By: Ethan Fuller
BOSTON, MA — Entering Tuesday night, Boston University basketball faced its toughest challenge of the young season, taking on a high-major, high-scoring opponent in the unbeaten University of South Carolina.
But with Javante McCoy continuing to play well, and contributions from a host of role-players, BU (3-2) pulled off a surprise upset over the Gamecocks (3-1) to open the Cancun Challenge. The win is the first against a Power Five school since 2013 and the first against an SEC opponent in program history.
McCoy led the way with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Terriers. Jonas Harper scored a season-high 13 points behind three made three-pointers. Alex Vilarino added twelve points, six assists and five rebounds. The bench scored 19 points to South Carolina’s eight. Altogether, everyone in the rotation contributed meaningfully to the win.
BU’s second straight victory came behind another dominant second half. The Terriers came out of halftime down 35-38, but the offense came out firing and put up 43 points to overpower the Gamecocks, with a 9-0 run late in the game sealing the victory.
During the final twenty, BU shot a strong 48 percent from the floor. Vilarino dished out five of his six assists, while McCoy notched 13 of his 17 points and Harper added 10 of his 13. The offense was unafraid to attack the Gamecocks and drew plenty of fouls as a result, making the opponent pay by converting 13 of 17 second-half free throws.
On paper, the Terriers looked outmatched by sheer size. Sophomore guard and leading scorer A.J. Lawson stands 6-foot-6, and he again carried the torch with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. 6-11, 270-pound behemoth Maik Kotsar proved a tough task for the BU interior players and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds on the night.
The three-ball doomed South Carolina. The team made just four of 22 attempts from beyond the arc and went 1-for-10 in the second half. They also hurt themselves at the charity stripe, knocking down only 12 of their 21 free throws.
And considering the size disadvantage, the Terriers battled hard on the glass. Mahoney, a 6-8 forward to Kotsar’s 6-11, still grabbed six rebounds. 6-6 sophomore Walter Whyte, who has played a lot of small-ball power forward, led BU with eight boards, and McCoy and Vilarino helped with their aforementioned totals.
Tuesday’s upset was by no means a consistently dominating performance. But the Terriers flashed more motion on offense, with players like Vilarino often hitting cutters with well-timed pocket passes for easy layups. Defensively they were helped by a simply cold South Carolina team, but to BU’s credit, they also hinted at some improved rotation on the perimeter. It was not perfect by any stretch, but against a high-profile opponent, the team has to be happy with the effort.
The Terriers now carry this momentum to another daunting contest as they face West Virginia on Friday at 7:00 p.m. The two teams can dust off the history books to find their storied games; BU’s greatest season ever stopped at the hands of Jerry West and the Mountaineers way back in the 1959 Elite Eight.
This year’s 3-0 squad dominates the boards. West Virginia outrebounds its opponents by nearly 12 per game, and are led on the glass by five-star freshman Oscar Tshiebwe (9.7 REB), 6-7 guard Jermaine Haley (8.7 REB), and sophomores Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews (6.0 REB). The Terriers will have to at least match, if not exceed, their level of toughness against South Carolina in order to upset another big-name school.