By Craig Meyer/DFP Staff
As senior guard Matt Griffin, along with seldom-used players like sophomore guard Mike Terry, Jr., senior center Jeff Pelage, freshman guard Zach Chionuma and freshman forward James Kennedy, waited at the foot of the scorers’ table to check in, a white flag of sorts for the Boston University men’s basketball team, a daunting figure hung above the heads of the players on the Agganis Arena scoreboard under the heading ‘Terriers’ – 39.
With just under six minutes remaining in BU’s game against No. 24 Harvard University, the 39 was not the Terriers’ field goal percentage or number of rebounds up to that point.
Rather, in front of a rare crowd of 3,010 at Agganis Arena, that was the number of points BU had scored in the game’s first 35 minutes.
Though many things went wrong for the Terriers in their lopsided 76-52 loss Saturday to the Crimson, it all began on the offensive end where BU was routinely held in check, searching for answers.
“Harvard’s going to take you out of your offense,” BU head coach Joe Jones said after the game. “That’s what they do.”
Facing off against a BU team that entered the game averaging 66.9 points per game, Harvard did just that, as the Terriers were limited for much of the afternoon.
Aside from the 52 points scored, the Terriers’ second-lowest scoring output this season, BU struggled in most of the major offensive categories of the game.
Despite taking six more shots than Harvard during the game, the Terriers shot 30.9 percent from the field, roughly a full 10 percent behind the team’s average field goal percentage. BU was also regularly forced to take difficult, contested shots, many of which were taken with under 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
In a sharp break from BU’s proficiency from the free throw line last season, the Terriers only shot 52 percent on 25 free throws, including 1-of-4 and 2-of-5 marks from the team’s two leading scorers, senior guard Darryl Partin and sophomore point guard D.J. Irving, respectively.
On the season, BU is shooting 66.5 percent from the free throw line.
For its part, Harvard was content with how it was able to neutralize the Terriers.
“I was very pleased with our defense,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought our defense was as good or better as we’ve played all year and we’ve been playing some really good defensive basketball.”
At no point in the game was BU’s offensive ineptitude and Harvard’s defensive prowess more apparent than where the game was, fittingly enough, decided.
Tied at 18 apiece with 7:37 remaining in the first half, Harvard proceeded to go on an 19-1 run over the next seven minutes to effectively turn away the upset-minded Terriers before the teams even made it to their respective locker rooms.
In that stretch, the Terriers failed to make a single field goal on five shots, getting only a free throw from Partin with 6:07 left in the half. BU also missed two free throws and committed two turnovers in that time.
“We went through that spell where we didn’t score and that has happened to us this year where we go through a tough bout where we don’t score even in games that we’ve won,” Jones said. “But we’ve been able to bounce back and go on runs, and tonight we got way too down and down way too far to be able to come back.”
For all of BU’s struggles on the offensive end, it came against one of the nation’s more accomplished defensive teams in the Crimson.
After the win Saturday, Harvard has held opponents to 50.3 points per game in its 11 games this season.
And for Harvard, much of its defensive strategy entering the game revolved around controlling and neutralizing BU’s two leading scorers in Partin and Irving.
Partin, who entered the game as the nation’s second leading scorer at 23.9 points per game, was held to a season-low 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, often drawing a double or even triple teams from the Crimson defense.
Irving, too, was held to a season-low in points with four, making just one field goal the entire afternoon and constantly having to contend with closed lanes in the paint.
“I thought we were locked in fairly well and I thought coming in, especially against their perimeter players with Irving and Partin, that I thought it was going to be tough for us,” Amaker said. “But I was very pleased with our team effort.”
With a game against a major conference opponent in Villanova University awaiting the Terriers on Tuesday, Jones and the Terriers will look to clean things up and learn from the flaws that a stout Harvard defense exposed in the rout.
“To be honest with you, they were able to guard us off the dribble, we had a hard time getting around them and then you have to be able to get the ball inside and finish at the basket,” Jones said. “So they limited our opportunities at the rim and they did a great job of guarding us individually.
“They play a lot like Duke – Duke’s going to get at you, deny passes, force you to make individual plays at times, and we just were not able to make those plays.”