By Craig Meyer/DFP Staff
On Thursday night at Case Gymnasium, the most mundane of events quickly became unpredictable and hard to figure out.
As the Boston University men’s basketball team and its opponent, the University of Maine, walked out on the court for the opening tip, just as it does every game, a collective sense of surprise echoed through the gym.
For BU fans and media alike who had grown so accustomed to similar starting lineups throughout the year, Thursday’s game was a clean break, as BU came out with an unorthodox and unexpected lineup of Matt Griffin, Mike Terry, Malik Thomas and Jeff Pelage, along with usual starter Travis Robinson.
With the new group of players leading the Terriers out on the court, the team came away with a 67-64 win over Maine, but even on a night in which BU went over the .500 plateau for the first time this season, most of the focus remained with the altered lineup.
“I felt it was the right thing to do at this time,” BU head coach Joe Jones said of the decision.
One factor that Jones cited, when asked about it, was his team’s sluggish starts in its last two games against the University of Vermont and University at Albany.
“It was a coach’s decision, so there were a lot of things, that was probably one of the things I was looking at,” Jones said. “There are other variables that go into these decisions, but that definitely was one of the things that I thought about.”
Overall, with the new starters in place, the night was a success for BU as it won its third straight game and now has a winning record for the first time this season. Additionally, the win ensured the Terriers of finishing no worse than third place of the final America East Conference standings when paired with Albany’s loss to the University of New Hampshire Thursday.
Senior guard Darryl Partin led all scorers with 14 points and, for him, it didn’t matter that his offensive production came from the bench for the first time this season.
“It was coach’s decision, so it’s fine,” Partin said. “As long as we get that win, that’s all that matters.”
While Partin has been the Terriers’ leading scorer in most of their games this season, the team was bolstered by a strong performance inside from Dom Morris, who scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
It has been a largely up-and-down sophomore campaign for the promising, potential-laden forward, but against the Black Bears, things just seemed to click.
“Just playing with a lot of confidence, believing that my team has my back and just going out there and having fun,” Morris said of the keys to his success. “Usually when I play bad, it’s because I’m trying to think too much or overdoing something. So tonight, I just decided to be free and go out and play and play hard for my teammates. It worked out well.”
Overall, it was not the strongest of offensive performances from the Terriers, as the team shot 41.8 percent from the field, 26.3 percent from 3-point range and just 64 percent from the free-throw line (on 25 free throw attempts, no less).
Given those struggles, along with a sluggish six-point performance from sophomore point guard D.J. Irving, Jones was happy to be able to walk away with a win.
“I didn’t think it was one of our better shooting nights,” Jones said. “Obviously, our two leading scorers go 6-for-19 and we still win by 13 points – that’s a good night for us, to be honest with you.”
Part of BU’s success against Maine could be attributed to a strong defensive performance from the Terriers. Though the Black Bears were playing without one of the conference’s best big men in center Alasdair Fraser, BU was able to neutralize Maine’s other stars – Justin Edwards and Gerald McLemore.
The pair entered the game as two of the top scorers in America East play, but they combined to shoot just 5-of-25 from the field for nine total points.
“We didn’t want those guys to be able to turn the corner on ball screen action, and so they were going to have to score the ball in a different way,” Jones said. “A lot of times when you play against a team, you try to take away what they like to do, and I think we did a great job of that.”
The win tonight was also the 100th of Jones’ career, including his seven-year stint as the head coach at Columbia University, though Jones said that the milestone wasn’t anything special, insisting that he doesn’t “really think about that kind of stuff.”
Moving forward, excluding an ESPN BracketBuster matchup against Loyola University (Maryland), the Terriers have three games left in the regular season, all of which are against teams in the bottom half of the America East standings.
With tonight hopefully serving as a lesson, Jones hopes that his starters and team can get back to playing their best ball at the right time of the year.
“I hope that everyone understands in life you have to get results, it’s about results,” Jones said. “All of us in here, if you’re not getting the job done, there’s someone else that’s going to be right behind you waiting for that opportunity. You hope that everybody understands that and we can be better for that.”