BURLINGTON, Vt. -- John Holland tried his hand at guarding Marqus Blakely. Carlos Strong gave it his best shot, too. Jake O'Brien and Jeff Pelage together went after Blakely, Boston University's two best big men simultaneously getting in the face of Vermont's most explosive playmaker any time he got near the basket. Valdas Sirutis even was whistled for an intentional foul for wrapping his arms around Blakely -- and the ball wasn't even in play.
BU really only had a chance to pull off an upset in the America East title game if it found a way to contain Blakely, the two-time America East Player of the Year who led Vermont this season in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocked shots. The Terriers actually hadn't done too badly on Blakely the first time they visited Patrick Gym this season, limiting him to 11 points and just three rebounds and three assists in mid-January.
BU coach Pat Chambers didn't hesitate to throw a variety of looks at Blakely on Saturday, looks that included one-on-ones, double-teams, zone defenses and even a gimmick or two. Virtually every Terrier on the court had a chance to guard Blakely at some point in the game.
Nothing worked. Blakely finished with 24 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and just one turnover as Vermont captured the America East title with an 83-70 win. The Catamounts will receive their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2005 when brackets are announced on Sunday evening. Blakely was named the Reggie Lewis Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, a no-brainer that barely required an actual vote.
"We tried to mix it up," Chambers said. "We tried to trap him sometimes. We tried to let him go one-on-one sometimes. We brought a blitz from the baseline sometimes. Different guys covered him -- Jeff, Valdas, Jake, John, Carlos. Our game plan was to keep mixing it up. But he's a great player, and great players make big plays in this type of game."
"Sometimes they were just single-covering me, and when I saw that, I had to go one-on-one," Blakely said. "At times, on the catch, they'd try to double me. At other times, on the dribble, they'd double me. I just had to read and react, and I did a pretty good job today."
Did he ever.
Blakely will finish his career as the fifth-leading scorer in Vermont basketball history. He has earned America East Defensive Player of the Year honors in three straight seasons. He made the glass his personal playground in the second half Saturday, particularly at the defensive end. But it was his ability to spread the wealth in the face of a variety of defenses that pushed the Catamounts over the top.
Boston University rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit and pulled within one, 54-53, on a long Corey Lowe 3-pointer at the midway point of the second half. With Vermont post presence Evan Fjeld in foul trouble and BU's Jake O'Brien taking advantage, the momentum seemed to have swung and the air seemed to have been sucked out of Patrick Gym.
That's when Blakely took over -- and he did so without hitting a shot from the field. He'd already thrown a beautiful no-look pass to Maurice Joseph slicing down the lane, and he'd made a perfect pass out of a double-team for a Nick Vier 3-pointer just four minutes earlier.
Still, though, a pair of 3-pointers from O'Brien had pulled BU back into it. When Lowe hit his long 3-pointer -- "His range is from the basket to half-court," Blakely said with a smile -- it really looked like the never-say-die Terriers were about to run away with the game.
It was at that point that Fjeld returned, playing with four fouls, and even blocked an O'Brien shot in the lane. On the Catamounts' next possession, Blakely waited for O'Brien and Pelage to double-team him before throwing a pass to the 6-foot-8 Fjeld, left one-on-one with the 6-foot-2 Lowe under the basket. Two easy points.
On the Catamounts' next possession, after Fjeld had drawn a gutsy charge, Blakely once again found himself double-teamed. He casually threw a cross-court pass to Joseph for a 3-pointer that pushed the Catamounts' lead back to six points.
"He's not selfish even when the double comes," said Lowe, who scored 24 points off the bench for the Terriers. "He's not going to force up a shot. He found a guy on the opposite side for open 3s, and Vier, he went 4-for-4 from 3, and Garvey Young hit a bunch of 3s. He was unselfish when the double came, and when he could get around it, he finished."
From then on, all the Terriers could do with Blakely was foul him. O'Brien fouled him on a drive into the lane. Holland fouled him trying to keep him away from the ball. Strong did the same. With just under two minutes to play and Vermont still holding onto a 10-point lead, Sirutis wrapped up Blakely on an inbounds play and drew an intentional-foul call.
Blakely went to the line 13 times in the second half and put the game away almost by himself. He then threw down a picture-perfect tomahawk dunk right in the face of Strong with 90 seconds to go, a fitting farewell in a gym he's electrified for the last four seasons.
"We knew it was going to be difficult," Chambers said. "We knew Marqus was going to be terrific today. We just tried to throw different things at him. He played a great game."