When American met Boston University for the first time this season, the teams were a combined 1-7 in conference play, both reeling from critical injuries. Fast-forward a month, and in true Patriot League fashion, everything has changed: Both squads had leapt up the standings, winning four of their last five games before Wednesday’s meeting.
They bounced back by playing to their strengths: BU rediscovered its blistering offense, scoring more than 1.10 points per possession throughout a four-game win streak; meanwhile, American held four straight foes under 1.00, including an upset of league-leading Bucknell. At Case Gym, offense trumped defense, as the Terriers won 71-51 behind 1.11 ppp.
The hosts were on fire from the beginning. BU (8-5 Patriot) made all six three-point attempts in the first half and drew a foul on the seventh, while Kyle Foreman added a pair of pull-up 17-footers. The only outside shot they missed, a Foreman airball from the baseline, was caught and immediately slammed home by Nathan Dieudonne.
“When they’re switching off on things, and they have a guard on one of our bigs inside and they have to bring over weakside help, then we can get a skip pass on ball reversal for a three,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “That’s why we were able to get three-point shots tonight, because they were helping so bad inside. We hurt them inside in the last game, so I think they were trying to take that away, but it opened up the three-point shooting.”
American (5-8) stayed in the game thanks to one likely source — 12 first-half points from Jesse Reed — and a less likely one, offensive rebounding. The Terriers rode an 8-2 run into halftime, however, leading 41-29 with an 86% effective field goal percentage.
But BU was as cold in the second half as it was hot in the first, managing only five points in the first 11 minutes. Dieudonne left the game with a left ankle injury late in the first period, and two touchy offensive fouls sent Nick Havener to the bench for most of the second half. That left the Terriers in unfamiliar lineups, which committed eight turnovers in that dry spell.
“We were all screwed up,” Jones said. “We couldn’t run any offense. When we play small, we hadn’t done that in a while, and we were reeling. I wanted to play Nick and Blaise [Mbargorba] together, and then we’d be able to run a lot of our stuff — but because Nate got hurt and Nick got in foul trouble, it really threw us off.”
The Eagles weren’t electric either, but they crawled within 46-44 on free throws from freshman Delante Jones (who finished with 18 points and five assists). A few minutes later, Cheddi Mosely exploded. The BU sophomore went on a single-handed 8-0 run, bookending a fast-break layup with two three-pointers from the left wing, to put the game out of reach.
Eric Fanning scored a game-high 25 points on only 16 shooting possessions; he’s now tied for third with 16.0 ppg in Patriot League play, getting those points with a 111 offensive rating. But his defense was also on display Wednesday; he spent most of the game matched up on one of the Eagles’ top two threats, Reed and Jones. And after Paris Maragkos scored a few second-half baskets in the post, Fanning found himself battling the center down low, forcing two consecutive empty possessions.
“He was stronger than I thought. I think I’m a pretty strong guy myself, but I don’t give our bigs enough credit for what they go through every day,” Fanning said. “I like going down there sometimes, I just don’t like picking up dumb fouls. But it was fun — especially getting stops. Then I can bump my chest a little bit and feel good about getting a stop.”
Other players stepped up to support Fanning: Mosely finished with an efficient 20 points; Mbargorba was an effective rim protector and rebounder; and Foreman nabbed four steals and more deflections. The Terriers need everyone in their rotation to contribute, because Dieudonne is now their third starter on the sidelines. (Jones did not have an update on Dieudonne after the game, but the forward spent the second half in crutches after what looked like a particularly painful injury.) Cedric Hankerson and Justin Alston are out for the season, and Foreman, Mosely and John Papale have battled their own injuries this year.
Still, BU is on a five-game win streak, tied for second place in the Patriot League. They’re joined by Lehigh and Navy, two back of Bucknell (which lost to the Mountain Hawks by 15 points Wednesday). With three of their five remaining games at home — and only one date with the other top four teams left — the Terriers are in pretty good shape to get a home game in the quarterfinals.
American, meanwhile, is the Patriot League’s most Patriot League-y team. The Eagles lost their first six league games by double digits, then won five straight, before losing two more by a combined 43 points. They also have a favorable schedule, with four home games left — and if nothing else, they know how fast their momentum can turn around again.
“They went through a really rough first half of the season, and they stuck with it, kept getting better,” American coach Mike Brennan said. “I was glad that we had that little streak, just so they realize they can win, there’s some tangible results from their effort. We’ve just got to get back to that.”