By: Ethan Fuller
Today Boston University men’s basketball hits the court for its first championship game in over five years, with a chance to go dancing for the first time since 2011. But while the journey has been impressive in itself, for the Terriers to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll face a towering task: defeating Colgate University on the road.
The Raiders (25-8, 14-4 PL) have decimated the Patriot League and are the obvious favorite to punch their ticket to March Madness. They have lost one game at home this season. They are a veteran squad loaded with shooting, defense and basketball I.Q. They massacred their two playoff opponents with a combined 38-point advantage.
All the surface-level optics paint BU as heavy underdogs for Wednesday’s showdown. But the Terriers have played the Raiders close for three out of four halves this year and have the depth to battle Colgate. If they can complete most (or all) of these objectives, then maybe a surprising win is in store.
1. Max Mahoney Empties the Bag
In the defining game of his college career, senior Max Mahoney will be the offensive fulcrum for the Terriers. But Mahoney squares off against 2020 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Will Rayman, another experienced senior.
Mahoney has the best footwork in the Patriot League and perhaps some of the best in Division I basketball. BU will ask him to create looks on his own plenty of times, and Mahoney will have to plainly outwit the top-ranked defender in the conference.
The Terriers can make Mahoney’s night easier by hitting a balance between feeding him the ball and letting the offensive flow dictate his touches — something head coach Joe Jones said his team is still working on.
“That’s the thing we have to work on the next couple of days, is how to maintain some flow,” Jones said after the semifinal win. “As a staff we’re saying, ‘Get him the ball, get him the ball.’ [The opponent’s] got three dudes around him… We have to do a better job of explaining to [the team] how to get it to him within the flow of the game.”
Keeping the ball moving around McCoy and the other playmakers is the key to getting Mahoney easier looks. It also will conserve a bit of the big man’s energy and force the Raiders to account for other scoring options.
2. Win the Battle of the Boards
BU cannot simply rely on Mahoney and outside shooting touch, especially on the road in a hostile environment. But the Terriers can create additional scoring chances by hustling on the glass — something they have done well all season. BU and Colgate are both excellent rebounding teams, with Colgate boasting the most in-conference rebounds per game (37.8) while BU leads with a +4.9 rebounding margin.
Mahoney has to outmuscle Rayman here, and Walter Whyte versus Rapolas Ivanauskas will also be an intriguing rebound battle to watch. But for BU to really gain an edge, Sukhmail Mathon, Jack Hemphill and Fletcher Tynen have to chip in. The trio has been a solid rebounding group all season, but they also have games where they fade, and that cannot happen against Colgate.
3. One Step Ahead on Switches
The Terriers are a switch-heavy team, and given the spread of height and length on the squad, this works well against most Patriot League teams and can work well against Colgate. The Raiders’ unreal three-point shooting cannot be stopped, but quality shot contests can help keep them out of a rhythm and contain the firepower.
BU has displayed middling success on locking up perimeter-oriented teams. In the semifinals, Bucknell found open opportunities for threes. But the Terriers did a solid job closing out, and outside of a flaming hot night from Avi Toomer, the Bison made just 28.6 percent of their triples.
The ideal defensive game sees BU contest every Colgate shot and no Raider gets hot. That won’t happen — especially in Hamilton. If the Terriers can limit the damage from long range, their offense can take charge.
4. Block out the Noise
Notice a theme in the above points? The biggest challenge for the Terriers might be Colgate’s home court advantage. Cotterell Court is one of the toughest strongholds in the Patriot League — a tiny gym with an additional set of baseline bleachers right behind the basket for a rowdy student section.
In addition to the pressure of making the Dance and beating a merciless Colgate team, BU has to deal with a raucous atmosphere. Altogether, the obstacles could easily make the Terriers anxious; it’s crucial that they stay locked in.
In the squads’ last showdown, BU and Colgate were tied at halftime before nerves led to sloppy play (eight second half turnovers) and the Raiders rolled to a 79-63 win. The Terriers have no room for error tonight.
Javante McCoy has oozed confidence lately, but he has played in Case Gym for three straight contests and never encountered stakes like these. Max Mahoney is the senior leader, but will he be overzealous in an effort to keep his collegiate career alive? And when BU heads to their usual closing lineup — Mahoney, McCoy, Whyte, Jonas Harper and freshman Ethan Brittain-Watts — will Brittain-Watts be ready for the moment?
No stat can accurately forecast how the Terriers will respond to the stage of the Patriot League final. Joe Jones and his team have stressed the chemistry and resolve of this team all season long. In the decisive championship matchup, that togetherness will be put to the test.
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.