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BU 91, Lafayette 54

BU cruises in Patriot League tournament opener

Maurice Watson didn’t even wait for the basketball to split the rim before he threw three fingers in the air.

He never left the backcourt, but he was still steps ahead of Lafayette’s defense.

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After grabbing the ball off the rim, Watson scanned the floor practically as a reflex, spotted Travis Robinson on the wing up the floor, pushed the ball up with two dribbles then sent a chest pass humming Robinson’s way.

All Robinson had to do was knock it down.

Scoring was so automatic for the Terriers, Watson wasn’t worried about Robinson missing.

“That’s how I feel every time one of my teammates shoots,” Watson said. “I have the utmost confidence that every time I give these guys the ball and they put it up, it’s going in. That’s just the trust that I have in them.”

Once it fell, it gave the Terriers a 27-15 lead and from then on BU spent the night throwing fire logs on what would ultimately end up a 91-54 blowout.

After running off 23 wins in their first regular season in the Patriot League, BU wanted to send a message in its conference tournament opener.

It wasn’t just about Watson’s near triple-double (he matched a season-high 21 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and handed out 7 assists). It wasn’t about DJ Irving lighting up the scoreboard with energy-efficient bulbs, scoring 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

When they looked at the year-end honors and saw that Watson and Irving were the only two players named they took it as a snub — particularly when four players from second-place American landed on all-conference teams.

Setting a tournament and school record by shooting 66 percent, scoring the most points in a conference tournament game since 1989 and winning a tournament game by the largest margin the Patriot League’s seen since 2005 was about proving a point.

“We definitely felt disrespected about that,” Irving said. “We felt like we had multiple players that could’ve been on any all-conference team. We just felt like to only put two players from our team on there is just disrespect. That’s what we came out to show, that’s what we’re going to continue to show throughout this playoff.’’

“We didn’t get the credit we deserved being the best team in the season and not having a lot of people on the all-conference team,” Watson said. “So I wanted to come out and show that I’m one of the top players, and I told DJ to make sure that he shows that he’s one of the top players. And I told my team to make sure that we come out and we show that we’re the best team in this league and send a message for the rest of the season.”

For a fleeting moment after the win, BU coach Joe Jones rolled the thought of being snubbed around in his head. He started his sentence, “I think the guys really felt like . . .” then he paused.

“I’m not going to go there,” he said.

Instead, he just made his team’s overarching postseason mission clear.

“They want to win this,” Jones said. “They want this. They want to do it together. I thought we came out and made a concerted effort to win this one and move on to the next one.”

The Terriers polished off a season sweep of the Leopards, who were picked second in the league in the preseason before injuries derailed them. BU advances to a semifinal matchup with an Army team that took them to overtime before a 86-81 victory in January and a 71-70 Terriers win just last week.

As the tournament’s top seed, the Terriers understand their position. The No. 1 seed has reached the championship game in all 24 years of the tournament’s history and won 19 times.

“I think they’re just feeling good right now,” Jones said. “You want to be playing your best basketball right now. They’re locked in. And these guys. They’re ballplayers. We’ve got ballplayers. They’re used to winning, they come from great programs. They come from great families. They’re about winning. And they’ve been in these moments all throughout their lives. So they smell it and they’re going after.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.
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