The Boston University Terriers were 10-13 when they welcomed the Maine Black Bears to their Commonwealth Avenue campus on Feb. 1.
Maine was riding high. Having won seven straight games, the Black Bears bused into Boston atop the America East standings at 8-1.
BU, meanwhile, was scuffling. The Terriers were 3-3 in their past six games, the up and down play the basketball equivalent of a sine curve: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss.
Second-year Terriers coach Patrick Chambers said something happened after that last loss, a 60-48 road failure at UNH. He’s just not sure what.
Neither are his players.
Whatever it was, starting with the game that snowy Tuesday evening in Case Gym against Maine, the Terriers have done nothing but win since.
“I can’t say that I saw it coming,” Chambers said of the now 10-game win streak, one that has the Terriers hosting the America East championship game Saturday in Agganis Arena against Stony Brook (12:02 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with an NCAA berth on the line. “I knew we had talent and knew we had a good core of kids. You just don’t know when that’s gonna turn on.
“You don’t know when enough’s enough, and the losing finally gets to you.”
Darryl Partin, a 6-foot-6, 190-pound guard who landed at BU after a stop at La Salle, chalked the streak up to the team finally jelling.
“Like most teams in America, early in the season the chemistry may not be 100 percent there,” Partin said. “Everybody is still feeling out the system and then one day everything just clicks.”
Chambers said injuries -- including a season-ending foot injury to Jake O’Brien, the 2009 AE Rookie of the Year -- played a role in the team’s struggles, in that they kept players from settling into their roles.
Those same injuries may have helped, in a way.
“When he went down it was tough,” Matt Griffin said of O’Brien. “We realized that each guy had to step up and contribute a little more offensively and defensively. That was the only way we could get better as a team.”
Junior transfers Partin, Griffin (Rider) and Patrick Hazel (Marquette) stepped up their efforts without O’Brien (a BC High product), helping lessen the burden on John Holland, the 2011 America East Player of the Year and back-to-back conference scoring champ. Holland passed the 2,000-point mark in the home game against Maine, becoming just the second Terrier to reach that mark, and has averaged 19.0 points per game as a senior. In two games this season against Stony Brook, which is in its first AE final, Holland has scored 46 points, on 13-for-28 shooting from the field, and made 15 of 16 free throws.
But the prolific scorer is not a vocal leader and, while he’s gotten better in that department, Chambers said the Terriers have benefitted from the energy and effort of tri-captains Griffin and Hazel (O’Brien is the third part of the captaincy).
“That’s what you strive for,” Chambers said. “When the players take over you know you have something special.”
Saturday’s final may turn out to be special, too.
The Terriers (20-13, 12-4) finished second in AE in offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, averaging 106.2 points per 100 possessions. The Seawolves (15-16, 8-8) finished second in AE in defensive efficiency, averaging 92.8 points allowed per 100 opponent possessions.
And while the Terriers swept the two regular-season meetings between the teams, no member of BU is putting much stock in past performance.
“I don’t think [it helps] at all,” Partin said. “Stony Brook is a completely different team, and I think this time of year, March, anything can happen. It doesn’t really matter that we’ve won before or whatnot, because come Saturday it’s up in the air.”
Picked by the coaches to finish second in the conference this season, Stony Brook suffered a major blow early when leading rebounder and defensive driver Tommy Brenton was lost for the season. The Seawolves then lost senior Chris Martin to a knee injury that required surgery midseason.
With Martin back in the fold, healthy and productive, the Seawolves have won four in a row -- relying heavily on their usually stingy defense -- and promise to make things interesting for the second-seeded hosts in the final.
“In this league the playing field is so evenly balanced,” Griffin said, explaining why he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the fifth-seeded Seawolves emerge from the opposite end of the bracket. “Anybody on any given night can beat anybody. Everything is up for grabs, that’s how I’ve felt all season. That’s why the America East is so tough.”
Winning in the America East requires teams to persevere on both ends of the floor, and Chambers says that’s the type of team his Terriers are growing into.
“I just preach mix it up, don’t settle, don’t become a jump shooting team,” the coach said of his offensive philosophy. “If you see a shot, take it. If you see a lane, drive it. We just need to do a great job mixing it up because if we don’t we’re easy to defend. But I think that’s true of any team.”
BU will definitely have to mix it up against Stony Brook, which swept the two regular-season meetings in Chambers’ first season.
“They beat us badly twice last year because their defense was brutal,” Chambers said. “They forced our offense out to half court.”
“They’ve always been a good defensive team,” Partin said of the Seawolves. “But we’re a tough-minded team, too. We believe in defending and rebounding.
“It’s gonna be a battle.”
To the victor goes the spoils, the America East title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.