By: Matthew Doherty
Three consecutive losses gave Boston University their worst start to a season in five years. However, since those defeat, the youthful Terriers have rattled off three consecutive victories, including a thrilling 70-69 triumph at New Hampshire Wednesday, to even their record at 3-3.
Now, the surging team will face their biggest test of the season Tuesday night, when they travel to South Beach to take on the No. 10 ranked Miami Hurricanes.
Head Coach Joe Jones said he is pleased with his team’s collective contributions during the win streak, and hopes to it continue it in the Sunshine State.
“We’re figuring ourselves out,” Jones said. “Not to make excuses for our guys, but we didn’t have a great preseason because we were bitten by the injury bug. It took time to get things in order and understand how we can win with this team. Overall, guys have played better. We have a better understanding and guys are working together.
“Collectively, that win at UNH, was a great team win. We got great contributions from a lot of guys,” Jones added.
The injury bug has again plagued the Terriers, with Destin Barnes and Cheddi Mosely possibly out for the season, according to Jones. Barnes has been in a sling with a shoulder injury, while Mosely reportedly has a knee injury, according to team sources. Despite the setback, Jones said he will continue to play all 11 healthy players.
“Until I see anything different, I’m going to play every one of these guys,” Jones said. “We’re going to go at you with 11 of us and we’re going to play together and make things happen. I love the energy and focus we’re bringing. It’s been good. I’m proud of them.”
So far on the season, 11 of the 13 Terriers have already recorded double-digit scoring games. Despite that success in the face of adversity for BU, Miami possesses the biggest challenge that Jones and his team will face all season.
At the helm for the Hurricanes is Head Coach Jim Larranaga, who has made eight NCAA tournament appearances between his stints at George Mason and Miami. He led the Pride to a Cinderella Final Four run in 2006 and his 2013 Hurricane team, featuring current Celtics point guard Shane Larkin, won the ACC and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. However, this year’s group might be the most talented one he’s had in 32 years as a head coach.
“When you talk about talent, that’s an understatement,” Jones said of Miami. “This is as good of a team that we’ve faced since I’ve been here. They’re talented but they’re tremendous defensively. And that’s what makes them so so good. They’ve got a ton of weapons offensively. They got seven guys with an outrageous talent level. This is a serious challenge to see if we can play in this environment against this caliber of competition.”
The ‘Canes are 7-0, although they have had a weak non-conference schedule. Their best win came at nationally-ranked Minnesota in the Big 10/ACC challenge, but the Golden Gophers are the only Power Five team Miami has played to date.
Fellow Patriot League foe Navy, who was picked to finish third in the league behind BU, lost at Miami on November 12 by 34 points. The Hurricanes have five wins of 30 points or more.
“I told our guys, if you look at the games they played, they’ve blown all these teams out,” Jones said. “You have to be disciplined and play smart. You really have to make good decisions. There is no room for error. It’s going to be great to see what we look like.”
The Hurricanes possess one of the best backcourts in the nation in sophomore Bruce Brown, senior JaQuan Newton and freshman Lonnie Walker. Brown and Walker were both five-star recruits out of high school and could be lottery picks in June’s draft.
Brown, from Boston, is shooting up draft boards because of his physical stature. The six-foot-five point guard uses his size and explosiveness to get to the basket. He is also an exceptional passer and rebounder, and has developed a deadly jump shot. For the ‘Canes, he has done it all, averaging 11.7 points-per-game, 8.6 rebound-per-game and 5.0 assists-per-game through seven games.
Walker, the 13th rated recruit in the 2017 class, is also six-foot-five and presents mismatches as a two guard with a six-foot-ten wingspan. He’s another athletic freak who has a big, strong frame. He thrives as a shooter and slasher. However, Walker has struggled in his first glimpse of college ball, averaging just 7.4 points-per-game.
Lastly, Newton is the senior leader of the bunch. He makes the winning plays as a scorer and passer. Newton is a solid college player and complements Brown and Walker well in the backcourt.
Larranaga has another five-star player in forward Dewann Huell who has averaged 14.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season.
About the Game:
Tuesday’s contest against Miami represents a homecoming for fifth-year senior guard Cedric Hankerson. Hankerson is from nearby Coral Reef, Fla. where he was an All-State selection as a senior.
In his final campaign at BU, Hankerson is averaging a team-high 12.2 points per game and recently reached the 1,000 point plateau for his college career.
Right behind Hankerson in the scoring column is classmate and fellow Florida native Nick Havener. The forward from Sarasota, Fla. is enjoying a breakout senior season, averaging 10.7 points-per-game and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds-per-game.
Hankerson and Havener have fulfilled the scoring holes left behind by now-graduated Eric Fanning and Justin Alston. The duo have also set the tone for the youngsters.
The Terriers have started freshman Walter Whyte and Javante McCoy in all six games this season. McCoy (9.0 ppg) and Whyte (7.7 ppg) are third and fourth on the team in scoring. It will be a good challenge for the two, along with freshman Sukhmail Mathon, and underclassmen Tyler Scanlon and Max Mahoney, to go up against a loaded Hurricanes team.
Free Throw Woes:
Through seven games, BU is last (351st) in all of Division 1 in free-throw percentage at 50.5 percent. The Terriers went 8-21 from the stripe in the win at New Hampshire.
“I haven’t spoken a lot about it,” Jones said. “This is a complete surprise as a team. I just think it is so early in the year, there is no way we’ll shoot this poorly.”
Jones said his team is shooting 100 free throws per day and that players are hitting about 80 to 90 percent of them.
“At some point it’s going to shift.”
The Hurricanes are not much better from the line. They are shooting 58 percent, good for 348 in the country.