BU's focus on earning NCAA berth


There’s an old saying that a goal without a plan is just a wish.

With an NCAA tournament berth on the line Wednesday night (7:30 ET on CBSSN) in the Patriot League championship game, for which 1-seed Boston University will play host to 2-seed American, the Terriers aren’t relying on wishes.

They have a plan -- focus on the nitty gritty and ignore all the noise, just as they’ve tried to do all season long.

“Everything is clicking for us,” senior tri-captain D.J. Irving said by phone after practice Monday. “We have the utmost confidence right now. ... We realize it’s a win-or-go-home situation every game we play now, so we’re a lot more focused.”

That hasn’t always been the case this season, Irving acknowledged, as BU dropped a couple of winnable games after losing big leads.

“We realized we can’t go out there and just lollygag around because that’s what we did in those close losses,” he said. “We felt how hard those losses hit us and we don’t want to feel that anymore.”

“Over the course of the season, things are going to happen,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “I think we had a stretch there when we got up big on teams and had a hard time putting them away.

“You’ve got to go through everything. First it’s ‘Can you get the lead?’ So ‘OK, we can get the lead.’ Now it’s ‘Can you sustain it?’” Jones said. “We’re in a new league, learning new things and it’s all been part of it.”

The Terriers seem to be hitting their stride at the exact right time, winning nine of their past 10 and blowing away the competition in their first two Patriot League tourney games. BU beat Lafayette by 37 in the quarterfinals and Army by 21 in the semifinals, setting up the matchup with American.

In the 23 previous Patriot League tournaments, the No. 1 seed has earned the NCAA bid 18 times. But the Terriers won’t allow themselves to even think about things like that.

During one of their first meetings of the season, Jones said, the Terriers talked about wanting to win the Patriot League regular-season title and by doing so to secure home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament. Then they moved on.

“We never even talked about winning the regular season again,” Jones said. “They knew what was on the line, but we never discussed it. ... We’re so caught up in the next game, the next practice, how you can help guys improve. We’re just trying to do that going into the next game. Everything has to be the same. We can’t make this bigger than it is. It’s got to just be the next game, at home, against American.

“We need to take care of business and we need to be focused on what we need to do to win the game.”

There is one thing that’s cropped up once in a while in the past month and a half of play though.

“When I think of American, all I think about is that 30-point loss that we had,” Irving said, referring to the 86-56 stomping the Terriers endured in D.C. “We still feel like we need revenge for that. So this is definitely a big game for us.”

Wednesday’s title game will be a matchup of the Patriot League’s top offense (BU averaged 72.5 PPG) with the Patriot League’s top defense (American allowed 59.4 PPG). The teams split the two regular-season meetings, with each winning on its home floor.

“They’re a very good team,” Jones said. “They’re a talented team. They execute at a high level. They’re just a very good team all around. It’s definitely going to be a tough game and we know that.”

Given the Terriers’ well-documented issues with focus at times, Jones was asked if he’s concerned about where their minds are now.

“Not at all,” he said. “To be honest with you, not at all.

“I was probably more concerned about the American game at home. Maybe the Holy Cross game on the road. The first game in the tournament. They answered the bell every single time [winning all three]. I have no issues with these guys right now, they are in the right frame of mind. They are ready to go.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.