By Craig Meyer/DFP Staff
Separated by just four miles of Commonwealth Avenue pavement, the men’s basketball programs at Boston University and Boston College share a distance far greater than a quick ride on the Green Line – seven years to be exact.
Coaches have been fired and taken other jobs, players have passed through the respective schools’ classrooms and locker rooms and the programs hardly resemble what they did even less than a decade ago.
But on Saturday afternoon, for the first time since 2004, all that will change as the natural rivals will take the court at Conte Forum for a scheduled 2 p.m. tip-off.
The matchup pits two teams heading in relatively opposite directions as the Terriers (3-4) have recovered from a slow start to win their last three games, while the Eagles (2-5) have lost five of their last six games.
BU is fresh off a 73-67 victory over former America East Conference foe the University of Delaware Wednesday night in a game that saw several career nights take place.
Senior guard Darryl Partin continued his scoring tear this season as he went off for a game-high 27 points, but sophomore forward Travis Robinson largely stole the show, shooting 5-for-5 from the field for a career-high 16 points after entering the game with a scoring average of three points per game. Sophomore point guard D.J. Irving also added career bests in assists (11) and rebounds (eight).
While a heightened comfort with Jones’ inside-out offensive system has been key to the Terriers’ recent success, senior guard and team tri-captain Matt Griffin sees the solution as something that strikes a more fundamental intangible.
“That’s really been the key – really just starting to trust each other more as each game goes on and believing in each other and what we’re doing,” Griffin said. “We’re just trying to build on that confidence boost and just take that mindset into every game.”
That increased camaraderie will certainly be an asset for BU as it faces a BC team that underwent more overhaul than even the Terriers did over the offseason.
Of the 16 players on the Eagles’ active roster, nine are freshmen and three are transfers playing in their first season in Chestnut Hill. Only four players on BC’s roster are returning letter-winners, with the leading returning scorer entering the season being sophomore guard Danny Rubin.
Predictably then, given the turnover and inexperience, the Eagles have struggled mightily so far in the 2011-12 season. BC has lost their five games by an average of 19 points, with the two most lopsided defeats coming at the hands of in-state opponents – an 86-64 loss to the College of the Holy Cross and an 82-46 romp against the University of Massachusetts.
Additionally, the Eagles’ two wins have come by a total of seven points, one of which went into overtime (a 66-62 win over the University of California-Riverside).
Most recently, BC is coming off of a 62-54 home loss to former BU head coach Patrick Chambers and Penn State University.
Despite the Eagles’ shortcomings in what appears to be a rebuilding season under second-year head coach Steve Donahue, the Terriers know that they will be facing a challenge come Saturday.
“I think we all understand that Steve Donahue is a great coach and well-respected, just the way he conducts his program,” Griffin said. “Their offense is very good, it’s a lot of back-door [cuts]. I haven’t seen them play this year, but just from last year, they’re very disciplined and that’s the way coach Donahue has managed his team – very bought into the program and they play together.”
The game will also be a homecoming of sorts for new BU head coach Joe Jones, who worked last year as BC’s associate head coach.
Though no starters and only four players overall return from last year’s BC team, players still feel there is an inherent advantage to having Jones on their side in this matchup, particularly since he helped recruit many of the Eagles’ freshmen.
“He knows those guys pretty well because he coached them last year, so he knows what they want to do,” Irving said. “He told us about how they like to back cut and everything they like to do. I think him knowing their personnel so well will help us.”
Jones said that he and Donahue are close friends and before they spent last season on the same sideline, they have worked for much of their respective careers as competitors in the Ivy League, with Donahue at Cornell University and Jones at Columbia University.
In 14 games against each other, Donahue owns a significant 12-2 record against Jones, with Jones’ last win coming in 2006.
But regardless of what has happened in the past, or not happened in the case of these two programs, BU will look to continue what has made it successful in the last few games.
“I think we go into every game with the same type of confidence – it doesn’t matter what level [they are] or how good they are,” Irving said. “I think we just have to come out and play hard and be confident in what we’re doing and we’ll come out victorious.”