By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff
Before the Boston University men’s basketball team’s Tuesday night win over St. Joseph’s University, the group was struggling through a four-game losing streak in which each game saw it either blown out or as little as one possession away from victory. It had difficulty driving to the hoop, rebounding and closing teams out.
Many of these struggles can be attributed to the fact that the Terriers (5-7) are a young team playing a tough schedule, but they needed to make some changes for their game against the Hawks (3-8) if they were going to win heading into the holiday break. BU coach Patrick Chambers had tried shifting the starting lineup and manipulating defensive schemes to get his guys going, but on Tuesday, change came in the form of the 6-foot-8, 240-pound center by the name of Jeff Pelage.
Pelage had to wait 11 games and nearly two months to play his first game as an upperclassman for BU after suffering a high ankle sprain to start the season. He picked a good time to recover. Pelage’s first game was far from perfect but his return had an immediate impact on the team, and he readily contributed to the 85-79 final score.
“Jeff’s our energizer bunny,” said junior guard Darryl Partin. “We lost him earlier this year. We were hurting. Guys had to step up, but having him back is great. He’s a voice in the locker room. He’s our captain. In general he tells us everything, always barking out orders to us so, it was great to have him back.”
Pelage played a team-low 10 minutes either because of foul trouble, the fact that BU coach Patrick Chambers was managing his minutes coming back from injury, or both. Pelage looked sharp in his time on the court for the most part, but he led the team in personal fouls with four and picked up two quick ones in the game’s first three minutes.
Pelage took both of his two field goal attempts in the game’s first minute, missing a layup, gathering his own rebound and then missing again. From there on out, he focused on rebounding the basketball and playing stifling defense, and he was successful. Pelage had already recorded four rebounds and a block by the time Chambers had to sit him down with two fouls at the 17:30 mark of the first half.
Later in the game, with the Terriers down by 12, their largest deficit of the night, and 10:34 remaining in the game, Chambers used his new weapon to jumpstart his team. Pelage was playing with three fouls, but he came up with a quick steal that led to a junior forward Jake O’Brien layup that cut the lead to seven, and he followed that with two more defensive rebounds before picking up his fourth foul. His final rebound gave the Terriers the ball on a possession in which Partin would cut the deficit to two with a 3-pointer.
By the time he sat down with his fourth foul, the Terriers were well into their 32-14 run to end the game and seal the win. Pelage finished 0-for-2 from the floor, but snagged seven rebounds while recording two blocks and a steal in ten minutes.
“Incredible. Incredible, isn’t it?” Chambers said of Pelage’s ability to be three boards away from leading all rebounders in just ten minutes of play. “We sorely missed that. We missed that for eleven games, his presence. He’s the anchor of our defense. He’s always talking. He’s always communicating, he plays so hard, and like the mother hen, he picks up for guys who get blown by or have a missed assignment. That’s what Jeff does.”
Despite the win, Chambers reiterated the fact that the Terriers need to be prepared to improve despite their success.
“I’m happy we won the game,” he said. “We haven’t won in a while here. I’m not happy with our defense. We’ve got to get better. Once we get back here and get into league play, trying to outscore teams isn’t the way to get it done. We know that. We learned that last year. So we have to do a better job in the defensive end. We have to do a better job rebounding.
“And we will. You would think we would go [into the locker room] and guys would be jumping around and would be happy, but they weren’t. They really weren’t. It was a different feeling. They were like, ‘ok, we got a win, but we didn’t play as well as we could have.’ […] That excites me. The fact that they weren’t jumping around like this is a huge win. It was a great win, but they know that we have to get better.”
Pelage’s return to game action should help the Terriers’ defense immensely. Whether he’s swiping at shots, stealing the ball away or out-jumping opponents on the boards, he is a force on the defensive end, and if he can shake off the rust, avoid foul trouble and finish off layups for second chance points, he will be an invaluable player on a well-rounded team. His leadership comes in handy as well.
“He was the guys who was like, ‘Hey, let’s not be happy about this. We have to get better,’” Chambers said. “Give him a lot of credit, showing great leadership.”