BU Men’s Basketball outlasted Loyola the only way it knows how. Now, it can dream big

 By Sam Robb O’Hagan

BOSTON — It just had to happen like this, right? 

Nothing has been stable here. BU has been really good, then really bad. It’s been tantalizing, but only as much as it’s been frustrating. And the Terriers have been entertaining, only as much as they’ve been absolutely, totally and completely bewildering. Only along that roller coaster would the first, long-awaited sense of stability — the Terriers’ first three-game win-streak this season — arrive in such a dizzying way.

“Incredible game,” BU head coach Joe Jones said afterward. “The competitive side, the entertainment side, just all the things you love about basketball.”

At this point, it’s hard to imagine a BU fan out there that hasn’t fallen in love with basketball. Because of all the things you can say about BU (13-16, 8-8 Patriot League), there’s one thing you certainly can’t — that the Terriers are boring. So, no, when BU jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead on the back of one of its most productive halves of the season, of course it didn’t cruise to victory.

Along the ride on Saturday in BU’s 82-79 overtime victory over Loyola Maryland: 

An 18-0 Loyola run that turned a 17-point BU lead on its head.

28 lead changes.

A deep Kyrone Alexander 3-pointer to give BU the lead with two seconds left.

And a buzzer-beating halfcourt 3-pointer to send the game to overtime — what was just the 23rd triple in senior Greyhound forward Alonso Faure’s 99-game career.

You know, the usual around here at Case Gym. But by now, BU has learned how to hang on when it’s on the roller coaster.

At no point was there any panic. Not even down one with 20 seconds left in overtime, when senior forward Anthony Morales drove left and was stonewalled by Faure. Morales was dead to rights along the baseline, only to miraculously will his way to the basket and finish with an up-and-under, go-ahead layup.

“Down the stretch, I like to be aggressive,” Morales said. Like it was that simple.

Seconds later, life flashed before BU’s eyes again, when freshman Greyhound guard Jordan Steimke (23 points), driving right to win the game, gained a step on freshman guard Alexander. But Alexander somehow recovered. Morales saw what was coming, too, and left his man to make a play at the rim. The two combined to stuff Stiemke’s layup against the backboard to seal the victory.

“Just look out for your brother,” Morales said.

And with that, BU survived. But there was nothing upside-down about the Terriers’ upside-down victory. This was a testament to every shred of resilience BU has displayed to get here. If ever there was a case study for adversity building character, BU is it.

“I know during the game, I had a little moment,” Morales said, speaking for the entire team whether he meant to or not. “You have to be able to shift your mindset…if they make their run, we’re going to make our run. Keep being aggressive. There’s definitely a change in attitude we all need to possess when stuff is not going our way.

“And that’s what we’ve talked about all year,” Morales said. “That’s who we are.”

Only this BU team could make Saturday’s events no big deal. The excellent first half into the second-half tailspin? Been there. Many times. That 18-0 Loyola run? Not nearly as devastating as a 19-2 Holy Cross run in the second-half in a January 29 matchup BU eventually lost.

“If you look throughout the season,” Morales said, “we play a really good half and we play a really bad half.”

That day in Worcester, BU’s eyes looked wider than they’ve been at any point this season. On Saturday? Along the entire 18-0 run, Jones didn’t even call a timeout.

“One of the little kids that came to the game said to me ‘coach, you got to call a timeout when they take the momentum away,’” Jones said. That’s common sense, of course, but BU’s season has been anything but common. And with two regular season games left, in some twisted, backwards way, the Terriers are reaping the benefits. It’s hard to think of anything that could phase this team anymore. Not even a halfcourt 3-pointer at the horn to deem Alexander’s go-ahead triple meaningless.

“I thought the staff did a really good job, and our players did a really good job of not allowing that to impact the last five minute segment,” Jones said.

Alexander, for one, did not appear impacted at all. He returned to play the entire overtime period and score four critical points, finishing with a career-high 23. And, yes, he’s been through quite the roller coaster himself during his freshman season.

“It’s just a testament to what I do,” Alexander said. “Come in and work, take a lot of shots. So I was confident when I got the ball.”

Come to think of it, that’s one more thing that BU is — confident. Alexander and Morales took the bull of their moments by the horns. Junior guard Ethan Okwuosa, coming off a horrid stretch of late, missed multiple bunny layups and watched a corner 3 hit off the side of the backboard but never stopped shooting. He finished with 12 points.

“I thought he was really settled in,” Jones said. “He had a good game.”

The Terriers’ confidence is only growing. Finally, at long last, BU won its third game in a row. That’s significant. Jones has reiterated time and time again this season that he only considers one game at a time, but after a win over American on Wednesday to put the Terriers within reach of a three-game bounce, Jones was clear.

“The thing is,” Jones said on Wednesday, “If you’re going to do anything special, you’re going to have to win three in a row at some point.”

By that, he was alluding to the Patriot League tournament. Jones and BU now have legitimate reason to look that far. After a long, nauseating, endlessly captivating road, they are finally over the three-game hump.

And who knows where that road will take them next.

“It gives us momentum to come in and attack every day,” Alexander said, “and go pursue the goal of winning the Patriot League title.”