By: Liam O’Brien
If you want to get on the floor for a Joe Jones-coached team, you have to bring two things: energy and defensive intensity.
This season, the Boston University men’s basketball team is swamped with players who carry those two traits, which is why you see 11 players fighting for playing time on a game-to-game basis. The Terriers are now 6-4 and riding a three-game win streak with defense being the primary reason for their recent success.
“There’s a lot to prepare for when you are coming to play us,” junior forward Max Mahoney, who scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, said. “A big thing off the bench is bringing energy into the game. That will keep you in the game, especially on the defensive end.”
The Terriers’ intimidating approach was on full display in Tuesday night’s 79-60 victory over UMass Lowell. Each member of the scarlet squad brought a similar level of enthusiasm on the defensive side, making the Riverhawks’ experience in Case Gym one they would like to forget.
“We need guys who can clamp up the better scorers on the other team,” Mahoney said. “[It is] just knowing what you have to bring to the table when you are coming into the game.”
10 players received at least 10 minutes, a figure that would have been higher if sophomore guard Andrew Petcash hadn’t missed the game with a concussion.
The Riverhawks entered the contest on a stretch of impressive offensive performances. In a 94-71 win over an upstart NJIT team on Saturday, they shot 58% from the field and 11-of-22 from three. In a loss to UConn on November 27, UMass Lowell made 10 threes while hitting 49% of their field goal attempts. They rank 25th in adjusted tempo on KenPom, which proves their ability to wear down opposing defenses with a fast-paced offensive mindset.
The Terriers were not fazed by the Riverhawks’ will to get up and down the court. Utilizing their depth, BU threw a number of bodies at UMass Lowell and forced them into a subpar shooting night. The visitors shot just 43% from the field while missing all but two of their 16 three-point attempts.
“Defensive field goal percentage is something we really key in on,” Mahoney said. “Before every game we know through our scouting who is a shooter and who is an attacker and knowing how to limit those guys.”
By the second half, the Riverhawks were the ones who were tired. BU limited UMass Lowell to 12-of-30 shooting from the field en route to outscoring their opponents 45-28 in the second half.
“We talked about it at halftime,” junior forward Tyler Scanlon, who scored 20 points, said. “Making sure we stayed locked in for the full 30 seconds of the shot clock and then getting back in transition right away. I thought we did a better job of staying focused for the entire time in that second half.”
The backcourt of sophomore Javante McCoy and freshmen Jonas Harper and Alex Vilarino made life rough for their counterparts from up the road. Lowell High School product Alex Rivera scored 16 points against NJIT but was limited to six points on 2-of-8 shooting against the Terriers.
“Two guys that were terrific tonight were Vilarino and Harper,” head coach Joe Jones said. “Their intensity defensively really helped us. We got great contributions from those guys in terms of how hard they played.”
Sophomore guard Obadiah Noel scored 20 points against the Huskies on 9-of-12 shooting. But he found the going tough against BU, shooting 6-of-15 and turning the ball over four times in a 12-point night. Redshirt senior guard Josh Gantz scored 12 points in each of his previous two games but put up four points in 25 minutes at Case Gym.
“In the games we have lost, we haven’t done a great job,” Mahoney said. “Even letting guys who don’t usually score the ball score on us. That comes with positioning and just helping each other off the ball.”
The Terriers did a great job of staying in position and providing each other with assistance when necessary. BU’s defensive effort in the frontcourt was stifling. UMass Lowell freshman forward Allin Blunt had 12 points against UConn, getting to the line 10 times. Against BU, it was a different story for the Gonzaga College High School product from the DMV. Blunt got to the line just twice, missing both attempts while finishing with one made field goal in 17 minutes.
“We played pretty good defense,” Scanlon said.
If the Terriers continue to receive this type of defensive focus from each member of the group, they will not lose another game before conference play begins.