Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BU earns first AE conference victory over UNH, 61-54, in fourth game in seven days

By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff

The Boston University men’s basketball team has the power of attitude on its side.

Or, at least, that’s what it's pursuing. The Terriers took an intense blow to their lineup just three games after junior center Jeff Pelage returned to the starting five. After a contest with the University of Massachusetts- Amherst on New Year’s Eve, it was announced that junior forward Jake O’Brien would be day-to-day with an ankle injury along with freshman forward Dom Morris.

The Terriers began to unravel. The team looked afraid to shoot and lost at times on the defensive side of the ball against the University of Maine in its America East conference opener. It lost, 65-52. However, playing their fourth game in seven days against the University of New Hampshire at Case Gymnasium, the Terriers regained their confidence even without O’Brien and Morris, erased a halftime deficit of three points and earned a 61-54 victory.

“I was proud of these guys,” said BU coach Patrick Chambers. “They hung in there, especially in that first half. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty, but they grinded it out and that is what we have to do. We just have to be the best team we can be by the end of the year. We’ve got to keep working, keep getting better, and I think they’re doing it.”

The game opened with an 8-0 run for the Terriers (6-10, 1-1 AE). Holland drained his first shot: a 3-pointer twenty seconds into the game to put the Terriers up three and set the tone early. The Wildcats (6-8, 0-2 AE) answered with a 7-0 run of their own to cut the lead to one.

From there, the game remained close for the remainder of the first half. The teams traded baskets, and both squads encountered dry spells on the offensive side of the ball as the half wound down. By the time the clock read zero, UNH had emerged with a 26-23 lead and neither team had much to brag about offensively.

To that point, it was unclear who would emerge as BU’s top scorers, if anyone, as the Terriers had spread the scoring around very well. Junior forward Darryl Partin led the Terriers with six points, Holland had five, Pelage had four and the remainder of BU’s points came from four other players, all with two points apiece.

The second half saw a tired BU team allow the UNH lead to balloon to eight points, 31-23 – the largest it would get on the night. Over the next 6:45, however, the Terriers put together a 19-4 run to trade places with their opponents, leading by a score of 42-35.

The Wildcats earned some hard-fought offense on their next possession with a sophomore forward Ferg Myrick jumper that swished through the netting and also sent him to the line for a freebie after a foul by Pelage. The bucket cut the lead to four, but it was as close as the Wildcats would get for the remainder of the contest, as the Terriers pushed their lead to 10 with 5:07 remaining on a junior guard Matt Griffin trey.

The Wildcats wouldn’t go away in the waning minutes, as freshman guard Scott Morris hit two 3-point shots in the final minute to cut the lead to six and then five. The effort proved to be too little, too late, however, as the Wildcats were forced to foul and the Terriers responded from the charity stripe. Chambers was less than excited about the way his team finished the game.

“I want them to be happy, but I was not pleased with the last two minutes of that game,” Chambers said. “We’ve lost five games by one possession. We were in it with UMass for the longest time and then we caved there. We were in it with Maine for a while on the road and were only down one, and we kinda gave in there. And the other five games, it’s a one possession game at the end of the game and you need a rebound and you can’t get it done?

“That’s what I started to see flashes of the last two minutes, minute and a half. Easy threes, stopped playing, not rebounding. It’s not going to get it done. And its not going to beat another team in the America East. […] You’ve got to play forty minutes. Forty. And you have to go after that last rebound like your life depends on it. We’re just not there yet, and it’s frustrating.”

The game marked the first of the season with large contributions from all three of the Terriers’ junior transfer students. While Holland led the way offensively, scoring a game-high 20 points and shooting 7-for-20, Partin finished with 10 points off of 3-for-9 shooting. Griffin contributed nine points and shot 3-for-6 and Hazel had eight while shooting 4-for-6. Hazel also led the team defensively, pulling down a game-high ten rebounds, recording two assists, six blocks, and a steal. The big man’s six blocks are the most by a Terrier player since Tunji Awojobi recorded eight in 1997.

“It felt good,” Hazel said. “I always talk to coach about it. I know I’ve got it in me. It’s just about bringing it out in the game and just being confident. Trying to help my teammates out however I can. Defensively, offensively, it doesn’t matter.”

Chambers stressed the importance of having contributions from Hazel every night.

“I’m happy for him,” Chambers said. “But, I want more. I think he can do that every night. He can come out and play that way every night. We haven’t seen it in the non-conference. Maybe we’ll see it now. Maybe it’s just that he’s got his legs back. He’s feeling more confident. That’s what I’m hoping.”

Chambers also commended Partin on his defensive play.

“You know what I really think he did tonight?” Chambers asked. “I really think he tried to play BU basketball. I really think he tried to defend, and rebound, and shut down [senior guard Tyrone] Conley. […] He really tried to defend and rebound, and be our defensive stopper tonight, and I think, for the most part, he did a good job. He didn’t score that much. He got ten points. Conley only got 14. That’s pretty good.”

Chambers is in his second year as the head coach of the team, and has seen a massive turnover in his players, graduating nine seniors and bringing in eleven new faces to the team between seasons. After achieving success with the team in 2009-2010, Chambers needed to start from scratch with a new team this year. Now, with two more injuries facing the team, Chambers is continuing to stress the importance of attitude to his players.

“I got a great e-mail from [graduated forward] Valdas [Sirutis],” he said. “[…] He sent an amazing e-mail today about our attitude and the power of attitude. He has a little bit of a heart condition now. He can’t play anymore, and people think it’s the end of the world. But he goes, ‘coach, I told ‘em: power of attitude. I’m gonna be fine. The way I handle this, I control it.’

“I read that today, and I go, ‘he gets it.’ And he got it last year. And that’s what we need all thirteen guys in that locker room to do. They need to get it. And that’s what I said to them. Jake goes down. Dom’s going to be out for however long. We just have to keep a great attitude, keep plugging away, keep grinding, stick together.”

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