Men’s Basketball: After knocking on the door, BU finally breaks through with last-minute win over Lehigh

Featured image by Jacob Ireland

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

BOSTON — At long last, BU is across the finish line.

It’s early. Just the first week of February and the tenth game of conference play, in fact. But that’s the thing about the finish line — once you’re over it, you’re over it.

After a nail-biting, comeback, 72-71 victory over Lehigh (7-14, 4-6 PL) at Case Gym on Saturday, BU (9-14, 4-6 PL) is over it. Overreactions to one win have become perilous around here — the Terriers have won two games in a row just once this season, after all — but this one was different. You could tell.

Case was packed. Head coach Joe Jones was animated from the very start and didn’t take a play off until the final buzzer sounded. There was frustration and belief and jubilation but most tellingly, there was urgency. BU needed this one. It could not walk away with nothing again.

“We’ve been knocking on the door,” assistant coach Mike Quinn said. “We were right there.”

BU was right there, it had been for weeks. The start of conference play was miserable for this young, inexperienced group but a wise identity switch started to deliver progress. That was all well and good, but progress grows stale quickly without results

Leave it to Miles Brewster, BU’s self-critical senior guard thrust into a leadership role this season, to finally break through. With 49 seconds left and the Terriers down two, Brewster stepped to the free-throw line and missed the first of two shots. It didn’t matter. BU and Brewster earned another chance, finding one more stop on the ensuing Lehigh possession before Brewster again worked his way to the stripe. The Terriers trailed, 71-70.

There were four seconds left. 

“Free throws have always been a thing for me,” Brewster said. “So I switched up my routine this year, I say a mantra every time I get the ball just to calm myself down.”

He made both. 

BU lost the lead eight minutes into the first half and didn’t regain it until there were four seconds left. It was Brewster, the team’s unquestioned leader, to pull them across.

“I’m not going to lie, I really wasn’t worried the whole game,” Brewster said. “But I can’t say it’s always been like that. I think that’s something I’ve done a much better job of this year, just not getting so frazzled.”

In the middle of a season like this one, that is remarkable wisdom.

BU led at the half at perennial league-powerhouse Colgate but collapsed in the second period. It led at the half a game later against Army only to be outscored by 17 in the final 20 minutes. It earned its best win of the season against then-league-leading Lafayette, then followed it with what Jones called his team’s best half of the year in the first period on Monday at Holy Cross … only to shoot 8-for-31 in the second half, go almost eight minutes without scoring and eventually lose by two.

“Getting over that finish line,” Quinn said. “Can we put it together for a full 40 minutes?”

If the first half on Monday was his team’s best half of the year, Jones would have struggled to find hyperbole for the second half on Saturday.

BU shot 65.2 percent from the field and made eight of its ten 3-pointers. Over one stretch of 14 possessions, the Terriers scored on 13 of them. In total, they scored 48 points.

Quinn didn’t have the official stats in front of him during his post-game press conference and he didn’t need them. “I would be shocked if that wasn’t (our best scoring half of the season),” he said.

(He was right.)

Freshman Michael McNair finished with 21 points, including 14 in the second half. He made four 3s and five free throws. He played 19 minutes. All were mile-long career-highs for the embattled guard, who’s spent most of his first year on the bench.

“I’ve been praying for this,” McNair said. “I’ve just had to keep going, keep enjoying the process.”

McNair has just kept going. BU has just kept going.

A rocky first half helped Lehigh to a 15-point lead three minutes into the second before BU went on its run. The 15-point advantage became 10. Then it was 7, a minute later, 4. With 8:44 to go, McNair hit a 3 in transition and it was two, and over the next eight minutes and 40 seconds, the Terriers pulled themselves within one possession four different times.

Like it has all season, the finish line eluded them.

BU traded buckets at first; on each of the first three occasions BU worked within one possession on the offensive end, Lehigh responded with a score on the other. Jones berated his team’s defensive effort in the huddle at the under-12 timeout and took the liberty of advancing a full three or four steps onto the court to roar his team on the rest of the way.

When the Terriers finally got a stop within one score, they spilled. Sophomore forward Otto Landrum (6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) corralled a rebound with 2:15 to go but had the ball back-tapped out of his grasp under his own basket, and Lehigh recovered the loose ball. Two made free throws from Tyler Whitney-Sidney (18 points) followed.

“Yeah, it’s annoying,” Brewster said. “It’s annoying when you keep knocking on the door.”

Agonizing was what it was, a metaphor for the tumultuous season that had come before it. The plot involving bursts of progress being pushed back down right at the summit was all too familiar. How could BU recover from this one? How could it still buy into its progress with yet another loss?

“I’m really trying not to be result-oriented,” Brewster said. “I was really like, ‘Yo, however this game turns out, as long as you fight, it’s good.’”

Maybe that’s how Brewster, who missed his first five shots on Saturday, wound up scoring 17 points and draining two critical pull-up 3s to keep BU in striking distance. Maybe that’s how McNair, on the bench for almost all of his freshman year, felt so comfortable pulling the trigger when he finally got his chance.

The Terriers, so close yet so far for so long, had grown wise enough to not even worry.

“Just played freely,” McNair said.

You couldn’t not be happy for him on Saturday, you couldn’t not be happy for the entire team. Within those walls, there was urgency and intensity and all of those things, but in the end, there was joy and an overwhelming sense that the Terriers were finally experiencing what they had for so long earned.

“(McNair) has hit adversity this year, and he’s just had a phenomenal attitude the whole time,” Quinn said. “We were just so happy for him.”

The buzzer sounded, and BU was across the finish line.

“If you continue to do all of the right things,” Quinn said, “eventually, the results come for you.”