With three road games already behind them, the BU men’s basketball team, ranked number-one in the America East preseason, is set for tonight’s home opener against Marist. The tip-off is at 7 p.m. at Case Gymnasium. While fans will see a familiar face in second-year head coach Patrick Chambers, they can be forgiven if they don’t recognize most of the players on the court.
Only three Terriers from last season’s team, which won the program’s first postseason game since 1959, returned this season. They include preseason All-Conference honorees John Holland (CGS’09, COM’11) and Jake O’Brien (COM’12), who are averaging a combined 37 points and 12.4 rebounds a game so far this season.
Chambers will be relying heavily on them and on center Jeff Pelage (SHA’12), who is currently sidelined with a high ankle sprain, to guide a squad with seven freshmen and four transfers.
“We have 11 new faces, so everything is going to fall to these 3 guys, who will need to pick up for the 9 seniors who graduated in May,” Chambers says. “We will need team chemistry and the locker room will be important, so they need to step up and set the example by playing and working hard every single day.”
Fans will be closely monitoring Holland’s final season. The lone senior on the team is poised to finish his career as one of the best offensive players ever to don scarlet and white. The first Terrier in program history to lead the America East in scoring (19.2 points per game last season) and with more than 1,600 career points already, he is on pace to become just the second Terrier to reach 2,000 points. BU Hall of Famer Tunji Awojobi (CAS’97) was the first.
Holland and O’Brien demonstrated their mettle in the team’s first win of the season, against George Washington (76-67) on Tuesday. After 11 consecutive losses, it was the first time since 1979 that the Terriers beat GW. Holland tallied 28 points, along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals, and O’Brien posted his 8th career double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But they will need help if BU is to achieve its goals this season, especially from the transfers, who each have two years of Division I playing experience at other schools. Matt Griffin (SMG’12), who was a captain his sophomore year at Rider, will be at the point guard position. Patrick Hazel (COM’12), a tough rebounder from Marquette, will look to be a force inside, and six-foot-six guard Darryl Partin (MET’12), from La Salle, will be providing offensive spark from the perimeter.
“Matt is going to be a constant,” predicts Chambers. “Darryl is going to be an important piece because he’s going to get open shots. He will need to be ready to make plays, as defenses key in on both John and Jake.
“I’m looking for Pat to make some noise this year,” Chambers continues. “He’s going to be a double-double machine, and coming from Marquette, he knows how tough and physical you have to play in the nonconference schedule. Sitting out last year, he also saw firsthand that the America East will be a tough grind.”
The Terriers have already received valuable support from their freshmen. D. J. Irving (CGS’12), a six-foot point guard from the Philadelphia area, has started all three games and has sliced through defenses to average 7.7 points and 3.5 assists per game, and Dom Morris (CGS’12), a six-foot-seven, 240-pound forward, has shown some inside moves during his two starts.
The team has been tested early with the season-opening game at crosstown rival Northeastern and a trip to the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off, which included contests against GW and sixth-ranked Villanova. Games against number 12 Kentucky, 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 participant Cornell, and three Atlantic-10 opponents (La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, and UMass) lie ahead, but Chambers sees the tough nonconference schedule as a positive experience that will help the team gel quickly.
“What you want to do is put yourself in difficult situations, because that’s what the America East is when you play in packed gyms against different styles,” he says. “I want to prepare for that in the nonconference schedule—I believe the tough games we played in last year helped us through the postseason.
“It will be exciting for us Friday night to come home finally after being away in Philadelphia the past five days,” Chambers says. “I know we’ll have a big crowd, which will be great for our guys. The fans will help push us and give us that extra boost following our long road trip. We treated this past week like a business trip, and we’ll keep that mentality. Once we step on the floor, it’s about playing for one another and not worrying about the things on the outside.”
Chambers is pleased with what he has seen from the team so far, but knows there are still 28 games before the America East tournament in February.
“We just have to keep grinding and getting better every day,” he says. “No matter what the outcome of each game, we need to take steps in the right direction. You never reach the destination in November. It will just take some time, but I like where we are headed.”
The Terriers face off against Marist at Case Gymnasium tonight, Friday, November 19, at 7 p.m. Less than 200 tickets remain for the game. Get more information or purchase tickets here, call 617-353-4628, or at the Agganis ticket office, 925 Commonwealth Ave., open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Scott Ellis can be reached at email@example.com.