By: Ethan Fuller
The highly-anticipated clash between Boston University and Colgate University was every bit as advertised through the 36-36 first half.
Then Colgate put its foot down, dissecting the Terriers with an array of shooters and making life difficult for BU’s offense. The Raiders pulled away late Monday night to win 79-63, widening their gap as the top team in the Patriot League. They move to 10-2 in conference and 20-6 overall, while the Terriers (15-11, 9-4) hang on to a half-game second place lead.
“[Colgate] played like a championship-caliber team,” said head coach Joe Jones. “Right now, they’re the best team.”
The Raiders simply never let up. Six different players made at least one three-pointer, with Jordan Burns’ 15 points and three triples leading the way. The team shot a scorching 9-18 from beyond the arc. Nearly every rotation member is a threat from downtown, making Colgate a uniquely difficult defensive challenge.
“They’re different from other teams because they can put five guys on the floor who can all shoot the ball,” said Jones. “Our ball-screen defense is really good against everybody else, but there, with the fifth guy, that can hurt you.”
Burns was accompanied by 15 points from Rapolas Ivanauskas, 14 from Tucker Richardson and 11 from speedy guard Nelly Cummings. Every Raider, however, found their way onto the scoreboard.
“When you make a mistake, they share it,” Jones said. “If you crowd them, they’ll move [the ball].”
But despite the final score and the standings implications, Jones felt this game held tremendous value as a learning experience. The Terriers clearly felt the pressure of such a high-stakes game coming out of halftime, and it was a 7-0 third quarter start by the Raiders that really put BU on edge.
Jones noted that the Terriers played “a little bit ahead” of themselves in the second half and were not as “relaxed” as usual. Next time the score is tight, he hopes his players remember that feeling and stay focused.
‘This is a game that can really help you,” Jones said, “if you look at this the right way. This is a game that can help you take a step that you’re trying to take.”
Opening up the Offense
Especially in the latter stages, the Terriers seemed hard-pressed to find shots at the basket. Colgate controlled the paint, and even the physicality from Max Mahoney, Suk Mathon and Walter Whyte was no match for the Raider frontcourt trio of Will Rayman, Rapolas Ivanauskas and Keegan Records off the bench.
Additionally, Colgate used Jordan Burns and other guards to pack the lane and make life difficult for Mahoney and company. Burns in particular racked up five steals, a few of which came by picking off post entry passes.
Mahoney still scored 16 points on 8-13 shooting, but Monday was clearly one of his toughest challenges inside. Jones noted that the Terriers have to do a better job of finding open teammates when Mahoney and other interior players are being shut down.
“We didn’t do a great job at times of, when those [outside players] were open, getting those guys the ball.”
These off-ball players, Jones said, also need to find more ways to get involved through cuts and screens. Getting players like Fletcher Tynen, Alex Vilarino, Suk Mathon and others to keep moving and holding the defense’s attention is important for opening up opportunities for everyone.
“We gotta look at that,” he said. “It just crowds the lane. There’s not a lot of room.”
Game-planning for a Rematch
While BU’s offense sputtered, Colgate grew more comfortable against the Terrier defense as the game wore on. The Raiders seemed to be a step ahead on their cuts and passes in the second half, and the team’s high basketball I.Q. was on full display.
Jones lauded the way Burns specifically was able to adjust and grow comfortable against BU’s defense. But he also recognized that he and his players have to develop a backup plan for when Colgate figures out the scheme.
“We have to have an adjustment for when people are playing well against our ball-screen defense,” he said. “We have to have a secondary defense, in terms of how to guard a ball screen, that we are comfortable playing.”
Other adjustments, according to Jones, will involve rotational tweaks. While the head coach was adamant that he will play his ten-man rotation for the remainder of the season, he did say that individual lineup changes were a possibility. Colgate’s size and BU’s relative lack of it proved an issue on Monday, especially in the paint.
“It’s more about ‘How can I manipulate my roster to give us the best chance to beat a team like that?” Jones said. “I think we have some guys that can help us a little more than they did tonight if they get the opportunity.”
Any Patriot League championship path likely runs through the Colgate Raiders. These adjustments will be critical if the Terriers hope to change the result.
Perhaps the most concerning stat of the night was the 4-for-21 BU shot profile from long range. Jonas Harper and Andrew Petcash, the team’s two best shooters, went 0-of-5 on the night. Half of the made threes came from Walter Whyte.
Jones is steadfast in his belief that the Terriers are a good-shooting team. He said postgame that the team “didn’t look comfortable” when shooting, which makes sense given the general anxiety surrounding the game. The Terriers also did find a lot of wide open attempts, and if some of them fell, this would be a different story.
But the inconsistency from deep is turning from a small blip to a genuine issue. Nine of BU’s ten rotation players are a threat to knock down shots. However, the team is ninth in the conference and 240th in the nation with a 32.3 percent clip on three-pointers (improving slightly to 33.5 percent in conference play).
They Terriers have played seven conference games in which they have made less than 34 percent of their threes. In the other six, they shot at least 37.5 percent from deep. Essentially, BU has no stable middle ground. They can get hot and roll teams from outside, but they can also go cold like on Monday night.
Some of this can be attributed to fatigue. Jones explained that Harper for example, might be “worn down” because he has played so much full court press against opposing point guards. And this makes some sense; Harper has declined over ten percentage points in efficiency this season, and that does not just happen.
The Patriot League as a whole is not exactly lights-out from beyond the arc. This makes Colgate’s firepower even more deadly; their 732 attempted threes are 130 more than second-place Bucknell, and that same 130 blankets second through ninth (American) in the conference.
Colgate can simply overwhelm any team with three-pointers. BU can make plenty of defensive adjustments, but they’ll need some shots to fall in order to keep pace on offense.
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.