Men’s Basketball: BU starts hot, collapses in second half in loss at Holy Cross

Featured image by Stevie Potter

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

WORCESTER, Mass. — BU had it.

The Terriers led, 37-33, at the break, sure, but it was more than that. It was the near-50 percent shooting clip in the first 20 minutes. It was the smirk from sophomore forward Nico Nobili after delivering a slick bounce pass to a teammate on a backdoor cut for an easy layup. It was the way BU weathered a sudden storm from Holy Cross’ Bo Montgomery.

It was, as head coach Joe Jones put it to open his postgame press conference, “probably the best half we’ve played all year.”

And BU has nothing but a loss to show for it. After an electric Holy Cross (6-16, 3-6 PL) run in the second half and an ice-cold shooting streak on its own end, BU fell, 65-63, at the Hart Center on Monday night.

“Too bad it’s two halves,” Jones joked. “I should’ve walked out after the first like Larry Bird back in like ‘86 during the 3-point contest.”

Jones laughs, but this was as brutal as it gets. BU (8-14, 3-6 PL) tail-spinned in the second half. It’s field goal percentage free-falled to 25.8 percent. It made just eight shots in the final frame, and at one point, it went almost eight minutes without scoring.

Over that scoreless run? Holy Cross, charged on by freshman guard Kahlil Singleton, went on a 19-3 run over seven minutes to turn what was a 12-point BU lead at one point in the first half into a 9-point Crusader advantage with four minutes left.

The Hart Center, filled to near capacity, hit its peak with 9:16 remaining, when Singleton pulled up for a long 3-pointer and drained it, his second triple in as many possessions and his 15th points of the second period. It gave Holy Cross a 57-53 lead.

“Khalil Singleton was awesome,” Jones said. “I saw him play AAU, he’s got a reputation of a great 3-point shooter, and tonight he was terrific.”

Singleton finished with 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

Montgomery (15 points, 3-for-3 from behind the arc) hit another 3 before a layup gave Holy Cross a 63-52 lead, its largest of the game. 

From there, though, BU buckled down the hatches, allowing the Crusaders just three more points over the remaining seven minutes.

“Once we settled down, and once that run was over, we defended fine,” Jones said.

But BU still couldn’t find enough buckets down the stretch. The Terriers, on one of their worst scoreless runs of the season, reverted to 3-point shots to pull themselves back up.

BU hasn’t been a good 3-point shooting team all year, the worst distance-shooting team in the conference coming into the game, and it’s been a point of emphasis for Jones to take less triples as he tries to spark his offense.

“We’ve tried to change our identity, we’ve tried to go to the basket more and put pressure on the paint,” Jones said.

It worked in the first half. BU scored 37 points in the first 20 minutes while taking just nine 3s. But in the second half? BU was 2-for-11 from behind the arc as it settled on the perimiter, if it could even find a shot at all.

“Oh, no doubt, no doubt we reverted back to what we’re trying not to do,” Jones said. “And that’s hard. It’s hard not to do it when there’s pressure, right? You’re just trying to score, you’re not thinking about your identity.”

Even when BU did find its way into the paint, it was smothered in the second half. Holy Cross junior forward Caleb Kenney blocked seven shots, including a miraculous chase down block of BU freshman Kyrone Alexander that he sent back over the Terrier bench and into the bleachers. Kenney added 12 points in a dominant second half.

“The player of the game outside of [Singleton] was Kenney,” Jones said. “He was all over the place.”

Still, with the help of timely layups from Alexander and junior Ethan Okwuosa, four free throws from senior Miles Brewster and three critical missed free throws from Holy Cross in the final minute, BU had a chance.

It trailed, 65-63, with five seconds left and an inbound below the Crusaders’ basket. Brewster (13 points) took the pass and raced up the court, but ran into a platoon of Holy Cross defenders near the 3-point line. He heaved the ball to freshman Matai Baptiste, but BU was out of time. He didn’t get a shot off.

It was a familiar script for the Terriers, who, after Monday, have now led at the half in six of their nine conference games but have held on to win on just one of those occasions.

After an ever-so-promising win over Patriot League-leading Lafayette on Saturday, the lone game BU has won when leading at the half in the conference slate, BU continued to build, playing what Jones called his team’s best half.

And then the Terriers collapsed. It was agonizing.

BU, moving in the right direction but without a tally in the win column to show for it, will move on to face Lehigh on Saturday at Case Gym. Tip is at 1 p.m.

“You’re feeling good, you come here, you’re playing great in the first half,” Jones said. “And all of a sudden, you get punched in the face and you lose.

“So then all of a sudden the wind comes out? No, bro, we got to focus on what we can control, that’s what we should be thinking about, not that we lost the game.”