By: Matthew Doherty
BOSTON — Throughout his entire seven-year tenure at Boston University, Coach Joe Jones has been dealing with players shuffling in and out of his lineup like a deck of cards. Injuries happen at every sports level, but over the last few seasons BU has been bitten by the injury bug at an abnormal rate.
In 2015, returning All-Patriot League player Cedric Hankerson missed the whole season with a torn ACL. Eight games into that campaign, starting forward Justin Alston broke his foot and sat out the rest of the year. The Terriers still finished third in the Patriot League despite missing two of their top scorers.
Last year, integral rotation members Cheddi Mosely, Destin Barnes and Blaise Mbargorba missed nearly 20 games due to an internal team matter. The team finished second in the league and came points away from advancing to the conference championship. This year has been more of the same.
Two-year starting point guard Kyle Foreman decided to not play just weeks before the season. Then, two games into the season, Mosely and Barnes got hurt and were declared out for the year, leaving Jones with 11 healthy bodies for the remaining 27 contests.
Hankerson and classmate Nick Havener carried the load during the non-conference schedule but then, you guessed it, Havener missed three games with an injury. Right when he came back, Hankerson, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a hamstring injury. He’s sat out the last five games.
On Wednesday, Havener came down with the flu, and Jones went into a pivotal conference matchup against Loyola Maryland with nine healthy bodies and eight scholarship players.
But like he’s done the past couple of seasons with players and rotations constantly changing, he won. The makeshift Terriers found a way to scrap out a 64-55 victory over Loyola at Case Gym. Sophomore forward Max Mahoney was the next man up. He scored 27 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play.
The win improved BU to 8-3 in the Patriot League. The Terriers sit alone in second place and barring any unforeseen circumstances are in prime position to finish second – and at worst third – in the league again.
It’s time to give Jones credit. He’s a built a winning program on Commonwealth Ave. despite who’s been in or out of the lineup.
“Without Ced, without Nick, with the injuries we’ve had, I’m just proud of the way we battled,” Jones said after the win over the Greyhounds. “We were locked in. We knew we had to battle. I’m just proud.”
Mahoney stepped up with a career performance in the absence of Havener. Freshman Walter Whyte scored 15 points and tallied 7 rebounds, and classmate Javante McCoy had a quiet night but knocked down the game-clinching 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining. Mahoney, Whyte, and McCoy’s contributions as underclassmen is not just a credit to their talent, but to the culture Jones has built.
“I think our guys don’t worry about injuries,” Jones said. “We don’t talk about it. We never say hey this guy is out. We’re playing, let’s go. That’s our mindset. It’s helped us. Plus we have good players. I can play anyone on my roster, and we don’t coach our guys that way. We’re not playing to get this guy open, we don’t play that way. We play if you’re open you better do your job.”
On Wednesday, Jones made another tweak to his lineup. He moved sophomore forward Tyler Scanlon to the bench for the first time this season because of a coaches decision. Senior point guard Eric Johnson made his first start in replace of Scanlon and had a solid stat line of 5 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
Johnson, along with Will Goff, has provided senior leadership and consistent play amidst the lineup turbulence.
“We have a lot of guys who are willing to step up,” Mahoney said. “We played selfless tonight. We’re a deep team and we can play any guy on the team and give us good minutes.”
Loyola played more guys Wednesday than the Terriers dressed. But, as has been the case for three seasons now, BU found a way to win.
Jones said in one of his first seasons as head coach at BU, his team was 0-2 in the America East and set to face preseason favorite Vermont without its top two scorers. The Terriers won that game by 15 points and since that day, Jones said he has never worried about injuries.
The method is working and Jones and Co. keep on winning.