The ball was the pocket watch, Boston University’s Maurice Watson Jr. was the hypnotist, and Northeastern’s David Walker couldn’t look away.
With BU leading by 1 point and the clock ticking under a minute, Watson used the ball to hold Walker hostage.
Watson wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do next, but for the moment he bounced the ball back and forth between his legs like a yo-yo.
He had Walker on a string.
“At first I didn’t really know what was going on,” Watson said. “I thought I was just holding on for the last shot.”
Watson was never looking at Walker, though, he was looking through him.
Once Watson heard Terriers coach Joe Jones yell out the play, “point-flat,” Watson started scanning the floor.
“The whole time I’m just looking at the other players,” Watson said. “I’m never really worried about the player guarding me. It’s always the help defense that I’m worried about.”
When Watson finally looked in front of him, he realized that, for a slight second, Walker had dozed off.
“I saw that he was leaning,” Watson said.
It was all the time Watson needed.
He hit Walker with a right-to-left crossover, and from there, getting to the rim was the easy part.
For flare, he used a Eurostep to get to the basket for a layup that put the Terriers up, 70-67.
“That was some improv at the last minute,” Watson said. “But I just wanted to take it strong to the hoop. If we were going to win that game, I wanted it to be on my shoulders.’’
The move essentially locked up the Terriers’ 72-69 win over the Huskies in the season opener for both teams as well as the first game in the inaugural Coaches vs. Cancer Boston Tip-off tripleheader at TD Garden.
BU trailed, 65-58, with about five minutes remaining but finished with a 14-4 spurt. BU’s John Papale hit a 3-pointer and made three free throws in a span of less than a minute to give the Terriers the lead for good. Papale finished with 13 points.
In a game in which control was fleeting — the lead changed hands nine times, the score was tied seven — Watson’s bucket allowed BU to hold on to the lead.
The Terriers trailed, 65-58, with 5:03 to go in the second half, but went on a 12-2 run bookended by layups by Watson, who had 16 points.
Northeastern coach Bill Coen knew how dangerous Watson could be, especially with the new NCAA rule cracking down on hand-checking.
“In addition to being the quickest guy on the floor, he can finish around the basket in a variety of ways,” Coen said. “Off-foot layups, reverse layups, floaters. He uses the glass very well. So his ability to get in the paint, find guys on the perimeter and also finish really do make him a triple threat.”
Even after Watson’s clutch bucket, Northeastern had a chance to steal a victory on the last possession.
Trailing, 70-69, after a pair of free throws from NU sophomore swingman Zach Stahl with 38 seconds remaining, the Huskies regained possession when D.J. Irving missed the front end of a one and one. Walker found himself trying to inbound the ball under the basket with three seconds left.
The plan was to look for Stahl (16 points, 8 rebounds) cutting through the lane, but BU junior forward Malik Thomas used all of his 6-foot-7-inch frame to make sure the ball never got there, stretching his arms to steal the inbounds pass.
“We were just trying to get a misdirection going and I thought Zach was an open cut to the basket,” Coen said. “David maybe telegraphed it just a bit. If he would’ve bounced it, I think it would’ve been in and it would’ve been a different story, but those things happen. We’ve been on the other end of those type plays, particularly in the BU games.’’
Junior transfer Scott Eatherton finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds in his NU debut. BU’s Dom Morris had 12 points and four rebounds.
The past six meetings between the teams have been decided by single digits. In 2009, BU won in overtime and in 2011, NU won on a buzzer-beater.
“We expected this type of game,” Jones said. “You never know whether it’s going down to the last shot or 20 seconds. It’s been unbelievable our last couple of games.
“The thing I’m most proud of for our guys is we knew they were going to make a run. In the second half they made plays down the stretch, and that resiliency is what we need.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.