Colgate Edges Boston U., Keeps Pace Atop Patriot League

Like many Patriot League games, Wednesday’s Colgate at Boston University matchup went down to the wire. A back-and-forth second half left the visitors ahead by one point heading into the final minute, when 6’11” center Ethan Jacobs buried a decisive three-pointer. The Raiders added a few free throws for a 76-69 margin, keeping pace with Bucknell atop the league at 9-4.

“It’s another Patriot League game. You guys have seen enough of them — most of them are going down to the wire in the last four minutes of the game.” Colgate coach Matt Langel said.

Few fans fought the beleaguererd Green Line to reach Agganis Arena on Wednesday evening.

Few fans fought the beleaguererd Green Line to reach Agganis Arena on Wednesday evening.

Both teams shot poorly out of the gate, combining for four field goals in the first six and a half minutes. The hosts were first to heat up for an extended stretch, reeling off a 17-6 run that featured baskets from six different Terriers.

After a media timeout, however, the Terriers’ run was interrupted by a shot-clock malfunction that delayed the game for several minutes. Colgate found its footing after the stoppage, outscoring the Terriers 12-4 for the rest of the period and tying the game with a Damon Sherman-Newsome three-pointer immediately after halftime. “I thought the stoppage of play crushed us. We were playing well, we were rolling pretty good, we had a good rhythm, and it just changed everything,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “It’s not an excuse — we’ve got to be able to handle that the right way. I just don’t think we handled that well at all.”

The margin remained within five points until the final seconds, as neither team could follow its baskets with stops. Sherman-Newsome frustrated the Terriers throughout, finishing with four treys and 19 points. After being shut out for the first 33 minutes, Austin Tillotson took over with four straight Colgate baskets late in the second half. But in a tightly officiated game, the Raiders could not keep Eric Fanning out of the paint, and Cheddi Mosely and John Papale pitched in with clutch shots.

Both teams entered with above-average offenses and below-average defenses, so a high-scoring result was not surprising. The Terriers scored 1.11 points per possession, getting to the free-throw line frequently and limiting turnovers over the final 30 minutes. But the Raiders were even more secure with the ball and shot better, finishing at 1.23 ppp (including a blistering 1.39 in the second half).

Colgate’s defense is still suspect, and no team in the nation has a worse free-throw rate than the Raiders’ 24.8. But at 1.12 ppp, their offense has still been the most efficient in league play, and they’re now the top-ranked Patriot League team in KenPom (about 30 spots ahead of the Bison, who edged Navy 52-51 on Wednesday). Nothing is predictable in this year’s Patriot League — but with the head-to-head tiebreaker on Bucknell, a 1.5-game edge on the rest of the field and three of their final five at home, Colgate has the inside track to the 1-seed.

Three other thoughts from Agganis Arena:

1. Colgate’s bench stepped up in key spots. Few teams rely more on their starting five than Colgate does. Tillotson, Sherman-Newsome, Luke Roh, Matt McMullen and Ethan Jacobs have started every game and played 78% of available minutes, 11th-highest in the nation. That might even undersell how top-heavy the Raiders have been this year — even when their bench players do see the floor, all of them have a lower usage rate than any starter.

But when foul trouble loosened the rotation a bit Wednesday, Colgate’s reserves scored 15 points on 5-8 shooting, including back-to-back treys by Sean O’Brien and Alex Ramon that launched the Raiders’ first-half run. “Those guys work like crazy every single day,” Lange said. “To have those guys have some success in critical times is significant, because the other guys are working too … They see that if you keep working, when you get your chance, you can help the team.”

2. BU is also building depth. In non-conference play, the Terriers often had a one-note offense. Cedric Hankerson was their scoring leader in seven of their first 10 games, posting a usage rate above 25% in every contest. He’s still been a go-to player at times in Patriot League action, but his teammates have added more: Though Hankerson is averaging less than 10 ppg over the last four games, the Terriers have still scored more than a point per possession each time.

Limited by foul trouble, Hankerson managed just seven points on Wednesday, but four other Terriers were in double figures. Justin Alston (14 points) has developed into a scorer in the post, Mosely (10 points) and Papale (eight) are efficient shooters, and Nathan Dieudonne (10 points, 10 rebounds) has versatile, high-energy skills. But the key player has been Fanning (19 points), a sophomore transfer from Wagner who has led BU with 15.0 ppg in conference play. Fanning nominally comes off the bench, but his penetration and passing allow him to run BU’s offense for long stretches (his usage rate has been above 30% in 11 of 13 league games).

3. The Terriers missed an opportunity. Despite a 1-6 stretch midway through conference play, a win would have vaulted BU above .500 and into the top four of the Patriot League. Instead, the Terriers are now part of a three-way jumble at 6-7, which American could join with a loss at Lehigh Thursday, all just ahead of another trio at 5-8. At least one of those seven teams will be hosting a Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal — and the way this season has gone, even the 5-9 seeds should keep their arenas available for the late rounds, just in case.