BOSTON -- There are instant classics and then there is what happened in the first 20 minutes of play at Agganis Arena on Sunday.
Riding a five-game winning streak and seeking to clinch at least a share of the Patriot League regular-season title, Boston University looked loose in warm-ups. More than one Terrier grooved to the music in pregame layup lines, as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
Then the ball went up and the Terriers immediately began laying brick upon brick, as if Agganis Arena were still unfinished and the apprentice masons wanted to finish the job. The Terriers missed 14 of their first 16 shots and finished the first half 0-for-7 on 3s. They were outrebounded 25-14 and out-assisted 5-1.
“Boston U is a terrific team,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “This time of February, you have games that sometimes get a little ugly. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their staff and their players and they have a terrific team.”
Despite the ugly early numbers, with a late push, capped by two Maurice Watson Jr. free throws, Joe Jones’ charges actually led 23-22 at the break.
The Terriers provided a much more memorable performance to begin the second half. Nathan Dieudonne followed Steven Kaspar to the rim on the opening possession, slapping away the layup attempt at the rim. The lanky forward hit a 3 on the ensuing possession, BU’s first of the afternoon, and the hosts were off and running.
The Terriers led by as many as nine and seemed in complete control, playing like the 20-win team they are -- spreading the ball around on offense and playing solid defense.
But the easy storyline -- BU’s senior tri-captains, feted before their last regular-season home game, helped the team battle back for a title-share clinching win -- was not to be. Bucknell finished on a 34-20 run to win 63-53.
Even with the loss, BU holds a one-game lead in the Patriot League with two games to go (at Army and at Holy Cross).
Every 50-50 ball, every hustle play went Bucknell’s way Sunday.
“That was just an old-fashioned butt-whupping,” Jones said. “They really defended us well. They beat us to loose balls. It was disappointing. My heart goes out to the seniors. You just never want to lose your last regular-season game at home.”
D.J. Irving, who Jones said has been battling the flu and missed practice the past few days, had a miserable afternoon. He finished 0-for-5 from the floor, including 0-for-3 on 3s, and 3-for-6 from the free throw line for just three points.
“Today was probably the best I felt in the last couple days,” Irving said after the game. “I wasn’t really expecting to do too much today.”
And though he toughed out 33 minutes on the court, Irving didn’t really do much. He wasn’t alone.
Irving said the Bison didn’t do anything too specific to overcome the Terriers’ nine-point second-half lead, it was all about energy.
“I think we got caught in what we’ve been getting caught in probably the last month,” he said. “We’re up big and teams come back on us. Somehow, some way we’ve got to get over that.”
Sunday’s loss was the first time this season BU (20-9, 13-3) lost when holding an opponent to fewer than 70 points. The Terriers had been 15-0 when giving up fewer than 70.
“We couldn’t let not scoring affect our defensive energy,” said Paulsen, when asked about the pep talk he gave after BU made its run. “What I said is we’re going to get back into this with offensive rebounds and toughness plays on offense. ... They made it hard for us to run our offense. You had to go and make an individual play.”
The Bison (14-13, 9-7) did that, led by big second-half performances by reserves D.J. MacLeay and Ryan Frazier. MacLeay hit the offensive boards with abandon and cleaned up, finishing with 7 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes, and Frazier converted two key and-1 plays off hard drives to the hoop, finishing with 10 points in 10 minutes.
Bucknell, which upped its win streak to four, finished with a 34-20 edge in bench points and a 15-6 edge in second-chance points. Both hinted at the difference in the game.
“I thought from the start we had no energy,” Jones said. “It’s not an excuse at all. They outplayed us. I’m not going to blame it on our lack of energy -- they played with more energy. You’ve got to be able to play this game with emotion, and we didn’t play with enough emotion.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.