Saturday, January 1, 2011

BU unable to spur comeback in 71-54 loss to UMass on New Year's Eve

By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff

The Boston University men’s basketball team all but concluded its non-conference slate of games on Friday with a 71-54 loss at the hands of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The game, which saw the Terriers fight back from a concerning 0-for-10 start and tie it at halftime, only to fall back into an offensive stupor late in the second half, dropped BU to 5-9 on the season and 21-16 in the year 2010.

After dropping an 82-81 decision to Quinnipiac University less than 48 hours earlier, the Terriers came out of the gate swinging on the defensive side of the ball against the Minutemen (9-4), an aspect of their game that was sorely missing versus QU. After UMass went up 4-2 on two sophomore forward Terrell Vinson layups and two made free throws from Terrier senior forward John Holland, the Terriers played lockdown defense and were the beneficiaries of multiple Minutemen mistakes as well.

The Minutemen could not manage a basket in the next four minutes of play, going 0-for-5 during the stretch and recorded two turnovers and two personal fouls. However, neither could BU. While the Terriers were limiting the Minutemen’s possessions inside the paint, ones that were key in their loss to QU, they forgot to play offense at the same time, going 0-for-10 and recording four turnovers to start the game before junior forward Jake O’Brien hit a three point shot with 10:45 remaining in the first half. Before the big man’s shot fell, the score was 15-2.

From there, the Terriers battled back with junior forward Darryl Partin and O’Brien leading the way, scoring eight points each during the 23-10 Terrier run. For BU coach Patrick Chambers, the Terriers’ ability to maintain defensive pressure during the run was more important than their resuscitation on offense.

“No question about [the fact that the first half comeback originated with defense],” Chambers said. “I was trying to mix up defenses because I knew they like to drive the ball, and the dribble drive, it hurts us. We’ve got young guys who aren’t great at understanding how to play that, yet. But, it’s great to play against it. It’s good for us and that’s why we played so many different things.

“But yeah, we went back to man to man defense and it got us back in the game, and we got some stops, and hey, we got some shots. The game is really easy when you hit shots.”

The Terriers remained competitive for the first ten minutes of the second half, giving up a Minuteman run of 20-11 to fall behind 45-36 before coming back with their own and cutting the deficit to two with ten minutes remaining in the game, 49-47.

Holland was the Terriers’ star offensively during that run, rattling off seven straight points and earning an alley-oop dunk with 12:11 remaining to make the score 45-43.

Holland led the team in points with 17 on the game, but shot an inefficient 6-for-20 from the field. Partin and freshman point guard D.J. Irving contributed 12 points each on 4-for-12 and 4-for-7 shooting performances respectively. The rest of the team went a combined 4-for-18 for thirteen points, eight of which were contributed by O’Brien, who went 3-for-5 from the field.

UMass finished the game with a 22-5 run in which the Terriers broke down on both sides of the ball. The Minutemen were potent offensively from all spots on the floor, and the Terriers had lost their rhythm with the ball. Chambers said that one reason for the tapering off could be the loss of O’Brien to a leg injury with sixteen minutes remaining.

“I just think once Jake went down, our team started feeling sorry for themselves, and you can’t do that,” Chambers said. “That’s what I just talked to them about [in the locker room after the game]. The game of basketball and the game of life is all about adversity and how you handle adversity. We’ve been hit with adversity in different ways in the first part of this non-conference. That’s why I was a little disappointed to see how we handled that.”

Another reason for the Minutemen’s ability to pull away late in the game was senior guard Anthony Gurley, who scored only three of his game-high 21 points in the first half. The red shirted senior came on strong in the second half to the tune of 18 points including a dagger of a trey that put UMass up by 17 with 3:58 to play.

With only two days to prepare for their first conference game of the year against University of Maine on January 2, it is unclear whether Chambers took O’Brien, and later freshman forward Domenic Morris, out of the game solely due to injury or because he wanted them to be fresh the team’s second season. Without their second best player in O’Brien and one of their leading freshmen in Morris, the Terriers would have their work cut out for them facing the Black Bears.

For now, the Terriers will focus on improving and on a chance to start afresh with some valuable experience against some tough teams under their belts. When Chambers spoke about an improving Partin, he revealed his team’s willingness to get better and buy into the season, one attribute that is vital to any team’s success down the stretch.

“[Partin] played great in that stretch,” Chambers said. “He did some really good things for us. I’ve got to keep working with Darryl. We’ve got to work with him on good shots and bad shots and just decision making in general. […] We’ll get him there, and he’s willing, which is great about coaching this team. They want to learn and they want to get better. That’s why we just need to stay positive and keep grinding it out.”

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