Photo courtesy of Helen Gui
By Sam Robb O’Hagan
Otto Landrum took the cheese. Northeastern’s Chris Doherty ran right past, careening down a wide open lane left by the second-most experienced active Terrier. Matai Baptiste, BU’s freshman forward playing in his first career game, took the brunt of it. He had no chance.
A slam, a poster, and a statement bucket gave the Huskies (1-0) an eight-point lead with a minute and a half left.
Suffice to say, this was not the way it was supposed to go. The Terriers (0-1) got excellent individual moments from all six of their new players, but, down the stretch in a tightly-contested game against a hostile local rival, BU’s few experienced players were nowhere to be found in a 67-58 loss in the season opener on Monday.
“We have some guys that we have to rely on that struggled in this game,” head coach Joe Jones said. “If you would’ve told me that some of our key guys wouldn’t play well in this game, I would say we would have a hard time winning.” He let out a wry laugh. “And we did.”
It isn’t difficult to figure out who Jones was referring to. Landrum and Nico Nobili, both sophomore forwards, and Miles Brewster, a senior guard, were the only Terriers to see the floor Monday night with even 70 minutes of prior experience at BU.
They combined to shoot 5-for-17 from the field. Landrum fouled out one possession after Doherty’s dunk. Nobili committed four turnovers. Brewster spent most of the last ten minutes on the bench because, as Jones said, he simply wasn’t playing very well.
“I just thought defensively, [Brewster] is capable of being so much better,” Jones said.
Never has BU needed the three of them more. Six of the eight players that saw the floor alongside the trio were playing in their first career games. The other two, sophomore guard Ben Roy and senior forward Andrew Patnode, had played a combined 88 minutes before Monday.
“Right now, this early in the year, we have so much inexperience, that we have some guys that we have to rely on,” Jones said.
Perhaps most frustrating, though, is that the six Terriers that didn’t have experience — four freshman and two junior transfers from Division II — hit the ground running. Baptiste made two threes and finished with 11 points. Just minutes before finding himself on the game-sealing poster, he drained a critical 3 to bring BU within four.
“I thought Matai played very well,” Jones said.
Baptiste wasn’t alone. Freshman guard Kyrone Alexander started, played 28 minutes and scored 15 points, both to lead the team. He went six-for-nine from the field and made three 3-pointers.
“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Jones said. “He’s a good player. Nothing he’s doing is surprising me after what I watched in practice, someone that thinks the game as well as he does.”
Junior guard Ethan Okwuosa, a transfer from DII Southern New Hampshire, scored nine. The first time he touched the ball, he was intercepting a Northeastern pass and taking it the other way for a layup. The second time? Sinking a 3-pointer on the wing to cap a 10-0 Terrier run early in the first half.
BU’s three leading scorers — Baptiste, Alexander, and Okwuosa — did it while taking their very first steps on a DI court. Even freshman guard Michael McNair, who scored five on 2-for-7 shooting, earned praise from his head coach. BU charged to a 34-31 halftime lead. 25 of their first-period points were from new players.
“I thought we really controlled the game in the first half,” Jones said. “We had some good offense, we played a good half.”
But the Terriers can’t rely solely on their newcomers, an impressive first half withstanding. Northeastern quickly applied pressure in the second period, at times, moving to a full-court man-to-man press. When things got uncomfortable, BU’s new players — and it’s difficult to blame them — struggled to find a rhythm against an aggressive opponent.
“In the second half, we got on our heels, and didn’t really know what to do,” Jones said. “And a lot of it is, we’re coming back with no one that has done it. No one’s been in a game where they’ve been the guy, so now everybody’s wide-eyed, because who are we going to? What are we doing? Who’s getting the shot? Everybody’s trying to figure that out. And so that’s going to take some time.”
The Terriers can soak in the individual peaks from their talented new faces, but the familiar ones will need to be there to carry them out of the inevitable valleys. On Monday, they weren’t.
But, they’re facing a tall task, too — Nobili and Landrum are both sophomores, but they played sparingly in their freshman seasons. Brewster is a senior, but he spent his first three years playing in relief of older upperclassmen. Now, suddenly, they are the adults in the room.
“This is the first time [Brewster] is being looked at to score, it’s a lot to do,” Jones said. “Now, before, it was ‘alright, we got Walter Whyte, Javonte McCoy, [Sukhmail Maton], Jonas [Harper], I don’t have to worry about scoring.’”
“Here, it’s like, ‘I got to do everything,’” Jones said. “This is the first time he’s going through it.”
It’s a lot. And in the end, BU looked like a team that was seeing it all for the first time.
“It’s hard to play without ever having any experience, It’s hard to just be ‘alright, we’re gonna go play,’” Jones said. “We have a lot of confusion with who’s on the floor and who’s doing what. But I knew that was going to happen.”
Per the official stat sheet, six of them really were seeing it all for the first time. But the three that weren’t, in many ways, were still learning on the fly.
As the Terriers turn their sights towards Friday — when they travel to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on Rutgers at 7 p.m. — the attention again goes to the three adults in the room. Even if they themselves really aren’t that old, either.
“I think if we can get better play out of Nic, Otto, and Miles in particular, I think we gotta pretty good team,” Jones said.