By René Reyes/DFP Staff
Uncertainty surrounded the Boston University men’s basketball team as it stumbled into the second week of the New Year with a seven-game losing streak.
But whether it was a return to the confines of Case Gymnasium after a lengthy road trip or the assertive play of point guard D.J. Irving, who dished out eight dimes in his second game back from a concussion or a visit from the cellar dwelling Binghamton University, BU exhibited the type of performance that made it the preseason favorite to capture the America East title.
Led by senior guard Darryl Partin’s team-high 17 points and redshirt freshman forward Malik Thomas’ 14, the Terriers (5-11, 1-1 AE) coasted to their first conference win of the season with a 68-49 thumping of the winless Bearcats (0-15, 0-3 AE) in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
“That’s a good team. That’s last year’s America East champion,” said Binghamton coach Mark Macon. “They’re shaping up pretty soon because they’re getting better since they have their guard back in D.J.”
After logging 27 minutes in a 14-point defeat at the University of Vermont on Jan. 5 and tallying a mere three points on 1-of-8 shooting overall, Irving made a concerted effort against Binghamton to find his scoring touch early. He never did, misfiring on three of his first four shots from the field.
Irving reverted to his facilitating ways, though, and assisted on three straight first-half possessions when he found senior center Patrick Hazel for a dunk and Partin for a left-wing triple and breakaway layup.
“I felt pretty well this game,” Irving said. “The Vermont game, I just had to get my feet under me, get my timing back. This game, I just tried to get my teammates involved a little bit more, try to find my shot early. It wasn’t falling early, but it happens. I just tried to get my timing back and get into the flow of everything.”
BU coach Joe Jones was pleased by what he saw from Irving, who finished with just six points on 2-of-7 attempts but had zero turnovers in 29 minutes.
“He had his step back, the extra step,” Jones said. “His speed was back. His confidence looks like it’s returned. He just needed more practices just to have all that lay-off time. He was out for three weeks and that’s a long time. It was good to see.”
By the end of those offensive sequences, BU had seized a 13-5 edge with 13:16 remaining in the half and never looked back, leading the entirety of the game from the opening tip-off. At halftime, the Terriers entered the intermission with a 15-point advantage at 35-20.
For Binghamton guard Robert Mansell, who tallied a game-high 21 points on an array of 3-pointers and long fallaway jumpers, BU’s offensive showing in the first session – due to a blistering 42.9 shooting percentage along with 12 points in the paint and eight second-chance points – was too much for his team to overcome.
“They were beating us pretty good,” Mansell said. “We couldn’t catch up, took some quick shots. We dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first half to really come back. At the end, we rushed a few shots, and they converted on a couple, which gave them momentum going into the half.”
The Terriers’ lead reached as many as 27 points in the second half, with BU receiving offensive contributions from players not named Partin and Irving, such as Thomas who chipped in 14 and had an emphatic dunk, freshman guard Zach Chionuma who had three points on a deep trey and freshman forward James Kennedy who tipped in two baskets for a total of four points.
“We did a pretty good job of handling their [known players],” Mansell said. “They really pounded it inside, which really opened up a lot of open shots for their guards, and they knocked them down. That was pretty much it.”
Yet Jones believed BU’s stout defense fueled the offense and carried it to its first victory in over a month.
“I thought we defended very well,” Jones said. “Once we were able to defend, I think we’re one of the better transition teams in our league. Once we were able to defend, we were able to push the ball and get some easy ones in transition.”
With 27 points from his bench on this afternoon, Jones is looking forward to seeing more production out of his reserves on a consistent basis during America East play.
“I think our bench is very talented,” Jones said. Games like this really help in a way that they get a chance to get playing experience. Practices are all fine and good, but you need to play in games to get more confident to play in the next game. It’s good to see some guys come in and contribute because obviously we’re gonna need that going forward.”