By: Matthew Doherty
It’s not quite time to hit the panic button, but it’s certainly been a forgiving two weeks for Boston University men’s basketball.
Two Wednesday’s ago, following a 64-55 win over Loyola Maryland, I gave coach Joe Jones and his team a ton of credit for improving to 8-3 in conference play despite dealing with a boatload of injuries.
While the injury issues haven’t changed, the results have. Since the victory against the Greyhounds, BU has dropped three in a row to fall into a tie for third-place with the Navy Midshipmen.
With just four conference games remaining, the Terriers desperately need to string together some victories to salvage an above-average regular season and stay in the top three of the standings.
The home stretch begins Wednesday night in the nation’s capital when BU faces off against last-place American.
“I have to take the full responsibility for the way we are looking right now,” Jones said following Saturday’s loss to Holy Cross. “As the leader of this program, this is on me. It starts with me. I have to look myself in the mirror.”
During the three-game skid, BU dropped two understandable games on the road against surging Lehigh (80-75) and second-place Colgate (74-60). The Terriers played both of those contests without leading-scorer Cedric Hankerson. On top of that, second-leading rebounder Walter Whyte missed the Colgate game with an ankle injury.
It’s already difficult to win on the road in the Patriot League as is. Add on injuries to two key starters and you can’t really fault Jones and Co. for those defeats.
However, Saturday’s head-scratching loss on their own floor to Holy Cross is less understandable. Not only did Hankerson return and play 28 minutes, but the Crusaders were missing their second-leading scorer in Karl Charles, and rotational players Will Powers and Jack Stevens, both of who were suspended due to a potential NCAA investigation.
BU came into the matinee matchup winners of the last four in the series, while Holy Cross came into the game on the heels of a 35-point home loss to Navy and with an 8-16 record.
Although Whyte sat out again and point-guard Eric Johnson did not play, the Crusaders stole a page out of the Terriers book and won with a depleted roster.
“We’ve been able to continue to win with guys in and out of the lineup,” Jones said.
“We’re obviously having trouble with that. I’m not naive enough to say that’s our issue. We’re never going to blame that. This is about competing and being ready. Those are easy excuses to make but I’m not going to make them.”
The loss dropped the Terriers to 8-6 in the league and they trail Colgate (9-5) by one-game for second place and, more importantly, for home-court advantage up until the Patriot League Championship.
Every team goes through rough stretches of the season, and the Terriers are experiencing that right now. They can break out of the rut and still take second-place with a strong finish to the conference slate.
“We’re going to have to be a lot better to start winning again,” Jones said. “We have to be real with ourselves. All of us.”
The good news moving forward is that Whyte and Johnson should be back soon, and Hankerson will get back to his normal self when he gets more games under his belt. BU is getting healthy at the right time.
Wednesday’s game at American is as close to a must-win as Jones’s team will face all season. They can’t afford to lose to the tenth-place Eagles (5-20, 2-12 PL) twice in a calendar year and possibly fall behind Navy.
But even if they win, their work isn’t done. The Terriers face another daunting task Saturday when Navy comes to Case Gym with third place up for grabs.
This week will determine the Terriers path in the Patriot League Tournament. It’s critical for BU to halt the slump and end the regular season with momentum. If they do, then this current losing streak means very little.
The postseason doesn’t offically begin for another two weeks, but for BU, the stretch run begins tonight.