Featured image by Jacob Ireland
By Sam Robb O’Hagan
They always knew Kyrone Alexander had it in him.
BU raved about its freshman guard before the season. Good playmaker. Good size. Fast learner for a player his age. The vision was realized after a team-leading 15 points in Alexander’s first career game; he was confident and collected and none of it was surprising, his head coach said, all the way back on November 6.
And like that, he vanished. 15 points in the opener against Northeastern became just 6.7 points a game after a 16-point loss to Colgate on January 20. His shooting plummeted, his splits were brutal and his confidence to attack the paint was gone.
He was not alone.
Throw a dart at BU’s roster. Whatever had hit Alexander hit everybody.
But BU grew up. Alexander — a 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard — started to attack the basket more — and BU as a whole — the conference’s second-worst 3-point shooting team five games into league play (not including non-conference games) — stopped taking 3s at the Patriot League’s highest rate. Six games after the first-year guard hit rock bottom, Alexander delivered a career-high 19 points and 6 assists on Saturday in BU’s best win to date, a 77-62 wiping of third-placed Bucknell.
“He did a little bit of everything,” head coach Joe Jones said. “Those are things he’s capable of doing.”
Where Alexander went on Saturday, BU (11-15, 5-7 Patriot League) went with him. The Barbados international was relentless cutting to the basket and the Terriers scored 36 points in the paint, the most they’ve scored in conference play. He dished out a career-high six assists; BU, as a team, handed out 22 on 28 baskets. Alexander and the rest of the backcourt played excellent defense on star guard Jack Forrest; BU held the Bison to a miserable, 36-percent-shooting first half that forced Bucknell into a full-court press that the Terriers exploited for most of the second.
When Alexander is on, so is BU.
BU’s 77 points were its highest mark in league play; the Terriers’ 52 points in the second half were the most they’ve scored in a half all season. Their 52.8 shooting clip was the highest of the year; the 22-8 assist-turnover ratio the highest against a DI opponent.
“Our guys did a good job of understanding what we needed to do to win,” Jones said.
In theory, Alexander should have this kind of impact. He is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. He’s proven to have eyes in the back of his head as a passer even if he’s still too turnover-prone. He’s got the size to finish at the rim and guard multiple positions at the other end, he’s got the touch to shoot the 3 and make free throws. And as Jones has said, he knows what the heck is going on despite being a freshman.
He is, quite literally, built to do everything.
On Saturday, he did. “He’s getting the ball to the basket, he made two 3s, he got himself to the foul line, he had six assists,” Jones said.
He was invaluable. His cuts were a lifeline for forwards Otto Landrum and Nico Nobili; on three separate occasions in the first half, BU’s bigs were stonewalled in the post and Alexander sprung into a passing window in the lane to bail them out. His own passing created easy baskets for Nobili and Landrum, too; with four minutes left in the second half, Alexander quickly recognized a mismatch between the 6-foot-10 Nobili and a smaller guard and delivered a lobbed entry pass for an easy layup. And his wit, as one of BU’s primary ball-handlers, helped the Terriers break a full-court Bison press for most of the second frame.
“He’s just been doing a great job,” Jones said.
Alexander was supported by three more Terriers in double-figures, including senior guard Miles Brewster (13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists), who is playing with more confidence than ever before. Landrum (14 points, 3 assists, 6-for-9 shooting) and Nobili (11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), both sophomores, were efficient down low and Matai Baptiste, an abundantly athletic freshman wing who has struggled to find his feet, finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals and made half his shots.
“Those guys are all capable,” Jones said. “We have enough where we could get four guys in double figures if we can get the right shots.”
All four of them, like Alexander, have endured their fair share of ugly moments this year.
“That’s the thing,” Jones said. “We’re playing better as the year’s gone on.”
The Terriers moved the ball masterfully on Saturday — making the extra pass for an open 3, breaking the press, finding the open cutter in the lane — and they got everyone involved. Their 22 assists were their second-most in a game this season.
The shots finally falling certainly helped, BU was 9-for-21 from 3, a respectable 42 percent, but regardless, open shots were found all game long.
“It’s hard to see that with this team right now because we haven’t consistently made shots, but this is a very good passing team,” Jones said. “Otto and Nico have really good instincts, Kyrone’s got really good instincts,… Miles is much improved as a passer.”
The shots going down, still a big if, makes everything feel better, but in any case, the point remains:
“We’re playing better basketball,” Jones said.
Optimism is now always cautious — BU has won two games in a row just once this season — but the Terriers are finally playing like they so clearly believed they could. There was such tangible belief before the season; there always is. Jones barely had a bad word to say in an hour-long sit-down with WTBU Sports and Brewster joked that the only thing he was ever thinking about was the Patriot League championship. The Terriers ran head-first into the wall of reality at the start of conference play, but somewhere along the way, they’ve picked themselves back up.
“I think we could be a tough out (in the Patriot League tournament) in three weeks,” Jones said. “That’s what you want.”
As for Alexander himself, he wasn’t available following the game on Saturday and has yet to talk to the media this season.
He appears quiet and soft-spoken and, on the outside, he is strikingly calm on the court; never too high, never too low. You would never have known, for instance, the direction his play was headed back on January 20 against Colgate.
But on Saturday, for the briefest of moments, you just might have.
BU broke Bucknell’s press and off he went. Nobili found him down the court, and a last-ditch effort from a Bison defender was helpless. The whistle blew. The shot fell. The lead went to 15 and the dagger sunk with 3:29 to go.
And Kyrone Alexander smiled.