BU Avenges Title Game Loss with Win over American Wednesday Night
With starter Nathan Dieudonne in street clothes facing the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, the odds looked stacked in favor of BU suffering its first four-game losing streak in conference play since 2000.
Those who put their money on the Terriers, however, were rewarded Wednesday night, as BU won, 59-54, over American University at Agganis Arena, avenging the 2014 conference final loss to the Eagles last March in the same building. The Terriers (8-10, 4-3) avoided falling under .500 in conference play for the first time since joining the Patriot League in 2013. The Eagles (11-7, 4-3) continued their struggles away from home, falling to 4-8 on the road.
The Terriers were keyed by a career-night for Cedric Hankerson, who broke the school record with nine steals. The sophomore, who entered Wednesday night second in the Patriot League with 18.7 points per game, scored a game-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
“I saw that they were careless with the ball a little bit,” said Hankerson. “Having played them last year, we know their offense — they like to back-pedal alot — so at times I saw that coming and anticipated it.”
Hankerson’s big performance couldn’t have come at a bigger time for the Terriers. Dieudonne was ruled out of Wednesday night’s game on the heels of what BU coach Joe Jones called an ‘incident’ at the conclusion of Sunday’s 91-86 loss to Loyola. Jones said it was his decision to sit the junior forward.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do, for [Dieudonne] and our program,” said Jones. “We love Nate and he’ll be ready to play Saturday.”
Without Dieudonne in the lineup, the Terriers saw players step up in a big way. Eric Fanning made his first start of the season for BU, playing 34 minutes and scoring 14 points while tying a team-high with Hankerson with six rebounds. Justin Alston dipped into double-figures for the fourth time in 2014-15 with a 12-point night to counter four offensive boards.
The Terriers got out quick in both the first and second half. BU scored the game’s first seven points and led by as many as eight in the opening 20 minutes. After the Eagles brought the game within three points (27-24) at halftime, the Terriers had an even better start to begin the second half, going on a 12-0 run to take a 39-24 lead with 16:05 remaining.
American came within three points at four different times in the final 4:15, the latest coming with 13 seconds remaining, when Pee Wee Gardner (7 points) sank two free throws to make it 57-54. But that was as close as the Eagles would come, as Cheddi Mosely countered with two free throws of his own to round out the scoring with eight seconds to go.
The meeting between the two teams Wednesday was the first since American walked off the Agganis hardwood with the Patriot League title and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament last March. Jones said the game, a 55-36 BU loss, was mentioned leading up to the game, but there wasn’t a large emphasis placed on it.
“We talked about it a little bit, just a little bit,” said Jones, who said his team was outplayed and out-coached in that matchup. “I just think it’s hard [to put a huge emphasis on the game] because now we have to go play Bucknell (BU’s next opponent), so what’s the reasoning of playing hard that night?”
For Hankerson, Wednesday’s win was that much sweeter given what happened in last year’s conference championship game.
“For the returners, we saw how bad it was to lose to them here at home in the championship,” said Hankerson. “So we kind of had that edge and that chip on our shoulder today.”
With the win, the Terriers move into a second-place tie with the Eagles. They sit one game out of first place in pursuit of their first successful regular season title defense since finishing first in the America East three consecutive years from 2002-04. In front of BU is Colgate (5-2), who lost to Army Wednesday night, 65-64, and Bucknell — the Terrier’s next opponent — who knocked off Loyola, 75-61, on Wednesday.