By: Alex Cohen
Case Gym saw no shortage of excitement in Boston University men’s basketball regular season finale, a 74-71 victory over Bucknell on Saturday. After trailing by double digits for most of the game, BU (18-13, 12-6 in PL) used a stunning 23-5 final run to down the Bison (12-19, 8-10 in PL).
Coming off a disappointing loss to a 10-20 Lehigh team, the Terriers looked to bounce back against a similarly middling team in Bucknell. Despite it being a lopsided matchup per the standings, there were significant stakes at hand for each team. Going into the game, Bucknell could have secured anywhere between sixth and eighth going into the playoffs. A Terrier win would lock them into the third seed.
It was also Senior Day for BU, so there were added stakes to give a warm sendoff to manager-turned-player Adam Mikula, along with star captain Max Mahoney. Mikula was given a rare start for the occasion, but missed both shot attempts and did not have a chance to go back in due to the game’s circumstances.
BU’s sluggish start felt reminiscent of recent contests. The Terriers were lackadaisical on defense and struggled to get any good looks on offense. Meanwhile, the Bison got off to a 20-11 start, and it could have been worse if Bucknell had capitalized on a few open threes and Javante McCoy had not bailed out BU with some tough contested jumpers.
Coach Joe Jones diagnosed the stagnant offense as a result not having “enough playmakers at times.”
“We’re just waiting for Javante or Max to bail us out,” he said of BU’s first-half hesitancy.
Along with the offense, the Terriers struggled on the boards early, as Bucknell repeatedly crashed the offensive glass without much effort, coming away with 6 offensive rebounds in the first half and keeping numerous possessions alive by fighting for loose balls.
Bison big men Paul Newman and Kahliel Spear combined for just 12 points and eight rebounds on the contest, but their impact on the inside was apparent.
BU also had numerous defensive lapses resulting in a plethora of easy baskets in the paint, many of which from guard Jimmy Sotos, who had 19 points in the contest.
As the half progressed, BU was able to become more composed on both ends, cutting Bucknell’s lead to just five points. But the Terriers’s experienced more of the same issues in the second half. This time, Bucknell was able to capitalize on more threes in transition, including two by Andrew Funk, who had 15 points in the contest.
With 9 minutes and 42 seconds remaining in the game, point guard Jimmy Sotos had a putback on his own layup to increase the lead to 16. But the tide shifted when Max Mahoney took over in his final regular season game for the Terriers. A few moments after Sotos’ last layup, he attempted another seemingly open one and was rejected by Mahoney, leading to a layup by Ethan Brittan-Watts.
Mahoney then scored on consecutive possessions for the Terriers, making life easier for them on offense. On the other end, his defense opened up transition opportunities. Twenty of BU’s last 29 points were scored or assisted by Mahoney, or coming off the heels of a mean Mahoney block. Along with 3 highlight-reel rejections, Mahoney had a powerful dunk off a post-up, which rattled Bucknell as BU kept storming back from behind.
“If we have energy on the defensive end, we really pick it up on offense as well,” Mahoney said. “The ball starts moving, we start getting some easy ones in transition, the game starts coming a little easier.”
Brittain-Watts made three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, one coming off a vicious block on what was a wide open Paul Newman layup attempt, another from a pass out of the post from Mahoney. Brittan-Watts was a key player for BU down the stretch, contributing 8 points and two threes, all of which coming in the final moments of the game.
“We don’t win that game without Ethan”, Coach Jones said.
The game was capped off by back-to-back pull-up jumpers by Javante McCoy: one with 1:54 left to tie the game at 71, and then to take the lead on the following possession. McCoy finished with 17 points on 8-12 shooting, many coming off much-needed contested midrange jumpers. McCoy did not make much of his timely shooting, saying he “was ready to make those shots.”
I like the pull-up game,” he added.
While those contested midrange shots are not usually a first option for a team, they are critical to the Terriers’ success. Jones said he’s been telling McCoy, “You got to take all these [shots],” even when he struggled earlier on in the season.
It was an up-and-down game from BU, as they had a disappointing effort to start off each half, but showed how resilient and dominant they could be down the stretch. The Terriers clinched the no. 3 seed with this victory and will face sixth-seeded Navy in the Patriot League quarterfinals next Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.