Energy is everything in basketball, and it will be everything to Boston University basketball if the Terriers are to make a run in the Patriot League this season.
Ten months ago, BU was battle-tested veteran team, with seniors D.J. Irving, Dom Morris and Travis Robinson have all suited up under the blinding lights of the NCAA Tournament and sophomore point guard Maurice Watson Jr. having come of age under a microscope as a top-100 high school recruit. The quartet led the Terriers play one of their best seasons in team history and were 40 minutes of good ball away from being back in the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, Tony Wroblicky, Mike Brennan, and the American University Eagles had other plans and knocked off the Terriers, who started the game in neutral and simply never got going, in the Patriot League Championship game in a 55-36 rout.
That day, March 12, marked the day the Eagles became public enemy No. 1 for the select few who follow BU basketball
Going into Wednesday night’s game, BU had all the motivation they needed to go out and try to get one back against the Eagles.
“For the returners we saw how bad it was to lose to them here at home last year in the championship so we kind of had that edge and that chip on our shoulder today,” said sophomore forward Cedric Hankerson.
What the Terriers didn’t have was veteran experience, with Irving, Morris and Robinson moving on as graduates, and Watson Jr. taking his talents to Creighton as a transfer. Boston University hit American right out of the gates and weathered several runs to hang on to a 59-54 win, extracting revenge on the team that dashed BU’s NCAA hopes a year ago. Boston University played with fire and passion, but for head coach Joe Jones, the key to the rest of the season is bottling the energy the Terriers have been able to produce in big games, and open it up every game.
“We talked about a little bit, just a little bit,” said BU head coach Joe Jones about playing as a way to avenge last year’s loss. “I think it’s hard because now we have to play Bucknell. What’s the reason playing hard that night? ”
Jones has a point. This season BU’s schedule varied when it came to exciting and not so exciting ball games. It is easy to get excited for matchups like Northeastern at TD Garden, or going up against No.1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena, but at the same time BU also had to host Division I newcomer U-Mass Lowell, and ended up falling flat.
The loss to Lowell was part of a three-game skid where the Terriers lost to Kentucky and then two America East opponents in the River Hawks and New Hampshire, which were surprising considering BU used to own opponents in their former conference before parting ways in 2013. BU did however pick up a win against America East punching bag Binghamton University, and despite picking up a 77-65 victory, Jones knew his team needed a change.
“We have to become a blue-collar team,” said Jones following the game against Binghamton back on Dec. 3.
What Jones meant by becoming a blue-collar team was becoming a tough, scrappy team, since they can’t rely on the experience they once had or just skill, since it has shown that each team in the league has skill.
It is here where Wednesday’s victory and the team’s personality change has reached a crossroad and what Jones looks to work on moving deeper into league play. With games like American and in-state rival Holy Cross where there are the makings of interleague rivalries, it is easy for a team to be energized.
The Terriers’ energy helped, especially on defense. Against an American team where possessions come at a premium and turnovers can play a huge role, BU was able to force 13 turnover, recover 11 steals and score 15 points off of turnovers, an enormous boost in what ended up being a down to the wire five-point BU victory.
“We just want to be active defensively,” said Jones. “We hope that our press could generate some turnovers for us, that was key for us. I thought our guys played with a lot of energy and that created some things for us.”
“It had a huge impact,” said Brennan. “I thought they were really aggressive, getting steals, getting hands on balls, running through handoffs and everything. That’s what it was tonight, it was their aggression I think won them the game.”
However, while the Terriers energy against new rivals Holy Cross and American is great, they still have to face seven other Patriot League squads where they do not have much shared history or rivalry, and they will have to figure out a way to “get up” for those games as well.
“You just keep coming up with things,” said Jones. “I don’t really believe in that, but also you got to be creative to kind of get that kind of enthusiasm out of them where they’re playing the way they played tonight, and I don’t know. It can kind of work both ways. I just think if you talk too much about those things, it just makes it harder to get up for every game. Then you’re going to go play someone on the road that you’ve beaten three times and not going to be ready to play because you don’t have a reason to compete.”
This Saturday, BU will host Bucknell for some afternoon basketball, and it will be no walk in the park as they take on the league’s top team. Last year, BU came off of an impressive home victory against American, where they avenged the 30-point beat down earlier in the season, to face Bucknell at home on senior day. Unfortunately, BU played what was then one of their worst games of the season and fell in the trap game, 63-53, against a team they defeated on the road just four weeks earlier. According to Jones energy is the key to keeping history from repeating itself, and keeping the young Terriers moving in the right direction the rest of the season.
“You’ve got to want to compete because it’s a game, that’s it. Now if you want to add to it that we got smacked last year, then let’s add to it, but it’s got to be more than that.”