Army Not Offering Excuses For Injury-Fueled Slide

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Amongst the alleged crumbling of American society, there are two bastions of hope that refuse to allow excuses to infiltrate thought and slow down society: team sports and the military.

Therefore it was not surprising that the first words out of Army coach Zach Spiker’s mouth after another frustrating evening that culminated in a 76-67 loss to Boston University Wednesday night were: “Injuries are no excuse”.

His opposing number, Joe Jones, begged to differ a little. After all, Tanner Plomb was averaging 21.8 points per game (14th best in the nation) and making a case for Patriot League Player of the Year before going down with a knee injury and missing the last four games. Fellow senior Kevin Ferguson is a four-year contributor, and at 6’10”, essential to everything Army does as a rim protector, and now he has been out for three games with an ankle injury.

Continue reading “Army Not Offering Excuses For Injury-Fueled Slide”

Harvard Outlasts Boston University’s Comeback

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. Continue reading “Harvard Outlasts Boston University’s Comeback”

Speed, Defense Lead Boston U. Over Army

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
Bucknell 12-5 194 1.09 1.03 0.06
Colgate 11-6 163 1.13 1.05 0.08
Lehigh 10-7 186 1.04 1.00 0.04
Boston U. 9-8 217 1.06 1.04 0.02
American 8-9 211 1.04 1.05 -0.01
Lafayette 8-9 216 1.11 1.13 -0.02
Navy 7-10 279 1.05 1.06 -0.01
Holy Cross 7-10 261 1.03 1.07 -0.04
Loyola (MD) 7-10 299 0.97 1.03 -0.06
Army 6-11 262 1.01 1.07 -0.06

Colgate Edges Boston U., Keeps Pace Atop Patriot League

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”

Boston University Holds Off American, Patriot League Remains Tightly Packed

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”

Three Thoughts: Boston University 75, Lehigh 56

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”

Three Thoughts: Harvard 70, Boston University 56

Though Boston University entered Lavietes Pavilion with a disappointing 2-5 record, the Terriers played Harvard even for nearly 30 minutes on Monday. Behind 13 points from Blaise Mbargorba and a balanced scoring effort, BU gave the hosts a scare, but the Crimson finally pulled away for a 70-56 victory on just 57 possessions, improving to 7-1. Three thoughts from the game (written during commercials of Brown’s upset over Providence):

1. The Terriers took Harvard out of its offense (for a while). Harvard entered Monday’s game taking nearly half its shots at the rim — making 61% of those attempts — while BU lacks a true shot-blocker and had allowed opponents to shoot 68% at the basket. So it was no surprise that the visitors packed in their defense, playing a tight zone and daring the Crimson to win the game from outside. Multiple Terriers collapsed on Saunders on every touch inside the arc, denying driving lanes and making entry passes to Harvard’s post players difficult.

“They want to throw it in [the post] a ton,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “Their depth is outrageous up front, so they’re able to use so many guys and wear you down. We just wanted to take that part of their game away as much as we could, and force them to do some things they didn’t want to do.”

In the first half, BU’s tactics worked well: After high-low action led to a few easy points inside, the Crimson’s offense turned into a three-point shooting contest, as 15 of their 25 first-half attempts were from distance. Corbin Miller made three NBA-range treys, but he finished the game just 3-for-13 beyond the arc, and Harvard as a whole shot 31% from three. The Crimson got back to their roots in the second half, however, working their way inside and making 16 of 17 free throws in the period. “Defensively, we got some stops, which allowed us to get out and sometimes beat the zone down,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

2. Boston U. matched up well with Harvard in other ways. The Terriers’ offense usually features four perimeter scorers, which poses problems for the Crimson’s standard two-big lineup; after Nathan Dieudonne and Eric Fanning took advantage of mismatches to score in the first half, the hosts switched to a four-guard alignment for the majority of the game. Harvard struggled with those lineups against Holy Cross earlier this season, but they were +14 when playing small on Monday, the entire margin of victory. “They’re a dangerous three-point shooting team, so we thought it’d be beneficial for us to chase them a little bit better with a smaller lineup,” Amaker said.

3. Harvard was simply better down the stretch. With less than 11 minutes remaining and the game tied, BU’s defense stymied the Crimson for 34 seconds, leaving the ball in Saunders’ hands beyond the arc as the shot clock ticked down. John Papale’s hand was at his eyeballs, but Saunders had no choice but to launch a high-arcing prayer — which dropped cleanly through the net. The Terriers threw away a baseline inbounds pass shortly after, and they went without a field goal for seven minutes as Harvard pulled away; Siyani Chambers eventually shut the door with a speedy and-one drive and a step-back jumper.

“Our issues are that we don’t execute at a high enough level, and we don’t always play with enough toughness to win games like this. We have to change that,” Jones said. “We’ve got a long way to go before we become the team we’re capable of becoming.”

Three Thoughts: Northeastern 71, Boston University 65

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: Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Northeastern 71, Boston University 65”