All Joe Jones could do was wait, but the breaks never came.
The shots never started to fall, and the Boston University men’s basketball coach was left clinging to the hope that the Terriers’ offense would finally start to click.
With the Patriot League championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Terriers shot a paltry 30.8 percent from the field (16 for 52), as American earned a 55-36 victory at Agganis Arena Wednesday night.
“We took a lot of uncharacteristic shots, we turned the ball over in places I hadn’t see us do,” Jones said. “We never settled down. I thought the moment got the most of us, and in games of this magnitude, sometimes that happens.”
With the loss, BU (24-10) missed an opportunity to make its eighth NCAA appearance and is likely headed to the NIT.
American (20-12) punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with its third Patriot League championship, the program’s first since winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
Darius Gardner, the tournament MVP, led American with 18 points. Tony Wroblicky added 15 and eight rebounds.
Sophomore guard Maurice Watson Jr. led BU with 11 points and senior forward Dom Morris added 10.
The Terriers entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed and boasted the conference’s top scoring offense at 72.5 points per game. They coasted into the championship round with routs of Lafayette (91-54) in the quarterfinal and Army (91-70) in the semis.
But American, the No. 2 seed, had the conference’s best defense, allowing just 59.4 points per game, and challenged BU to find a rhythm.
It wasn’t long before the Terriers looked little like the team that shot a school-record 66.1 percent in their quarterfinal victory.
Just under 12 minutes into the game, BU had only scored 7 points. Morris and senior guard D.J. Irving went a combined 0 for 8 as the Terriers went 3 for 18 from the field.
“I guess you start to second-guess yourself,” Morris said. “I felt as though we settled too much in the beginning, and then when we got our wide-open looks, they might have second-guessed themselves because they missed the first shots they took.
“When your shots are not falling, it’s hard mentally.”
Irving, the Terriers’ second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, struggled to find a rhythm, and finished 1 for 10.
“They were all over us from the start of the game, and we just didn’t have any answer for it,” Irving said. “I give all the credit to their game plan.”
The Terriers’ trouble continued throughout the first half when they went on a 7:05 scoring drought, missing 10 consecutive shots, as American went on an 8-0 run to take a 16-7 lead.
“I think we were all waiting for that one shot to happen to ignite us and get us going,” Jones said. “That had happened in the previous two games, we’d make a play and get going.
“But you can’t rely on that in these types of games. You’ve got to play consistent basketball.
“I thought each guy tried to make that play to get us going, and I think that was part of it.”
Despite BU shooting 6 for 25 in the opening 20 minutes, the Terriers only trailed by 8 at the half (24-16).
With 13:58 to play and American leading, 31-24, Wroblicky picked up his third foul, leaving a window for BU to attack the paint.
It should’ve been trouble for American and a break for the Terriers, but instead, the Eagles went on a 7-2 run to take a 38-26 lead.
Cedric Hankerson responded with a layup for the Terriers to cut the deficit to 10, but the rest of the offense never followed, as BU never got closer than 10 points.
Throughout the season, the Terriers often relied on a swarming defense as the foundation for their transition offense.
On Wednesday, they were able to irritate the Eagles to force 17 turnovers, but never capitalized.
They were never able to get their transition game going, scoring just 4 fast-break points.
“[American] got back pretty good,” Jones said. “I didn’t think we did a great job of running the floor to gain some opportunities that were there. I didn’t think we did a good job of spacing the floor, sharing the ball quickly and early.”Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a