By René Reyes/DFP Staff
KINGSTON, R.I. – To some, the Boston University men’s basketball team had no business carrying a 24-21 lead over Cleveland State University into halftime, let alone nursing a 62-61 edge in the tilt’s final 5.6 seconds.
Not when Cleveland State (5-0) is the defending co-Horizon League regular-season champions. Not when it recently knocked off then-No.7 Vanderbilt University in the opening round of the TickeyCity Legends Classic two weeks ago. Not when it was favored by 11 points, billed as the stronger, deeper squad and featured a starting lineup that weighed nearly 60 pounds heavier than BU’s (0-4).
Yet for the first 39 minutes and 54.4 seconds, the Terriers vastly outplayed coach Gary Waters’ Vikings, a club ranked 26th in the latest Associated Press poll entering Friday’s subregional matchup, from top to bottom.
It only took four games into the Joe Jones Era, but BU finally lived up to its potential. The Terriers displayed an aggressive style of basketball – on both ends of the floor – that Jones knew they were fully capable of playing, shot 40 percent (16-of-40) from the field and forced the Vikings into 16 turnovers.
None of that mattered in the end, though. BU fumbled away a clear-cut upset win due to a costly inbounds miscue in those remaining 5.6 seconds, and walked out of the Ryan Center with a stunning 63-62 loss to Cleveland State in Kingston, R.I.
“I was proud of the way we competed,” a somber Jones said afterward. “Obviously, it’s the best we’ve played, but it’s what we’re capable of. Cleveland State’s a great program, terrific coach. I was proud of the way our guys battled for 40 minutes.”
During warm-ups, Cleveland State made it painfully obvious to the small number of BU fans in attendance that it was the more imposing team on the court. Clad in white, long-sleeved T-shirts and green sweatpants, the Vikings just appeared to be bigger, taller and wider than the Terriers.
Senior guard Darryl Partin, who had a game-high 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting, took the opening tip-off and scored BU’s first bucket of the game – a right-handed floater in the lane. CSU’s largest cushion on the afternoon would be a four-point one in the early going after forward Luda Ndaye’s turnaround jumper put Cleveland State up 9-4.
Cleveland State, which came into the contest averaging 74.7 points per game, barely resembled the explosive offensive attack it was considered to be. It missed 13 of its next 18 shots following Ndaye’s jumper in a turnover-filled, back-and-forth first half.
The Terriers, on the other hand, weathered the Vikings’ persistent pressure from the outset, especially sophomore guard D.J. Irving who was being hand-checked and bumped into repeatedly by guard Jonathan Lee all half long, and rode a 10-of-14 shooting performance from the free-throw line to a 24-21 advantage at the intermission.
Cleveland State opened the second half on quick baskets from guard Trevon Harmon and forward Tim Kamczyc, and regained the lead at 25-24. After Harmon drilled a long 3-ball over the outstretched hands of sophomore forward Dom Morris to tie the game at 28 with 16:56 left, Partin answered with back-to-back triples, BU’s only 3-pointers of the whole game.
Sophomore forward Travis Robinson’s putback off his own miss at the 11:14 mark extended the Terriers’ largest edge to 45-34.
Five minutes later, senior forward Patrick Hazel, who posted a career-high 15 points, snagged eight rebounds and swatted five shots in 33 minutes, converted the alley-oop feed while he was fouled in mid-air and completed the 3-point play. His and-one sequence pulled BU ahead, 52-43, with less than seven minutes remaining.
But the Terriers’ missed free throws began to pile up and allowed the Vikings to stay within striking distance. BU missed seven of its final 17 freebies down the stretch, and those misses ultimately caught up with it.
CSU’s Harmon made BU pay by burying a 25-foot 3-pointer with a hand in his face to cut the deficit to 62-61 with 5.6 seconds to go.
“We didn’t shut the door,” Jones said. “We have to knock those down and shut the door when you have it. You have to do a better job of late-game situations as a program. It’s not one guy’s fault. … We’re all in it together. We have to make better decisions late.
“We have to knock down our free throws and close the door on a team like this. You give these guys an opportunity, they smell it, they’re going to go after it. You have to tip your hat to them. They made plays late.”
Following a Cleveland State timeout after Harmon’s trey, Griffin successfully inbounded the ball to Irving, who was fouled near the right sideline. However, the referees forced BU to redo the play since the game clock had started too early.
Trying to run the same play again, Griffin scanned the court frantically for an open teammate to throw the ball to from the right baseline. He never found one. In a wild turn of events, Griffin’s inbounds pass was deflected and collected by CSU’s Jeremy Montgomery, who was then tripped up by Griffin in the ensuing scrum for possession.
On the inbounds pass, Jones said two of the options were designed for Irving to get the ball and the other for Partin, but Cleveland State had those players well defended. In a moment of panic because he didn’t want to be called for a five-second count, Griffin committed the turnover and later the foul.
All Griffin could do was hang his head low, grab the sides of his jersey and stare at the hardwood floor under him, as Montgomery swished both ends of the one-and-one and the Vikings escaped with a shocking 63-62 victory over the Terriers after Irving’s half-court heave smacked against the backboard.
Jones took full responsibility for not using the timeout he still had before the failed inbounds play.
“That’s my fault,” Jones said. “I’m the coach of this team. I should have done a better job of making sure I called the timeout.”
With BU scheduled to face the University of Rhode Island today at 5 p.m. on Day 2 of the TicketCity Legends Classic’s subregional round, the team will try to regroup and move forward from its heartbreaking loss to CSU.
“We have to be resilient now,” Jones said. “This is what athletics is all about. You have to be resilient, you have to be able to move on and get it done the next time you go out there and play. Certainly, I feel confident that our guys will come out and battle the way they did tonight.”