By: Ethan Fuller
Walter Whyte was struggling. The redshirt sophomore had failed to score in the first half and failed to make an impact so far in the Patriot League championship game. Teammate Alex Vilarino had to change that.
“Alex told me, ‘You gotta be a killer, gotta be a dog,” Whyte said. And that’s just what he became.
In front of a rowdy Hamilton crowd and a Colgate team that had lost one home game all season, Boston University men’s basketball relied on each other and pulled off a stunning 64-61 win to claim its first-ever Patriot League title and earn its first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. Whyte made five of his six shots in a thrilling second half.
The championship bout contained a stunning 12 lead changes and eight ties, with both sides jockeying for the lead late. But it was BU’s strong shooting — and Colgate’s loss of touch — that stalled the Raiders and gave the Terriers the win.
After falling behind by as much as nine points in the first half, the Terriers started to find their stroke from deep. Jonas Harper ended with four made threes, including three in a span of about three minutes to push his team in front 56-53. Whyte added two triples in the second half. Meanwhile, the Raiders made a season-low four shots from beyond the arc at a frigid 18 percent clip.
An electric Cotterell Court proved challenging for both teams — Whyte could barely hear the plays his team was calling — but BU harnessed the energy into 40 minutes of aggressive play.
“It was a great college game and a great atmosphere,” Jones said. “It was truly a championship-caliber game.”
Max Mahoney put together the quintessential performance of his career, notching a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with four assists. Mahoney brutalized Colgate bigs Will Rayman and Keegan Records in the second half, outhustling them on the glass and outmuscling them in the post. He was named Patriot League Playoff MVP for his leading efforts.
“He was locked in and focused,” Jones said. “And [Colgate] did a good job; they double-teamed him hard, trying to turn him over and rushed him. As the game went on, he went back to being him.”
But the Terriers won because the supporting cast also had successful moments. Sukhmail Mathon made a few eyebrow-raising hook shots, scoring six points and adding six boards. Harper, a sophomore who has risen to All-Defense status, scored 12 points to go with seven rebounds.
Of course, the rest of the “Big Three” came up huge. Javante McCoy scored 11 points, but his seven assists against zero turnovers really tells the story of his evolved playmaking. And Whyte, who missed all of last year due to injuries, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Raiders found little outside of Jordan Burns and Jack Ferguson. Burns, an All-Patriot League First Team star, played his usual brand of calculated basketball, scoring 21 points with five rebounds and four assists. Ferguson exploded off the bench with 17 points on only eight shot attempts.
However, Will Rayman, Nelly Cummings and Tucker Richardson went a combined 3-20 from the floor. Rapolas Ivanauskas managed a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but it took him 16 shots to get there.
It’s been an incredible journey for Whyte, who admitted he had “self-doubt” and remembered “a lot of long hours in the gym with Coach Quinn” as he worked his way back to health. But Whyte shattered his baseline season goal — to play every game — by not only doing so, but also landing on the All-Patriot League second team and helping lead his squad to a title.
“I was proving to myself that I’m still the same player, and an even better one,” he said.
The nine-year quest for a championship has been a winding road for Joe Jones, but he credits his players and fellow Boston University coaches for helping polish himself as he has developed a title team.
“You just learn. You learn from your mistakes and try to get better. You always have a growth mindset,” he said.
“I just try to keep holding myself accountable and learning from the people around me. I learneed a ton from Ashley Waters [head coach of BU softball], I learned a ton from Coach Durocher [head coach of BU women’s hockey] just listening to them, watching them interact with their teams.”
Jones joins brother and Yale head coach James Jones in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the cloud hanging over all of the college basketball playoffs (and the world at large) is the response to the coronavirus pandemic. March Madness 2020 will already be unlike any other, with games currently slated to be played in empty gyms, and who knows what further steps will be taken.
But for now BU savors a title years in the making. All season long the team has lauded their chemistry, attitude and willpower. Through the highs and lows, the Terriers have consistently leaned on each other. A Patriot League title seems a fitting testament to a squad Whyte labeled “relentless.”
“We just knew this team was special,” he said, “and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Featured image by Hannah Yoshinaga.