With 1:25 remaining in Boston University men’s basketball’s contest with the University of New Hampshire, head coach Joe Jones called a crucial timeout. A pair of free throws by UNH forward Tanner Leissner had made the score 69-68 in favor of the Wildcats, putting BU behind for the first time since the opening minutes of the first half.
With Jones’ team down by one and needing a clutch basket to help avoid a six-game losing streak, the sixth year coach drew up a play to feed the hot hand of Cedric Hankerson.
When the Terriers (5-6) broke from the timeout, they pushed the ball around above the arc before moving it to Hankerson just in front of the BU bench. With two Wildcats closing in on him, Hankerson drained a three to give the Terriers a two-point lead. They would not look back as they bested UNH 73-69 at Case Gym on Sunday afternoon.
“It was kind of confusing, I just came off a double screen,” said Hankerson. “At the timeout they just said get your feet set and hold your follow through, so that’s all I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking about the situation.”
The play was a flipped version of one BU had been running most of the afternoon. With Hankerson coming off of a double screen on the right side of the court instead of the left, the Wildcats (7-4) were thrown off, allowing the guard a moment to shoot an uncontested three for the lead.
Eric Fanning iced the game a minute later with a critical jumper with seconds remaining on the clock.
Fanning led the Terriers in scoring with 15 points, exploding for 12 in the second half after a lackluster performance in the game’s opening 20 minutes. Despite Fanning’s subpar first half, the scarlet and white were still able to hold a seven-point lead going into the break as points from a number of players kept BU afloat.
The Terriers received contributions from all but two members of their available roster as eight players factored into BU’s scoring. While starters Fanning, Hankerson, and Justin Alston led the way for the Terriers, junior guard Eric Johnson came off the bench for the sixth time all season and turned in a season-high ten points in 18 minutes of play.
“He had done that last year too,” said Jones. “He’s made shots, he’s done a nice job of running the club, and he and I had a nice chat about his defense and improving in that area but he’s a good player, he’s a talented kid, he can play. I liked what I saw from him.”
Johnson, along with junior guard Will Goff, saw a heavy increase in minutes against UNH as the Terriers were without a bevy of players, including Destin Barnes and Blaise Mbargorba, due to injury.
“It makes life easier for me because there is less decisions to be made,” said Jones of playing with a shortened bench. “We know who we’re going to play and the guys know they’re playing, they kind of know what to expect. It just makes it easier. . . .tonight felt more like last year to be honest with you because we didn’t have so many options.”
While the Terriers were engrossed in offensive contests over their last stretch of games, this matchup featured a more defensive mindset. Both Jones and Hankerson iterated that the game plan was to forget their recent struggles and focus on playing solid defense.
Last time they were at home, BU fell victim to a Canisius team that took advantage of a number of Terrier turnovers. Against UNH, Hankerson and company were committed to limiting the Wildcats’ points on turnovers, as well as their transition points, and their opportunities from three-point range.
And while Leissner exploded for 25 points for UNH – and reaching the 1,000 point mark as a junior – the Terriers were able to limit the damage done by the Wildcats’ three-point shooters, Daniel Dion and Jameel Smith. Combined the pair turned in nine points from beyond the arc, converting on just a third of their shots from three-point range.
The win snapped a five-game losing streak for BU, who will look to win their seventh consecutive contest over an America East opponent on Wednesday against UMass Lowell. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at UML’s Tsongas Arena and can be seen on ESPN 3.