Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Senior Day, resilient upperclassmen pull through

By Craig Meyer/DFP Staff

For some, the Boston University men’s basketball team’s game Saturday against the University of Hartford would seem moot. The Terriers were playing a team they had already throttled earlier in the season and, more importantly, they had already locked up the third seed in next week’s America East Conference Tournament.

Good luck trying to tell that to BU’s seniors.

Playing the last home game of their college careers, barring BU hosting the conference championship game, the Terriers’ five seniors contributed 38 points to help carry BU past an energized and resilient Hartford team 64-55 Saturday at Case Gymnasium.

With the end of the Terriers’ season quickly approaching, regardless of how far they advance, first-year BU head coach Joe Jones used the moment as a chance to stress how important this senior class has been to the program.

“I’m telling you – that class is going to surely be missed,” Jones said. “It is just a great group of guys. We’re going to miss their energy and their attitude. They’ve been terrific, so I was happy to see those guys go out with a W.”

Fittingly enough, Jones began the game with every senior – guards Matt Griffin and Darryl Partin, centers Jeff Pelage and Patrick Hazel, and even little-used forward Chris Kurz – in the starting lineup, setting a tone for a day in which the seniors would play an all-too integral part.

Partin, BU’s leading scorer this season, again paced the Terriers in points with 21, making him the only player with double figures in scoring, while Griffin added eight, Pelage seven and Hazel two.

But even beyond the box score, the senior have had a profound impact on not only this team, but the program as a whole.

It was a collection of players with different styles of play, personalities, as well as different backgrounds, as four were brought in by former head coach Patrick Chambers as transfers, with only one four-year player at BU in Pelage.

Most of all, though, was that it was a group that was able to come together and not only coexist, but succeed just as they did Saturday.

“It was a lot of fun because you’re suiting up with your best friends, guys who you’ve been through so much together with,” Griffin said. “It was just fun to be out there with those guys and compete.”

The day was especially sweet for Pelage, who has been used throughout his BU career as a reserve center. Coming out of the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2008, Pelage committed to BU and then-head coach Dennis Wolff.

After a promising freshman season for Pelage, Wolff was fired after completing his 15th season with the program and replaced with Chambers, who left BU last June for Penn State University after a two-year tenure on Commonwealth Ave.

Pelage obviously never expected to play for three coaches in four college seasons, all the same school no less, but he said that learning different things from different coaches, while not ideal, helped him as a player.

“These four years here, three coaches in four years, it’s been an interesting ride here,” Pelage said. “I think the best part about it is that each of those coaches taught me something and definitely helped me every year in my development and growing as a person.

“All my guys, like all my teammates anyone who’s been walking through these doors, even alumni, have taught me something.”

Pelage finished the day with a season-high seven points, his highest scoring output since his sophomore year, but his defining moment came with just over 15 minutes remaining in the game.

With BU leading 37-32, the Terriers got in transition after a missed 3-pointer by Hartford. With Griffin captaining the fast break, he saw Pelage running alongside him and threw up a lob. Reaching the height of his leap, with just his left hand, Pelage emphatically dunked the ball, bringing what had been a subdued crowd to its feet.

“Griff is usually the one that gets me in practice for it, so I guess he probably saw me coming on the wing and said, ‘You know, I’m going to throw this up,’” Pelage said. “And I just went up to go up and get it because we do it in practice, so why not?

“I’m glad I was able to capitalize and finish on it. It was pretty cool to see everyone get excited about it.”

The Terriers are set to play the Hawks yet again in the conference tournament quarterfinals, a game that would likely be BU’s last of the season if it loses.

Pressure undoubtedly builds up for seniors this time of year knowing that each game they play could be the last of their collegiate careers. But regardless of how the season finishes out, whether the Terriers bow out in the first round or if they make another run to the NCAA Tournament, seniors like Griffin are happy with the chance they’ve had to play here at BU, with Saturday’s game confirming as much.

“It was a special day for us because a lot of us have been through the ups-and-downs of college basketball, we’ve had success and failures,” Griffin said. “It was just fun to go out there one last time on your home court. You realize that it’s gone quick, but you’re just thankful for the opportunity that you had.”

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