By: Matt Doherty
BOSTON — Boston University forward Max Mahoney stripped the ball away from Lafayette freshman guard Justin Jaworski near half court. The 6-foot-8 sophomore then rumbled down the open court and finished a contested layup. The referee blew the whistle, signaling a foul, and Mahoney turned to his bench, which rose to its feet in exuberance.
It was the third consecutive sequence where the Terriers recorded a steal that led to a fast-break layup.
Mahoney’s three-point play capped off an implausible 59-17 run, and put BU up 27 points with under four minutes remaining. There were smiles up and down the bench as Mahoney strolled toward his relieved, but delighted, team on the sidelines following his bucket. For the first time in three weeks, BU had won.
Led by a combined 35 points from freshmen Walter Whyte and Javante McCoy, the Terriers outlasted Lafayette, 81-65, on Wednesday night at Case Gym. The victory snapped a five-game losing skid and kept BU (13-15, 9-8 PL) in sole possession of fifth-place with one regular season game remaining.
Playing with a full and healthy lineup for the first time in over a month, the Terriers put together one of their most complete games of the season.
“This was a long time coming,” said Coach Joe Jones. “No one knows what these guys have been through in terms of the things going on internally in terms of injuries. We were out of sorts.
“Yesterday was our first day we’ve had our whole team together. We were a completely different team. It was like, this is our team, this is who we are. I’m not surprised we played well because we looked really good in practice. I’m proud of the guys.”
When the losing streak began on Feb. 3 at Lehigh, leading-scorer Cedric Hankerson missed his fourth straight game. Hankerson sat out the next game at Colgate, before returning February 10 vs. Holy Cross. But it was clear Hankerson was still trying to find his rhythm said Jones. On Wednesday, the fifth-year senior had his best game since returning. He scored 17 points and went 5-of-6 from behind the arc.
“It was a struggle for Ced to come back because he missed so much time,” Jones said. “He was rusty. You can see tonight he was terrific on both sides of the ball.”
Whyte returned to the lineup on Wednesday as well, after missing the last four games with an ankle injury. BU failed to score over 62 points in each game without Whyte. The Terriers broke the 62-point mark against Lafayette with over eight minutes to go in the game.
The freshman played just 18 minutes off the bench, but made his mark. He went 6-of-11 from the floor and scored 14 points.
“He played great,” Jones said. “He affects the game in a much different way than other guys on our team. He’s such a physical player in the paint. As a guard he can make 3’s. He can drive the ball. He’s a good defender. We can put him on the other team’s best player. When we lost him, we lost a lot.”
Jones emphasized how different his team looked, especially on offense, now that everyone was back healthy. Four Terriers were in double-digits and they had 18 team-assists. The 81 points were the most BU has scored since January 8. It nearly doubled the 48 points they scored Saturday against Navy.
“We just played with each other,” said McCoy, who finished with a career-high 21 points. “We sometimes get out of sync. So we just got to lock in together. When we play together, I think we’re unstoppable.”
It wasn’t all easy for BU though. The Leopards went 6-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half, led by Jaworksi and fellow star freshman Alex Petrie. With 6:08 to go in the opening stanza, Lukas Jarrett knocked down a right-wing 3-pointer to put Lafayette ahead 37-22. But the game flipped from there.
BU went on a 12-0 run, highlighted by a two-hand transition slam from Whyte. The Terriers trailed by just five, 41-36, entering the half.
Whyte, Mahoney and McCoy sank a couple of shots to begin the second half which put the hosts up five. Then, a 3-point barrage from the freshman duo, along with Hankerson, propelled another 12-0 run and put BU ahead, 67-50.
Within the next couple of minutes, the Terriers forced four turnovers, which led to easy transition layups. All of a sudden the lead ballooned to 27.
“It was big because we’ve been emphasizing defense,” McCoy said. “It was good to see how defense can lead to offense and create runs.”
BU finished with 11 steals, forced 18 turnovers, and scored 28 points off those turnovers. From 6:08 left in the first half to 3:24 left in the second half, the Terriers allowed 17 points. They also held Lafayette forward, Matt Klinewski (16.8 ppg) to 8 points and Petrie (19.1 ppg in PL play) to 13 points.
“We got healthy bodies and we were better,” Jones said about the defense. “We just tried to keep pressure on them and compete. I thought we were just able to wear them down. They’re such a tremendous offensive team, but I thought we kept pressure and were able to break the game open.”
The Terriers now trail Lehigh and Navy – who are tied in third place with a 10-7 record – by a single game. BU will finish up the regular season Saturday at Army.
Wednesday’s win was a step in the direction for the new-look Terriers.
“Hopefully we can use this momentum to carry over for Saturday,” McCoy said. “I’m just excited for the future.”
“If we’re healthy, the team really fits together well,” Jones said.