February 16, 2023 

Patriot League Notebook: Boston University remains undefeated with key win over Holy Cross

Sydney Johnson reaches another level

Boston University clinched at least a share of the regular-season title with a 66-59 win over second-place Holy Cross and extended a winning streak to begin league play with its fourteenth straight victory—the second longest in program history.

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Who else is streaking in the Terriers’ rear view mirror? Bucknell has won six straight to put the Bison in the mix for the fight to finish in the top four. Army has won three in a row and seven of its last eight contests but has three of its remaining four games against the league’s top three teams.

The race to win the middle is just heating up but the battle for the top spot in the league is essentially settled. Wednesday night’s showdown confirmed that the road to the championship will likely go through Boston—the Terriers hold a four-game edge over Holy Cross with four games remaining.

How did head coach Melissa Graves’ team outmaneuver a tough Crusader squad? Let’s examine the details in this week’s notebook:

The top takeaways from Boston University’s big win

The best game of the season renewed a growing rivalry between Boston University and Holy Cross.

Contests between the schools are called the Turnpike Trophy competition. It’s an annual series between league opponents that covers more than 20 sports and adds spice to an already lively rivalry that draws fans from Webster Square to Commonwealth Avenue—and all points in between for those brave enough to navigate the drivers on the stretch of I-90 that connects the two schools between Boston and Worcester.

This round was a bit different for fans at home in Beantown or the ‘Woo.’ The atmosphere and stakes brought an extra edge to the game with first place in play.

Holy Cross and Boston University each entered the game with identical 18-6 overall records and a firm hold on the top two spots in league standings.

The Crusaders came to the match-up with the legacy of 11 Patriot League titles and a first-place regular-season finish a season ago. The Terriers brought the fire and focus of an upstart, preseason league favorites in search of their first title in the Patriot League.

It lived up to the hype.

It was fast and physical, and featured a 15-point comeback from the home team in front of a loud Boston crowd. Fans nearly witnessed a miracle response to the Terrier comeback, too. The Crusaders, trailing by five with under a minute to go, appeared to position themselves to steal it back with a corner three-pointer from Bronagh Power-Cassidy combined with a foul away from the ball with 40.6 seconds left.

Momentum was seized, and order restored for the home fans, by an officials’ review at the monitor which determined the foul occurred prior to the made three-pointer. The potential game-tying possession came off the books and two free throws were awarded for the foul instead. The three-pointer was correctly waived off.

Moments later, a brilliant drive and dish from Sydney Johnson to Caitlin Weimar with 14.9 seconds left sealed the deal in what finished as a 66-59 final. How did the Terriers do it? Here are the top takeaways:

Junior forward Caitlin Weimar leads first-place Boston University with a team-high 38 blocks and 14.4 points per game. (Photo credit: Matt Woolverton)

The posts for Boston University are a dominating duo

The 6’3 Maren Durant and 6’4 Caitlin Weimar dictate nearly everything on both ends of the floor for opponents. On defense, you better have a plan. Are you going to double on a post catch? Double when the post takes a dribble? Dig down from the perimeter and let your big handle a post-up one-on-one? Stay home on the shooters instead?

Those are all plans they see on a regular basis and their ability to solve the puzzle defenses present to them makes the duo the heart of their squad’s success. Holy Cross started forwards Janelle Allen and Lindsay Berger together for the first time in league play to counter the size of the Terriers.

On the very first possession of the game, the Crusaders doubled Durant in the low post on the catch. Durant calmly pivoted, faced-up and hit a cutting Weimar for a lay-up down the lane. Weimar returned the favor to a cutting Durant early in the third quarter when Boston was mounting its comeback.

The pair combined for 19 points and 18 rebounds and the attention they commanded opened the floor for teammates.

Durant is shooting 52.9% from the floor, scoring 7.2 points and grabbing 7.7 rebounds this season. Weimar is converting at a 58.7% clip, and averaging a double-double with 14.4 points and 10.0 rebounds an outing.

On the defensive end, they pose a challenge for opponents trying to finish at the rim or post up their forwards. They are the top two shot blockers in the league (38 for Weimar and 31 for Durant).

The duo’s presence as rim protectors allows the team’s guards to press up on opponents and go over ball screens and hand-offs as needed; it was a key second half adjustment in an answer to a blistering first-half shooting performance by Holy Cross.

The Crusaders shot 64.0% from the field in the first two quarters and 6-for-23 in the second half for 26.0%. The security provided by the post defenders beneath all those perimeter actions gives the Terrier defense a flexibility no other team in the league enjoys.

No other post duo maximizes its footwork, leverage, and length the way the combination of Durant and Weimar does.

Sydney Johnson is leading the Terriers to the top of the Patriot League and making her case for the Player of the Year. (Photo credit: Matt Woolverton)

Sydney Johnson is making it happen

Sydney Johnson is playing with a championship mentality. Credit the senior for her poise and perseverance. She is Boston’s best player and has been that star now for two seasons.

This year is different.

Johnson’s playmaking ability combined with her on-court leadership is making the all the pieces come together this season. She’s not only one of the best players—if not the best—in the league, but she’s making her team the best.

She led the Terriers in their win over Holy Cross with 17 points, six rebounds and five steals. Johnson has been an explosive scorer and playmaker throughout her career but this season she’s showcasing the savvy and leadership of a senior, too. Her presence on the court has transitioned from a swagger to a self-assured confidence and calm that brings out the best in her teammates.

Two key plays in the first quarter are examples of how Johnson has grown as a competitor.

She had her shot blocked about a minute and a half into the game by Crusader forward Janelle Allen. In the past, Johnson might have let the frustration of that block impact the next play in the action. She didn’t miss a beat in returning on transition defense and then promptly stealing the ball from Holy Cross guard Kaitlyn Flanagan and flying downcourt to convert the lay-in the other way.

Later in the quarter, she thought she got fouled on a drive but kept her composure and nailed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. Johnson made two big plays when Holy Cross was making a push to dictate the game and it kept the Terriers in the mix while they adjusted to the physicality and gameplan of the Crusader defense.

On Boston’s last full possession of the game with a three-point lead, Holy Cross elected to defend rather than foul. It was Johnson who beat the shot-clock and made a spectacular penetration and pass under pressure for the game-clinching lay-up from Weimar with 14.9 seconds remaining.

While the season’s end approaches and Player of the Year talk grows, fans should be hearing the name Sydney Johnson mentioned often among the best performers this year. Putting up big numbers always helps, and Johnson has a couple for voters to examine to this point:

14 and 0.

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The Terriers got defensive

The key to Boston’s win was its second half defense. Ball pressure in the halfcourt and a full-court zone press rattled the Crusaders. They even turned the tables with a few post double-teams of Allen on the block. The pressure forced Allen into 5 turnovers.

The Terriers registered a season-high 15 steals.

Navigating the full court pressure hurt the Holy Cross shot clock management on multiple possessions and forced a 10-second violation. They were harried and hurried. BU took the Crusaders out of their rhythm and pace on offense and they struggled to get good looks down the stretch.

The Terrier defense held Holy Cross to 18 second half points—less than the 23 points the team scored in the first quarter.

Forward Maren Durant is making her presence felt on both ends of the floor for a Terrier team that is 14-0 in league play. (Photo credit: Matt Woolverton)

They make you pick your poison

Holy Cross came in with a great gameplan, shot 44.9% from the floor, held the Terriers to their lowest rebound output with just 27 and still lost. Whether your glass is half full or half empty, you don’t want to drink what’s in it.

Jam up their posts or fan out and stick to their shooters? Boston makes you pick your poison. That’s why they are 14-0 and the best in the league. Opponents can play their best game, have the right plan, and still lose.

Durant and Weimar can beat you inside, but focus on the interior too much and the Terriers will hurt you from the perimeter. Alex Giannaros, Maggie Pina and Johnson are all among the top perimeter shooters in the league.

The guards’ shooting prowess creates one-on-one opportunities for the posts. And the posts’ ability to draw guards down from the perimeter on digs or doubles creates open looks from three. It’s a cycle all too familiar to league opponents.

Boston University is third nationally in three-point field goal percentage at 39.53%. Terriers Alex Giannaros (34-for-61, 55.7%), Sydney Johnson (31-for-69, 44.9%) and Maggie Pina (45-for-110, 40.9%) lead the perimeter attack.

If they can continue to play with poise, the only team that can stop the Terriers is the Terriers.

Current Standings:

(League record, overall record)

  1. Boston University (14-0, 19-6)
  2. Holy Cross (10-4, 18-7)
  3. Lehigh (9-5, 13-12)
  4. Army (9-5, 11-13)
  5. Bucknell (8-6, 12-13)
  6. Colgate (6-8, 12-13)
  7. Lafayette (5-9, 8-16)
  8. American (5-9, 6-19)
  9. Loyola (MD) (3-11, 8-17)
  10. Navy (1-13, 1-24)

What’s the can’t-miss matchup of the week?

Will Taylor Golembiewski be in the line-up for Colgate when the Raiders travel to Holy Cross this weekend? (Photo credit: Colgate Athletic Communications)

Colgate at Holy Cross

Saturday, February 18th @2:00p.m.

It’s a contest between two of the best defensive teams in the league and a pivotal game in the race for a top four seed and a home game in the quarterfinal round of playoffs. Coach Maureen Magarity’s team allows a league-best 55.0 points per game and Colgate is just as stingy, giving up 55.1 points.

Each team enters having lost four of its last six games.

The Crusaders are looking to hold onto second place with four conference games remaining. Holy Cross is paced by junior Bronagh Power-Cassidy who leads the team in scoring and minutes played.

Freshman Kaitlyn Flanagan and Power-Cassidy are the only players to start every game this season for Magarity. First-year Flanagan is having a breakout season as an impact player on the defensive end and team-leader in assists with 71.

Will Colgate sophomore Taylor Golembiewski be in the line-up? She missed the team’s most recent contest — a 50-47 overtime loss at Army — due to personal reasons. Golembiewski is scoring 12.3 points per game and grabbing 4.0 rebounds. She leads a Raiders’ offense that excels at attacking the paint and scoring in the mid-range.

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In the first matchup, Colgate failed to up-tempo the Crusaders and its mid-range game fell short down the stretch. Keep your eyes on how the Raiders choose to attack the post on the offensive end this time around. They had their chances in the paint in the early going in round one. If they can’t change their fortunes in the paint for round two, they’ll struggle to score again.

The challenge for the Raiders continues to be the three-point line. The squad is last in the league in team field goal percentage from deep (25.3%) and will need to find an answer from the perimeter to sneak into the top half of the standings. Over its last six games, Colgate has converted a total of just eight three-pointers.

Expect the three-point line to tell the story. The Raiders shot 5-for-20 in round one from distance but they’ve recently made a more concerted effort to attack inside the arc and found success: the squad did not attempt a three-point shot in last week’s 63-51 road win at Lehigh.

Can Colgate score inside against the Holy Cross defense? Can the Raiders stop the post play of Janelle Allen and Lindsay Berger? Allen missed the first match-up. The paint is going to be crowded on both ends.

The team that can find success from distance comes away on top in this battle.

The last meeting: January 18, 2023. Holy Cross won 59-49 in Hamilton. The Crusaders had their second-best shooting performance in league play, converting 21-for-41 (51.2%) including an efficient 5-for-8 from behind the arc. The eight tries from three-point range were the least attempts from distance since a November 11thmatch-up against Marquette on the road.

Holy Cross attacked inside effectively despite the absence of junior post Janelle Allen. Forward Lindsay Berger picked up the slack and posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

Colgate attempted to speed up the Crusaders with an early full-court zone press but the game ultimately settled into a half-court fight. The Holy Cross single-coverage on Raider post-ups allowed the defense to stay locked up on the Raider guards and limit their effectiveness in the mid-range. Colgate was limited in its success one-one on the block despite numerous quality opportunities.

Bucknell senior forward Emma Shaffer had 21 rebounds in a 64-52 win over American. The Bison have won six straight games. (Photo credit: Bucknell Athletic Communications)

League news and notes

  • In four games since returning from an ankle injury that forced her to miss eight contests, Bucknell sophomore Cecelia Collins is scoring 13.7 points per outing while shooting 46.3% (19-for-41) from the floor. Bucknell is 4-0 with Collins back in the rotation.
  • Former Lafayette Leopard Reilly Campbell is currently playing for the WBCA 17th-ranked and 20-4 Division III Trinity College (CT) Bantams. She transferred to Trinity last January. The 6’2 forward is averaging team-highs in both scoring (16.3 ppg) and rebounding (11.2 rpg). Campbell plays for head coach Emily Garner who is also a former Leopard. Garner was a three-year starter at Lafayette and graduated in 2009.
  • Lehigh is eighth in the nation in three-pointers attempted at 27.4 per game.
  • In last week’s Colgate-Lehigh game, the Raiders held the Mountain Hawks to just 14 attempts from long distance. Colgate did not attempt a three-pointer in its 63-51 road win.
  • Loyola (MD) guard Taleah Dixon scored her 1,000th career point in a 67-59 loss to Lehigh over the weekend. The senior notched 14 points for the Greyhounds. Earlier in the match-up, Lehigh senior Frannie Hottinger reached the 1,000-point milestone. The forward led the Mountain Hawks with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
  • Bucknell senior forward Emma Shaffer scored 12 points and pulled down 21 rebounds in her squad’s 64-52 win over American University. It was the most rebounds by a Bison player since 2004.
  • Army held Colgate scoreless in overtime of a 50-47 win at West Point. The Black Knights won the extra period 3-0. Senior Sabria Hunter led Army with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
  • Lehigh junior Mackenzie Kramer joined the 1,000-point scorer club with 18 points in a 72-38 win over Navy.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

(Note: All games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are EST.)

February 18

Boston University at Bucknell 12:00 PM

Army at Lafayette 2:00 PM

Colgate at Holy Cross 2:00 PM

American at Lehigh 2:00 PM

February 19

Navy at Loyola (MD) 2:00 PM

Written by Todd Goclowski

Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.

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