Just a couple of days ago, as Travis Robinson talked with a friend, he couldn’t help but mask the excitement of being on the cusp of punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
It was a familiar feeling for Robinson, one he felt just before the Boston University men’s basketball team won the America East championship in 2011 when he and fellow senior captains Dom Morris and D.J. Irving were freshmen.
For Robinson, Morris, Irving, and the top-seeded Terriers (24-9, 15-3), there’s an opportunity to get back to the NCAA Tournament again when they face American (19-12, 13-5) in the Patriot League tournament final Wednesday at Agganis Arena.
“I’m starting to get that feeling similar to freshman year, getting so close to the tournament,” Robinson said. “We weren’t the No. 1 seed that year, so it was a little different, but I’m starting to get the same general feeling of one more game: Let’s give it our all and leave it on the floor.”
Last season, BU’s last in America East, there was no opportunity to play for an automatic bid. The Terriers were banned from the postseason tournament because of their scheduled move to the Patriot League, and their season ended with a 70-63 loss to Loyola (Maryland) in the opening round of the CIT.
The decision had been made in July of 2012, but the sting never subsided. From that moment, Morris said, the Terriers were motivated to get back to a conference championship game.
“We just kept the fire from not being able to compete last year, and we’ve got that opportunity, we’ve got to capitalize on it,” said Morris, who is averaging 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds.
“We were expecting to compete for the tournament and it got taken away. Then we came into this season just with a clean slate and we just played. We’ve got the opportunity to compete for a conference championship, and it seems like we’ve been preparing for this for over a year.”
The Terriers have cruised through the Patriot League tournament, starting with a 91-54 romp over Lafayette in the quarterfinals in which they shot a school-record 66.1 percent from the field.
Their momentum carried into the semifinals as they defeated Army, 91-70, led by Irving’s 20 points.
But the Terriers know they will have their work cut out for them Wednesday as they take on the second-seeded Eagles.
BU last faced American Feb. 19 at Agganis Arena, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit to grind out a 71-62 win. In January, American defeated BU, 86-56.
While the Terriers offense has been red-hot throughout the tournament, Irving said his team’s success is rooted in smothering defense.
Irving is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, and along with sophomore Maurice Watson Jr., the two speedy guards form a formidable defensive backcourt.
“Our defense is what creates our offense, and when we’re in transition, that’s when we’re at our best,” Irving said. “In order to get into transition, you need to make stops. That’s what motivates us on defense: just get out and run.”
Although Morris and Irving have been starters since their freshman year, they know their roles are different as captains, guiding the younger players.
One of BU’s greatest strengths is its depth, with eight players averaging more than 14 minutes per game. Robinson, who averages 5.6 points in 19 minutes, adds a veteran presence off the bench.
“I think it means a lot having that experience,” Robinson said. “We learned that it’s very difficult to make it to the NCAA Tournament and we also know now to respect the process of getting there, working hard, and putting the work in the summer time.
“Now that we’re here again, we’re not surprised because we know what it takes, and we’re experiencing the fruits of our labor.”
Back in 2011, after BU captured the America East title, Robinson, Morris, and Irving waited patiently for their turn to snip the net at Agganis Arena.
With a victory Wednesday night, the three seniors will be eager to make the first cuts.Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.