Defense proves to be the undoing of Boston University basketball

Boston University freshman Cheddi Mosely defends Lafayette point guard Nick Lindner. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Boston University freshman Cheddi Mosely defends Lafayette point guard Nick Lindner. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

Even after losing the likes of D.J. Irving, Dom Morris and Maurice Watson Jr. over the offseason, with players like Cedric Hankerson, Eric Fanning and Cheddi Mosely, Boston University basketball head coach Joe Jones felt confident his team would be able to score this year. It was a confidence that was validated with the Terriers ranking third in the Patriot League in scoring in conference games (69.5 ppg).

The question was whether the Terriers would be able to stop opponents from doing the same.

Throughout the season, Jones harped on his team’s ability to get stops, and spent extra time in practices working on it, but even at season’s end, it remained very much a work in progress, with the Terriers ranking eighth out of 10 Patriot League teams in scoring defense in conference play (68.6 ppg).

Defense would prove to be the Terriers undoing and achilles heel to close out the season, as BU allowed Holy Cross to drill 9-of-10 second half 3-pointers in a 77-70 home loss to Holy Cross to close out the regular season, following by a 89-64 annihilation at the hands of Lafayette in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals.

“That’s all we talked about,” he said. “It wouldn’t of looked like it tonight, but that’s all we talked about.”

Last season, BU was able to sweep the Leopards, defeating them three times, including a massive victory during the 2014 quarterfinals, in which the Terriers scored 91 points and broke the tournament record for best field goal percentage, shooting 66.1-percent from the field.

On Thursday night, the roles were reversed as Lafayette was the team breaking a record and having a near triple-digit performance, defeating BU 89-64 and setting the record for most 3-point field goals in a tournament game, with 16.

“They were great tonight, Franny had them ready, that shows what kind of coach he is, he had his team ready to go, “ said Jones.

With 13:14 to go in the first half, the game was all BU, with the Terriers up 14-4 after a 3-pointer from Eric Fanning. But then Lafayette’s Seth Hinrichs hit a jumper , starting a torrential downpour of buckets and a 20-5 run by the Leopards, and by halftime, the dam had burst on the Terriers’ defense.

“I just think it was more of a mental thing, they started hitting a lot of shots, they came one after another, they just had the momentum for most of the game,” said Hankerson. “I think it was just a mental thing and then we got down on ourselves and it was just like a flood.”

Lafayette shot an impressive 59-percent (16-for-27) from the field and 57-percent (8-for-14) from 3-point range to tally 40 points in the first half.

“We were a step behind everything,” said Jones. “I know when our guys are ready to go, we looked tired, we looked mentally tired. It was strange for a team that I thought we had a pretty good feel for what they like to do, and what they do.”

Lafayette’s offensive eruption came from their ability to use screens to gain separation from Terrier defenders and knock down open shots.

“You can kind of see the possessions happening, and you know what your guys should be doing and you know where they should be, but we were just nowhere to be found, we were just lost,” said Jones. ”Any time they can get the open looks that they got, you’re not beating them. This is on me, I didn’t have my team ready to go, we just weren’t ready to play, which is unbelievable.”

Jones could tell as early as the day before the game that his team was lacking the energy necessary to win even from his team’s effort in practice the day before.

“If you can’t get excited about this, I don’t know,” he said. “We were just not ready to go, and to be honest with you in practice yesterday we weren’t ready in practice yesterday, we didn’t practice well, it was a shame.”

Jones took the blame for the deflating end to the Terriers season, but didn’t let his players off the hook either.

“It’s leadership from me, from our captains, from our upperclassmen, from our assistants; it’s our program not being ready to play, not being committed to understand what it takes to play in a game like this,” he said. “Not just those guys being young, you got to be ready, there’s absolutely no excuse, none.”

With the loss, the Terriers ended their season with a 13-17 record. With no shot of any other post-season tournaments, Jones is already looking towards the 2015-2016 season.

“We got to look at ourselves in the mirror and we got to be able to understand what we need to do night in and night out, day in and day out to be a better basketball program,” he said.

Eric Fanning: From couch potato to scoring guru

Boston University redshirt sophomore Eric Fanning. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa.
Boston University redshirt sophomore Eric Fanning. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa.

Eric Fanning went out for a walk one day in Trenton, New Jersey, heading nowhere in particular at the time. Eight years later, he finally found his destination.

“It’s definitely been an interesting journey, I wasn’t expecting to be here when I set out on it,” says Boston University’s 6-foot-5-inch small forward.

What was supposed to be a quick jaunt around his new neighborhood turned into an eight-year basketball odyssey, one that included stints as a top high school prospect in New Jersey, Player of the Year honors at a private school in Pennsylvania, and riding the pine at Wagner University, before finally finding a home at Boston University.

It all began on a couch in a darkened room in Trenton, New Jersey, a struggling city with skyrocketing homicide rates.

“I usually just stayed home and played video games and stuff,” says Fanning, remembering back eight years ago to when his family moved to Trenton when he was 15.

It’s never easy to uproot your entire life and move to a completely new community, but as a high school underclassman, it was particularly difficult for Fanning, and for several weeks after relocating, Fanning barely left the house.

But cabin fever eventually set in and, one day, Fanning went out for a walk, with no particular destination in mind, and eventually found himself inside the local rec. center.

“I walked in and some guy came up to me, I was about 5’10”-5’11” maybe, and he said you’re pretty tall do you want to play,” says Fanning, who had never played a second of basketball before in his life. “Ever since then, I played on his team, I scored for him my first ever game and ever since then I wanted to play. I never stopped since that day.”

Fans on Comm. Ave and opponents around the Patriot League are used to seeing Fanning, who ranks second on the Terriers in scoring at 12.3 points per game, drive to the rim off the dribble, finish off a fast break with a high-flying dunk, or knock down an open 3-pointer. But for his early career, Fanning was strictly a back to the basket low-post big.

“Our high school was kind of small and I was playing the big man for my first two years, in public school,” says Fanning. “Then my AAU coach told me you’re not really growing anymore so you need to develop your game as a guard or a wing.”

“He’s still pretty new to the game of basketball, and he’s still learning some of the finer aspects of the game and of playing on the wing,” says Boston University head coach Joe Jones. “But I actually think the fact that he’s so new to the sport and spent some time in the post works to his advantage, because he doesn’t have some of those ingrained bad-habits, and he’s a tough, tough kid.”

While many of Fanning’s high school peers were fine tuning their games by working one-on-one with private coaches and playing for multiple AAU programs, Fanning took an old-school approach: Finding open runs all around Trenton every week.

“I just played in games, leagues around my city,” he says. “Maybe two/three games a week,” he says.

While Fanning didn’t grow up immersed in basketball culture or hoops lore, he quickly found motivation to excel in the game: The potential of a college scholarship and respect among his peers.

“I was playing with a lot of good players who ended up playing Division I basketball,” he says. “I wanted to get respect they had around the city: everyone loved them, everyone wanted them on their team.

“I saw that and I kind of pushed myself to be like the other guys who were good around the city.”

After two years of public high school, Fanning transferred to Perkiomen, a private school in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, and finally began the transitions from the front court to the back court.

“My junior year of high school, my handle was getting a little better, I was shooting the ball well, and once I started hitting a few shots I became confident,” he says.

At Perkiomen, Fanning blossomed into a prolific scorer, and as a senior led his team to the Tri-County title while winning Pottsmerc Player of the Year honors. During the year, Fanning committed to play his college ball for then Wagner head coach Danny Hurley, but before Fanning even enrolled Hurley took a gig at URI. Fanning could have opened back up is recruiting, but decided instead to honor his commitment to the school and play for new Wagner head coach Bashir Mason.

Fanning’s freshman year was a roller coaster as he tried to make inroads with a new coach and a new scheme. As a true freshman, Fanning averaged 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, cracking double-figures six times, but he found himself on the outside of the rotation looking in halfway through conference play, and did not leave the bench from Feb. 8 on.

Still, Fanning saw his time at Wagner as a valuable learning and growing experience.

“It allowed me to see what the next level was,” he says. “I didn’t really know what to do, I was used to scoring at will in high school and college, and I needed to pretty much work on my stuff.”

Eric Fanning OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa.
Eric Fanning OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa.

In the summer of 2013, Fanning transferred to Boston University. NCAA transfer rules forced Fanning to sit out the 2013-2014 season, but Fanning used his red-shirt year to continue to work on his game, and the sounds of Fanning hoisting jump shot after jump shot echoing around an empty Agganis Arena were two hours before and an hour after home games last season.

“Sitting out a year allowed me to really see the game of basketball, see how it’s being played, what it takes to win,” says Fanning. “It’s still taking me a while to get adjusted to the game, knowing the little things, what it takes to win.”

It was also a year in which Fanning built strong bonds with his coaching staff.

“During my year off, coach would always call me after games, ask me if I watched the game, what I saw, and he would always tell me things that I didn’t see that were important in the game,” says Fanning. “He would always tell me the little things it would take to win, and now it’s carrying over.”

Fanning spent much of the non-conference slate shaking off the rust accumulated from a year sitting on the bench, but showed flashes of his potential, including a 12 point performance at top-ranked Kentucky, and a 17-point, seven-rebound effort in 23 minutes against Saint Peter’s.

“In the beginning of the season I wasn’t really confident in myself, I wasn’t taking shots I was supposed to,” he says.

Fanning credits his coaching staff with keeping his confidence up during his early struggles.

“All of the coaches kept relaying to me to keep being confident play my game because they knew what I could do in practice so it was on me to come out and do it in the game,” he says. “I think maybe after the Kentucky game, I kind of started to figure out how I needed to score.”

Fanning has been a completely different player since the Patriot League slate tipped off, scoring in double figures in 13 out of 18 conference games, after reaching the double-digit plateau just three times in his first 10 games against Diviison I foes.

“Once league play started, I knew guys that were playing really well during non conference games like John [Papale] and Cedric [Hankerson], that they were going to key on them, Nate and Justin as well, so just taking some of the pressure off those guys,” he says.

Fanning has scored 20 points or more four times against Patriot League foes, including three-straight games from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, including a career-high 27 points on 7-of-11 shooting, to go with eight rebounds and four assists, against Army.

Some players in Fanning’s position – the second leading scorer, still relegated to a role coming off the bench on a team desperately in need of scoring punch – might grow disgruntled, but Fanning says he has embraced his role as instant offense.

“It’s actually a benefit to come off the bench because as the starters play you can see the tempo of the game [and] what needs to be done,” he says. “When I come in the game I try and do something that I saw from watching the first five or six minutes.”

Fanning’s toughness and physicality, developed all those years ago as a young player through into the low post at a small school, have also provided a big boost for a young, undersized Terriers team lacking front court depth.

“He’s a guy who we can use at the four as well as the two and the three,” says Jones. “He brings toughness, he’s willing to mix it up, and he goes at people, and we’ve needed that.

When the fifth-seeded Terriers tip-off against four-seed Lafayette on the road tonight, Fanning will be sitting in his normal seat on the bench, watching the game and analyzing his opponent, ready for whenever and whatever he is called upon to do.

“I’ll just keep working on my game,” he says. “Whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll do.”

Dunk of the day: Boston University center Blaise Mbargorba slams over Lafayette

Boston University registered a resounding 74-60 road win at Lafayette on Monday night — arguably the Terriers’ biggest of the season when considering the margin of victory, lateness in the season and magnitude in the standings by keeping the Terriers in a three-way tie for fourth place.

The game was a total team effort from the Terriers, who played nine players, eight of whom scored. BU thoroughly outplayed the host Leopards in every facet of the game, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent from downtown, while holding Lafayette to 39.6 and 32.1 percent, respectively. The Terriers won the battle of the boards 36-25, and overcame the loss of freshman point guard Eric Johnson to injury. Junior shooting guard John Papale led four Terriers in double-figures with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, while sophomore guard Eric Fanning and freshman guard Cheddi Mosely each added 13 and junior forward Nate Diedonne chipped in 10.

But the loudest points of the night came from 6-foot-11-inch red-shirt sophomore center Blaise Mbargorba, who threw down an absolute thunder dunk with 10:28 remaining in the second half to push the Terriers’ lead to 61-49. Mbargorba set the stage for the dunk by setting a perfect screen for Papale, before rolling to the hoop. Papale returned the favor by hitting his big man in stride with a bounce pass. Mbargorba gathered the pass, took two hard steps and took off, leaping off of his right foot from well outside the paint and throwing down a vicious one-handed slam over Lafayette guard Joey Ptasinski, who made the unfortunate mistake of trying to take a charge on the play.

Boom-shakalaka.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v6

Don't look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics
Don’t look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics

We are now nearly halfway through the conference slate and how these teams will stack up in the Patriot League Tournament, and who will be cutting down championship game the nets and going dancing in March is as big a mystery as ever. The league lacks a truly dominant team – there are no Bucknells, Lehighs, or Holy Crosses of previous generations – but there is incredible parity, which means that every single night has made for incredibly entertaining basketball.

So here’s a look at how we see the teams stacking up right now in our latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings. Don’t blink, our rankings will probably change on Wednesday.

1. Bucknell (11-10, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 81-75 vs Army; W 75-61 at Loyola (MD); W 92-77 at Boston University.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Colgate
Don’t look now but Bucknell is picking up speed like a runaway freight train and has won four in a row. After struggling to survive a tough non-conference schedule, the young Bison seem to have found their footing and adjusted to their roles on the court. Oh, and, yeah, there’s that Chris Hass guy who has been absolutely lighting up from all over the floor. With home games against a suddenly resurgent Lehigh squad and a Colgate team that sits tied with them in the standings, if Bucknell can make it through this week unscathed they will be sitting squarely in the Patriot League driver’s seat.

2. Colgate (9-12, 6-2 in PL)

Results: W 65-53 at Navy; L 65-64 at Army; W 59-58 at Loyola (MD)
This week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Bucknell
Playing Navy and Army back-to-back on the road is about as hard a stretch as any Patriot League team can go through. Sure, there are better teams in the league year-in and year-out, but the service academies play so incredibly hard and so incredibly physical, it can be an experience akin to running back to back marathons, so the fact that the Raiders dropped the second game of that stretch isn’t a big cause for alarm. Damon Sherman-Newsome remains a dynamic scorer from the guard position, Austin Tillotson makes the offense go at the point, and several role players have been plugging the gaps.

3. Army (13-6, 4-4 in PL)
Results: L 81-75 vs Bucknell; W 65-64 vs Colgate; W 68-66 at American.
This Week: Thursday vs Boston University; Saturday vs Loyola (Md)
Don’t look now, but Army may be getting it’s second wind, knocking off Patriot League contenders Colgate and American by one and two points, respectively, in consecutive games. With teams selling out to stop star Kyle Wilson, Army has needed another reliable scorer and they appear to have gotten it in forward Tanner Plomb, who has scored 44 points in his last two games and 80 points in his last four games.

4. American (11-8, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 62-59 vs Lehigh; W 78-76 at Lafayette; L 59-54 at Boston University; L 68-66 vs Army.
This week: Wednesday at Navy
The Eagles backcourt trio of seniors Jesse Reed, Pee Wee Gardner and John Schoof are leaving everything they have on the floor, ranking first, second, and third in the nation in minutes per game. That is astounding. And on most nights, that trio is good enough to carry the Eagles to a win. But to climb to the top of these rankings and become the Patriot League team to beat, American is going to need to at least get some consistency from the supporting cast, especially in the post.

5. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 69-64 vs Holy Cross; W 61-47 vs Navy; W 75-71 at Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell, Saturday vs Boston University
How in the world did we get here? Just yesterday the Mountain Hawks looked like they were dead in the water, unable to generate any offense outside of 6’11” center Tim Kempton. Well, Lehigh seems to have finally found another scorer in sophomore guard Austin Price, who has taken advantage of Kempton’s double-teams by scoring 40 points over the last three games – all wins.

6. Boston University (8-11, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
The Terriers have lost four of their last five, and yet, they haven’t looked THAT bad – and, perhaps equally important, it’s hard to say that anyone below them in these rankings has looked better. Junior shooting guard John Papale seems to finally be hitting his stride after spending much of the season adjusting to a completely new niche as a creator and facilitator on offense in addition to his traditional role as a long-range marksman, and sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has turned into a legitimate star. If BU could get consistent play from role players like forwards Nate Dieudonne, Justin Alston and Eric Fanning, they’d be in very good shape.

7. Holy Cross (8-10, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 69-64 at Lehigh; W 74-73 vs Lafayette; W 76-65 vs Navy.
This week: Thursday at Loyola (MD);
Rewind a few weeks, and Holy Cross was completely dead in the water. Rewind a few months, and the Crusaders looked like world beaters and the Patriot League team to beat. Now, the truth seems to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The Crusaders do not score the ball efficiently, and their offense relies on creating turnovers with energy and pressure on defense, resulting in transition offense and, plain and simply, taking more shots than their opponents.

8. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 78-76 vs American; L 74-73 at Holy Cross; L 75-71 vs Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Navy
The Leopards have come up just short in three-straight close games, losing to a good American squad by two at home, a floundering Holy Cross squad by one on the road, and, toughest of all, bitter-rival Lehigh by four at home. The Leopards still boast arguably the Patriot League’s top offense, with inside, mid-range, and outside scoring options, but they are struggling mightily to come up with stops on defense.

9. Loyola-Maryland (7-12, 3-5 in PL)
Results: W 91-86 (OT) vs Boston University; L 75-61 vs Bucknell; L 59-58 at Colgate.
This Week: Thursday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at Army.
The Greyhounds are incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced, but they are growing and learning and have played Patriot League frontrunners (at least for now) Colgate very tough on the road, and also beat a very solid BU squad in overtime. They aren’t ready to compete right now, but they are looking closer and closer to returning to relevance in the very near future.

10. Navy (7-13, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 65-53 vs Colgate; L 61-47 at Lehigh; L 76-65 at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Worth Smith returned from injury as a man possessed, and Navy was suddenly playing inspired basketball. Then Smith went down with yet another in a laundry list of injuries and the Midshipmen sputtered. Smith has once again returned to the court, could another Navy resurgence be far off?

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Tanner Plomb, Jr., F, Army

Plomb scored 44 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a pair wins over Colgate and American to help get the Black Knights back on track.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Brandon Alston, G, Lehigh

Alston scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in a pair of big wins for the Mountain Hawks.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

Dr. John Giannini takes a trip down (America East) memory lane

Giannini
La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini. Courtesy photo / La Salle Athletics

La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini has experienced the brightest lights of March Madness, leading his Explorers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2013. But Giannini still vividly remembers his time in the America East, where he cut his teeth as a Division I head coach leading the University of Maine from 1996 to 2004.

And what Giannini has to say about the America East might surprise fans of both high-major and mid-major basketball alike.

“The America East, when I was there, was a really, really strong league. And it was a recruiting league, where you really kind of had to land a couple of extremely good players to win it,” he said, contrasting it against his current Atlantic-10 where, “We were at the point where if you got an Andy Bedard and a Nate Fox, or a Huggy Dye and a Julian Dunkley, you were pretty talented. Frankly the most talented teams in that league won and didn’t get knocked off that much,” said Giannini, referencing Maine’s stars from the late 90s and early 2000s.

When Giannini was first hired as the head coach of Maine, the America East was in the end of a Golden Era of sorts, with Malik Rose having just led Drexel to three straight NCAA Tournaments, culminating in an upset over fifth-seeded Memphis, and heading off to a long career in the NBA. In Rose’s absence, several other young stars were stepping onto center stage, with Boston University, led by forward’s Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard, grabbing the next league championship, followed by a pair of Delaware titles in 1998 and 1999.

“I often tell the old America East guys that Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard would be one of the top 5-10 inside combinations in Division I right now, they were that talented,” said Giannini.

Awojobi finished his career as one of five Division I players to register career totals of 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 blocked shots. He joined a select group composed of Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown), Pervis Ellison (Louisville), Derrick Coleman (Syracuse), and David Robinson (Navy). Beard, a 6’10” top-100 high school recruit who signed with Duke out of high school, transferred to Boston University where he starred for two seasons. Both Beard and Awojobi would go on to play more than a decade apiece in professiona ball.

The torch was then passed from Boston University on to a young coach named Jay Wright, who was leading a resurgent Hofstra squad led by guards Speedy Claxton and Norman Richards. Wright of course would go on to coach Villanova to repeated NCAA Tournaments, including a 2010 run to the Final Four, and Claxton and Richards would go on to play in the NBA, but all three got their starts by leading Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament’s in 2000 and 2001.

Giannini’s Maine teams finished in the top four most years, including a program record 24 wins in 1999-2000 when they were perhaps a broken wrist to star point guard Andy Bedard away from going to the NCAAs,

“Jay Wright and I often debate how our Hofstra and Maine teams would have done against his Final Four and our (La Salle’s) Sweet 16 teams,” said Giannini. “Jay had two NBA players in Norm Richardson and Speedy Claxton. Then you throw in Mike Brey’s great teams at Delaware, Bill Herrion had great teams at Drexel, Dennis Wolff had great teams at Boston University. So you had five borderline high-major teams in the America East at that time.”

In sharp contrast to today’s America East, where on any night seemingly any team can beat any other, according to Giannini, parity was a word that did not exist in the league back in the day.

“At that time, the league was remarkably strong,” Giannini said. “I remember one year that Maine, Hofstra, Boston University, Delaware and Drexel were like a combined 48-2 against the rest of the league.”

Now looking to guide La Salle back to the NCAA Tournament, Giannini’s focus remains on the here and now, but every once in a while he still enjoys looking back on the league where he got his start.

“I really wish I could arrange that matchup between my guys at Maine and my guys at La Salle,” he says. “It would be a hell of a game.”

Consistent energy is key for Boston University basketball

Boston University sophomore center Dylan Haines boxes out during the Terriers 59-54 win over American Wednesday night. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Boston University sophomore center Dylan Haines boxes out during the Terriers 59-54 win over American Wednesday night. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

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.”

Cedric Hankerson sheds tape, continues to star for BU

Cedric Hankerson scored a game-high 18 points to go with a BU record nine steals in the Terriers 59-55 win over American. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Cedric Hankerson scored a game-high 18 points to go with a BU record nine steals in the Terriers 59-55 win over American. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

After spending the better part of the month of donning white sports tape on the last two digits of his right hand, Cedric Hankerson played his first game of 2015 without any bandages on Wednesday night. While the removal of the accessory may not have drawn the attention of when Lebron James played sans his headband, it was a big moment for Hankerson nonetheless.

For weeks, the 6-foot-5 sophomore out of Miami, played through the pain of a dislocated pinky and found a way to constantly produce at a high level, despite not being able to fully use his dominant hand.

The tape first appeared during BU’s game against Lehigh and continued through their bout against Loyola-Maryland. In those five games, the Terriers’ leading scorer still averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, a slight but noticeable drop from his season averages of 17.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

“I could have taken the tape off a couple of games ago but I was shooting so well with it that I might as well keep it on,” said Hankerson.

Going into Wednesday evening’s game, Hankerson felt comfortable enough to try playing without the tape and had an explosive game in the Terriers 59-54 win over American, scoring a game-high 18 points and swiping a program-record nine steals to prove once again why he is one of the top players not only on his team but in the Patriot League.

“I wasn’t really confident that it wouldn’t dislocate again, but I took a chance and it’s pretty fine,” said Hankerson.

Against the Eagles, Hankerson had one of the most all-around games a player could have, grabbing six rebounds in addition to his scoring and defensive efforts.

“It was just sort of the flow of the game,” he said. “I saw that they were carless with the ball a little bit. We played against them last year, so we’re kind of experts on their offense, they like to back cut a lot, at times I saw that coming and anticipated it.”

Hankerson’s record-breaking performance was a result of head coach Joe Jones’ defensive play calling. Throughout much of the game, Jones would switch between zone, traditional man-to-man and three-quarter trap to try and get American to play at a different tempo than their slower Princeton style pace.

“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.”

Also sparking Hankerson’s performance along with the rest of the BU team was trying to get back at American for last year’s Patriot League Championship Game where the Eagles entered Agganis Arena and dismantled the heavy favorite Terriers to go onto the NCAA tournament.

“It’s great to beat American,” said Hankerson. “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.”

What’s more impressive about Hankerson’s play throughout this entire season is he is doing it in the midst of a position switch. After losing Maurice Watson Jr. in early April, Jones was left with no viable option at the point guard position in terms of starters, forcing Hankerson to pick up more ball-handling duties and move over from the wing.

Certainly, there have been some growing pains, like his season-high seven turnovers against Holy Cross on New Year’s Eve. But for the most part, Hankerson has felt comfortable while making the transition. His ability to be an effective point guard was on display against the Eagles, where he not only scored plenty, but also distributed the ball well, picking up six assists and limited his turnovers to only two.

“I think the more I experience it and have those smaller guards on me, the better I’ll get,” said Hankerson. “I was kind of rough because I was new to it at the beginning of the season but now I’m more settled and comfortable.”

Hankerson’s experience will only continue to increase and with that his level of play. At the beginning of the season Jones told his new point guard that he had the potential of being a First Team All-Patriot League caliber player and with two months left in the season, it is definitely looking that way.

Revenge tastes sweet for Terriers: Boston University basketball downs American 59-54

Boston University forward Eric Fanning goes to the hoop in the Terriers 59-54 win over visiting American University. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Boston University forward Eric Fanning goes to the hoop in the Terriers 59-54 win over visiting American University. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

It might not have fully washed away the sour aftertaste of bitter defeat that had lingered in the Terriers mouths since last March, but Wednesday night tasted sweet nonetheless for Boston University basketball.

“It’s great to beat American,” said Boston University sophomore guard Cedric Hankerson, who posted a game-high 18-points and a school-record nine steals as BU downed their Patriot League foes 59-54.

While BU never trailed, and the game was only tied for a total of 32 seconds, there were plenty of dramatics in the rematch of last season’s Patriot League Championship game – a game the Terriers hosted on their home floor, only the be floored 55-36 last March 12.

“I was as proud of this win as any win this year, because I thought we fought and scrapped for 40 minutes,” said Boston University head coach Joe Jones.

Red-shirt sophomore Eric Fanning scored 14 points in the first start of his Terriers career and junior forward Justin Alston added 12 points for BU. American was led by senior guard Jesse Reed who scored 15 points to go with eight rebounds, and Marko Vasic, who added 14 points off the bench.

On Wednesday, the Terriers were able to jump out to an early 11-2 lead with some good ball movement, opening up uncontested shots and promptly knocking them down, while stifling the Eagles on the other end. Boston University shot 45 percent from the floor in the first half (45.5 percent on the night) while holding the Eagles to just 37.5 percent in the opening stanza to build enough of a lead to hang on after the Eagles made several runs.

With two minutes remaining in the first half, American cut the BU lead down to one, 25-24, but that would be as close as they would get in the half as the teams went to the break with BU ahead 27-24.

In the second half, BU picked up the pace and went right back to scoring, with Hankerson getting things going with a three-pointer to put BU up six. With 16:40 left in the game the Terriers pushed the lead to 15, 39-24, but the Eagles refused to go down without a fight, chipping the Terriers lead to six over the next four minutes. BU pushed its lead back to 10 twice, but American answered each time, with a Marko Vasic 3-pointer cutting the lead to three, 51-48, with 4:15 remaining.

After the Terriers counter-punched, a Vasic jumped once again cut the lead to three, 53-50, with 2:58 remaining. And after a Justin Alston lay-up pushed the lead back to five, senior Jesse Reed once again cut the Terriers’ lead to three, 55-52, on a lay-up of his own with 2:14 remaining.

With American coming off three-straight last second wins, Jones and the Terriers knew they would have to play with everything they had until the final horn.

“There’s no doubt that comes into your mind that you know you’re going to have to make plays,” said BU head coach Joe Jones. “And you know that they’re going to make plays.”

With 50 seconds on the clock, a layup attempt by Jesse Reed took a few trips around the bucket before rimming out and into the hands of BU’s Eric Fanning. Fanning who missed two game winning free throw attempts in BU’s loss at Loyola, was able to earn a bit of redemption sinking a layup with 18 seconds to go, putting his team ahead by five.

Five seconds later, Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner, who had hit game-winners just before the buzzer in the Eagles two previous games, (wins over Lafayette and Lehigh) tried to hit another big shot for American by drawing contact while attempting a long-range shot near the three-point line. After the play was reviewed it was found that Gardner had attempted a two and not a three. Gardner would hit his two free throws to get the deficit back down to three, 57-54, with 14 seconds remaining.

American was forced to foul and sent BU freshman Ceddi Mosely to line for a 1-and-1 attempt. Mosely sunk both of his shots with 7.9 seconds on the clock to provide the final margin of victory.

“Those were big time,” said Hankerson. “For such a young kid, he’s so confident with the ball and that’s what we need him to be because he has such a big role.”

Both teams are now tied for second place in the Patriot League behind Colgate and Bucknell.

“That was a great win for us, because that’s a very difficult team to guard, I was proud of our guys,” said Jones.

Loyola basketball scores wild, dramatic win over Boston University

Special to One-Bid Wonders from So Much Sports Baltimore.

By Corey Johns

Loyola forward Franz Rassman sunk two free-throws with one second remaining to force overtime. Courtesy photo / Loyola Athletics
Loyola forward Franz Rassman sunk two free-throws with one second remaining to force overtime. Courtesy photo / Loyola Athletics

Trailing Boston University 74-69 with less than six seconds remaining in regulation, the fate of Loyola basketball appeared to be sealed and their 11th loss of the season assured. But a desperation three by Denzel Britto and two free throws by Franz Rassman tied the game up and Loyola took their momentum into overtime for a miraculous 91-86 victory.

With 5.8 seconds remaining in regulation Boston University’s John Papale missed the second of two free throws and Brito made his way up the court, heaved the ball up and sunk the shot with just one second remaining on the clock. With Loyola trailing by two and forced to foul with only one second left on the clock, the Greyhounds still appeared to need a prayer and then some to force OT.

They got it.

During the dead ball after Loyola fouled on the inbounds, the referees reviewed the courtside monitor and called a flagrant foul away from the ball on Brito’s shot on a Terrier player for striking Rassman in the back of the head.

Rassman sunk both his shots to tie the game, and the Greyhounds were given a gift when Terrier wing Eric Fanning missed both of his attempts after being fouled.

“It was a wild, wild finish there at the end,” Loyola head coach G.G. Smith said. “We were fortunate that they missed two free throws and we made ours but in that situation guys have to stay in control and not panic. I told them ‘it’s not over until it’s over.’”

In overtime, the Terriers were able to pull ahead thanks to seven free throws, including six-straight from Cedric Hankerson, who only went 1-for-8 from the charity stripe in regulation. Loyola had an answer for every one of the Terriers’ freebies and when Brito hit another three with 57 seconds remaining to give the greyhounds a 85-83 lead, the Terriers were done. Loyola scored the final nine points of the game, including a last second dunk by Chancellor Barnard to put the exclamation point on the victory.

“In overtime we kept competing,” Smith said. “We got stagnant at the start but guys started attacking…and from there we didn’t look back and I was proud of the way we finished the game.”

While Boston University took advantage of 12 three-pointers, the Greyhounds outscored the Terriers 44-26 in the paint. Six different Greyhounds reached double digits in the game. Freshmen Cam Gregory and Andre Walker led Loyola with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Gregory also led Loyola with nine rebounds. Eric Laster, Tyler Hubbard and Brito all had success from 3-point range and scored 15, 11 and 10, respectively, while Rassman went a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line in his 14-point effort.

“We got to be a total team. We don’t have that alpha dog, those guys that can go out their and get 30 points a game,” Smith said. “We need a little bit from everybody. We played a lot of guys, our freshman stepped up, it’s got to be a total team effort from here on out.”

The Terriers were led by Cheddi Mosely, who led all scorers with 23 points, and Hankerson, who scored 18 points.

A thrilling night of Patriot League men’s basketball

Wednesday was one thrilling, chilling, and heart-palpitating rollercoaster ride for Patriot League men’s basketball, with four of the conference’s five games decided by four-points or less, including a come-from-behind overtime victory for Army, a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer for American, and an exhilarating last-second comeback for Bucknell.

Here’s a quick look at the night’s action.

American 62 Lehigh 59

The Patriot League is truly a league where on any given night, anybody can play with anybody else in the conference, as evidenced by a downtrodden Lehigh squad giving defending conference champion American everything it could handle on the Eagles home court.

Six-foot-eleven sophomore center Tim Kempton was a monster for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of action, helping Lehigh claim a 37-24 advantage on the glass.

But it wasn’t enough.

American senior shooting guard Jesse Reed scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc, setting the stage for senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner’s heroics. Gardner scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but his final three made all the difference. With the game tied at 59 following Kempton’s short jumper with nine seconds remaining, the diminutive playmaker calmly pushed the ball the length of the floor, snuck around a screen from forward Charlie Jones at the top of the key and buried an NBA-range 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.

Gardner’s heroics followed up another clutch performance Saturday when he scored five points in the final 13 seconds of regulation in an eventual double-overtime win at Colgate.

American moves to 3-2 in league play while Lehigh drops to 1-4.

Army 72 Holy Cross 70 (OT)
In a battle between two teams that began the season looking like league frontrunners only to fall hard and fast over the past month, Army got a much-needed win while Holy Cross suffered a heart-breaking – and possibly devastating – defeat.

Dylan Cox’ lay-up with two seconds left in overtime pushed Army past Holy Cross on the Crusaders’ home court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Junior forward Tanner Plomb scored a season-high 28 points, including 25 in regulation, and junior guard Kyle Wilson added 22.

“This was a great win for our program,” Cox said. “We definitely responded today, I thought our defense was great at times, we got the stops when we needed to and were able to come away with the win.”

Freshman forward Mitchell Hahn scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 from long-range, and junior guard Cullen Hamilton scored 14 points off the bench. While the Crusaders’ bench played great, their starters struggled, with Malachi Alexander the only starter to crack double figures, scoring 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting. None of Holy Cross’ starting five shot even 40 percent from the floor.

“Obviously it’s a tough way for the game to end for us. I was proud of the way we fought and got back into the game and took the lead. I thought both teams were being very aggressive,“ said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “This is the third game for us in league play for us where we just come up one or two plays short. We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more winning plays – that’s the only way that winning is going to happen.”

Army led by 13 points with 14:38 remaining in the second half, but Holy Cross came roaring back to force overtime. Army led by four with just 34 seconds left in overtime, but big baskets from Hahn and Hamilton tied the game at 70 with 7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Cox’ heroics.

Cox took the inbounds and pushed the ball the length of the floor – 94 feet – hitting a running lay-up with two seconds left for the win.

Army moves to 2-3 in league play, snapping a two-game conference losing streak, while Holy Cross falls to 1-4.

Bucknell 65 Navy 63

The Bison bounced back from an overtime loss against Holy Cross with a dramatic win over a Navy squad that had emerged as one of the surprises of the early conference slate.

Sophomore guard John Azzinaro scored 19 points in just 22 minutes, including a pair of late 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from the field and an unconscious 5-of-5 from behind the arc. The diminutive point guard drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:17 left to tie the game at 61, and drilled another 3-pointer from the right corner with a little over 11 seconds left to grab the lead for good.

Navy won the rebounding battle 31-30, outshot the Bison from the floor (44.9 percent to 41.2 percent) and beat Bucknell at the free throw line (17-of-21 to 14-of-19), while also leading on the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Bison simply never quit.

“Navy out-played us for about 36-and-a-half minutes, but to our guys’ credit we didn’t panic,”said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Obviously Johnny carried us down the stretch. We made a change in the starting lineup tonight, and he handled it like a champ.”

Freshman forward Nana Foulland had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and senior guard Steve Kaspar added six assists off the bench for Bucknell. Navy was led by senior forward Worth Smith, who scored 14 points, and also got 12 points from center Edward Alade and 11 from guard Kendall Knorr.

Both teams now sit at 3-2 in league play.

Lafayette 69 Loyola (MD) 65
After Loyola gave them everything they could handle for the first 20 minutes of action, the Leopards made just enough plays in the second half to escape with a hard-fought win at home.

Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs hit five 3-pointers en route to 22 points, while senior forward Dan Trist and senior guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 points apiece. Lafayette hung on despite being out-rebounded 37-31, beaten at the line (Loyola hit 14-of-17 free throws to the Leopards’ 10-of-15) and played virtually even from the floor and behind the arc.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” said Hinrichs.

“Getting into league, it’s just so much different, everybody is well-prepared for you,” said Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon after the game.

Tyler Hubbard scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, going 5-of-9 from downtown, freshman guard Andre Walker scored 17 off the bench, guard Eric Lester added 13, and freshman forward Cam Gregory ripped down 12 rebounds.

Colgate 62 Boston University 53
That one must have felt good for the Raiders, who snapped a 20-game losing streak against Boston University, while simultaneously grabbing sole possession of first place in league play.

Boston University came out of the gates like gangbusters, jumping all over the Raiders, 20-8, to open the game, but the Raiders responded, outplaying the Terriers from there on out.

Colgate senior shooting guard Damon Sherman-Newsome led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Luke Roh added 13 points and forward Matt McMullen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Raiders score a 33-28 advantage on the glass.

Colgate held Boston University to 37.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from behind the arc, while shooting 47.8 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.

The Terriers were led by Eric Fanning’s 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely added 13 points and forward Nate Dieudonne added 10. Boston University’s leading scorer, Cedric Hankerson, who began the night averaging nearly 20 points per game, was held to just three on 1-of-8 shooting.