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Boston University men’s basketball goes with a backup plan: the bench

BU coach Joe Jones was particularly encouraged by a recent strong performance in an OT loss to Florida State.Kathleen Batten/FR171735 AP via AP

As he considered how his veteran team was playing and the schedule ahead of it, Boston University men’s basketball coach Joe Jones mulled a change.

“Early on, against Rhode Island and Northeastern, I didn’t use my bench much,” he said. “I really feel like if we were going to be good this year, I really believe it will be because of our bench.”

Then the injuries happened. Walter Whyte, the potential All-Patriot League forward, went down with an ankle injury. Then junior guard Ethan Brittain-Watts and backup big man Nevin Zink went down.

Jones was left with no choice.

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“Now, with the injuries, we have to play the bench,” he said. “I was going to play them anyway, but I wanted to kind of see each guy, evaluate him, and figure out the rotation. Now, we’re just trying to survive with the injuries we had. We’ve assembled a really good team. I wish we could get healthy.”

Despite the injuries, the Terriers are 5-3; two of the losses were difficult ones, a 1-pointer to Northeastern and an 81-80 overtime decision at Florida State. They nearly had a fourth loss, but Javante McCoy saved them by hitting a 30-foot 3-pointer to beat Merrimack, 61-60.

Javante McCoy helped lift Boston University past Merrimack.John Munson/Associated Press

McCoy and 6-10 Sukhmail Mathon are both playing their fifth season, as the NCAA granted an extra year because of the pandemic. Given the chance, both were determined to redeem themselves and the team from last season’s 7-11 record.

“We lost to Colgate on Saturday [last March],” said Jones. “On Monday, we met with all the upperclassmen. I said to them, ‘I’m not bringing you here to force you to stay, but I need to know your thoughts.’ Both said, ‘Coach, I’m coming back.’ ”

Their return gives Jones a veteran team that is the Patriot League favorite. Mathon’s improvement has been a revelation; he has transformed into a threatening offensive presence as opposed to just a big body near the basket. He excelled against Florida State’s big guys, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The Patriot League big men will have a difficult time containing him.

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“He does a lot of the things Max [Mahoney, all-league center] did for us two years ago,” said Jones. “It’s great because he gets other guys shots, he blocks shots, gets rebounds, he passes.”

Joe Jones and the Terriers are 5-3.John Munson/Associated Press

The Florida State game would have been a landmark victory for BU. Even so, it was a notable performance. The Seminoles were holding opponents to 59.6 points per game and a 36.5 shooting percentage. BU became the first opponent to reach 80 points, shooting 27 for 56 (48 percent).

“It’s an L on the schedule, but it’s a win in other ways, because you prove you can play on another level, go toe to toe with an ACC team on his home floor,” said Jones.

As long as they’re healthy, Jones has no concerns about his veterans. It’s the bench — young players such as forward Anthony Morales and swingman Daman Tate — that could make a really big difference for a team that should have an NCAA Tournament berth as its goal.

It can be a process with young players. Morales’s performance against Florida State is an example.

He hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime as if he were Steph Curry. Then in OT, he had a wide-open three from the corner that might have sealed it, but he missed. On the ensuing possession, Florida State missed a shot but grabbed the offensive rebound to score the winning basket. It was Morales who could have boxed out the player and won the game.

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Jones will be patient and positive with Morales, as with all his players, as he tries to build a championship team.

There are two road games that could be problems — George Washington Wednesday and Dartmouth Dec. 11 — and three home games before Patriot League play begins. That gives Jones five games to discover whether his bench is going to be good enough to supplement a veteran starting five.

▪ Going in opposite directions: Harvard and Northeastern.

Harvard has rallied from 16-point deficits in two straight games, beating Colgate, 89-84, in overtime and Northeastern, 77-57. Northeastern has blown big leads in two straight games, leading Colorado State by 20 before losing, 71-61, and leading Harvard.

Obviously, both teams have problems to solve. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker appears to be gradually figuring out his team, while Northeastern really misses point guard Tyson Walker.

Tommy Amaker and the Crimson have shown a knack for comeback wins this year.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Harvard will be an Ivy League contender again. Northeastern’s offense has self-destructed in the second half of two games, so it remains to be seen whether the Huskies can contend for the CAA title.

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▪ Warning, anti-transfer-portal content: Speaking of Walker, he is starting for Michigan State but is really just another guy, playing 22.4 minutes per game, and he doesn’t even lead the team in assists.

Home cooking: It’s pretty clear that UMass is comfortable when playing close to the statue of John Calipari. At home, the Minutemen are 4-0, averaging 83.7 points while shooting 49 percent from the field, 42 percent on threes, and attempting 101 free throws.

In one road game and three neutral-site games, they’re 1-3, averaging 80.7 points while shooting 42 percent, 37 percent on threes, and attempting 70 free throws.

Before Atlantic 10 play begins, there are three home games and two away.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan.