By: Ethan Fuller
Marist College outplayed Boston University women’s basketball in the first contest of the 2019-20 season, and despite the 89-75 final score, the Terriers understand how this one game fits into the larger picture.
“Obviously, you want a W, but ultimately you’re trying to play for the end of the year and continue to get better,” BU coach Marisa Moseley said, “and that’s what non-conference is about.”
The Terriers are already learning lessons that will pay off down the road; Moseley noted that the Red Foxes used a five-out offense that parallels much of what Patriot League foe American University also runs.
Additionally, Moseley’s emphasis on fostering an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad means giving her players experience against other tourney-bound teams. As the preseason MAAC title favorite, Marist fits right into that category.
“You want to try and see and play against as many different styles as possible,” Moseley said, “because if our goal is to go to the NCAA Tournament, you never know who you’re gonna see.”
BU showed signs of inexperience in their season opener, but also teased a roster that, given time to jell, brings an exciting mix of physicality and athleticism. Here are some key takeaways ahead of the upcoming three-game road trip.
First Game for the Freshmen
The ceiling for this year’s Terriers will be determined by the speed at which their talented group of first-year players acclimates to the college level. Against Marist, four of those freshmen — Sydney Johnson, Annabelle Larnard, Maggie Pina and Maren Durant — made their collegiate debuts.
Johnson wowed the Case Gym crowd, exploding for 21 points after struggling out of the gate and garnering the season’s first Patriot League Rookie of the Week award. Still, the first game opened her eyes to the high level of Division I basketball.
“At this level, everybody’s good,” Johnson said. “Everybody can make stuff happen, so you can’t sleep, especially on defense. You always have to be alert. On offense — people are faster, quicker, and they can guard you better.”
Johnson started as the shooting guard alongside junior point guard Katie Nelson but received a large amount of time leading the offense as the primary ball-handler. She understands there is plenty of room for development, but Johnson is excited that the coaches already trust her.
“Knowing that the coaches and the team trust me to be that second ball-handler, that is a big deal for me,” she said. “Hopefully as the season goes, I get more comfortable at that position and can make stuff happen like Katie does.”
Beyond Johnson, Annabelle Larnard also made a start for BU. Though she did not light up the scoreboard in the same manner, Larnard did knock down three triples and displayed a knack for making hustle plays, grabbing five rebounds (all in the first quarter) and three steals.
Overall, Moseley was satisfied with the performance of the freshmen, but recognized that they need to grow more confident on the new stage.
“We still need to work on some of our shot selection and also understanding how to execute being under control,” she said.
Remembering the Fundamentals
BU had plenty of chances to get back in the game on Friday, cutting the deficit to single digits numerous times in the second half. But Moseley pointed out that the 11 missed free throws should have been easy chances for BU to close the gap.
Finishing inside, even on simple layups, also became an issue. The Terriers shot just 33 percent from the field against the Red Foxes despite shooting an impressive 40 percent from downtown. The team’s proficient inside scorers — senior Nia Irving and sophomore Riley Childs — went a combined 5-for-19 from the floor. In fairness, Marist’s combination of size and athleticism inside proved a formidable matchup.
Still, BU missed too many opportunities.
“If we can clean some of that up moving forward,” Moseley said, “hopefully we can put some runs on ourselves instead of always having to come from behind.”
The Bright Spots
Moseley did acknowledge that her squad was largely on the same page as far as specific schemes and plays. For a young team in its first game, this is a noticeable positive sign.
“I think we executed some of our sets well at different times,” she said. “If we needed to try to get a bucket coming out of either a timeout or a quarter, we did a decent job executing.”
Generating turnovers and transition opportunities became a noticeable asset for the Terriers in the second half. Marist turned the ball over 17 times and BU notched seven steals, many of which turned into fast break layups.
“We’ve been working quite a bit on our transition and trying to get the ball up the floor,” Moseley said, “and knowing that we are conditioning a lot, we want to be able to run on people.”
“If we can continue to work on our transition game,” she added, “we have guys who can really score on the break — and we didn’t really have that last year. So it’s gonna come — just you wait.”
Friday’s game, in summation, was an oxymoron: the most ideal double-digit loss possible.
Johnson and Larnard noticeably improved as the game progressed. After not making a shot in the first half, Larnard made four of her eight attempts in the second. If she can build some consistency, her ability to get boards adds yet another weapon on the glass next to Childs and Irving.
As for the frontcourt duo, their relatively quiet performances should not be worrisome. Marist’s trio of Alana Gilmer, Willow Duffel and Molly Smith is experienced and polished inside. As the shots start to fall, expect both Childs and Irving to improve their scoring totals.
BU’s next test is a three-game road trip beginning tonight at the University of New Hampshire. For the Terriers, this slate gives them an opportunity to face two developing programs in UNH and Albany as well as a reigning NCAA Tournament team in the University of Maine.
As Moseley has repeated, winning these games would always be nice, but more important are the developmental steps the team and players take. Keep an eye on the starting freshman duo of Johnson and Larnard as well as the Terriers’ talented frontcourt pair as BU continues to build continuity.