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Holland, BU upend bad start to win league

BOSTON -- John Holland heated up. And that was that.

Oh, there were still plenty of anxious moments Saturday and Boston University, after a brutal beginning, never did lead until the last 2.4 seconds. But in the end, Holland’s huge second half carried the Terriers to a 56-54 win over Stony Brook and their first America East championship since 2002.

BU won its 11th straight game to improve to 21-13 and can start preparing for its seventh NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2002, as well.

“It will be a great experience,” said junior guard Matt Griffin. “I’m excited about getting back to practice, but first of all watching the selection show and seeing our name came up. That will be fun.”

Sure will.

It took a wild finish and all of Holland’s heroics -- including a game-high 27 points, all but four of them in a dominating second half -- to bring on a little BU bedlam on the Agganis Arena court and turn the NCAA tournament Selection Show into must-watch television for the Terriers.

Down by as many as 15 points early in the second half, BU still trailed 54-48 with three and a half minutes to go.

Gritty Stony Brook, which finishes the season at 15-17, never scored again.

Freshman D.J. Irving hit a pair of free throws and Dom Morris put in a layup off a feed from Holland. Then Holland, the 6-foot-5 senior forward and America East Player of the Year, made two more free throws and it was 54-54 with 1:03 left.

After a timeout, Stony Brook guard Bryan Dougher headed into the lane and ran into Holland, who tied him up.

It was BU’s turn to get the ball on the possession arrow and the Terriers went back the other way. With less than 10 seconds to go, Holland started toward the hoop from the right.

“I saw an opportunity,” Holland said. “And it worked.”

He got by the first defender and Dallis Joyner tried to cut him off. Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell thought Holland probably traveled, but Joyner was called for a foul, sending Holland to the line.

It was over.

Holland swished both shots, and after Dougher heaved a desperation bid from half court that bounced off the rim and away, the celebration was on.

Fans stormed the court and the Terriers.

BU coach Pat Chambers, who ran his America East numbers to one runner-up finish and one championship in two seasons, made his way across the court, climbed onto the media table and thrust his fists high to the crowd.

The shining moment of the afternoon for Chambers?

“These kids running onto the floor and hugging each other,” he said. “And the BU fans swarming the floor and our players. They haven’t seen it in a long time. Today was our day.”

It didn’t look like it for the first 36 minutes or so.

How bad was BU’s start?

At the midway mark of the first half, the Terriers trailed 9-2. They were 1-for-11 from the field, 0-for-5 in three-pointers and had turned the ball over five times.

Things improved, slowly and unsteadily, from there.

BU got the lead down to four points late in the first half and it was 30-23 at the break, but the Seawolves pushed it back into double figures to open the second half.

Then Holland took over.

He scored 14 straight points himself in one span, cutting Stony Brook’s lead down to 41-40 with 10:32 left to play.

“That stretch he just had in the second half where he literally took over the whole game and went on a one-man wrecking crew, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Chambers said. “It was pretty amazing.”

There was more work to be done, but the Terriers, thanks to the lone senior on their roster, were back in it.

Holland, who came in averaging 19 points a game, got his 27 and added a game-high 11 rebounds. He made 10 of his 11 foul shots but was only 1-for-7 on 3-point shots.

That was the thing. The Terriers had their troubles. They were only 2-for-19 from beyond the arc as a team and they had only two assists for the game. But they were 24-for-29 from the foul line and played tough defense.

And they survived the ugly start.

Holland made one of his first seven field goal attempts and was 0-for-3 in 3-pointers in the first half. The team was 0-for-10 in treys at the break.

They never looked back.

“At the half, I just told them to take a deep breath and go out and have some fun and play with amazing confidence,” Chamber said.

Keep shooting was the message. Don’t worry about the score. Play hard. Rebound.

“I don’t think once we felt that we were out of the game,” Chambers said. “Every huddle, I’d tell them to stop looking at the scoreboard. Stick together and there’s plenty of time left in the game.”

Well, time enough, at least.

Holland’s thoughts when he had no points through the first 17 minutes?

“I knew I had to be aggressive and go out and make plays,” Holland said.

He was. He and his teammates did.

As a result, the Terriers will be watching television with much interest Sunday night.