In the opener of Sunday afternoon’s Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader at TD Garden, Northeastern came from behind to beat Boston University, 71-65. Three mostly BU-centric thoughts from the season opener, with more on Northeastern to come this week:
1. Another chapter was written in a great cross-town rivalry. In last year’s Coaches vs. Cancer event, the Terriers eked out a 72-69 victory. Though the Huskies returned almost all their key contributors while BU’s roster changed dramatically, the result was another game that came down to the final minute — surprising no one in attendance, given the Beantown rivals’ recent history. In 2012, the Huskies won at home on a last-second three-pointer; in 2009 and 2011, the two sides split overtime victories. Not since 2006 has the annual contest been decided by double digits.
“My three years here, the games have been great,” BU guard John Papale said. “We definitely go into this game trying to beat them, since they’re less than a mile away. It means something to us; I’m sure it means something to them.”
“You never want to lose to BU,” Northeastern forward Quincy Ford said. “We see them all the time, we play pickup during the summer, there’s always trash-talking and friendly competition going back and forth.”
2. BU’s rebuilt offense showed positive signs. After losing their three top offensive options to graduation or transfer, the Terriers’ reorganized attack was strong in its debut, scoring 65 points in 62 possessions against a defense that was one of the CAA’s best last year. Freshman Cheddi Mosely made all three of his three-point attempts, while transfers Eric Fanning and Blaise Mbargorba combined for 14 points off the bench. The Terriers’ ball movement was strong throughout the game, as 17 of their 21 field goals were assisted. Northeastern’s offense was overpowering down the stretch, but BU’s first performance was still encouraging for a young team that should improve.
“When you look at us in February, I think you’re going to see a really good basketball team, but we have to get some questions answered. We have so many new faces,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “You’re talking about two transfers, four freshmen. It’s going to take time to evolve … But I like what I saw, and I like our future.”
3. An old Terrier learns new tricks. As a freshman and sophomore, Papale was almost exclusively a spot-up shooter in BU’s offense; less than 13% of his shots came at the rim in each season (per hoop-math.com), and his assist rate hovered around 7%. But without former ball-handlers D.J. Irving and Maurice Watson, Jr., Papale was often tasked with running the offense on Sunday, and he showed off some different skills. The junior dished six assists against two turnovers, and four of his 12 shots were layups, including a coast-to-coast drive in which he weaved through defenders for a transition lay-in.
“When we recruited John, that’s one thing I saw from him — he’s more than just a guy who can make a jump shot. I thought he got pegged as a jump shooter, but he’s a good basketball player.” Jones said. “Now he’s having a chance to evolve into a guy who’s going to have to carry us at times and show more parts of his game, and he’s very capable of doing it.”