Game 066:at Boston University 66, Maine 50 Thursday, February 24, 2005 Case Gymnasium - Boston, MA
The scoreboard records the points, the newspaper keeps track of the wins and losses, and the banners hanging in the rafters immortalize the championships and dynasties. Lights, paper, cloth - that's the progression.
But in truth, it's really not as simple as all that. There are more important scored points than others, and a win is not always a win. Context is everything, and the when is always more important than the how, why and where.
Consider the Boston University Terriers, for instance. When a Belgian import named Stijn Dhondt hit a buzzer-beating three to sink Hartford 73-70 in the 2002 conference semifinals, the momentum of that single shot served to propel the Terriers onward, past Maine, into the NCAA Tournament as a 16-seed. With two workhorse freshmen named Chaz Carr and Rashad Bell poised to take the league by storm, BU appeared to be an America East dynasty in the making.
One year later, that seemingly limitless sky came crashing down in the waning moments of the league title game. With four seconds left, the Terriers held a 55-54 lead over Vermont with a partisan Case Gym crowd roaring behind them. But Catamount David Hehn nailed a jumper from the right side of the key and iced UVM's first-ever trip to the Tournament. For all their 20-win efforts, the 2002-03 Terriers wound up in a first-round NIT game at St. John's. The America East, you see, is always many nautical miles off the NCAA Selection Committee's radar.
But their greatest heartbreak was yet to come. After completing a 23-6 season that included a 17-1 conference record and a blistering 12-game road win streak, one-seed Boston University fell 62-58 in the quarterfinals to an eighth-seeded Stony Brook team that had played a tough qualification game against Maryland-Baltimore County the previous day. As if insult was a necessary addition to the season's fatal injury, it once again happened on the Terriers' home floor.
So you'd forgive the faithful if they decided to stay away from basketball this year until crunch time, and that's exactly what they did. What were small gatherings of several hundred at The Roof in January blossomed into packed houses at the sparkling new 7,000-seat Agganis Arena for two February dates. In the interim, coach Dennis Wolff's Terrier hoopsters quietly built another solid year with a 19-6 overall record. Going into their final regular season home game against those Maine Black Bears, they had a chance to notch their fourth consecutive 20-win season.
Yet as the America East tournament approached, there was concern in Terrier Country. Although Vermont's single regular season loss came at the Agganis, BU had dropped two close games against next-door nemesis Northeastern and sat tied for second. "We're tied at 13-3 and they own the tiebreaker," explained basketball information director Stephan Lemon. "So they need to lose one and we need to win out to finish second. It's rather important, because it looks like Binghamton may be the six seed, and nobody wants to play them in the quarters as a three seed. A two seed gets you UMBC, Stony Brook or New Hampshire."
Indeed, the first three rounds of the tournament are scheduled to be held at Binghamton's spotless new Events Center. An early-season swoon sent the Bearcats deep into the second division, but a five-game win streak had righted their ship. For all their regular-season success, Boston was facing down the prospect of a tourney-opening road game against a team that was peaking at the right time.
And so the Terriers came out hard and strong on this night, wearing down their opponents with a fierce full-court press, a linchpin of the defense-first strategy that had gained them so many regular-season wins. Maine, a team whose early-season title hopes were dashed by a string of injuries, lacked the patience necessary for the task. They failed to find the seams or pick away at the onion-like layers that BU wrapped around the basket. After a couple of futile mini-runs, the Black Bears were swallowed whole.
In the closing minutes, Coach Wolff ceremonially substituted out Carr and Bell, now seniors, to a prolonged standing ovation from the good-sized Roof crowd. Soon thereafter, news trickled in from the south that Binghamton had lost at Hartford - both Maine and the other BU would be 7-10 in the morning newspaper's standings column. Binghamton held the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep, so perhaps the Bearcats could still gain the fifth-seed after all, and the Terriers could stop worrying.
"It's going to be a hard game whether we play Maine or Binghamton," Wolff said after the game. "The tournament rejuvenates teams... we know all too well about that."
Some Terriers allowed themselves a moment to celebrate their fourth straight 20-win season, a feat unprecedented in school history. Not even in the days when Rick Pitino or Mike Jarvis roamed the sidelines did Boston University enjoy such a run of regular-season success. "It's amazing," said Carr. "A lot of college athletes don't get this type of opportunity."
But his fellow senior kept his eyes firmly locked on the prize. "Our main goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament," said Bell. "That's what we're here to do."
And so, as the Boston University Terriers wrap up another successful regular season in the America East Conference, they prepare to once again tackle the microcosmic maththey hope will add up to an NCAA banner raising, instead of a third NIT invite in a row. Lights, paper, cloth.
"We have one more game to go on Sunday," said Wolff. "But we'll spend a lot of next week talking about that."