Boston University and Quinnipiac may not seem like natural basketball rivals, but their non-conference series has been plenty entertaining. Their prior four meetings all went down to the wire, and in each of the last two, a late three-pointer propelled the Terriers to victory. So in the waning seconds of Sunday’s tie game, when John Papale rose from the top of the arc — the same spot as his overtime-forcing trey two years ago and D.J. Irving’s game-winning shot last year — it was no surprise that the ball hit nothing but nylon, giving the BU another dramatic 71-68 win.
“I’ve seen him make so many big shots — I think he makes more big ones than he misses,” BU coach Joe Jones said of Papale.
Cedric Hankerson had led the Terriers back from a second-half deficit, finishing with a game-high 23 points and five steals while making big plays down the stretch. But for their final play, the hosts turned to ace shooter Papale, who curled around center Justin Alston for a handoff, took two dribbles to his left and stepped back for the game-winning shot over Evan Conti with 3.4 seconds left. “It means a lot to me that they’re giving me the ball in those situations, and I came through,” said Papale (who bested his older brother Mike, Quinnipiac’s director of basketball operations).
“He can make big shots, and he made a real big one at the end of the game,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “I thought we guarded it decently, but not good enough.”
The Terriers opened Sunday’s game in a tight zone designed to limit the Bobcats’ offensive strengths: getting to the rim, drawing free throws and rebounding relentlessly. On all three dimensions, BU was successful in the first 20 minutes. Quinnipac entered the game taking 45% of its shots at the rim, but only one of its 29 first-half attempts was a layup; meanwhile, the Bobcats managed just five free-throw attempts and two second-chance points.
Usually, those stats would spell doom for Quinnipiac’s offense — but on Sunday, the visitors were saved by hot outside shooting. After making just 27% of their three-pointers for the season, the Bobcats hit seven of 11 before halftime at Case Gymnasium, making an additional eight of 19 two-point jumpers to finish the period with 1.37 points per possession. “When we’ve lost games so far this year, we’ve played some poor offense,” Moore said. “We focused on it for four days in practice, and guys got a lot of extra shots up.”
Similar offensive outbursts have buried the Terriers this season, but they kept pace with Quinnipac for most of the first half, pushing the tempo selectively to counter the Bobcats’ glass-crashing style. After falling behind 11-2 early on, BU answered with a lightning-quick 13-2 run, scoring eight of those points before the shot clock hit :28. Despite Quinnipiac’s insane shooting, the hosts were within 41-36 at halftime.
“We’ve struggled to play with energy every night. Even if we lost tonight, I was going to tell the guys, this was a basketball game,” Jones said. “Even when they were scoring, I felt like we were competing, and that’s all you can ask for.”
With the Terriers in man-to-man defense for most of the second half, the Bobcats looked more like their usual selves, stretching their lead to eight points on a third-chance dunk by Ousmane Drame. But the tenor changed after Drame picked up his fourth foul at the nine-minute mark. The star forward finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but he was on the bench as Hankerson and Eric Fanning relentlessly drove into the paint and got to the free-throw line (where BU shot 21-for-23).
Hankerson’s heat-check three from the left wing tied the game at 63, setting the stage for a back-and-forth final six minutes. Quinnipiac’s offense sputtered down the stretch, managing only one field goal and one offensive rebound in that span. With the score tied, the Bobcats were one-shot-and-done on each of their last two possessions, setting the stage for Papale’s game-winner.
After a frustrating 2-6 start, the Terriers hope Sunday’s dramatic victory marks a turning point. They were in trouble in the first half, when Quinnipiac was white-hot from outside; they were in trouble in the second half, when the deficit approached double digits; and they were in trouble down the stretch, when one bad bounce could have changed everything. But for the first time this season, BU won a game that was in doubt in the final minutes.
“It’s big just to win a close game,” Papale said. “That was our big problem in a couple games we lost — we were right there at the end, and we couldn’t pull it out.”