A step forward on defense is the only thing standing between Boston University and a run at the Patriot League title. The Terriers were picked third in the preseason poll, thanks to their deep well of returning talent — but that talent ranked 317th nationally in defensive efficiency last year. In that light, it was notable not just that they beat Albany on Monday night, but how they did it: BU held the Great Danes scoreless over the final 3:40, sneaking out a come-from-behind, 69-64 victory at Case Gym. Continue reading “Boston University Defense Comes Alive, Edges Albany”
For a few minutes Thursday evening, it looked as if the Patriot League quarterfinals might have little drama. All four home teams led by multiple possessions at halftime, and three extended their advantages to double digits early in the second half.
But this year’s Patriot League has found excitement at every turn, and its postseason is no exception. One game went to overtime, another was decided in the final minute, and the only true blowout came between teams with identical records in the 4-5 game. A recap:
#1 Bucknell 90, #8 Holy Cross 83 (OT): Malcolm Miller wouldn’t end his career quietly. After a lethargic first half, the Crusaders trailed by as many as 16 points in the second before their star senior turned it on. Miller had four traditional three-point plays in a four-minute stretch, making seven straight shots to lead the visitors back in the game. After blocking two shots on one possession, Miller made two free throws to give Holy Cross the lead at the two-minute mark.
The Crusaders led by three with 30 seconds to play, but as he’d done all night, first-team all-conference guard Chris Hass answered. Eric Green, one of the league’s best defenders, bumped Hass from behind, turning Hass’ short floater into a game-tying three-point play. The Bison pulled away in overtime to avoid becoming the first 1-seed to bow out before the finals in Patriot League Tournament history.
Hass matched a career high with 32 points, while Miller set his own with 34 in his career finale. In contrast to his 30-performance at Boston U. last week, Miller got most of Thursday’s points inside. Nine of his 11 field goals came in the paint, and even with an inefficient overtime period, he needed only 24 shooting possessions to get his 34 points:
#2 Colgate 72, #7 Navy 62: Aided by garbage-time free throws, the Raiders scored 1.26 points per possession after the break to advance to the semifinals. Matt McMullen had a double-double in the second half alone, totaling 18 points and 15 rebounds, as Colgate advanced to its first semifinals since 2009.
Rookie Bryce Dulin scored a career-high 16 points at an opportune time, all in the second half, but the Midshipmen never pulled closer than six points down the stretch. After blocking a tournament record eight shots against Army, Will Kelly didn’t swat a single ball on Thursday. Limited by foul trouble, Kelly played only 23 minutes, and Navy was outscored by 12 points with him on the bench.
#6 American 68, #3 Lehigh 62: The Mountain Hawks will have a long offseason to stew on their first-round exit: As a home favorite, they lost by two possessions while shooting 7-16 from the free-throw line. Lehigh was actually one of the nation’s better foul shooting teams this year, ranking in the top 50 at 73%. Tim Kempton played like the league’s Player of the Year, scoring 20 points on 9-9 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds, but his teammates went 3-14 from three-point range.
Like many coaches, American’s Mike Brennan has shortened his rotation down the stretch; unlike many coaches, Brennan’s rotation was already limited to seven players, and is now down to six. Jesse Reed and Pee Wee Gardner each played the full 40 minutes, enough time for the former to score 24 points and the latter to notch 10 assists (against one turnovers). Marko Vasic posted a double-double despite spending 82 whole seconds on the bench.
#4 Lafayette 89, #5 Boston U. 64: After Holy Cross torched the Terriers with 13 three-pointers in their regular-season finale, Boston U. coach Joe Jones was frustrated with his team’s defensive inconsistency. “When you look at our defensive field goal percentage in our nine [conference] wins, we’ve held teams to 37%. In nine losses, it’s 48%,” he said. “We’ve been really up and down all year, just in our ability to be focused and connected.”
Thursday was another down night for the Terriers, as Lafayette posted a 77% effective field goal percentage, including a Patriot League Tournament-record 16 threes, en route to a blowout victory. No team expects to allow 55% shooting beyond the arc, but surrendering 29 attempts (many of which were open) is inexcusable against a team ranked in the top 10 nationally in three-point accuracy. Point guard Nick Lindner (5-8 from three) led the way with 23 points as one of five Leopards in double figures.
Lafayette avenged a similarly lopsided loss at Boston U. in last year’s quarterfinals. More remarkably, the Leopards scored their 89 points while only attempting two free throws, becoming the first team to do so since at least 2010.
Semifinals (Sunday, March 8):
#4 Lafayette at #1 Bucknell
#6 American at #2 Colgate
Final (Wednesday, March 11):
#6/2 vs #4/1, at higher seed
Those papers in the trash across the room are the discarded Patriot League scripts for the 2014-15 season. With some irony, I mentioned in my preview just before conference play started that the non-conference campaign had pretty much gone according to plan. Continue reading “Patriot League Tournament Preview (With Fearless Predictions)”
At Agganis Arena on Saturday afternoon, it didn’t seem to matter where Malcolm Miller was shooting from. A tough floater in the lane, or a bank shot from a crafty angle? Both good. An NBA-range three-pointer through contact? Straight and pure. A step-back 26-footer, with the shot clock low, over Cedric Hankerson’s outstretched arm? Nothing but net. Continue reading “Malcolm Miller Carries Holy Cross in Patriot League Finale”
Under Zach Spiker, Army has been the fastest-paced team in the Patriot League for four years running. This year’s Cadets are the fastest version yet, topping 70 possessions per game even as the rest of the nation stagnates. But instead of trying to slow the Cadets down on Wednesday night, Boston University often ran right with them, rolling to a 63-57 win at Agganis Arena.
Boston U. made clear its intention to run late in the first half. Cedric Hankerson took a quick outlet pass and raced down the court, drawing two free throws and a second foul on Army star Kyle Wilson. Twenty seconds later, Eric Fanning beat the Cadets down the court off of a loose rebound for a layup and one, stretching the Terriers’ lead to a game-high 15 points.
The hosts also flashed a full-court press, helping squeeze 69 possessions into Wednesday’s game. BU has grown more comfortable in fast-paced skin throughout the year: After ranking in the mid-200s nationally in adjusted tempo early in the season, the Terriers have risen to the top 150. Coach Joe Jones said there hasn’t been a conscious effort to play faster, but the data shows an acceleration throughout Patriot League play:
The Terriers opened the game with a 15-2 run and led by a dozen points at halftime. Each time, Army came back to within striking distance, only to see the Terriers pull away again. “Every time we made a run, they had an answer. It really was the case the entire night,” Spiker said.
Those runs often featured BU center Justin Alston, who scored a career-high 18 points on 8-12 shooting. After the Black Knights pulled within one possession midway through the second half, Alston picked out Nathan Dieudonne under the basket for an easy basket, drew a foul and split a pair of free throws the next time down the floor, and then ended the same possession with a putback and one.
Alston was also strong on the defensive end, helping limit Army center Kevin Ferguson to 10 points — half his total in January’s meeting, a 71-67 Cadets win. On a key possession in the final two minutes, Alston forced Ferguson into a low-percentage shot from the post, then ripped down the rebound in traffic. “We just wanted to be really aggressive, and try to take them out and force them to catch the ball out further,” Alston said. “Their big men are long and athletic, so we wanted to take them out and force the guards to do more with the ball.”
The Terriers improved to 9-8, alone in fourth place in the Patriot League. A win in Saturday’s season finale against Holy Cross (OR a Lafayette loss to Army OR an American win over Bucknell) will secure the 4-seed and a first-round home game in the conference tournament next week. BU will enter the postseason on a high note, having won five of its last seven. After struggling defensively for most of the season, the Terriers have held opponents under a point per possession in each of those five victories, including Army’s .83 ppp on Wednesday.
“If you had to say to me a month ago, what were our issues with our team, it was our defense. We’ve gotten a lot better that way,” Jones said. “What we’ve done in practice is, we haven’t worked a lot on offensive execution … it’s been completely time spent defensively. I think that’s why we are where we are.”
Meanwhile, Army has been trending in the opposite direction. The Cadets were in third place after beating BU a month ago. They’ve lost seven of eight games since, and they now sit alone in the cellar at 6-11, a game behind Holy Cross, Navy and Loyola (MD). Army was ranked second in the preseason poll, but it will be the 10-seed in the 10-team Patriot League Tournament. (The Cadets will tie at least one other team at 7-11 with a win over Lafayette, but they lose the tiebreaker in any possible permutation.)
At the top of the league, Bucknell needs a win or a Colgate loss to secure the top seed, while Lehigh is locked into #3. American and Lafayette are tied for the 5-6 seeds entering the final game, and either will lock up a first-round bye with a win Saturday. Thanks to the tiebreaker math, Lafayette will be in trouble with a loss, while American should stay out of the bottom four either way. (If my late-night logic is accurate, the Eagles are safe unless they lose AND Lafayette wins AND Loyola wins AND BU wins.)
The full tempo-free standings:
|Record||KenPom||Off. PPP||Def. PPP||Margin|
Like many Patriot League games, Wednesday’s Colgate at Boston University matchup went down to the wire. A back-and-forth second half left the visitors ahead by one point heading into the final minute, when 6’11” center Ethan Jacobs buried a decisive three-pointer. The Raiders added a few free throws for a 76-69 margin, keeping pace with Bucknell atop the league at 9-4. Continue reading “Colgate Edges Boston U., Keeps Pace Atop Patriot League”
While we have tangible defensive statistics to pore over in the 21st century, they aren’t exactly as concrete or in-depth as their offensive counterparts, especially on the individual level. Continue reading “Dylan Cox Key To Another Army Victory”
Before Wednesday’s visit to Agganis Arena, American had won three straight games thanks to three last-second shots by Pee Wee Gardner. Meanwhile, Boston University had lost three in a row, two of which were decided on the final play. So when the Eagles clawed within one possession and had the ball entering the final minute, it looked like their streak of late-game highlights might continue. Continue reading “Boston University Holds Off American, Patriot League Remains Tightly Packed”
Lafayette and Boston University each entered Saturday with top-50 offenses and bottom-50 defenses, promising lots of points for their meeting at Agganis Arena. Though the score wasn’t high, thanks to a slow pace and some missed shots, the game was predictably decided by who had the ball last. Reserve guard Zach Rufer’s layup with two seconds left gave the Leopards a 63-62 win, ending their two-game skid and handing BU its first conference loss. Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Lafayette 63, Boston University 62”
Allowing 17 straight points is usually a terrible way to end a game. But it was just a garbage-time footnote for Boston University on Saturday afternoon, not even halving what had been a 75-39 lead. The Terriers led for all but 12 seconds of their home conference opener, burying Lehigh with a barrage of three-pointers to improve to 2-0 in Patriot League play, and dropping the Mountain Hawks to 0-2. Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Boston University 75, Lehigh 56”