Conference play isn’t quite the playoffs, but when you’re finally facing the teams you’ll be battling in March, the anticipation starts to creep in.
And when you’re as young as the Boston University Terriers are, contending in that atmosphere becomes all the more challenging. And in the opening night of Patriot League play, that showed, as the American Eagles defeated BU, 86-74, at Bender Arena on Wednesday evening.
“We’re gonna have to fight and battle and scratch and claw our way all season,” head coach Joe Jones said. “For some reason, we’re not playing with that mentality every day. We don’t carry ourselves that way.”
Consistently having to rely on six freshmen as part of the regular rotation is a challenge if you’re trying to contend for a championship. And that quickly became apparent for the Terriers (7-7), when junior forward Max Mahoney picked up back-to-back fouls about 10 minutes into the game.
While the Terriers held the league for majority of the game’s start, that lead soon slimed down, and with 5:02 remaining in the first half, American forward Sam Iorio’s layup gave the Eagles (7-5) their first lead of the night at 25-24.
American’s unequivocal leader was junior guard Sa’eed Nelson. Abusing his quickness to zip past the Terriers defense all throughout the evening, the 2018-19 Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year finished with 30 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
“Sa’eed was tremendous,” Jones said. “We could not keep him out of the lane. He kind of dominated the game. And we wanted to take away Sam Iorio, and he got off eight [3-pointers]. We didn’t accomplish anything defensively that we wanted to do.”
“And I include myself in all that,” he said. “I have to do a better job of preparing them, and then we gotta do a better job of going out there and executing it.”
Iorio added with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
But it wasn’t just that American’s stars outperformed the Terriers. The Terriers lacked the day-to-day energy and need to learn consistent effort, Jones said.
In the game, that showed in different stretches. In the early going, the Terriers struggled to box out, allowing 7 offensive rebounds in under 8 minutes of play. In the second half, Mahoney, junior forward Tyler Scanlon and sophomore guard Javante McCoy did all of the team’s scoring between the 11:06 and 2:39 marks.
“There’s no excuses here,” Jones said. “I don’t think there’s a reason we lost other than that it’s an everyday thing that we’ve got to learn. … Winning is hard.”
With a league game under their belt, the Terriers will now look to grow from tonight’s experience, when they face the Bucknell Bison next: “We’ve got to change [our mentality], or we’re gonna have more nights like these,” Jones said. “This is the way the league is.”