By René Reyes/DFP Staff
If mired in a three-game losing streak weren’t bad enough for the Boston University men’s basketball team during the holiday season, news broke that BU would be without the services of its star point guard – sophomore D.J. Irving – for Thursday’s matchup with Bucknell University due to a concussion he suffered 10 days ago.
Yet, senior guard Matt Griffin filled in admirably for Irving in the starting lineup against the Bison (8-5), posting team highs of four rebounds and five assists, the Terriers (4-8) committed a season-low nine turnovers and to top it all off, they shot 50 percent the field and 55 percent from 3-point territory for the game.
Still, forward Joe Willman and reigning Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala – two-thirds of Bucknell’s lengthy frontcourt – proved to be too much for BU (4-8) to handle, combining for 39 points on 13-of-21 shooting and 13 total rebounds in their team’s 75-61 win at Case Gymnasium.
Sitting in an empty coaches’ dressing room afterward, BU coach Joe Jones told two reporters that he was satisfied with his squad’s efforts on the offensive end, especially since it was missing its second leading scorer in Irving.
But it was Willman and Muscala’s domination of the paint and the Bison’s 34-17 edge in rebounding, a stat Jones said he had never seen before in his 17 years in the coaching business, that did the Terriers in last night.
“Offensively, we played pretty well to be honest with you,” Jones said. “I know we didn’t score it. Some of that was we didn’t rebound the ball at all in the first half. I thought we did a pretty good job offensively. I was pleased with some of the things that we did. Obviously, [Irving] would have had an effect on the game.
“Really, we didn’t rebound and we didn’t command the post. They were able to really pick us apart inside.”
Just 55 seconds into the game, sophomore forward Travis Robinson, who finished with 15 points and three rebounds, drilled a triple in front of the Bucknell bench to get BU on the scoreboard. Behind a pair of 3-pointers from Griffin and Robinson, the Terriers seized a 9-5 advantage at the 3:29 mark. The four-point lead would be their largest of the contest.
Both teams traded buckets in the early going and after sophomore forward Dom Morris got his left-handed floater to drop from the right block, Bucknell answered immediately with Muscala connecting on an elbow jumper over senior forward Patrick Hazel to knot the score at 16 apiece.
With the game tied, Jones gambled and made the switch from a zone defense to man-to-man coverage, a move that backfired on the Terriers for the remainder of the first half.
Senior center Jeff Pelage went 1-of-2 from the free throw line, giving BU a slim 17-16 cushion with 11:34 to go in the opening frame, but Bucknell embarked on a 7-0 run to regain the lead and never looked back.
Over the last 9:26 of the first session, the Bison outscored the Terriers 30-12 to head into the locker room with a commanding 46-29 edge. Bucknell took advantage of its six offensive rebounds – one from Willman and five from Muscala – and turned them into 10 second-chance points.
Bucknell’s efficient display on offense in those first 20 minutes of regulation looked all too similar to Jones.
“You give these guys second chances and they get into a rhythm,” Jones said. “They’re a rhythm-team offensively. We played them last year at [Boston College], and we could not stop them. We had to outscore them to be honest with you. The score was 88-84. We couldn’t stop them, and they got into a rhythm tonight. [Dave Paulsen’s] a very good coach, does a good job.”
The 6-foot-7, 217-pound Willman, in particular, garnered Jones’ praise, netting a career-high 19 points, 17 of which came in the first half on an array of baseline and 15-foot jumpers. For a power forward his size, William demonstrated his deft touch from outside all half long and exposed the flaws in BU’s zone defense.
“I recruited Willman. He’s a very good player,” Jones. “He plays hard, capable of making some tough shots. The thing about him is he can make midrange shots. There are not a lot of guys that can do that but he can make 12 to 15 feet, it’s water. He can make it. We knew going in.
“We said he might get it at the foul line, and he might make some but we were willing to give that shot up in the zone. But then we just had to get out of it.”
Right out of the break, Robinson muscled his way to the hoop for a layup and Hazel converted on 1-of-2 freebies to trim the deficit to 14 but that’s as close as the Terriers would get in the second half.
Senior guard Darryl Partin netted six of his team-high 17 points in garbage time but through no fault of his own. Jones said BU made some changes to its offense due to Irving’s absence and made an emphasis to feed the ball inside and “get some post touches” for its big men. As a result, he was pleased with Morris tallying eight points and Hazel contributing three points on the night.
Losing four straight is nothing new to BU, as it started the Joe Jones Era off on a four-game losing streak as well. But the 46-year-old bench boss stressed that his team needs to return to the basic fundamentals of defense and rebounding to snap out of this winless drought.
Offense wasn’t what derailed the Terriers on Thursday night.
“We gotta get better,” Jones said. “The big thing is that we gotta get better. We can’t have games where we don’t rebound. We gotta play good defense. We have to do those things. Today, I thought we did a good job on the offensive end. We shot 50 percent for the game. It wasn’t the offense.”