By: Ethan Fuller
Boston University men’s basketball found itself in another tense two-minute standoff on Saturday. Dartmouth College was mounting a comeback, the Terriers were struggling to knock down free throws, and the scoreboard was trending towards a heartbreaking defeat.
This time the team held on. They fought through adversity and leaned on each other, demonstrating the camaraderie that has come to define this year’s squad, and snapped a five-game losing streak by sticking together.
“You lose five games in a row, you got people that are gonna doubt what you’re doing. They’re gonna doubt the team, and that’s just normal — that’s sports, and I expect all that,” head coach Joe Jones said after the game.
“But I really believe in this group. I think we can really do some good things.”
Junior forward Javante McCoy shares the same resolve.
“If we just stay solid for all 40 minutes,” he said, “I don’t think there’s anybody that can stop us when we’re all clicking together.”
The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is
BU’s 78-76 win over the Big Green comes off a three-game stretch that included an overtime loss to Binghamton, a buzzer-beating defeat at the hands of George Washington, and a one-possession stumble in Mexico to UT-Martin.
Rather than putting the losses behind them, Jones wants the team to remember the feelings and build a base of experience they can apply to games later in the season.
“We have to keep reminding them, ‘You’ve done this before. You can do it. And what did you learn?” he said.
Jones knows his responsibilities as a coach include instilling confidence and emphasizing focus. These objectives call for specific signals that Jones employs: being energetic, maintaining eye contact, reassuring players, and being clear with messages. Most importantly, Jones’ own attitude reflects on the players.
“Not one second did I think we were losing the game,” he said regarding the Dartmouth contest. “One of the things I had to do was be confident for them.”
Building confidence does not only occur in big-game scenarios. Jones understands the importance of reminding the team about their potential, especially during a rough stretch.
“I showed them the Binghamton game. I said, ‘Okay, we lost the game. But this is what we did well. We know we didn’t do these things well, but this is what we did do well. I didn’t do this — you did this.”
That approach clearly paid off for the Terriers. McCoy urged his teammates to take the recent experiences in close games and change the outcome on Saturday.
“I would say in the huddles, ‘We know this feeling, we know how we felt after this game. Whatever we gotta do, this is not happening again.’” he said. “And I think those losses – not a good thing, but we had that feeling, so I think that kinda pushes us to make the big plays.”
The Terriers have a ways to go in their season, and one close win is not an automatic spark. But the team hopes this game is a defining positive step.
“I hope we can say this is [a turning point],” Jones said, “and now this is who we become because we learned and we grew from the experiences we had.”
Fighting Through Illness
Though the Cancun Challenge served as a unique trip for BU, the challenges did not merely come on the court.
According to Jones, four players — Javante McCoy, Walter Whyte, Andrew Petcash and Alex Vilarino — came down with nasty cases of food poisoning. The source is unclear; Jones speculated that a salad might have been the cause, but was unsure. Whatever the case, the effects were serious.
“They looked awful,” Jones said. “And they tried to play the next day.”
Those four Terriers serve as an example for the type of competitive drive featured on the team. All of them, as Jones detailed, battled through the illness to play their next game in Mexico.
“Hopefully that’s gonna help us,” he added. “Cause they didn’t quit. It wasn’t like I had Javante or Walter Whyte coming to me saying, ‘I can’t go.’ They tried to play.”
Masked Walter Whyte? No Thanks
Sophomore forward Walter Whyte has dealt with his own limitations over the recent stretch. Whyte took a nasty shot to the face against UT-Martin and has worn a cumbersome mask ever since. While the mask brings up memories of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the experience has not been quite the same for Whyte.
“To be honest, no I don’t like it,” he said. “It’s hard to see; my peripheral vision is a little off cause I can’t look down and I can’t look up. I can look straight and that’s really it.”
The five turnovers Whyte committed against Dartmouth could be partially blamed on the lack of vision, though he admits he made some sloppy decisions as well. He no longer feels any pain, but Whyte wears the mask for the sake of protection. He hopes to be rid of it by December 29, when BU takes on Merrimack College.
Whyte’s mask, however, did not stop the forward from putting up one of his more efficient efforts of the season. Whyte scored 17 points for the Terriers on Saturday, knocking down six of ten shots and three of five triples. The performance was a much-needed success, as Whyte had slumped during BU’s losing streak.
“It felt good you know, just seeing the ball go through the net,” he said. “It makes you more confident that the next one can go in, too. The slump… it took a toll, but I knew it was gonna be up and down coming back from an injury.”
The physical and mental barriers that come with returning from a season-long absence have tested Whyte’s resolve. He has experienced successful highs and slumping lows so far, and Whyte thinks the struggles have given him the right mindset.
I feel a lot more confident, [and] a little more level-headed, cause it’s just basketball at this point. I’m good, I can play, and now I can relax and just play,” he said.
“Everything’s not gonna be just smooth sailing, and that’s just with any season. That’s what basketball is. But the best part about it is the next day I can just go work on my game, and next game it could be a complete turnaround.”
Featured image courtesy of Hannah Yoshinaga.