Monday, January 10, 2011

Defensive effort plays a major role in Terriers' second conference win

By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff

The Boston University men’s basketball team got 24 points from both senior forward John Holland and junior forward Darryl Partin and scored 74 points overall in its win against the University of Vermont, 74-65. That sort of an offensive effort against the 11-4, 2-1 America East Catamounts can not and should not go unnoticed. However, the most impressive aspect of the game remains the Terriers’ ability to hold the league’s second-best ranked offensive team – 69.2 points per game –in check throughout the afternoon. It’s time to credit the defense.

After the Terriers (7-10, 2-1 AE) earned their first AE victory against the University of New Hampshire on January 4, BU coach Patrick Chambers was not entirely happy with the team’s defensive effort.

“I was not pleased with the last two minutes of that game,” Chambers said of the contest against the Wildcats. “[…] Easy threes, stopped playing, not rebounding. It’s not going to get it done. And it’s 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.”

Chambers must have got his message across before one o’clock on Sunday, because once the game started, there was little doubt about the Terriers’ defensive effort.

When both teams struggled offensively to begin the first half, BU focused on working out of its struggles while doing its best to frustrate the Catamount players so that they would not be able to find the hoop. The strategy worked, and the Terriers held the Catamounts to six points in the game’s first five minutes off of 2-for-5 shooting. They also forced a turnover.

While playing defense was not always easy against such a potent offense, the Terriers managed to overcome their weak points – a depleted front court without injured junior forward Jake O’Brien and freshman forward Dom Morris and general fatigue – and used a mix of zone and man-to-man coverage to keep their opponents out of the basket.

“We sprinkle [man-to-man defense] in,” Chambers said. “Our assistants do a good job of scouting. We sprinkled it in, tried to keep them off-balance, because you know we’re going to play a lot of zone. So, when we sprinkle it in, do some different things, and different guys are trying to make plays, that’s good for us. That’s good for us.”

Chambers said that ultimately, he expects his team to be able to play mostly man-to-man defense throughout games by the end of the season and is working toward that point.

In the meantime, the Terriers seem to be doing just fine. Instead of trying to outscore their opponent – see La Salle University, Harvard University, and Quinnipiac University – they played well on both sides of the ball, and it paid off to the tune of their second victory over the Catamounts in their last eleven contests.

The Terriers registered eight blocks and five steals, but the rebounding margin is the statistic that speaks for itself. BU earned 42 rebounds to UVM’s 30, handily winning the battle of the boards. It had a 28-19 advantage on the defensive rebounds alone. The team’s ability to force bad shots and turn them into instant offense with quick defensive rebounds and control beneath the basket played a major role in the victory.

The Terriers were severely outsized by the Catamounts without O’Brien and Morris. The fact that they controlled as many rebounds as they did reveals strong individual effort by certain players. Junior forward Jeff Pelage had eight rebounds, six blocks, and a steal in only 24 minutes before fouling out of the game.

“He’s not all the way back yet,” Chambers said. “He’s like, 75, 80 percent, and for him to have six blocks and eight rebounds in 24 minutes… I mean, as soon as you see him get his lift back and his leg feels good, you’re going to start to get point production out of him. […] I know Jeff was upset he fouled out, but it’s okay, you did your job, and you did it well. You know, he was a beast today, he did some really good things.”

Partin also contributed eight rebounds, and Holland and junior forward Patrick Hazel pulled down seven and six, respectively. Of the eight players who saw action for the Terriers, not one of them went without a rebound.

While defensive success can be identified by defensive statistics, it can also be measured by the lack of success of the opponent offensively. The Terriers held senior forward Evan Fjeld to nine points on 3-for-6 shooting. Although the big man shot fifty percent from the field, the Terriers only allowed him to shoot half of his average 11.4 shots per game. The Catamounts star player also fouled out after playing only 23 minutes. The Terrier defense also held senior guard Joey Accaoui in check, as he shot 3-for-13 for nine total points.

All of these factors set up the Terriers to close out the game up 64-54 with two minutes left. Despite the fact that the Terriers gave up eleven points in the final two minutes of the game and ultimately won by hitting free throws, Chambers deemed the end-of-game defense more airtight than what the Terriers employed against the Wildcats. The Catamounts were simply hitting shots.

“I thought the end of game defense was great,” Chambers said. “I mean, [sophomore guard] Brendan Bald hits one [three pointer]. Joey Accaoui hits one. [Junior forward Pat] Bergmann hit one. You know, we did all the right things. Only one possession I can think of where [freshman guard Sandro] Carissimo drove it, pulled up jumper, that was the only, one possession [where the defense gave way]. But for the most part I think we did a good job there at the end.”

When it was all said and done, that final score did not lie.

“To only give up 30 points [in the first half] against a good Vermont team, that’s pretty good,” Chambers said. “And then 35 in the second half. It’s great.”

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