By René Reyes/DFP Staff
Apart from his patented “tapping the stone” expression, former Boston University men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers habitually referred to America East Conference tilts as hard-fought battles.
As if his ex-bench boss’ voice still echoed in Case Gymnasium’s press conference room, senior forward Patrick Hazel channeled his inner-Chambers but went just a step further in describing BU’s matchup with Stony Brook University.
“I was telling my teammates before the game it was going to be a war,” Hazel said after BU’s 61-55 victory over SBU Saturday. “We knew that mindset coming in that they like to hit the glass, and that’s what we like to pride ourselves on, too – defending and rebounding. We knew it was going to be a battle for 40 minutes and that’s exactly what it was.”
In a rematch that mirrored bits and pieces of last year’s America East championship game, including the same result, one team stormed out to a double-digit advantage rather quickly only for the other squad to methodically claw its way back.
The Terriers saw their 14-point cushion drop to one five times in the second half, but responded with opportune buckets and held off a furious Seawolves’ rally led by guards Dave Coley and Bryan Dougher.
Senior guard Darryl Partin scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the final session to lead three Terriers in double figures and Hazel nearly posted his second double-double of the season with eights points and nine rebounds for BU (7-11, 3-1 America East), which has now rattled off three straight wins.
BU coach Joe Jones, who’s in his second go-around in the conference after a four-year stint with Hofstra University from 1994-97, deemed Saturday’s matinee as a microcosm of the competitive America East.
“This game is really what our conference is all about,” Jones said. “I thought both teams played extremely hard. They’re a very physical team, very disciplined in what they do. Just a hard-fought win. I have a lot of respect for [SBU coach] Steve [Pikiell] and what he does with his program. It says a lot about the league in terms of how hard these kids play.
“It was great to see. We just happened to be on the winning end tonight.”
Coley netted a game-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, Dougher tallied 14 and forward Al Rapier added 10 for SBU (9-7, 4-1 AE), which had its six-game winning streak snapped and was limited to its second-lowest offensive output of the 2011-12 campaign.
Stony Brook’s missed field goal attempts and sloppy play (eight turnovers) in the contest’s first 10 minutes spotted BU its early edge on the scoreboard.
Sophomore guard D.J. Irving set the tempo from the outset with his pace and received a huge ovation from the crowd after he nailed a straightaway 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to put BU ahead by six at 5:03.
By the time Hazel had backed into Rapier on the low block for a right-handed layup, the Terriers had reeled off a 13-5 spurt and sported a healthy 21-7 lead with 8:33 remaining in the first frame.
Jones credited his team’s attitude – the same word BU players wore on their red, rubber bracelets during Chambers’ two seasons on Commonwealth Ave. – and commitment to the defensive end as the main reasons for the fast start.
“I thought our guys were ready to play, mentally ready to play,” Jones said. “They played with a lot of confidence early on. I thought we did a good job in our changing of our defenses, playing some three-quarter-court defense, playing some zone, playing some man. We did a good job within the schemes of what we do defensively.
"We did a good job of guarding them. We were able to get out in transition and make some baskets.”
The speedy Irving, who had five points and three assists by halftime in 18 minutes, was the catalyst behind the Terriers’ opening run, sparking them to that 14-point lead midway through the first half.
“He’s huge,” Hazel said of Irving, BU’s all-important floor general. “I was telling Darryl the other day when we were up at [the University of] Vermont, he wasn’t at 100 percent, so it really hurt us against Vermont. But he’s back to his old self. He’s the engine. He gets us going in transition, on defense, all that. He’s huge for us.”
But the Seawolves closed out the half on a 13-5 run of their own and entered the intermission on a high note, trailing only 26-20.
In back-and-forth action, both teams traded buckets on their first few trips down the floor in the second half. Senior guard Matt Griffin buried a 3-pointer to extend the Terriers’ cushion to 38-31, but Coley and Dougher combined on two free throws, a trey and a midrange jumper en route to seven unanswered points to tie the game at the 9:24 mark.
With BU’s advantage all but gone, Partin, who had scored two points while shooting a paltry 16 percent (1-of-6) overall and zero percent (0-of-3) from 3-point territory in the first half, decided to take control.
He gave the Terriers the lead back for good with a jumper on the ensuing possession. After Rapier’s layup didn’t fall, Partin stuck a 3-ball to make it 43-38 in favor of BU with nine minutes left.
Coley drilled a 3 at the 12:19 mark, but there was Partin to rain in the jumper from in front of the BU bench to stretch the lead to 47-43. With BU clinging to a 51-49 edge with less than three minutes remaining, he came though once more and connected on another baseline jumper.
The Seawolves trimmed the deficit to one at 18:01; yet to no surprise, Partin countered with a fallaway jumper to keep the Terriers in front.
Whenever BU desperately needed a timely basket down the stretch, Partin delivered.
“Once he gets into a rhythm, all he has to do is make like one shot,” Jones said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen a kid like this. He makes one shot, he’s like a completely different player.”
He had plenty of help, though, in crunch time, as Irving and Hazel sunk 6-of-7 freebies in the final 27 seconds of regulation to secure the Terriers’ victory.
For Partin and his teammates, they face a quick turnaround after the win over Stony Brook with another game in two days, but they won’t approach Monday’s contest at Agganis Arena against the University at Albany any differently.
“We just take it next game on the schedule,” Partin said. “We had a tough non-conference schedule. We want it that way. We always pride ourselves on making things hard. When we practice, we prepare like we’re on the road. It’s really just the next game on the schedule. Albany, they’re a good team. We don’t take anybody light.
“We’re just trying to come out with energy, get our strategies together, get rest and get ready for Monday.”