Offense rolls again as BU reaches Patriot League final

BU's bench erupts after Justin Alston's putback dunk in the second half of Saturday's 91-70 win over Army.

BU’s bench erupts after Justin Alston’s putback dunk in the second half of Saturday’s 91-70 win over Army. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

In the regular season, Boston University had an offense that was good but not great. The Terriers scored 1.08 points per possession in Patriot League play, good for fourth in the conference (though not far from first or sixth). Though BU won the conference championship by two games, it did so as much on the strength of its defense as its offense, which mixed good games with off nights.

In two postseason games, however, the Terriers’ offense has found a gear that few teams can reach. Three days after BU dropped 91 points on Lafayette in the Patriot League Tournament semifinal, the Terriers matched that number against Army, advancing to the title game with a 91-70 win. Maurice Watson, Jr. set a program record with 17 assists (against only one turnover), including a dozen in the second half, in which BU scored a blistering 52 points on 33 possessions.

“We’re playing with a level of focus that we hadn’t been playing with all year,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “This is where you want to be playing your best ball, and we are absolutely playing our best basketball right now.”

For about 30 minutes of Saturday’s game, a second straight laugher was the last outcome anyone expected. BU swept the Black Knights in the regular season, but only by the slimmest of margins: Overtime in the first meeting; one point in the second. While BU settled for several jumpers, Army took a six-point lead by driving into the paint, earning 12 of its first 15 points at the rim (or on free throws earned there).

On the shoulders of their electric backcourt, however, the Terriers quickly snatched the lead, stretching it to as many as 10 points before halftime. D.J. Irving and Maurice Watson, who combined to torch Lafayette in the previous round, scored or assisted on 34 of BU’s 39 first-half points against the Black Knights. Watson repeatedly beat the visitors’ pressure, going coast-to-coast for a layup off of a made basket late in the period, while Irving’s 12 points included a three-pointer that pushed the lead to double digits.

But the Knights, who overcame a 22-point deficit to force overtime at Aggains Arena in January, were hardly deterred, knotting the score with a 10-0 run spanning halftime. That sequence was capped by a jumper from Kyle Wilson, the linchpin of Army’s offense, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 50% shooting; behind Wilson’s scoring and 19 total offensive rebounds (on 37 opportunities), the Knights’ offense had an adequate game.

Despite a streak of eight straight missed shots — five of which came on one possession — Army still trailed just 55-50 with 11:30 to play, and another exciting finish seemed in store. Then, the Terriers’ offensive onslaught began. A 13-2 run, including three assists and a jumper from Watson, put the game just about out of reach, and BU answered every Army basket with one of its own down the stretch.

“When I woke up this morning, I felt like this was going to be a 20-point win for us,” Watson said. “I felt like, the first couple games, we didn’t have our best game defensively; we didn’t do the things we wanted to do … When we come out and play with that energy and focus, it adds more fuel to the fire, because our offense is kicking, and then our defense is kicking, and that gets the crowd going, and then everything’s going our way.”

Maurice Watson, Jr. dribbles past Army's Dylan Cox in the second half. Watson finished with 17 assists, most by a D-I player this season.

Maurice Watson, Jr. dribbles past Army’s Dylan Cox in the second half. Watson finished with 17 assists, most by a D-I player this season. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

Watson and Irving led the way, but several teammates followed with good outings. Dom Morris was all but a non-factor offensively in the first two Army-BU games, held in check by Knights center Kevin Ferguson, but he scored 11 second-half points on perfect shooting on Saturday. John Papale made six of seven shots for 14 points in the final 20 minutes.

Malik Thomas finished the game with 15 points, three off his career high from the first Army game, but his teammates’ favorite play was a coast-to-coast drive late in the second half that featured a behind-the-back dribble near halfcourt and another juke in the paint. The lanky Thomas ultimately missed that layup — but it was slammed home by Justin Alston, sending the BU bench into frenzy (see the top photo).

In the final minutes, the only remaining question was how high Watson’s assist total would go. After returning at the five-minute mark with 13 assists, the speedy point guard added four (plus a basket of his own) on the next six possessions. A Papale three-pointer from the top of the key rolled around the rim three times before falling, giving Watson a record-tying 16th assist; another Papale trey on the next possession gave Watson dime number 17, the most for a D-I player this season. (According to Basketball State, the only superior performance of the last six years was Phil Pressey’s 19 assists in an overtime game against UCLA last season.)

“He can be going full speed, and the game is still slow for him,” Jones said. “He can be going laterally, straight, full-court, sideways, and see things develop, and he usually makes the right plays. They pressed us, and that opened up that part of his game for him.”

In Wednesday’s Patriot League final, the Terriers will host American, which closed the regular season in a 3-5 slump but recovered to beat Colgate and Holy Cross in the tournament. In the first BU-American matchup this season, the Eagles torched BU for 86 points in a blowout victory. But with the state of the Terriers’ offense at the moment, if one team scores in the 80s or higher again this time, it’s likely to be the other one.

After beating Army, BU will return to Agganis Arena to face American on Wednesday with an NCAA bid at stake.

After beating Army, BU will return to Agganis Arena to face American on Wednesday with an NCAA bid at stake. (Beanpot Hoops photo)

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