By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff
Even after storming back from a 15-point deficit with 16:47 to play in the America East Championship game for a 56-54 win against fifth-seeded Stony Brook University on Saturday afternoon, the Boston University men's basketball team has yet to break head coach Patrick Chambers' proverbial 'stone' that it has been tapping at all year long.
However, Chambers admitted from the Agganis Arena media room podium following the contest that the stone, a symbol for an obstacle that the Terriers must overcome in order to be playing their best basketball, has a crack in it.
“There is definitely a crack in that stone,” Chambers said. “But, I think we could play better. I think we could get more contributions from different guys.”
Once the dust that resulted around the stone following BU's (21-13) first America East Championship victory since 2002 settles, one man will be seen with one hand cradling a basketball and the other etching his name next to the enormous fissure that he single-handedly blasted into the stone's surface. That man will be senior forward John Holland.
Holland scored a game-high 27 points while shooting 8-of-19, grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and recorded a game-high three steals to will his team through one of its toughest offensive stretches of the year and into the Big Dance. Holland's performance in his final game on his home floor was nothing short of extraordinary, and he was rewarded with the Reggie Lewis Most Outstanding Player award, which honors the best player in the AE tournament, following the game.
“It's amazing,” Holland said of his feelings following the game. “I couldn't ask for anything more. It's been a great experience here, and it's not over yet, so let's try and keep it going as long as possible. BU has been wonderful to me.”
Holland entered Saturday's game with somewhat of a stone of his own that he had been carrying around his entire collegiate career, one that symbolized a tapering off in his performance come the America East tournament.
When Holland arrived at BU in 2007, he began his route to becoming the second best scorer in Terrier history in a big way, backing up then-sophomore guard Corey Lowe ('10) as the team's second leading scorer with 11.4 points per game.
However, Holland's first shot at the postseason was underwhelming. The forward scored 16 points in his first ever AE tournament game against the University at Albany, but then submitted one of his poorest performances of his postseason career in the semifinals against the University of Hartford, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Holland did make a sizable impact in his next crack at the postseason in 2009, scoring 20 points to back up Lowe's 33 in an overtime thriller against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. However, Terrier fans were unable to see if Holland's performance would translate to success in the rest of the tournament, as BU fell in the overtime session, 79-75.
Last year, Holland scored more points per game than any season in his career with 19.2, but he came up empty come March. In one of the most disappointing AE playoffs of his career, Holland averaged 10.3 points per game, and despite heroic efforts from Lowe in his senior season, the Terriers lost in Holland's first AE championship game in Burlington, Vt., to a talented University of Vermont team.
Three seasons of mediocre postseason performance set the stage for Holland's final year at BU.
The star senior no longer had a player like Lowe upon whom to rely during offensive droughts, and throughout the regular season, Holland answered the bell, scoring a team-best 19.0 points per game.
Before the Terriers started playing with the more balanced attack that they utilized toward the end of the season, Holland was the offensive juggernaut that BU needed to win games, recording five straight contests with 20 or more points from January 4-20 that resulted in a 4-1 record during that stretch.
With the postseason looming, Holland and his teammates went on an eight-game win streak to close out the regular season, clinching the No. 2 seed in the AE tournament and a regular season player of the year award for the star senior. The Bronx, N.Y., native was given one last chance to conquer his AE playoff demons when he stepped onto the floor in West Hartford, Conn., to kick off a quarterfinal matchup against the University of New Hampshire on March 5.
Holland impressed in both the quarter and semifinals to the tune of 17 and 16 points on 9-of-25 shooting to lead his team to two victories, but he still found a way to stay under the radar as many of his buckets came from the foul line and junior tri-captains Matt Griffin and Patrick Hazel hit the clutch shots to close out the semifinals against Hartford.
Heading back to Commonwealth Avenue for his final chance to dance on the line in a championship bout with SBU, Holland's ability to impact a big game in a situation where he had struggled in the past was a major uncertainty.
Through 20 minutes of basketball at The Greek in front of a crowded house of 3,845 people, Holland's performance had many a Terrier fan stone-faced and frustrated. The senior finished the first half with just four points on 1-of-7 shooting while committing two fouls.
When Holland picked up his third foul 1:23 into the second stanza, he began to draw the ire of the media and fans alike. People could be heard sarcastically saying things like, “There's your player of the year, folks: four points and three fouls,” and the stats didn't lie. Holland had been a non-factor up until that point and it seemed that he would be unable to carry a team that was shooting 22.2 percent collectively in the first half to even a respectable defeat.
But with 3:13 gone in the second half and his team down, 41-26, Holland took the stone that represented his AE playoff struggles and metaphorically smashed it to smithereens.
Over the next 6:16, Holland went on a 14-0 run all by himself in which he sandwiched the team's first made 3-pointer of the game between two steals at halfcourt that led to a lay up and a dunk. The senior played within himself, recognizing when to go for the steals to avoid picking up a fourth foul, when to go to the rim for the point blank shot, when to evade a defender for an easy lay up instead of a dunk and when to draw contact in order to reach the free-throw line. He finished the run with a tough stop and shoot jumper from the paint while drawing the foul that allowed him to cut the lead to one.
“The stretch that he had in the second half where he took over the whole game and went on a one man wrecking crew, I don't think I've ever seen anything like that,” Chambers said. “That was pretty amazing.”
And he wasn't done. From 9:29 to 18:57 of the second half, the Seawolves' lead grew and shrunk between one and six, but Holland always seemed to be the one to get to the free-throw line, make the acrobatic basket or dish to an open teammate to keep the game within reach. Even though he continually checked in and out of the game to avoid his fourth foul, Holland seemed to be everywhere on the floor, and when he wasn't, his teammates stepped up their defensive effort, got key stops and sunk clutch buckets.
With the fate of his team and his legacy as a player at Boston University hanging in the balance, Holland saved his gutsiest performances for the final minute of the game.
First, he controlled a crucial defensive rebound with 1:03 remaining and his team down by two while being hounded aggressively by freshman forward Dallis Joyner. The play resulted in a foul, and because SBU was in a penalty situation, Holland went to the line with the chance to tie the game.
After calmly sinking the two freebies, the Terriers needed one more stop on the defensive end to earn an opportunity to take the lead.
Holland didn't even give the Seawolves a chance.
He tied up junior guard Bryan Dougher atop the 3-point arc for a jump ball that gave the Terriers the final full possession of the game.
With the shot clock off, freshman guard D.J. Irving ran the clock to its waning moments before threading a pass to a waiting Holland on the right baseline. The senior drove to the paint and under the basket, putting up an underhanded layup attempt while drawing the foul with 2.4 seconds remaining. True to form, the senior nailed both of his shots from the charity stripe, giving his team its first lead of the game, and following Dougher's missed 3-point attempt from halfcourt, its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.
With the win, Holland solidified his legacy as one of the greatest to ever don a BU uniform and vanquished his playoff uncertainties altogether.
“I wanted to go out with a bang, and I did it,” a beaming Holland said amid the bedlam that ensued on the court when the buzzer sounded. “I was able to do it.
Prior to Saturday's game, Chambers remarked that he felt that Holland would give up all of the individual accolades that he had accrued over his career for an America East Championship and a chance to dance in March ...
Now, he doesn't need to.