WORCESTER, MA — From 1096 to 1271, the Roman Catholic Church waged a series of wars against Muslim powers in the eastern Mediterranean. Though the Crusades arguably increased Christianity’s reach, the Church’s wealth, and the Pope’s power, the Crusaders repeatedly failed in their main goal of retaking the Holy Land.
On Tuesday night, in a conflict with far lesser stakes, the Northeastern Huskies rode into Worcester to battle the Holy Cross Crusaders on the basketball court. The modern Crusaders fared even worse than their namesake.
In 100 years of men’s basketball, Northeastern has never dominated like they did Tuesday night. It was overwhelming. It was absurd. It was borderline unfair. They eviscerated Holy Cross 101–44.
The 57-point margin of victory eclipsed the previous record of 56 set against Connecticut in 1946 and equaled against Suffolk in 1984. It is the second school scoring record the Huskies have broken in their last four games, with Jordan Roland’s 42-point masterpiece against Harvard on November 8 setting a new individual record.
Holy Cross got the scoring going with a free throw two minutes in. It was their only lead of the night, and it lasted for 15 seconds.
Their first field goal was a three-pointer five minutes in. It would be their last bucket from downtown for 35 minutes.
Northeastern turned the first half into an unmitigated farce. They clogged the passing lanes, poked the ball away from incautious ballhandlers, and reaped the benefits with easy transition buckets down the other end. They pushed the pace on almost every possession whether they had stolen the ball or not, as they recognized early that the Crusaders couldn’t keep pace.
Jordan Roland, the nation’s leading scorer entering the game, played perhaps his best basketball of the season in the first half. He dropped 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting and made all five of his threes. Almost every perimeter shot he took was tightly contested, fading away, or both. He was in such a rhythm that he almost shot from 30 feet while bringing the ball up. When a hard close forced him to shovel the ball to a teammate, his wide grin matched the feeling he and every fan in the arena had: it probably would have gone in.
Though Roland didn’t have as dominant a second half — he played just 27 minutes all game in light of the Huskies’ enormous lead — he did hit the most unbelievable shot in a game full of them. After a hesitation move forced his defender to run into him near the foul line, Roland chucked the ball up. He was nearly parallel to the floor, shooting with an awkward flailing motion, only because he thought a foul would be called.
It wasn’t, but Roland made it anyway. He finished with 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting, including 6-of-7 from downtown. When he left the game for good with 12 minutes remaining in the second half, he was one point shy of outscoring the Crusaders by himself.
“Jordan is the centerpiece,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “I’m actually shocked when he misses.”
When Roland wasn’t dominating, Jason Strong was. The seldom-used forward contributed 17 minutes on a night when regular starting big man Tomas Murphy sat with an ankle injury (Coen doesn’t expect the injury will sideline Murphy for long). Strong nailed seven of his eight shots — including all four threes — and finished with a career-high 18 points and six rebounds. His textbook, upright shooting form was on full display.
“I think he’s been a little bit frustrated at times early on,” Coen said of Strong. “But he attacked practice this week. That’s the type of player he can be. He might be our second-best shooter [after Roland].”
By halftime, Northeastern had opened up a 63–23 lead. Coen typically waits to empty his bench until the closing minutes of a blowout, when his lead is secure beyond any reasonable doubt. By the end of the first half, all 11 Huskies that dressed to play had seen the court. Strong, Quirin Emanga, Vito Cubrilo, and Guilien Smith — who entered tonight’s contest with a combined 13 minutes of playing time this season — played 53 combined minutes tonight.
“It was an opportunity for us to go deeper in the bench,” Coen observed. “We’re going to need that later on in the season, certainly in the tournament down in Florida.”
Northeastern shot a ludicrous 71 percent from the floor — and 75 percent from three — in the first half. Some of the threes were difficult, contested shots that went in anyway, but many of them were open shots earned through crisp passing, strong ball screens, movement off the ball, and a nearly constant transition pace.
“When you’re catching the ball in rhythm, [you get] much better shots,” Coen said. “We shared the ball at a high level tonight, and I think that set the tone. That type of passing got contagious, and then the basket got real big for us.”
Northeastern’s 42–24 rebounding edge makes sense in light of Holy Cross’s abysmal shooting (17–57 FG, 2–27 3FG). It’s easier to get rebounds when the other team is bricking most of their shots. But Northeastern’s 11–9 offensive rebounding edge is nothing short of remarkable considering they had so few opportunities to get them. Greg Eboigbodin led the rebounding with eight, followed by Strong’s six. Emanga and Shaq Walters both registered five-point, five-rebound games.
Eboigbodin scored six efficient points, but his biggest contribution was his defense. He played a season-high 25 minutes and committed one foul, a season low. His coverage on Holy Cross’s ball screens — stepping up on good shooters, dropping back to contain drivers, and hedging when appropriate — defended Northeastern’s interior territory against the Crusaders and helped the Huskies build and sustain momentum.
Tyson Walker, Myles Franklin, and Max Boursiqout all finished in double figures. Walker stood out, earning 15 points with a series of drives.
Besides shooting and rebounding, Northeastern won the battle of assists (23–7), steals (13–7), fastbreak points (21–6), points in the paint (38–22), and points off turnovers (24–6), among others. There were no individual bright spots for the Crusaders; their four leading scorers combined for just 32 points and all of them missed more shots than they made. Leading scorer Drew Lowder missed all six of his three-point attempts in Holy Cross’s biggest home loss since they started playing at the Hart Center in 1975.
The win bumped Northeastern to 3–2 on the year; the Crusaders are winless in four games. Northeastern will fly to Fort Myers, Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase, where they begin play against South Alabama Monday at 11 AM ET.
Even though Northeastern entered the game on a two-game skid, and even without the hot-handed Tomas Murphy, the Huskies were expected to handle Holy Cross. They were not expected to bludgeon them to this degree, in this manner.
The first half was a wonder, when any Northeastern player could cast up a contested three with everyone in the building assuming it would fall. The hot shooting, mixed with the volume of turnovers the Husky defense forced, made it seem as though Northeastern was making more shots than Holy Cross was taking. The game was a fastbreak and the Huskies were running it.
It wasn’t suspenseful. It wasn’t competitive. It bordered on being a joke. But, especially for the first 20 minutes, it was a sight to behold.