By Michael Wax
In their first game in two weeks, the Boston University Terriers (10-4, 1-0 PL) put up a stifling defensive performance, winning their conference-opening game 63-61 against the Bucknell Bison (3-10, 0-1 PL).
BU head coach Joe Jones was happy with the victory but believed that his team didn’t make the proper adjustments to put the game away early.
“I thought we put together some good stints in the game,” Jones said. “But I thought overall, half the game we probably looked a little sluggish, a little unsure of ourselves, a little rusty.”
Fifth-year center Sukhmail Mathon put together the best game of his collegiate career, on a day when he passed John Holland (2007-11) to become BU’s all-time leader in games played with 130. Mathon’s 21 points and 18 rebounds kept the Terriers in the lead throughout most of the game.
“He may be the most improved player we’ve ever had in our program since we’ve been here,” Jones said. “Your value is more of how you impact others, and I think he’s really impacted our team because of the way he carries himself and the way he plays every day.”
— BU Men's Basketball (@TerrierMBB) January 1, 2022
BU’s lineup saw two big returns, as senior forward Walter Whyte suited up for his first game since Nov. 21, 2021, and junior guard Ethan Brittain-Watts played his first game since Nov. 24, 2021.
“[Walt] brings a ton because he’s an experienced guy and he’s one of the best athletes in the league,” Jones said. “Ethan’s made big shots if he’s been here. Both those guys have made great contributions every time they get on the floor.”
The last meeting between BU and Bucknell came on March 8, 2020, when the Terriers defeated the Bison 64-61 in the Patriot League Semifinals. Though both rosters have changed since then, the intensity between the two has stayed the same.
Jones was very complimentary of the young Bucknell squad.
“I think as their guys get confident and get experienced, they’re going to be a tough out,” Jones said.
Bucknell entered this game with two opposite streaks; the Bison had won 7 conference openers during full seasons entering today’s game but were 0-6 this season on the road. The Terriers made sure the road losing streak continued for the Bison and handed them their first conference-opening loss since 2014.
BU shot 5-of-22 from beyond the arc (22.7%), the team’s worst output of the season.
“When we don’t play in two weeks, it’s going to make an impact,” Jones said.
BU is now 9-1 when holding opponents under 70 points, and Jones knows that good defense will always prevail. He felt the Terrier did a good job overall of contesting shots.
Andrew Funk led Bucknell with 25 points after going 11-of-13 from inside the arc but was a season-worst 0-of-7 from deep. Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis gave Funk the ball with only four seconds remaining, but Funk’s potentially game-winning three-point attempt clanked off the rim and fell into the waiting arms of Mathon.
“I thought we struggled with Funk,” said Jones. “He was able to get to the basket a lot. I just thought we really struggled to guard him.”
BU’s bench struggled in the first half, only registering one point. However, when the starters began to have difficulties shooting in the second half, BU’s bench put up 10 of the team’s 30 second-half points to maintain the lead. Jones isn’t particularly concerned about one unit or the other and instead wants the team to play a team game.
“I’m not looking at bench points and stuff like that as much as I’m looking at our team overall,” said Jones “I just think right now we still, you know, we’re getting leads and then we’re giving leads up, we’ve got to learn how to step on the gas and put people away.”
BU will continue conference play on Tuesday against Navy.
“This is probably the best Navy team that I’ve seen simply because they have more quality depth than they’ve had in the past,” said Jones. “This is going to be a great test for us to go on the road and I think we need a game like this.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.