For the second game in a row, the Boston University men’s basketball team got off to a slow start. And for the second game in a row, the Terriers clawed their way back into the game. But unlike at Lafayette, this time BU was able to pull out a 64-60 win against American.
The win moves the Terriers into second place in the Patriot League, one game ahead of American. BU is now 17-12 on the season and 11-5 in the conference, while American drops to 14-13 overall and 10-6 in the Patriot League.
The Terriers looked like they were feeling the effects of the early 12:00 p.m. start time in the first half. BU found itself in a sizable deficit at the break after scoring only 26 points and allowing American to shoot almost 50 percent from the floor.
“It was the same thing against Lafayette,” said head coach Joe Jones. “We just didn’t come out with any force. If you don’t do anything with force when you’re playing basketball, it doesn’t matter the technique.”
Senior center Max Mahoney and sophomore forward Walter Whyte took control in the second half. Mahoney finished the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds, five of which were on the offensive glass. Whyte scored 14 points and grabbed nine boards of his own.
Taking care of business on the boards was crucial to BU’s comeback in the second half. American outrebounded the Terriers 20-9 in the first period and collected seven offensive rebounds, while BU failed to secure even one.
“That was kind of indicative of how the first half was,” Mahoney said. “They were just quicker to the ball, playing harder than us, so we knew second half we had to come out and do something about that.”
The Terriers snagged 28 rebounds in the second half, 18 of which came from Mahoney and Whyte. BU’s 13 offensive rebounds turned into 13 second-chance points.
Although usual starting point guard Javante McCoy was unable to play for most of the game due to illness, reserve guards Ethan Brittain-Watts and Alex Vilarino stepped up in his place and made immediate contributions.
“We just didn’t bring that energy that we should have, but Alex was a guy who stepped up right away,” Mahoney said. “He poured in [four] quick points and starts trapping up on defense, so any time you can have a guy come in like that off the bench and contribute in that way is obviously tremendous.”
Vilarino ended the game with seven points and four rebounds, while Brittain-Watts scored four points and dished out two assists.
Even more than improved rebounding and ball control, effort made the difference in the second half for the Terriers. At the beginning of the period, Whyte dove and fought for a loose ball, which both Jones and Mahoney cited as a major turning point in the matchup.
“That was definitely what I needed to get right there,” Whyte said. “They were beating us to all 50-50 balls. We lost that battle in the first half, but we had to win it in the second half. That can change the game for sure, just crashing, just getting loose balls, getting offensive rebounds.”
The spark Whyte’s hustling generated was pivotal for BU’s defensive shutdown of American players not named Sa’eed Nelson in the second half. Nelson scored 13 of his 21 total points after halftime and stole the ball eight times all afternoon, so putting the clamps on the Eagles’ supporting cast was critical.
Although the Terriers’ win moves them up in the standings, Jones insists that his team is not overly concerned with its conference ranking.
“If we need motivation to go play a game for second place, then something’s wrong,” Jones said. “We should be trying to get better because second place is not the goal. The goal is to be the best team we can be at the end of the day and hope that’s good enough to win a championship.”
The Terriers will continue their quest for postseason glory on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. against Lehigh. Lehigh is coming off a 69-60 win versus Bucknell and currently sits in ninth place in the Patriot League.