A long-standing tradition returns tonight when the BU men’s and women’s basketball teams tip off against Northeastern in their season home openers. The back-to-back hoops doubleheader at Case Gym starts with the women Terriers at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men at 7:30 p.m.
The men’s basketball team ended last season with a gut-wrenching 91-88 double overtime loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League semifinals. The Terriers had a chance to tie the game after being down by seven points with 13.8 seconds remaining. Their conference second place (18-14 overall) was hard to swallow, but players say it’s motivating them to push hard for a conference title this year.
“We’re just coming back hungry,” Nick Havener (COM’17,’19) says. “Coming this close—that double overtime game, finishing second—I think everyone just wants to come back this year hungry for a championship.”
But to get there, the Terriers—ranked second in the Patriot League preseason poll—first have to overcome several challenges, including a series of minor but nagging injuries that hobbled them throughout the summer and the graduation last spring of five seniors, among them All-Patriot League Team honorees Eric Fanning (CAS’17) and Justin Alston (CGS’14, SHA’16, MET’17). Their departure means the team has lost not only its two top scorers and rebounders, but also a defensive anchor and the vocal leaders of the team. With just five seniors on this year’s roster, head coach Joe Jones is throwing down the gauntlet to them.
“I’ve been really challenging those guys to take more ownership of the team,” Jones says. “I’ve seen some growth in that area, but that’s an area we really have to grow and be prepared in, especially when the times are tough.”
Havener, one of the team’s most vocal leaders, according to Jones, says that last year’s seniors have left a legacy that the current players are taking to heart. “They really passed down a lot of knowledge to us,” he says, and they taught players how to “compete through adversity.” He’s confident that this year’s players are ready to fill the void. “All of those guys contributed serious minutes for us,” Havener says, “but once we lost them, I think everyone else was ready to step up.”
Adding to the Terriers’ problems is the recent departure of Kyle Foreman (CAS’19), the team’s best playmaker and ball handler, who left the team for undisclosed reasons.
The coaching staff has also undergone some changes: associate head coach Shaun Morris departed to join Quinnipiac, but Jack Perri has joined the team as an assistant coach. Perri comes from Long Island University, where as an assistant coach in 2012 and 2013 he helped guide the Brooklyn Blackbirds to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances and to a third appearance in 2014 as head coach.
Despite the departures and injuries, depth remains the Terriers’ strong suit. “We really don’t have a rotation right now,” says Cheddi Mosely (CGS’16, SHA’18). “We’re trying to figure that out, because we have so many good players. It’s going to be hard to do that early on, but I have faith in Coach Jones that we’ll get it together.”
The four freshmen have added to the team’s depth, especially forward Walter Whyte (CGS’19), who was ranked second in Connecticut by ESPN.com and 25th in New England by the New England Recruiting Report prior to coming to BU. His three-star rating makes him BU’s highest ranked recruit since Mo Watson, Jr., who eventually starred in the Big East for Creighton.
“They all came in really physically and mentally mature,” says top returning scorer Cedric Hankerson (Questrom’16, MET’18). “It didn’t take them long to jell with the team and learn our system, so they’ve all been working really hard and following the older guys’ lead. They’re all going to be really good. They have a lot of potential.”
For Hankerson, this season marks his fifth and final year as a Terrier and his last shot at landing a championship title. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been on the cusp of winning, but we’ve never been able to fully get over that last little hurdle,” he says. “The main goal this year is to see it all come together finally and have us all get it done.”
Heading into the 2017–18 season, the women’s basketball team is aiming to build on last season’s momentum. Head coach Katy Steding inherited a team in disarray when she replaced Kelly Greenberg in 2014. After a devastating 5-25 first season and an even more disappointing 3-27 second season, the Terriers made great strides last year, finishing 13-17 overall and posting an 11-7 record in conference play.
“We put a big emphasis on our defense and our pressure,” says Corrine Williams (CGS’16, COM’18).
With a defense headed by the long arms of Williams and Naiyah Thompson (CAS’19, Sargent’19), the Terriers held their opponents to a league-best 35.5 percent shooting from the field last season.
The addition of transfer Sophie Beaudry (CAS’18) and newcomer Nia Irving (CAS’20) was also invaluable. Beaudry led the team with 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and received All-Patriot League first team honors, and Irving made major contributions as the team’s sixth man and was chosen for the All-Rookie team.
The Terriers want to follow up on last year’s success by relying on tough defense, and encouraging players’ competitiveness and work ethic.
“At some point, you just have to learn to win,” says Steding, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist. “That’s what we learned last year. We learned how to close out games. We learned how to—I know people probably don’t like this violent expression but—stick the knife in and twist it.”
Despite the graduation of several key seniors, the Terriers begin the season predicted to finish fifth. With a dominant star in Beaudry, who was named to the preseason All-League team, and the leadership of the four other seniors, Steding is confident the team has the drive to do well this season.
“We’re now led by five seniors who I think have high goals for themselves,” she says. “They continue to want to raise the bar for their legacy at this program. They want to see us do more than we did last year, so I think picking us middle of the pack in the Patriot League is a great start for that.”
Steding is equally enthusiastic about her freshmen. She lists their attributes: “Competitive, physical, athletic, they all do a great job. It’s raised the level of our practices to something that I think is at a par with what we had at the end of last season. I feel like we can continue to move the needle with our balance of youth and experience in ways we haven’t yet.”
“We know where we want to be,” Williams says. “We have to keep working hard. We have to keep pushing through all the walls and get through the season strong.”
While the long-term goal is to clinch a championship, players say they have a more immediate goal heading into tonight’s season opener: beating Northeastern.
The BU women’s basketball team kicks off a BU basketball doubleheader against Northeastern today, Friday, November 10, at 5:30 p.m., at Case Gym, 285 Babcock St. Tickets are $8 for the general public, $5 for faculty, staff, and students without a sports pass, and free for students with a sports pass.
The men’s basketball team hosts Northeastern after the women’s game, at 7:30 p.m., at Case Gym. Tickets are $12 for the general public, $7 for BU faculty and staff, $5 for BU students, and free for students with a BU sports pass. Tickets for both games can be purchased through Ticketmaster.
Jonathan Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.