By René Reyes
The 6-foot-5 junior forward from the Bronx, New York versus the 6-foot-5 senior forward from Metuchen, N.J.
The America East Conference’s leading scorer at 19.2 points per game versus the league’s two-time reigning Player of the Year.
The head-to-head matchup between John Holland and Marqus Blakely down the stretch in the Boston University men’s basketball team’s pivotal contest against the University of Vermont Tuesday night had the feel of a heavyweight bout.
“[Holland’s] a great player . . . late in the second half, he got going pretty good,” Blakely said. “He started hitting a couple 3s and taking it to the hoop. I feel the same way he does – it’s tough to lose at home to a huge rival like us. But he’s a great player, and he’ll have a lot of success in the future.”
The two went toe-to-toe with each other, especially in the final minutes of the game – Holland would make a basket at one end, only to see Blakely respond on Vermont’s next offensive possession with a bucket of his own.
But in the end, it was Blakely who emerged victorious, as he assisted on junior forward Evan Fjeld’s layup with 9.4 seconds left, giving the Catamounts a thrilling 76-75 victory over the Terriers at Agganis Arena.
Holland scored a game-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting and contributed seven rebounds, one assist, one block and a perfect percentage clip from the free-throw line (6-of-6) in 29 minutes.
“I didn’t want Holland to beat us,” said UVM coach Mike Lonergan. “He was doing a great job when we were cutting his right hand off – he was pump-faking, stepping through and hitting bank shots. If you’re not in between him and the basket, he’s tough.”
At the 16:14 mark in the second session, Holland was hit in the nose on a scramble for the ball and started bleeding. He walked off the court and was examined on the bench by the trainers, who put a Band-Aid over a cut on the right side of his nose.
1:50 later, he was back on the floor.
“After that blow to the face, I didn’t think he was coming back,” Blakely said. “But he’s a tough kid and came back and helped his team out.”
Blakely – the current AE Player of the Week – also put up monster numbers, playing all but three minutes and recording a double-double with 21 points and 12 boards.
But what impressed Lonergan the most was his star forward’s unselfishness – Blakely had a team-high three assists and had the biggest play of the night when he dished the rock to Fjeld for the game-winning layup with a few seconds remaining.
“Marqus is very unselfish,” Lonergan said. “When he’s double-teamed, he usually passes the ball . . . He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He missed a lot of easy shots tonight, but the best thing about him is his passing – not many times you coach a kid who’s the best player in the league and he’s unselfish.”
And how hard is it to match up against a player like Marqus Blakely, who poses problems for anyone who attempts to guard him?
“I give all the credit to our big men for doing what they could to stop him or hold him,” said senior forward Carlos Strong. “He’s had big games against us. He’s a good player, but I can’t really compare him because there are a lot of good players in this league, so it’s hard to say.”
Blakely left quite an impression on BU coach Patrick Chambers.
“He is getting to be really good,” Chambers said of Blakely. “[Binghamton University junior forward] Greer Wright and Blakely are neck-and-neck right now. They’re very talented, very unselfish guys. They do whatever it takes to win games.
“[Blakely’s] not a guy who just goes on the offensive end and tries to get his. He’s most effective when he’s sharing the basketball. He rebounds and he’s got great hands. He’s a tough defender. He’s a quality kid, quality player. I’m happy to see him leave.”