The Boston University men’s basketball team entered Wednesday night’s game with a great opportunity to extend its lead atop the Patriot League. For coach Joe Jones, the challenge started before tipoff, making sure his players were even-keeled because he knew their emotions would be running rampant.
“You can’t make one game bigger than the rest,” Jones said. “Because if you win this one, we have three more left. My guys were going to make this a big game, I knew that. But for me, I had to make sure the message I’m sending was to take it possession by possession.”
Early on, it was evident the Terriers were over-eager, shooting just 4 for 16 in the opening 10 minutes. After trailing by 1 at the half, Jones’s squad settled in, capitalizing on second chances and forced turnovers as BU beat American, 71-62, at Agganis Arena.
The Terriers (20-8, 12-3) won their fifth straight and extended their first-place lead to two games over second-place American (15-11, 11-3), and are in the driver’s seat to secure the top seed in the conference tournament.
“I felt like we were too hyped in the beginning, but then once we started hitting shots we came to reality and said let’s get some stops on defense and run,” said BU forward Dom Morris.
Morris led the Terriers with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Maurice Watson added 13 points and seven assists.
Morris carried the Terriers down the stretch, scoring 9 of the team’s last 18 points.
Throughout the night, Morris was up against American’s 6-foot-10-inch center, Tony Wroblicky, who scored 8 of his 13 points in the first half.
In the second half, Wroblicky was hampered by foul trouble. He picked up his third with 10:37 to play, but coach Mike Brennan decided to keep him on the floor. A little more than a minute later, Wroblicky was called for a loose-ball foul, his fourth, and went to the bench.
Once Wroblicky returned with 4:45 to play, Morris attacked him in the paint, scoring three straight layups to give BU a 60-50 lead with 2:24 to play.
“They were doing a good job on me,” Morris said. “I knew I had to get into [Wroblicky’s] body and he already had two fouls. It was important to stay aggressive with him. He’s not a shot blocker, and he uses his length to bother you, so I knew if I got my body on him I could finish.”
American held a 32-31 lead at halftime, but BU had the momentum, ending the half on an 8-0 run.
The Eagles went ice cold in the second half, shooting just 10 of 28 (35.7 percent) in the final 20 minutes, while turning the ball over five times. The Eagles turned the ball over 13 times throughout the game and the Terriers capitalized, scoring 15 points off their miscues.
The Terriers also dominated the glass, outrebounding American, 40-24. BU had 16 offensive rebounds and converted them for 14 second-chance points. BU forward Malik Thomas had 6 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes, including four offensive rebounds.
American guard Jesse Reed hit a jumper with 17:07 to play in the second half that gave the Eagles a 36-35 lead, but the Terriers erupted for a critical 13-3 run over the next 6:19 to take a 48-39 lead that they never relinquished.
Justin Alston brought the crowd to its feet when he slammed home an alley-oop pass from Watson. On the next two possessions, John Papale (9 points) hit a 3-pointer and Watson added a jumper, giving BU a 42-36 lead.
“To get Justin his dunk was great,” Watson said. “Me and Justin had been trying to hook up on that all season. He’d tell me to throw it to the rim and we finally saw it work. It made [American] come out of their zone and it pumped us up.”
BU stretched the lead to 48-39, before Reed knocked down a 3-pointer to bring American back within 6, but the Terriers had already done enough damage to prevent a comeback.
For the Terriers, there’s a much different feeling this time of the year than there was last year, as the team was ineligible for the America East tournament because of the move to the Patriot League.
Now, the focus is on finishing the next three games strong before the tournament starts, starting with a home game Sunday against Bucknell.