Men’s Basketball: BU is exactly where they should be, for better and for worse

Featured image by Jacob Ireland

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

It’s hard not to chuckle, if you’re looking for BU red, when scrolling through the list of the top scorers in the Patriot League. For a long while, there is no red. None of the 14 double-digit scorers in the league are Terriers; BU is the only team without one. But it comes. Suddenly and all at once. Four Terriers are averaging between 9.3 and 8.1 points a game and three more are between 6.3 and 6.7. 

BU is nowhere to be found in the top 20, then they’re everywhere between 20 and 50.

You chuckle, because nothing could say it better than that.

BU men’s basketball (4-8) is a team in transition; ushering in a brand new era and asking mostly brand new faces to do it. 

Six of the 12 players getting at least eight minutes a game are Division I rookies. Four of them are freshmen. The other six in the rotation were, before their expanded roles this season, either career backups to the old guard that delivered Case Gym its first and only Patriot League title or sophomores who barely played last season. The head coach is without a player from that title-winning team for the first time and staring at the largest roster turnover in his 13 years in Boston.

Everyone is in uncharted territory. Hence their places on the scoring leaderboard; no one is concerned with standing out. For the Terriers, it’s just about keeping heads above water. 

To that end, there is promise.

Kyrone Alexander is a freshman guard who has been named the conference’s Rookie of the Week twice. His shooting has been streaky — he’s shooting just 34.9 percent after an 0-for-8 outing last time out against UMass Lowell — but his good games have been real, real good. 

Head coach Joe Jones will take that. He’ll take what he’s gotten from junior guard Ethan Okwuosa too, who has NCAA experience but is still putting up 8.1 points a night on 44 percent shooting in his first season in Division I. And you know Jones will love the five rebounds a game he’s getting from his 6-foot-2 shooting guard. 

Freshman wing Matai Baptiste has struggled for consistency but has flashed legit talent as an athletic 6-foot-7 forward with guard-like skills. Jones said before the season Baptiste “can be a Walter Whyte-type player,” which is a big name around here, but you can start to see the vision in his best moments, though he’ll really need to shoot better moving forward. 

Sophomore guard Ben Roy, who played just 68 minutes last year, has made tough plays off the bench all season despite lacking the athleticism and the size to truly become a volume player.

These are solid Patriot League players. Right now. For Alexander and Baptiste, and, to an extent, Okwuosa, this is only the floor. (If this is what it looks like 12 games into year one, who knows what it will look like 20 games into year four.) Besides, it’s helpful for Jones and his staff to know these kids can actually play.

But role players are still role players.

Offensively, BU is frustratingly conservative — a group of wide-eyed players hesitant to attack defenders in isolation and create their own shot. The guards, be it a lack of willingness or capability, do not consistently attack the paint off the dribble. The bigs, junior Malcolm Chimezie and sophomores Nico Nobili and Otto Landrum, haven’t been effective when the ball gets to them in the post. All three are shooting under 50 percent from the field.

And they don’t have a leader, a reliable scorer, to turn to and will them forward. Remember, BU is the only team in the conference without a double-digit scorer.

The result is an offense that passes and passes and passes some more, running action after action in an attempt to create open shots with collective movement.

It’s tough living. The offense is reliant on execution from all five players. The margin for error is slim. And if BU isn’t shooting well on any given night, then, well, that’s kinda that.

In the Terriers’ three wins against DI opponents, they’ve shot a combined 45.8 percent from the field; in their eight losses, 37.1.

In a down-to-the-wire loss against Maine on December 6, the Terriers actually shot well — 46.2 percent — but scored on just three of their possessions in the final three minutes. Jones and senior guard Miles Brewster said the Terriers didn’t execute on those closing trips, which was true, but they watched the Black Bears simply put the ball in the hands of their best player, Kellen Tynes, throughout the second half.

And Tynes won them the game. 

The junior guard scored 21 points, eight of them in the last 10 minutes.

Said Jones after that loss: “Tynes made some big shots, man. Those are shots that we’re trying to force people to make — contested two’s — and he friggin’ made ‘em. You know, you tip your hat.”

BU hasn’t had a player score 21 points in a game all season.

That’s the problem with a team that is made up of role players, regardless if some are only at the start of their development. There are no easy buttons in this offense. When the execution is poor — and that’s inevitable for a team this inexperienced — BU is doomed.

Such are the realities of uncharted territory. Heads are above water, but they aren’t much higher than that.

The Terriers don’t have a player on the court for more than 25 minutes a night, not even Brewster, the most experienced player on the roster coming into the season. Jones’ rotation is 10 players deep, with two more playing short first-half spurts each contest.

That is a lot. Even for non-conference play, when coaches are willing to give more players more minutes. Watching BU can be a chore. Substitutions are made every other minute.

In the Terriers’ latest loss against Lowell, Jones played 11 different players in the game’s first nine minutes. 

“We’re struggling with a level of consistency from most of the guys,” Jones said after the game. “We’re having a hard time knowing that someone is going to play a bulk of the minutes.”

It’s why the Terriers are so streaky on offense; 58, 45 and 53 points in the first three games of the season, then 95 against Bryant. It’s hard to find a constant rhythm when there isn’t a constant on the team.

This isn’t to say that the seeds aren’t there. Okwuosa has shown, albeit sparingly, a willingness to put shots up off the dribble. Alexander has made legitimately jaw-dropping plays. Brewster has done things like this:


But BU is 4-8. The flashes are there, the results are not.

Here’s the thing — that’s fine. After all, the Terriers are only 12 games into year one. It was probably all part of the plan that, with Patriot League play looming, BU would be the only team in the conference without a double-digit scorer.

Because this, at the core of it, is the question:

How does a college basketball program, in a brand new era, make waves in the Patriot League?

Keeping its head above water is a good place to start.