Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Day After: Boston University 69, Northeastern University 64 (OT)

Entering yesterday afternoon's game against the Huskies of Northeastern University, BU had played in five games. Each lasted 40 minutes, and each featured at least 70 possessions per team, with some of those games featuring several additional possessions. While BU's preferred tempo is not defined as a specific number, it's safe to say the Terriers want to play fast.

When yesterday's game concluded, BU had eclipsed the 70-possession mark, but it took 45 minutes to do so. At the end of regulation, the Terriers had only just passed 60 possessions, playing at a pace well within their opponent's preferred range but somewhat outside its own. To a certain degree, BU had been playing Northeastern's game.

But a funny thing happened when the Terriers arrived at Case Gym yesterday. Someone had taken the lids off the rims.

It took BU a while to notice the change -- certainly head coach Patrick Chambers' 30-second timeout at 17:12 of the first half was partially prompted by the score, 7-0 Northeastern at that point -- but as halftime approached the Terriers first dragged themselves within range, then tied the game up at 27 apiece before Baptiste Bataille gave the Huskies a two-point halftime edge. Shots were starting to fall.

BU would produce two critical offensive runs after halftime. The first began immediately. Between the start of the second half and the first subsequent media timeout, the Terriers' offensive possessions ended as follows: made jumper, made 3, two made free throws, made jumper, made layup, made layup. Defense played an equal part in the Terriers' 13-0 run -- Northeastern's wouldn't score second-half points for almost six minutes -- but shotmaking allowed BU to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Terriers scored five points over the next eleven-plus minutes, but another run would save the day, force overtime, and ultimately give BU the advantage it needed to produce a win on its home court. BU scored six points on its last four possessions of regulation, then opened overtime with two made 3-point baskets and a layup. Once again, shotmakers executed when the chance to make a statement was offered.

Open shots are often readily available in transition, but against a committed halfcourt defense, BU had to execute to create its own opportunities. While it still wasn't an outstanding day from the field -- the Terriers were 23-of-55 overall -- an eFG% of 49.1 matches the team's season-high set against Iona. The Terriers made enough shots to win against a quality opponent.

Perhaps most importantly, the Terriers did something deeply satisfying: hit their free throws. Northeastern had 10 more attempts from the line, but BU closed the gap by making 15 of 16 attempts. That's quality. Yes, quantity has a quality all its own, but you still have to make the attempts. Northeastern made 17 of its 26, which is more or less average. Excellent trumps average.

-- Free throws. Credit four players: Jake O'Brien, Corey Lowe, B.J. Bailey, and John Holland. Those four split BU's 16 attempts, four apiece. Lowe hit three of four, while the others were flawless.
-- Defense. The Huskies' offense is talented and multifaceted, but nobody remembered to tell BU. Northeastern was held well under a point per possession.
-- B.J. Bailey. In his first extended minutes (21 total), Bailey continued to impress, totaling six points on 1-of-3 shooting with three rebounds and a steal. Numbers-wise, Bailey wasn't one of the Terriers' best players, but those 21 minutes were deserved and the freshman guard looked like he belonged on the floor.

-- Corey Lowe's turnovers. The rest of his game was fine, particularly sending the game to overtime, then hitting a 3 to immediately give BU the lead. Seven turnovers, though, is far too many. Take his out and BU had 13 turnovers, which would have been pretty solid. Right now Lowe is averaging 5.5 turnovers per game, which is almost absurdly high and simply cannot continue.
-- Hibernation. There's one "but" attached to BU's offensive successes in this game. BU scored in spurts. When the Terriers weren't scoring in spurts, they weren't scoring at all. This team has already accumulated experience producing points when shots aren't falling; that experience needs to be applied in games such as these when shooting touch takes a temporary leave of absence.

Link: Lowe, O'Brien deliver as men's basketball tops Northeastern in OT thriller

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