By: Ethan Fuller
After weeks of struggling to open games, Boston University men’s basketball used a stellar first half to stave off a Bucknell University comeback and claim a 64-61 victory in the Patriot League semifinals on Sunday. The Terriers (20-13, 12-6 PL) advance to their first Patriot League championship game since 2014.
That first half — a 35-22 thumping by BU — was a much-needed turnaround after the team dug itself into holes against American, Navy, and Bucknell a week ago. The Terriers shot a blistering 50 percent from the floor compared to a 32 percent clip from the Bison.
“We came in and just executed right away, just hit ’em in the mouth first,” said forward Walter Whyte.
Coming out of the break, the Avi Toomer-led Bison put the pressure on BU, with Toomer scoring 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. Bucknell cut the deficit to one possession with under three minutes to go, but a Javante McCoy dagger with 1:02 remaining put the game out of reach.
McCoy’s late-game aggression is a testament to his growing confidence as the offensive catalyst for BU. The junior guard struggled from the field, shooting 5-14 on the day, but finished with 12 points and eight assists. Outside of a prolific performance in BU’s November upset of South Carolina, McCoy’s Sunday effort might have been one of his better games of the year, according to head coach Joe Jones.
“We need that,” he said. “He usually makes those shots, and we want him to take those types of shots.”
McCoy stepped up late, but the entire “big three” worked wonders for BU. Senior Max Mahoney led his team with 17 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. Whyte added a double-double of his own with 16 points and 10 boards. The frontcourt duo helped BU establish a 38-23 drubbing on the glass, including an 11-3 edge in offensive rebounds.
Part of the game plan for BU coming in was to give their big man rotation — and Mahoney in particular — easier opportunities to finish at the rim. It clearly paid off; on the Terriers’ first two offensive possessions, both Mahoney and Suk Mathon found easy entry passes for layups.
“We know [the Bison] were switching one-through-five, as they do,” Mahoney said, “so we thought if we had matchups inside that we could take advantage of, we tried to punch the ball in.”
As a senior, Mahoney’s final Patriot League game will also be the first championship matchup of his career. He’s waited a long time for this moment, and both Mahoney and Jones have relished his journey.
“I remember that game at Lehigh, we lost at home in the semis. I remember it was terrible, as a freshman,” said Mahoney, recalling BU’s double-overtime defeat in 2017. “I think it’s shown the growth, both of myself as a player and the program as a whole.”
“If you can be a coach and have an opportunity to coach someone like Max Mahoney,” said Jones, “it’s like a gift from the man upstairs.”
With just one game separating the Terriers from their first dance since 2011, they face their toughest test yet: a showdown with powerhouse Colgate University in Hamilton. The Raiders have cruised through the playoffs like they have all season, beating Lehigh and Lafayette by double-digit points.
Both regular season matchups saw Colgate take down BU, and the 7:30 p.m. tilt will present a hostile environment. But the Terriers are adamant that in the month between their home loss and upcoming contest, the team is closer and hungrier than ever.
“Getting stops, rebounding, 50-50 balls, we take pride in getting those first,” said Whyte.
“I believe in my team because I believe in them as people,” said Jones. “There’s a strong belief in that locker room because they really care about each other.”
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.