance. I just want to make sure I get that.”
The NCAA Tournament seems to be on everyone’s mind with just two games remaining and BU sitting at second place in the Patriot League standings. Alston is doing everything in his power to earn his chance, with averages of 12 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
For Alston, this is another year in which the Terriers have finished at .500 or better in conference play, which they have done in all five years that he has been on campus. Compared to those teams, he needs this crop of Terriers to finish out the postseason. Surveying his current teammates, Alston remarks that the skill level from that 2013-2014 team is similar. However, these Terriers have more specific roles than their predecessors.
“That team, we had so many guys that were good that it sort of hurt us because we had so many guys that could score the ball and deserved minutes,” Alston said. “This group, we have good guys, but everyone has a role and they are playing it well right now. To the starters from the bench all the way down.”
Included in that 2013-14 Terrier squad was then-senior forward Dom Morris. When describing Alston’s maturation, BU head coach Joe Jones made sure to include Morris in the list of reasons that Alston has become a success.
“Justin had unbelievable energy from day one,” Jones said. “Positive, energetic, wanted to be good. Never a problem, never late, never back talk. Just right from the start, he got in the weight room and got stronger. The two people I give a ton of credit to for Justin’s development are Justin himself and Dom Morris. Dom Morris was his big brother here and he was such a good teammate and showed Justin the ropes and how to handle things.”
Jones and Alston have a close relationship, with Alston stating that “everything [Jones] says is right,” and that is what he tries to teach the younger players on the team.
With Alston, Jones got five years of a player who he truly saw mature into someone else on the court.
“I love him,” Jones said. “I actually love him. He came back this year, and he was ready to go, and he’s been great. He’s gotten better and better as the years have gone on.”
As a Washington D.C. native, Alston said he has been fortunate that the Terriers get to travel to his hometown every year to play conference rival American.
The road games against American have always given an opportunity to head home for a slight refresh, and his last game there was no different.
“The American game, on the road, that was my last game in front of my family,” Alston said. “I really enjoyed that, getting that win.”
While that may have been the last road game he would play in front of his family, his team is preparing for a life without him. The last five years have been marked by the passion of Alston, and without him, the Terriers will have to find a new soul.
“His unbelievable spirit, that’s what we’re going to miss,” Jones said. “His energy, his spirit, his competitiveness, his fight. We’re going to miss all of that. It’s been a pleasure. I’d do it all over again if I could.”