Though he is demonstrative on the sideline, Boston University coach Joe Jones is typically even-keeled after games, noting the good and bad from wins and losses alike. But after the Terriers’ comeback fell short in Tuesday’s 75-69 loss to Harvard, Jones was visibly frustrated, showing the wear of a tumultuous first month.
Without any key contributors graduating, BU expected to build on continuity this year. But so far, their roster has been anything but stable. Cedric Hankerson, a first-team preseason All-Patriot League selection, tore his ACL in the spring and missed the first six games of the season. He made his debut at UMass last week — only to suffer a new knee injury in practice over the weekend. Jones said Tuesday that Hankerson is likely to sit out the rest of this season for a medical redshirt.
Other Terriers followed. Eric Fanning, last year’s second-leading scorer, also missed the first six games for violating team rules. He came off the bench against Harvard, but usual starting forward Nate Dieudonne did not, sitting out the game for a “coach’s decision.” Point guard Kyle Foreman had sat out a game and nine days of practice with an ankle injury before playing 28 minutes Tuesday. And center Justin Alston left the game midway through the second half, favoring his ankle as he hobbled to the locker room.
Behind its fourth different starting lineup in five games, BU fell behind 35-21 at halftime, committing 11 turnovers against three assists.
“We’ve had a lot of guys in and out, so our flow wasn’t great,” Jones said. “I’m frustrated for my guys, because we haven’t had a chance to have a ton of continuity with the guys on the floor. But that’s not to make any excuses — we were sloppy, we were tentative in the first half of the game.”
The Terriers’ 3-5 start is perfectly respectable given their tough opening slate, but injuries and absences can snowball. In that respect, the second half of Tuesday’s game was encouraging: BU scored 1.41 points per possession and pulled within three points in the final minute.
Not only did the hosts shoot better after halftime, they played with much more energy in front of a boisterous student crowd. They grabbed six of 15 possible offensive rebounds — including four alone from Nick Havener, who totaled 18 points and 11 boards in his first career double-double — and drew 13 free throws while committing only three turnovers.
“Right off the bat, we needed some kind of spark, some kind of energy that I don’t think we brought to the game in the beginning. But with a lot of motivation from our coaches and a collective effort in the second half, we definitely picked it up, and we started rebounding,” Havener said.
With the Crimson’s lead down to three points and 30 seconds remaining, however, Corey Johnson delivered a dagger with a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from the left corner. Harvard shot 10-19 from distance as a team, and on the heels of solid performances at Northeastern and Kansas, its offense looks as good as it has all year.
And after losing six of its first seven D-I games — many by small margins — Harvard enters its two-week exam break on a positive note. “After coming back from Kansas, we kind of just regrouped as a team and realized how much potential we have, and how much we’re capable of achieving.” Johnson said.
Three more thoughts from Case Gym:
1. Tonight was Corey Johnson’s night. The Crimson’s offense always orbits around Zena Edosomwan, but different players have stepped up to share the scoring load. Last week, it was Weisener Perez and Patrick Steeves; Tuesday, it was Johnson, who canned six of 11 threes for 18 points.
2. Without Hankerson, Kyle Foreman and Eric Fanning need to drive BU’s offense. Foreman and Fanning are the Terriers’ two best playmakers. Both came off the bench Tuesday, and it showed: BU committed four turnovers on five possessions before Foreman checked in. Foreman — who was unavailable for last week’s 99-69 drubbing at UMass — stabilized the offense with seven points and four assists. And Fanning scored a game-high 19 points on 7-10 shooting, consistently beating bigger defenders off the dribble.
3. Zena Edosomwan is a more complete offensive player. The scouting report on Edosomwan last season was no secret — throw double-teams at him from the beginning and let him struggle trying to do too much. But the junior has become much more patient and has a better sense of the court. BU double-teamed him on two early post-ups, and he made them pay with smart passes — one to Johnson for a wide-open three-pointer, another across the paint for an Evan Cummins layup. He was quiet in the second half but didn’t force shots, finishing with nine points, 13 rebounds and three assists.