University of Maine guard Anna Simon dribbles around Boston University’s Nia Irving on Sunday in Bangor. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

BANGOR — If the grin on Nia Irving’s face when she was introduced prior to Sunday afternoon’s game against the University of Maine didn’t tip you off, the loud, screaming group of fans in the seat directly behind the Boston University bench was a giveaway.

Nia Irving was hone, and she was enjoying it.

“It was just really special to be back in front of my home state, my family and friends who might not have gone to see me play in Boston the past few years. It was important for me to come out and play hard for them,” Irving, a Farfield native and Lawrence High School graduate, said after she and the Terriers earned a 62-49 win over the Black Bears.

Boston University’s Nia Irving goes up for a layup against the University of Maine on Sunday in Bangor. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Irving was excited to play so close to home, and it showed in ways good and bad. The good: Irving attacked the basket early, scoring her first points on free throws 31 seconds in. Irving scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Defensively, Irving absorbed four offensive fouls, committed by the Black Bears.

The bad: Irving had eight turnovers. That’s part of her game she continues to work on.

“There’s so much you can take from Coach Mo (BU head coach Marisa Moseley). For me, it’s really locking down on defense and limiting turnovers, which clearly I need some more work on,” Irving said. “It’s hard when teams send a double to always see out of it. I think they did a really good job of anticipating who I was going to pass to out of that double (team). It was just more of settling down for myself.”

Irving helped lead Lawrence to the Class A state championship in 2015, and was named Maine Miss Basketball in 2016. An All-Patriot League second team last season, Irving led the Terriers in scoring with 11.8 points per game and thrived in Moseley’s first season as the team’s coach. Moseley knew she had a gym rat in Irving, and worked to harness Irving’s passion for basketball.

“One of the things we worked on from last year to this year with her is slowing down and taking care of the ball,” Moseley said. “Making sure she can get the ball in spots where she can be successful. She’s always been a workhorse.”

Irving opened the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the Terriers 89-75 loss to Marist. In a 78-64 win at the University of New Hampshire Tuesday, Irving scored 14 points on 5 for 8 shooting from the field, and grabbed four rebounds. Saunday’s 20 points gave Irving 892 for her career, putting her well on pace to reach 1,000.

Maine head coach Amy Vachon, who tried to convince Irving to play for the Black Bears close to home, was succinct in her praise of the Terrier.

“I love that kid,” Vachon said. “That kid plays hard.”

John Donato, Irving’s coach at Lawrence, was one of the early arrivals to watch her play. Donato watched pregame warmups from his seat a few rows behind the BU bench.

“This makes you appreciate all the hard work she put in in high school,” Donato said. “She plays the college game. She’s a defensive presence inside and she distributes the ball well.”

The Terriers stopped in Smithfield on Saturday on their way to Bangor to enjoy dinner at the home of Irving’s parents, Lisa and Harry. For Irving, it was a chance to relax and enjoy a meal with friends and family before finally playing a college basketball game in her home state. One of the Terrier’s four captains, Irving said she’s grown into the leadership role.

“I feel like I’ve just matured as a person and as a leader. I was in a captain role the last few years at Lawrence, so when I got (to BU), it was just trying to establish myself and finding where I fit in with the team.I’m just happy they’ve put me in a position where I can really succeed,” Irving said.

“All four of them have a different personality. We feel there’s strength in numbers. Nia is definitely maternal. She makes sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be,” Moseley said.

With the game over and the Cross Center almost empty, Irving spent time with her family, and chased her 1-year old nephew Harry around the court. Irving lingered, in no hurry to leave, despite feeling tired from playing nearly 35 minutes while fighting a nasty cold.

She was home.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Comments are not available on this story.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.