As predicted on The Bootleg, Boston University offered up all that Stanford could handle and much more in Monday's season opener. In a game where Stanford had advantages in size and athleticism, B.U. played with poise and consistency that led the game through the entire first half and spots in the second half. Their defensive tenacity was as expected, and their patience to run the clock and find high percentage shots on offense was par for the course. But Mike Montgomery noted a couple things the Terriers brought to this game that took Stanford a little by surprise.
"This was a little bit like I expected. We knew they would be polished and experienced, but they were a little bit bigger and stronger that I thought," the Stanford head man admitted. Both he and his players said after the game that they also did not expect the Terriers to stay in their 2-3 zone throughout the entire game like they did. "We practice against a different zone, and that's not something we really were prepared for."
Stanford had better get prepared for zone defenses this year, especially if they toss up more shooting nights like this NIT opener. The Card looked more like a holiday edition of a bell choir, clanking the iron at almost every opportunity. They shot 2-for-16 in the first half from deep, and 6-for-27 for the game. That is a 22% conversion in a game where everybody in Maples could see that B.U. was going to dare Stanford for forty minutes to hit the outside shot. Not good. My fears that this could be a very mediocre perimeter shooting team may need to be ratcheted up even further with a couple more games like this. Josh Childress proclaimed after the game that he continues to hold high expectation in this area for the Card ("We're a good shooting team."), but I have my doubts.
Childress probably can hold his head high after that two-plus hours of long-range bricks, given that he hit 3-for-7 from deep as part of his game-high 22 points. It was the combined three-point shooting of Julius Barnes, Matt Lottich and Dan Grunfeld at a 3-for-20 clip that hurt. But back to Childress, he quietly put together seven points and six board in the first half when Stanford did next to nothing right. He hit the trey midway through the first half that pulled the game from 12-5 to 12-8, and he continued to fuel the late run in the final three minutes of the half when he grabbed big offensive rebounds, to follow with scores. The first came when B.U. held a 18-11 lead and Josh raced from outside the three-point line to crash the glass in his unique yet gliding form. One bounce, then the putback off the glass. A few possessions later, he again charged from the perimeter to grab an almost identical offensive rebound, though this time his two points came at the charity stripe after he was mugged on the attempted putback.
The balance of Childress' scoring was almost perfect, with his first 12 points coming half on treys and half on offensive rebound putbacks. The one great piece of the puzzle missing from the sophomore's offensive arsenal was his dribble-drive penetration. That was not something merely forgotten by the quick athlete, but instead something available with the Terrier defense. As predicted, B.U. played back close to the basket in a manner you almost never see in today's college basketball. There were a couple times that Childress caught the ball on the perimeter, and by habit wanted to put the ball on the floor to beat his defender off the dribble. Whereas his experience last year against better athletes and more aggressive defenders would find them in his face, ready to be beaten, he found the B.U. defender back four feet. Childress had to pull the ball back out and rethink the offensive set. Don't fear that this is gone from his offense; it simply was a product of a very extreme defensive choice by Boston University.
To that end, Julius Barnes compared the style of play by the Terriers in this game to only one example he could remember - the Wisconsin team he saw a few years ago when they made their Cinderella run to the Final Four. B.U. used a three-quarters pester press to slow down Stanford's offense, which worked very effectively. For those who watched the game and were upset that Stanford did not make them pay for the press more often, consider the difference between this press and those USC employed against Stanford last year. This was not a true trapping press where B.U. commits its defenders to the primary task of turning the ball over, but rather sent the front duo of their 2-3 zone to apply just enough ball pressure to force an extra couple passes by the Stanford ballhandlers. There was no attempt to really follow the ball and force the turnover, and instead the defenders quickly fell back into the zone. Stanford really only did turn the ball over once the entire game as a result, that coming in the very opening moments of the game, but it did effectively speed up the clock and shorten a game B.U. knew they would lose as time wore on.
Stanford consequently was not able to force the ball up the floor for much of the game at the pace you might hope and expect when either Julius Barnes or Jason Haas is handling the point. There was just one time that they really did dissect the press, in the second half. Dan Grunfeld was moving up the floor in the middle of the court, which Barnes saw and pushed the ball through the defenders. When Grunfeld caught the ball, Nick Robinson came in from the wing and drove to the basket, which an aware Grunfeld hit with an easy pass for an easy driving lay-in. Kudos to Grunfeld and Robinson for making a simply but heady play. Robinson overall gave strong contributions in the game, tying his career highs in minutes and rebounds from last year against Southern Utah. But unlike that easy 18-point win against the Thunderbirds, Robinson played key minutes of great need in a nip-and-tuck game Monday night. Robinson grabbed some important rebounds on both ends of the floor in this game, including one possession where he recovered a Haas baseline jumper that hit the side of the backbord. The redshirt sophomore tipped that offensive rebound back up to the bucket, and then sprung back off the hardwood to follow that miss for a second tip, this time successful. I'm very encouraged to see Robinson play a steady game like he did after such a rough exhibition start last week when he displayed a lot of nerves.
One reason Robinson had so many minutes was that Stanford went small in this game to react to game circumstances. Josh Childress played about half of his minutes in this game at the power rather than the small forward, which left a load of minutes at the 'three' to either Robinson or Matt Lottich. Boston's frontline was small throughout the game, never once pulling their two biggest players (6'10" and 6'9") off the bench. Neither Joe Kirchofer nor Rob Little could get anything done offensively against a small and pestering pack-it-in defense that made inlet passes hard to come by. On the other end of the floor, both of Stanford's centers had some slow reactions to quicker offensive players.
Lottich took great advantage of his combined minutes at both wing positions in this game, hitting for a career high-tying 12 points. He also logged 32 minutes, which more than doubled any previous outing for him in his two years at Stanford. Though he shot just 4-for-11 in the game, he hit big shots early in both halves that were key for Stanford recoveries. When B.U. opened the game with a surprising 8-0 lead, it was Lottich who hit Stanford's first bucket in the seventh minute of the game, a three-pointer. The Terriers held a four-point lead at the half and then opened the second stanza with a 5-0 run that looked like trouble. Stanford had a chance to break up that run when Rob Little got to the free throw line, but he missed both. Then Lottich popped a three from dead-away center at the top of the arc to ignite a Stanford run that continued throughout the half. Julius Barnes on the very next possession hit a three of his own (his only trey in nine attempts on the game). Then a couple possessions later, Lottich had the ball out on the wing, used a shot-fake to draw his defender at him in the air, and put the ball on the floor toward a 10-foot pull-up jumper. That capped an 8-0 run that really pulled Stanford back in the game, closing a 28-19 gap to 28-27. The Chicago native also added a highlight play late in the game when he made a leaping one-handed tip-in putback, off-balance to follow a missed Childress trey attempt.
Boston hit a bucket a few possessions after that 8-0 Stanford run to stretch the margin to three, but Rob Little came right back on the next possession to catch the ball on the low block and finished with an easy deuce. The game was a one-point affair again when Justin Davis ignited the Maples Pavilion crowd with such electricity that the game was obviously turned. On the defensive end, Justin Davis swiped a ball away that Julius Barnes recovered (JB got the official steal, though I thought JD should have received the credit) and pushed all the way up the floor. He raced for a driving lay-in just above the rim, which came off too strong. Davis exploded from the free throw line when he saw the shot miss and quickly lept for a rebounded dunk that just lit up the house. He also was fouled on that follow-up dunk, and though he missed the free throw, Stanford was back.
Later in the half, Davis provided the second hyped play of the game when he caught the ball in the high post, put it on the floor and made a slashing move through the lane to the hoop. Boston's Kevin Gardner extended his arms under the hoop to receive the driving Davis, but the redshirt junior from Berkeley ducked under and around for an athletic and dramatic reverse lay-in. He also drew the foul on that play and this time finished the three-point play with the free throw. But on the initial bucked, the ball came off high on the glass and bounced around on the rim for what seemed like an eternity. Off on the wing, Matt Lottich was jumping up and down probably three times while the ball took its tour of the iron, and when it dropped through, Davis swing his fist in a roundhouse fashion that received a leaping and thunderous ovation from everyone in the house - in the stands, on the floor and on the bench.
Davis finished with 10 points, which might seem like a meager output, but his contributions were strong. He was efficient with the ball, scoring on three of his five field goal attempts, and hitting four of his six free throws. And the great part about those charity stripe tosses is that they were soft shots that could have gone in even on his two misses. Who knows where he will shoot at the free throw line this year, but his mechanics and release are unquestionably much improved. Davis' biggest contributions in this game, though, came on the glass, where he grabbed a game-high five offensive boards and career high 13 total rebounds. He pulled down nine of those boards in the second half, which keyed much of Stanford's success. For the period when Stanford made a 17-4 run over six minutes, turning a nine-point deficit into a four-point lead, the Terriers could only pull down one offensive rebound. Davis and Chidress dominated the defensive glass to pick up any and all B.U. misses, with Davis getting stronger and more dominating every minute that passed. The game was Davis' second career double-double.
Josh Childress also registered his second career double-double, with a career high of 22 points plus 11 rebounds - just one shy of his career high. The most encouraging note is that he did not shoot well in the first half, hitting 1-for-4 from deep and 2-for-7 overall, but he did not beat himself up about it. As his freshman year progressed, it was very clear that Childress was his own harshest critic, often after games looking like a part of him when he endured poor shooting performances. Even last week in the exhibition game against the Olympic Club, he threw his fist in visible frustration after his misses. But in this game, he kept his poise, and that put him in a position to recover for a 15-point second half shining. Montgomery was excited about his sophomore's play, particularly as used against the smaller Terrier lineup. "Josh inside was good for us, not so much in terms of physical play, but good in matchups," the coach explained. "We went small, and Josh is so quick off his feet and so quick to the ball."
As for the overall turnaround in the second half, Montgomery said that there were no real substantive adjustments in rotation or scheme. It was simply a mental awakening, as he expounded. "It was a matter of recognizing that we were in trouble. We said, 'Hey - we need to do something about this or we're gonna get beat here.' Guys just stepped up."
Davis explained that he felt much of the first half woes came from sloppy Stanford play. "We made a lot of unforced turnovers, but we got together and collectively calmed down," he observed. Indeed, Stanford turned the ball over 10 times in the first half versus just two assists, but registered seven second half assists with a more composed offense versus just five turnovers. The bad turnovers included some ill-advised Barnes passes, a bad Lottich pass and travels from Little and Childress. Two turnovers called in the game were bad calls by the refs, though, including a Childress travel called when he recovered a loose ball on offense in the paint and then moved to the basket for an attempted shot. His left pivot foot was planted, but his long frame flailing in traffic drew the quick whistle.
But it was the senior Barnes who had a real tough go for the night, finishing with just five points on 2-for-13 shooting in 35 minutes of play. You can argue that the outside shot will fall for him eventually, and I believe that, but his approach to the game just looked uncomfortable. When Stanford struggled early, he looked to force the action offensively early in the shot clock when he had the ball. Therein lies some of the danger with him at the point guard instead of the off-guard, where he can concentrate on scoring without the added pressure and mental yoke of running the entire offense. Montgomery spoke frankly after the game about his senior's performance: "Julius didn't have a good game and that's something we just can't accommodate very much this year."
Barnes had his own reflections on a very forgettable game as well. "It was really ugly," he lamented. "I think that was the ugliest game I've ever been a part of. I was glad when the final buzzer went off, so I wouldn't have to take any more shots. I just have to look past this and play much better on Wednesday, in all phases of the game. I need to go home right now and play some video games with my friends and brothers - just not think about it too much."
All three scholarship freshmen played in the game, with Jason Haas the first off the bench but Dan Grunfeld logging the most minutes. Grunfeld was an important spark in the first half when Stanford made its late scoring run. He came off the bench and was the first player to really attack the zone, which is incredible for a freshman in November when you think about it. At the 2:43 mark late in the half, he took the ball across the key to penetrate a gap in the zone and left his feet for an ugly but effective one-handed jumper. The ball went down then, just as it did with his next attempt on a 10-foot pull-up jumper for a sweet deuce. The New Jersey native (by way of Wisconsin) hit another couple points in the second half when he moved without the ball and received a pass in the paint and then was fouled while attacking the basket. He hit both free throws to finish perfect on the night for all shots and attempts inside the arc. Outside, he was 0-for-4, but the shots looked good and there is little doubt that he will hit a lot of those treys this year. Matt Haryasz only played one minute, marred by two fouls, though both came on excellent shotblocks that were dubious calls at best. The second block had the 6'10" freshman's hand completely on top of the ball and looked like a fantastic and clean block. He also badly altered another shot in that brief appearance, though that does not show up in the box score.