Three Pointers: Marathon at the Garden

Boston_University_Northeastern_TD_Garden_Nov_10College football is, in some ways, like a blockbuster movie. Enormous crowds flock to games and rights fees are worth exorbitant amounts of cash; every sequence is scripted and rehearsed in advance; and watching one is an afternoon- or evening-long event.

In college basketball, in contrast, the crowds and revenues are smaller, though the fans are no less dedicated. Instead of dragging out over a whole afternoon, games fit neatly into two-hour windows, with more action packed into each minute. If college football is a movie, college basketball is your favorite TV show: aired more frequently; played on a smaller screen; and, as we’re reminded every March, perfect for binge-watching.

Sunday’s marathon gave Boston fans a perfect binge-watching opportunity at the TD Garden or on NESN, jamming three episodes and six Massachusetts characters into one long afternoon of hoops. The first edition of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader could have hardly been better, as the lower bowl of the Garden was reasonably full at its peak and all three games were decided in the final minutes. (For my money, the best part of the afternoon was the video introductions for each team, which were really well-packaged.)

A three-part edition of Three Pointers:

Boston University 72, Northeastern 69:

1. The ending was wild. After D.J. Irving, hyped as the preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, missed the front end of a one-and-one, Northeastern had a chance to win the game with its last shot … and went straight to the post, which rarely happens in last-second situations (but credit NU coach Bill Coen for doing so). After the entry pass was knocked away, the Huskies still had four seconds to get off a potential game-winning shot — but Malik Thomas, who was guarding inbounder David Walker, simply swiped the pass as soon as it left Walker’s hands.

2. Maurice Watson, Jr. is electric, especially in transition. In one first-half sequence, Watson assisted two three-pointers in transition, made a layup in the halfcourt, then pushed his own defensive rebound into a fast break and set up Irving for two free throws. Down seven points in the second half, Watson entered the game and went coast-to-coast for a breakaway layup, scored off a pass on another fast break, then assisted a John Papale three-pointer that brought BU within one possession. Finally, with the Terriers up by one point and their point guard isolated high, Watson simply blew by three Northeastern defenders and made an uncontested layup. Watson got into the lane almost at will, finishing with game highs of five assists and 16 points.

3. Scott Eatherton is legit. The transfer from St. Francis (Pa.) came in with high expectations and delivered on Sunday, scoring 15 points on nine shots and adding 10 rebounds, three blocks and three assists. The Terriers struggled to guard him one-on-one for the majority of the game, and crafty passing allowed Eatherton and reserve Zach Stahl to offset the Terriers’ speedy guards with brute size. It hurts to lose any game like this — even if it is payback for Northeastern’s one-possession defeats of BU in the last three openers — but if they play as they did today, the Huskies will be very competitive in the CAA.

Boston_College_Massachusetts_TD_Garden_Nov_10Massachusetts 86, Boston College 73:

1. Chaz Williams put on a show. The box score is impressive enough — 20 points, three assists, 5-for-5 shooting from three-point range — but what really made the 5-9 UMass guard’s performance memorable was the way those numbers were created. On a second-half fast break, Williams stopped and dropped a slightly-off-balance three from the top of the key, giving UMass its first lead since the first period. Two minutes later, Williams was on the right wing when he picked up his dribble and launched a heat-check three over Patrick Heckmann, breaking a 51-51 tie.

After setting up Maxie Esho for a fast-break dunk with a sweet pass, Williams dribbled down the court in transition again and pulled up for another deep three, drawing an and-one on top. On a fast break on the ensuing possession, Williams pulled up once more from behind the arc and hit nothing but net, bringing down the Garden and giving the Minutemen a lead that would never again shrink to single digits. In the wake of Bryce Cotton’s 28-point outburst in the season opener, it’s worth wondering if BC needs to change its scheme for stopping hot guards. But most of Williams’ points came on spontaneous pull-ups in transition, not in the flow of the UMass offense — and some well-defended shots went in anyway on a Chaz-diculous night.

2. UMass: 21 offensive rebounds; BC: 18 defensive rebounds. There is no question, however, that defensive rebounding is a major problem, and one that must be addressed immediately. Minutemen center Cady Lalanne grabbed eight offensive rebounds — one shy of BC’s team total — and, more importantly, turned those opportunities into 27 points on 18 possessions. Lalanne is a great offensive rebounder — he ranked 21st nationally last season in offensive rebound rate — but the Eagles will see other great offensive rebounders in the ACC, and they won’t win games in which their opponents keep more than half of their own missed shots.

3. Ryan Anderson stepped up. With Olivier Hanlan sitting for half of the first period, Anderson was huge, scoring 15 points in the frame and finishing with 22 on 8-for-16 shooting. Despite playing off the ball, he was able to take command of BC’s offense, getting the ball in a variety of ways — post touches, pick-and-rolls, passes at 12 feet — and scoring out of all those situations. With games against UConn and Purdue looming in the next month, the Eagles need to turn things around quickly — and they should keep leaning on Anderson in the frontcourt.

Harvard_Basketball_TD_Garden_Nov_11Harvard 82, Holy Cross 72:

1. Let’s put the Harvard to the Final Four talk on hold? The preseason hype for Harvard has been enormous, putting the Crimson on a pedestal where no Ivy League team has been placed in the modern era. Harvard did open its season with a victory, but it certainly wasn’t pretty — the Crimson trailed briefly with less than six minutes to go and didn’t lead by double digits until the final seconds against a team expected to finish in the bottom half of the Patriot League.

But let’s not overreact to Sunday’s struggles, either. Nearly everything went wrong for Harvard — countless good shots rimmed out, everyone in the frontcourt was caught by foul trouble, and Dave Dudzinski rained contested shots throughout the first half — and the Crimson still won by ten points. After a slow start, Harvard was always in control of the game, and its offense was in sync up until the moment the ball touched the rim. Long-term, the Crimson has to figure out how to shut down great post players, but tonight’s score could easily have been more lopsided.

2. The returning players meshed well, for the most part. After missing the 2012-13 season due to his involvement in an academic scandal, Brandyn Curry was excellent in his first game back. The point guard scored 14 points with six assists while commanding the Crimson offense, but his presence was even larger on the other end of the court, where he had two massive blocks, three steals and several other deflections. Kyle Casey’s results were more mixed; he opened the game with a dunk and showed signs of his old self with a powerful first-half spin move out of the post, but he also shot just 2-for-7 from the floor and fouled out just 20 seconds after re-entering late in the second half. Early on, Siyani Chambers looked like he was getting a little bit squeezed out of the offense by Curry’s return … but with the Crimson trailing by one point and six minutes to play, he made two free throws, hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow, dropped a three-pointer from the corner, and set up Jonah Travis for a layup — a four-possession, 9-0 run that decided the game.

3. Hello, Jonah. Harvard’s top scorer Sunday night got less preseason hype than stars such as Curry, Casey, Chambers and Wesley Saunders — or even secondary players such as Steve Moundou-Missi, Laurant Rivard, or Zena Edosomwan. It was Jonah Travis, who finished with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 10 rebounds. Despite spending a fair amount of time at center, where he struggled on defense last season, he was competent, if not dominant, defensively during the Crimson’s second-half run, even while playing with four fouls. Travis certainly benefitted from the attention drawn by his teammates — many of his points came on duck-ins or putbacks — but with expected starting center Kenyatta Smith out indefinitely with a leg injury, Travis’ emergence could be critical for Harvard.

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