With his team’s offense stifled and the game being played at Stony Brook University’s pace, John Holland of Boston University turned in an epic second-half performance to help his team win the America East Championship and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Boston defeated Stony Brook 56-54 at BU’s Agganis Arena on Saturday afternoon after Holland’s two free throws with 2.4 seconds left gave the Terriers their first lead of the game. Holland finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“That was a battle,” said Boston University head coach Pat Chambers. “I knew it was going to be a tough game because I know how talented Stony Brook is and I know how hard they play. They played with such a great confidence today. It was amazing, especially in the first half. They brought it to us. They didn’t fear anything. I give [Stony Brook] coach [Steve] Pikiell a lot of credit.”
Stony Brook shut down BU’s offense for most of the first half, packing the defense in and not allowing any easy shots for the perimeter-based attack of Boston. The Terriers finally responded by taking fewer 3-pointers and playing to their offensive strength — getting to the free throw line. The difference in the box-score was free throws, where BU held a 10-point advantage. The difference on the court was Holland’s decisiveness in half-court sets and playmaking on defense.
“[The second-half deficit] is a situation we practice every day,” Holland said. “We’re always down in practice. We practice for the worst situations, so when you’re really in it and you’re really facing it, you’re going to keep a calm head and maintain an even keel. And I know to just keep playing hard.”
The Terriers scored their third point of the game with 9:36 to go in the first half as Stony Brook shut down the driving lanes of Holland, junior guard Darryl Partin and freshman point guard D.J. Irving. Sophomore guard Leonard Hayes carried the offense for Stony Brook in the first half with a series of pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, scoring 14 of his team’s first 25 points. BU shot just 6-of-27 (22.2 percent) from the field in the first half, including 0-of-10 from 3-point range. Near the end of the half, Partin started finding seams in the defense, getting to the free throw line six times and finishing with nine points as his team found itself down 30-23 going into halftime.
The Seawolves extended their lead to 13 points with 18:01 to go in the game after junior guard Bryan Dougher scored a layup. That’s when Holland took over, scoring 16 consecutive points for Boston and making plays on both ends. He scored mostly on acrobatic layups and jumpers in the half-court, proving too strong for single coverage. He also had two steals during the spurt that he converted into easy baskets. His three-point play at 10:31 cut the Stony Brook lead to 41-40.
“During the game, I wasn’t making some shots in the first half,” Holland said. “But it’s really just about being confident and staying confident — continually take your shots and play your game.”
After Holland’s flourish, Stony Brook regrouped and maintained its lead, relying on senior guard Chris Martin and junior forward Dallis Joyner for offense. The two combined for nine of the team’s final 13 points. With 3:31 to play, Martin gave the Seawolves a 54-48 lead. Stony Brook would not, however, score again.
“It felt pretty good after the first 35 minutes of the game,” Martin said. “Then it fell apart. I don’t know what else to say.”
BU scored six straight points, culminating with two free throws by Holland with 1:03 left that tied the game at 54. Holland once again took over, this time on defense. As Dougher used a pick-and-roll to get free, Holland stepped up in front of him and forced a jump ball that gave Boston possession. It was Holland’s third steal of the game. Holland was then fouled by Joyner as he aggressively drove baseline and hit the ensuing free throws to give Boston the lead. Dougher’s half-court heave as time expired was off the mark, giving BU the 56-54 win.
“BU obviously had the best player on the floor and he won the basketball game down the stretch,” Pikiell said. “I’m proud of our guys and we’ll be back.”
Partin finished with 12 points, while Irving tallied eight. Freshman forward Dom Morris grabbed eight rebounds for BU. Hayes finished with 14 points and nine rebounds for Stony Brook while Dougher and Martin each scored 12.
Both Holland and Chambers emphasized that staying in the game mentally was the key to the come-from-behind victory.
“I’m really proud of these guys to my left [Darryl Partin, John Holland and Matt Griffin],” Chambers said. “They kept a great attitude and that’s what we’re all about. We say it all the time. We wear our bands, we say it in our huddle, ‘One, two, three — attitude.’ We don’t say ‘Family,’ we don’t say ‘Defense.’ But I really believe every one of those guys and our staff never felt we were out of that game even though they went up 15.”
Boston was given a No. 16 seed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, and is scheduled to face No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Tip-off is set for 6:50 p.m. and the game will be televised on TBS.