Entering the 2013-14 season, expectations were high for Boston University guard D.J. Irving. As a junior, Irving was the primary scorer in the Terriers’ offense, leading the team with 14.4 points per game and receiving first-team all-conference honors in the America East. And as the team sought a championship in its first year in the Patriot League, Irving was expected to be the leader, earning consensus preseason Player of the Year honors.
And then, in the first third of this season, Irving was … just okay. He showed flashes of stardom — the game-winning shot at Quinnipiac that capped a 25-point performance, the efficient 23 points at a talented George Washington team — but with Maurice Watson, Jr. dominating the ball and Dom Morris demanding touches inside, Irving spent lots of time as something of a third option on offense. Through 11 games, he ranked third on the Terriers in scoring, his offensive rating was down several points from last year’s 101.5, and his production had fallen, if only slightly, in nearly every other category.
But in BU’s biggest win of the season — an 83-77 victory at Maryland on Saturday afternoon — Irving was back in the spotlight. Despite playing only a foul-limited 22 minutes, Irving led all scorers with 25 points, hitting four three-pointers and icing the game with several free throws down the stretch.
Here’s where Irving’s 25 points came from:
Irving’s game got off to an inauspicious start — within the first two minutes, he was whistled for moving-screen fouls on consecutive possessions, resulting in two wasted possessions and a trip to the bench. But with Travis Robinson waiting for him at the scorer’s table, Irving took and made a three on the next possession — a hint of what was to come.
Within minutes of checking back in midway through the half, Irving made a driving layup at the rim, then hit a three from the opposite wing to cap a 7-0 Terriers run. He added a third trey and two pull-up jumpers from outside 17 feet later in the half, bringing his total to 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting at the break.
Shortly after halftime, he added five more in quick succession when a strong drive earned two free throws and his fourth three-pointer found the net. Like most of the Terriers, Irving struggled from three-point range early in the season; in his last five games, though, the senior is 15-for-30 from distance, bringing his average up to a career-high 41 percent.
For the game, Irving took five shots from three-point range, three from midrange and three at the rim, almost exactly matching his season splits. His forays to the basket all came from the top of the key, and most of them ended at the right side of the rim, save for one wild attempt late in the shot clock. With Watson struggling from the line, Irving had the ball in his hands for most of the final minute; his 5-for-8 free-throw shooting wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for BU to hold on.
Going forward, 25-point games aren’t likely to be the norm for Irving. Few defenders will be able to handle Watson’s speed or Morris’ strength in conference play, and both of them have been considerably more efficient scorers than Irving this season. But Irving remains capable of taking over games when his teammates are struggling, and few mid-majors have a second or third option capable of scoring 25 points.
That likely won’t be enough for Irving to fulfill the Player of the Year expectations — but it might make BU the best team in the Patriot League.