Opinion: BU Men’s Basketball is making progress, but can it stay on the tracks after valiant loss against Colgate?

Featured image by Jacob Ireland

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

BU is back here again, and you have to wonder if this time it will all finally start to wear on them. Miles Brewster’s answers were short. His voice was quiet; his tone, defeated. Brewster is as bright and infectious as they come, a beloved leader and person around these parts, but Colgate, dreaded Colgate, had the senior guard lower than he’s been all season in postgame availability.

His 21 points, tied for a career-high? “Scoring is whatever,” he said. His 7-for-10 shooting and three made 3-pointers? “Gotta focus on defense.” The abundant progress made by his team, especially on offense, in a game in which it trailed the conference leaders by a point with four minutes to go?

“Yeah, sure.”

You can’t blame him. After what seemed like a momentum-shifting win four days prior, the balloon again popped for BU in a 74-64 loss to Colgate at Case Gym on Wednesday. 

BU (9-15, 4-7 PL) has now followed eight of its nine wins with losses.

That it was Colgate couldn’t have helped. Brewster hasn’t beaten them in over two years. The Raiders (16-8, 10-1 PL) have won three conference championships in a row and look well on their way to a four-peat. BU was a paper tiger in this season’s first meeting, leading at the half in Hamilton before the Raiders inevitably clamped down and won by 16. Things were different on Wednesday at Case Gym, but sugar coats are becoming less sweet around here.

“They didn’t beat us the same way they did last time,” Brewster said. “Kind of like Whack-A-Mole, I don’t know.”

You really hope, though, that BU will find the positive angle there, because this time was different. The good kind of different.

This became a track meet in the second half, and BU ran fast. Colgate just ran faster. The Raiders shot a back-breaking 60 percent from the field in the second period. Guard Chandler Baker scored 10 straight points for Colgate to fend off two separate BU spurts that brought the Terriers within two scores. And then forward Keegan Records, the preseason Player of the Year, scored on three straight trips to help deliver the knockout punch — a 13-4 closing Raider run after the Terriers cut the lead to one.

It was ruthless stuff. You know, Colgate.

“The difference in the game was Records,” BU head coach Joe Jones said.

But kudos to the Terriers for running with the Raiders. Colgate, over its devastating second half, scored 42 points. BU scored 40. Jones’ team was in it to the very end, and this was no fluke.

BU scored 34 points in the paint — the most it’s scored during conference play and four more than Colgate, which Jones lauded for its dominance inside. That is an enormously promising sign, and a stark difference from the Terriers’ first date with the Raiders. That was the fifth game of the conference slate and BU was in a miserable offensive state; in the four league games it had played before the game, it was dead last in shooting percentage and ninth out of ten teams in 3-point percentage despite shooting more 3s than anyone else. The Terriers were neither willing nor able to penetrate and the results were maddening. Possessions drained the shot clock and finished with contested long balls. What little confidence a young, inexperienced team had left was drained by a daunting Colgate defense. In that first game in Hamilton, BU barely even tried to establish itself inside the 3-point line.

That was a tipping point; Jones quickly said he would commit to a significant identity switch — take fewer 3s and get downhill, regardless of the results — and five games later, the Terriers were going blow for blow with mighty Colgate.

The confidence was dripping off them. Freshman Kyrone Alexander, sophomore Ben Roy and junior Ethan Okwuosa, all guards, willed themselves to the rim consistently and finished with authority or found a way to the free-throw line. 

“Our guys are starting to get more comfortable out there,” Jones said.

It was Brewster leading that charge. He was inspiring from start to finish on Wednesday, scoring his first points early with a gorgeous up-and-under move in the lane before immediately pulling up for a wing 3-pointer and draining it. He attacked the rim and finished with authority, through plenty of traffic, throughout the second half, including an and-one layup that required him to switch the ball to his left hand in mid-air. Minutes later, off a handoff at the top of the key, he elevated for a deep 3-pointer and nailed it to bring BU within four points with nine minutes to go.

“I’ve been feeling good,” Brewster said, “and I’ve been aggressive.”

That was the key. Brewster was an aggressive driver first and a shooter second, and the results spoke for themselves. And he caught the entire team in his wave. BU penetrated inside all game, and only when it couldn’t find a look did it kick out to wide-open 3-point shooters. These were not settled for. This was BU playing inside out, a key offensive pillar for Jones and his staff.

“I didn’t feel like we were taking bad ones,” Jones said.

The next part was cruel. Frustrating, agonizing, but just cruel. BU could not make 3s. At all. It finished just 24 percent from behind the arc — just six made 3s, the same number as that miserable offensive outing in Hamilton.

“We had some freakin’ wide open looks that we got to make,” Jones said.

Good results fleeted good process. But think about that. BU was neck and neck with the class of the conference and it was still able to walk away regretting its inability to make 3s. BU walked away from a January 6 loss to Lafayette regretting the same thing, and in that game it scored 51 points, total. On Wednesday, it scored 40 in one half. That is real, tangible progress.

“Anytime we have a decent shooting night,” Jones said, “we’re gonna win.”

The Terriers are right there. “We make two threes and it’s a completely different game,” Jones said. That’s two shots. Two.

And yet, there Brewster was, sitting on a career night but barely able to give himself an ounce of credit. The Terriers played well but lost. They made progress but couldn’t get across the finish line.

And they have been here before. 

BU played well against Army but was outscored by 17 in the second half. It earned a statement win against then-league-leading Lafayette a game later before playing what Jones called his team’s best half of the year last Monday at Holy Cross…only to blow that lead. The Terriers climbed out of that crater to deliver an emotional, momentum-shifting win against Lehigh on Saturday, and, now, here they were again — valiant performers but, regardless, still frustrated losers.

“We’re a young team, you can see we’re willing to listen and learn,” Brewster said. “But it needs to happen quicker.”

Seriously, how much longer can BU do this? How long can it hold its head high before yet another loss finally knocks it down? How many more times can the Terriers walk away short of the finish line, regardless of how close they got or what they did to get there?

BU has been resilient all year, especially Brewster, who said after the triumphant win over Lehigh that he’s learned not to worry about losing. That might still be true, but BU’s on-court leader was zapped of his usual energy after the loss on Wednesday and that feels telling.

As for BU’s off-court leader? When reminded how close BU truly was — at one point, down by just a single point with four minutes to go — Jones could barely comprehend it all.

“Are you serious, bro?” Jones asked, mumbling under his breath. “It was one. It was one.”

Then, the words that said it all:

“Man, how much better would I be feeling if we won this game?”