Monday, November 30, 2009

The Day After: Harvard University 78, Boston University 70

A game like yesterday's leaves plenty of room for excuses. The bench was thin, thinner than ever before. Harvard is significantly improved from last season. Shots stopped falling at a critical point.

The Terriers aren't making excuses, though -- and they shouldn't. This game was theirs for the taking, and it was given away, piece by piece. When BU was up nine and had a chance to put Harvard away, the Terriers let Harvard creep closer. When BU had three offensive rebounds on one critical possession and Jeff Pelage was sent to the free throw line, the 6-foot-9 center missed both free throws. When BU was down three points late in the game and called a timeout, the next two Terrier offensive possessions resulted in turnovers leading to Harvard fast breaks.

The Crimson seized control of the game when control was offered -- but control was offered by the Terriers. There's no excuse for that.

Sure, it wasn't all bad. The Terriers had five players finish in double digits, partially due to the depth situation, but partially due to offensive balance. And the Terriers came back from 13 points down in the first half by stringing together a series of runs, first to erase the deficit, then to build a lead. The defense produced 17 turnovers. The free throw shooting, over the course of 40 minutes, was above-average. The Terriers had 16 offensive rebounds.

Yet, in a game with so many obvious positives, the Terriers came up short at the end. That signals the presence of an even greater negative.

For a variety of reasons, including extended periods of poor shooting and poor decision-making, BU has regularly been forced to endure periods where the offense goes completely silent. The Terriers' defense has been adequate at worst, and in both of BU's wins, the defense has actually been quite good. On a senior-laden team with several dangerous offensive weapons, average-or-better defense should be enough to win regularly. Instead, the Terriers are 2-5.

BU made big plays down the stretch against Indiana. More importantly, BU made smart plays late in that game. In contrast, the decisions leading to the Terriers' late-game turnovers yesterday evening were ill-advised. When the Terriers execute at a high level, this is a dangerous team, but just like any other team, poor decisions and poor execution produce poor results.

-- Carlos Strong. When the Terriers built their lead in the second half, Strong was all over the floor -- hustling on defense, knocking down shots, and finding other ways to fuel the offense.
-- Defensive pressure. BU forced 17 turnovers on defense, with 11 of then coming on steals.
-- Tunde Agboola. The senior walk-on played three minutes in the first half, collecting a steal and making a layup right before halftime.

-- Corey Lowe. 0-for-7 from 3-point land is ugly. So is five turnovers. Lowe is driving to the basket more, which is good, but the results aren't there, and a lot of possessions are being wasted in the process.
-- Turnovers. In total, BU had 16 turnovers, including several late in the game that led to easy baskets for Harvard. It's not a coincidence that the Terriers took good care of the ball during their extended run and regularly gave it away when Harvard was closing the game out.
-- Shooting. Not to sound like a broken record, but shooting below 40 percent from the field is a problem, and it still hasn't been fixed.

Late scoring drought costs BU potential win v. Harvard

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