Monday, February 24, 2014
Despite loss to Bucknell, BU still in control
By Jack McCluskey
Before he had even taken his seat at the postgame interview table, BU coach Joe Jones let the reporters gathered before him know exactly how he felt.
Disappointed. Embarrassed, even, at the display his Terriers had just put on in their 63-53 loss to Bucknell in the regular-season home finale Sunday.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We’ve gotta put it behind us and get ready. The thing we’ve gotta be able to do is compete. If we compete we’ll be in good shape. But I can’t sit here and tell you we deserved to win tonight.”
Outside of a brief stretch to open the second half, the Terriers looked flat for much of the senior-day matchup. Bison coach Dave Paulsen tried to give BU an out, saying sometimes games like that happen in February -- the tail end of the dog days of a college basketball season before March excitement arrives.
“It always surprises you when you don’t [play with energy,]” Jones said. “But you just know, you’ve played 32 games, it’s gonna happen. ... You don’t want it to happen. It was just disappointing that it happened now.”
It didn’t come as a complete surprise, which in some ways makes it more difficult to stomach. Following as it did on the heels of a key win over American, which BU has been battling for Patriot League top seed all season, Jones knew the matchup with Bucknell was set up for a letdown and tried to guard against it.
“This was a grind-it-out fistfight and we were not ready,” he said. “They were just gonna grind it out, grind it out, grind it out. You were gonna have to be mentally and physically prepared to do it. That’s one of the things I was concerned about after the American game.
“Everyone was talking about, ‘That was the game of the year.’ C’mon, all these games are big. You’ve gotta be ready to go.”
The Terriers weren’t ready Sunday, and for the time being it cost them a chance to clinch at least a share of the Patriot League regular-season title.
“I think we got caught in what we’ve been getting caught in probably the last month,” senior tri-captain D.J. Irving said. “We’re up big and teams just come back on us. It bit us in the butt once again. Somehow, someway we’ve gotta get over that.”
The Terriers have struggled to hold leads, including leading Army by as many as 22 and then watching the Black Knights force overtime before battening down the hatches for the win, and neither Irving nor Jones seemed interested in excuses. They know they need to find answers, and fast.
With two regular-season games remaining -- rematches at Army on Wednesday night (7 ET) and at Holy Cross on Saturday afternoon (2 ET) -- BU (20-9, 13-3 Patriot League) sits a game up on American (16-11, 12-4) and two games up on Holy Cross (17-11, 11-5).
Irving said he hopes the team can take something from an otherwise forgettable outing against Bucknell.
“I think it’s just a lack of maturity on our part,” Irving said of the inconsistent efforts. “It’s obvious, but people don’t know that we still have a young team. We lack maturity at times. Those rough times, we’ll learn from it. Eventually we’ll learn from it.”
Asked what he meant by lacking maturity, Irving elaborated.
“When I say maturity, bad things happen, we put our heads down,” he said. “We just let a lot of little things get to us at times. It’s better for it to happen now than come playoff time. Hopefully before playoff time we can learn from it and just get past it.”
Despite the slip-up against the Bisons, the Terriers can still write their own ticket to the postseason. Win one more and clinch at least a share of the regular-season title, win out and they clinch outright. They already have clinched at least a top-two finish and a quarterfinal home game in the Patriot League tournament.
That knowledge is why both Jones and Irving seemed sure Sunday that the Terriers could put the loss behind them.
“I’m very confident that our guys will be ready to go on Wednesday,” Jones said.
There’s still plenty to play for, after all.
When Irving was asked Sunday what he’ll remember best from his four years on Comm. Ave., he said the Terriers seniors -- who were celebrated on the court with their parents pregame Sunday -- aren’t done making memories.
“Hopefully it’s not my first NCAA tournament,” Irving said. “I want it to be the second NCAA tournament, which should be this year. So I want that to be the best memory I have here.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.