(Boston, Mass.) — For four years Boston University senior guard D.J. Irving has been the face and foundation of the Terriers’ basketball team.
A gear-shifting point guard powering the Terriers offense; a lock down defender assigned to blanket the opponents’ best back court player; a tireless worker setting the tone in practice; and a mentor to younger players, entering Thursday’s Patriot League tip-off against Holy Cross on Jan. 2, Irving had started 102 of 107 games in his career.
Yet after having his name etched in pen in the starting lineup in each of the Terriers’ previous 44 games, Irving’s name was not among the five that echoed across the Agganis Arena’s empty plush chair backs before tip-off Thursday afternoon and didn’t enter the game until nearly five minutes had elapsed.
When asked about Irving’s absence from the starting lineup following the Terriers’ 70-60 win in their inaugural Patriot League match-up, BU head coach Joe Jones said simply that it was a “coaches decision.”
In what was supposed to be a senior year victory lap in which he was chosen as the preseason Player of the Year by Patriot League coaches, Irving has instead stumbled out of the gates, posting career-lows in shooting percentage (34.8 percent) and assists (2.5 per game), a career high in turnovers (2.7 per game) and the first negative assist-to-turnover ratio of his career.
After the game, several media members asked Jones if Irving was brought off the bench in an effort to get him going, if it was due to disciplinary issues or if it was because of match-up issues presented by the Crusaders much longer starting lineup, but Jones didn’t take the bait.
“With all that he’s done for this program I’m not going to discuss it,” said Jones.
Instead, Jones spoke of Irving’s selflessness over the last three seasons.
“He’s done so much for the program and sacrificed so much for his team,” said Jones.
Jones singled out the critical role that Irving eagerly embraced during his sophomore season as the lead recruiter of current Terriers sophomore point guard Maurice Watson Jr. Despite the fact that landing the Top-100 recruit would likely mean losing his spot as the starting point guard and focal point of the Terriers’ offense, Irving made a personal pitch to Watson Jr.
“We’re talking about a kid who went out and recruited Maurice Watson Jr., who plays the same position as him,” said Jones.
Irving shot just 1-for-5 on Thursday, scoring six points while committing five turnovers in 24 minutes of action, but the senior continued to sacrifice his body doing the little things, including scaling the towering trees of Holy Cross to pull down a team-high eight rebounds.
During a down moment following the post game press conference, Jones spoke of the Terriers’ collective team-first mentality.
“I’ve never been around a team that likes being around each other this much or is this selfless before,” explained Jones. “We’ll literally be in the huddle during a timeout and guys will be saying ‘we need to run a play for this guy, we need to run this play for this guy,’ and then they’ll go out there and pass up opportunities to get other guys involved.”
And according to Jones, the selfless attitude starts with Irving.
“D.J. does so many things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. What makes us good is how everyone sacrifices for the team and when people saw D.J. willingly move off the ball away from his natural position for the good of the team, that was infectious on the rest of the team.”