Boston University came in as the reigning champions, with five seniors and the Player of the Year, but none of that was enough to overcome the curse of the (3)-(6) game in the America East Quarterfinals. For the fifth straight season, the sixth seed upset the third seed in America East play, as Hartford freshmen Mark Nwakamma and Nate Sikma led a late Hawks rally over a Terriers team that never hit their stride.
Hartford (9-21) closed the game on a 12-5 run over the final 4:37 with the Terriers (16-16) failing to hit a field goal over the final 6:14 in the Hawks 53-49 victory.
Senior guard Darryl Partin finished with a team-high 17 points, but managed just six points in the second half as he sat for long stretches with foul trouble. Point guard D.J. Irving managed 12 points and five assists but just like Partin, struggled in the second half, as he only managed one point and missed all six of his field goal attempts.
Senior guard Matt Griffin added eight points and five rebounds, while fellow senior captain Patrick Hazel chipped in three points and a team-high seven rebounds. Jeff Pelage and Chris Kurz are the other two Terriers who saw their collegiate careers come to an end Saturday night.
It was two freshmen who led the comeback for second-year head coach John Gallagher, as Sikma finished with a team-high 13 points and Nwakamma added 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. The pair combined to shoot 11-of-20 (55 percent) for the game and ripped down 23 of Hartford's 33 rebounds in the game, as the conference's worst rebounding team all season only lost the battle of the glass by six (39-33).
Hartford's senior leader Andres Torres was the third Hawk to finish in double figures (12 points) as he helped guide Hartford to their second consecutive 6-3 upset.
The Terriers used a 9-0 run late in the first half to grab a 27-21 halftime lead and held a slim advantage throughout the first 18 minutes of the second half. A Partin jumper gave Boston University a 43-38 lead with 6:14 to play, but that would the last field goal the Terriers would make this season and the last points Partin would record.
Yolonzo Moore II promptly drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to a single possession but Irving and Hazel both hit 1-of-2 free throws to extend the lead back to four (45-41) with 4:37 to play. That's when Hartford began their run. Sikma knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in a 32 second span to tie the game with 2:09 to play and Nwakamma would give the Hawks their first second-half lead 28 seconds later. The freshmen slashed to the hoop and finished his layup and then hit a free throw after Morris was called for the foul.
With the Hawks leading 50-49 the Terriers offense completely lost their way. Partin missed a contested deep three and then Hazel turned the ball over while the Hawks only extended their lead to one, as they made one-of-three free throws.
Boston University's last chance was squandered when Partin tried to drive through two Hawks defenders and was stripped by Torres. Torres quickly knocked down two free throws with nine seconds remaining to give Hartford the 53-49 lead and the Terriers final desperation threes fell off the mark.
Hartford will face Vermont, the second-seed, in tomorrow's second semifinal schedule for a 7:30 p.m. tip. The first semifinal pits the top seeded Stony Brook Seawolves against the fourth seed University of Albany.