The Boston University men’s basketball team thrives on energy and emotion and the compelling guard duo of Maurice Watson Jr. and D.J. Irving provided both Saturday in a 91-70 victory over Army in the Patriot League semifinals before 1,214 at Agganis Arena.
With 11:23 to play in the game, top-seeded BU (24-9) held a 55-50 lead, and then the train just left the station. The next stop was 86-62 and a 24-point lead for the Terriers on their way to a dominating victory. BU shot 67 percent from the field in the second half while holding Army to 37 percent.
BU, which earned its 16th overall conference title game appearance and third in the last five years, will play No. 2 seed American, 57-46 victors over Holy Cross, at Agganis Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Patriot League final. BU and American split their season series.
The No. 1 seed has reached the Patriot League final in each of the tournament’s 24 years.
Irving led five players in double figures with 20 points and Watson, who had 10 points, turned the game around with his setups and dishes: Watson had a school-record 17 assists, the most in a game this year in NCAA Division 1.
“There aren’t too many teams in the country who can say they have two guys that are that dynamic together,’’ BU coach Joe Jones said.
Army coach Zach Spiker also took a step back to salute BU. “All the credit goes to Boston University, they played a very complete game,’’ he said. “They forced 17 turnovers, they only committed nine; at the same time, they shot the ball at a very high percentage. They were the better team today.’’
Army lost two regular-season games to BU, one in overtime and the other by a point, but they couldn’t slow down BU this time.
“It’s not surprising what we saw,’’ said Spiker, “but it’s disappointing we weren’t able to do what we’ve done the last couple of times.”
“We had two really tight games with them so we had a ton of confidence coming in,’’ said Kyle Wilson, who led the Black Knights with 22 points. “They just hit a ton of shots down the stretch and we were not able to stay in the game in the second half.’’
BU needed a slow build to reach its top speed. The Terriers scratched out a 39-35 halftime lead but Army (15-16) was taking charge of rebounds, leading, 16-6, in offensive rebounds early in the second half.
“I thought Army was doing a great job chasing down loose balls and rebounds and we just couldn’t seem to get a hold of one,’’ said Jones.
Jones said he “blew a gasket” during a timeout, with good results. “D.J. made the first play that kind of got us going, a great hustle play,’’ said Jones. “We didn’t get the ball but it just got our energy going and from that point on, we took off and made some great plays on both ends of the floor.’’
“Their pressure took us out of our game in the first half,’’ said Watson. “I thought we played at their pace. When a team is pressuring you that much, you just want to put the pressure right back on them. I just wanted to push it as much as I could.’’
BU started its second-half roll with a Dom Morris layup, followed by a 3-pointer from Cedric Hankerson that boosted the lead to 60-50. A jumper from Watson and a layup by Malik Thomas stretched the lead to 12 and BU was in control. John Papale put the exclamation point on the run with a pair of 3-pointers that twice pushed the lead to 24 points.
The Terriers were determined to prolong their second-half surge, said Irving, who closed out his game with a steal and a layup to make it 91-67.
“It was our effort and our hunger to be better,’’ said Irving. “We didn’t want to win this game by 5 points, we wanted to win by a lot. We felt like we were the best team in this league and we just wanted to show it.”