At this rate, Boston University will be able to hold team meetings in a smart car, and Eric Fanning may end up as the shortest center in the Patriot League.
Yet even with a slew of injuries and adversity, the depleted Terriers are Patriot League contenders and figure to be a difficult out, come tournament time.
“The thing I like about us is we’re playing tough,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “For the most part, we’re playing smarter and we’re playing for each other. When guys play for each other without worrying about stats, that’s a dangerous team.”
After an 0-3 start in conference play, the Terriers (17-12, 10-6 Patriot) won 10 of their past 13 games and are third behind Bucknell and Lehigh. Bucknell snapped their seven-game win streak Sunday, and BU faces a quick turnaround as it hosts Army on Tuesday on ASN.
“Once you’re winning, you don’t get tired,” said Fanning, the Terriers’ leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. “If you’re losing, you’re going through all this adversity and you’re losing, it’s like you’re putting all this work in for nothing. People just bought in and everyone’s giving 100 percent for each other.”
BU has just nine healthy bodies and is a shell of the team that returned all of its scoring and rebounding from a year ago. Second-team all-conference wing Cedric Hankerson, 6-8 Justin Alston and reserve guard Will Goff were sidelined for the season before Christmas.
Forward Nate Dieudonne, the PL’s leading rebounder in conference play, missed the past three games with an injured left foot. Jones hopes that Dieudonne can return for the tournament, but he and the Terriers again must adjust in the meantime.
“Once these other guys went out, a lot of people counted us out, not knowing that we have so much talent on our bench,” Fanning said. “Now that the other guys are gone, these guys get a chance to showcase their ability and I think everyone’s been doing a great job. No one put their head down. Everyone just said, ‘Aw, he’s down, I’ve got to step up now.’ That was the mentality. The coaches tried to drill that into us, the mentality where if one guy goes down, another guy steps up.”
BU started 13 different lineups through 29 games, and 13 players scored in double figures at least once this season, the most in the NCAA. Six different players have led the Terriers in scoring, highlighted by Fanning’s career-high 37 in an overtime win versus Loyola. Seven players have led in rebounding.
Steady senior guard John Papale (11.5 ppg) increased his scoring by a couple of points per game and demonstrated needed leadership. Sophomore guard Cheddi Mosely’s (13.7 ppg) scoring is up five points from last season. Sophomore forward Nick Havener (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) ably works inside.
Roles changed, as well. For instance, the 6-5 Fanning has been asked to rebound more, and found himself checking opposing centers periodically and banging inside.
“I think I’m a pretty good defender in the post,” said Fanning said. “I don’t go for a lot of shot fakes and stuff like that. Just pretty solid. That’s what I have to do, is be solid on the block. But I definitely mix it up from time to time, depending on the lineup the other team plays.”
In fact, defense fueled the Terriers’ turnaround and carried them to the upper part of the league. They are third in field-goal percentage defense (.429) and second in 3-point percentage defense (.332). In their 10 conference wins, only once did an opponent shoot over 45 percent from the field or better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Conversely, in their six losses, opponents shot at least 47 percent from the field or from 3-point range.
“We’re making two and three efforts on the defensive end,” Jones said. “We’ll contest the shot, we’ll block out and we’ll pursue the ball. We’re making two or three efforts on more defensive possessions. When we were 0-3, we’d contest the shot, but we wouldn’t block out or we didn’t go after the ball. Now, we’re blocking out and we’re pursuing. Guys are doing multiple things.”
BU’s mounting injuries and thin bench also altered Jones’ approach to practice. The Terriers rarely scrimmage. Practices are short and heavy on visualization, communication and individual work.
“We can’t afford for another guy to get hurt,” Jones said. “I know our guys are happier, not grinding away on each other in practice. They seem like they’re happier, they seem fresher. They seem to be playing with a lot more energy.”
The Terriers believe that Sunday’s 80-59 loss at Bucknell was a blip and not an omen. They caught a good team that played well, on its home court, on Senior Day. BU’s final two regular season games are at home, a needed break for a team that’s had to make its own luck.
“We’ve had challenges in the past and we’ve handled them,” Jones said. “The guys are used to it. I expect we’ll play hard.”
Above: Eric Fanning will go to great lengths — even banging bodies in the paint with centers — to help the Terriers. (Courtesy Jim Pierce/Boston University)