By Matt Neiser
BOSTON — Entering Saturday’s games, three CAA men’s basketball teams boasted undefeated records. Two of those teams, Northeastern and Charleston, were of no surprise to most CAA followers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted the third team would be where they are.
The William & Mary Tribe, with long-time head coach Tony Shaver freshly fired and four of five starters from last year transferring, were projected to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches and media poll. After an impressive non-conference run and a 2–0 start to the CAA slate — including a 27-point destruction of preseason-favorite Hofstra — no one is picking them that low anymore.
Northeastern looked to leave a black mark on that résumé while adding to their own as the two teams faced off in Matthews Arena Saturday evening. In a back-and-forth affair that came right down to the final possession, the Huskies — and Tyson Walker’s last-second half court heave — came up just short as the Tribe came away with their second-straight statement win over a conference heavyweight.
After a quick William & Mary (11–5, 3–0 CAA) burst to begin the game, Northeastern (9–7, 3–1 CAA) found their groove and evened the game at nine points apiece heading into the first media timeout. This theme would persist for most of the first half, with the two sides trading runs. Trailing 21–15 a little over halfway through the first frame, the Huskies went on a 12–0 scoring spree to take a six-point lead.
Not to be outdone, the Tribe answered with their own 12–0 burst to close the half, spurred by seven points from seven-foot Wisconsin transfer Andy Van Vliet. While Van Vliet scored 11 points in the first half, his partner-in-crime on the low block — reigning All-CAA First Teamer Nathan Knight — was relatively quiet, scoring just six points on two-for-five shooting.
Why did Knight struggle, you may ask? Two words: Max Boursiquot. The 6’5”, 210-pound redshirt junior gave up five inches and 25 pounds to Knight, but more than matched the star forward’s strength. Boursiquot battled on the block all half, keeping Knight in check and drawing a pair of fouls that kept Knight on the bench for the final 5:32 of the frame. He got it done offensively as well, pouring in a team-high eight points in the first half.
Husky head coach Bill Coen praised Boursiquot’s play, saying, “Max is a strong, aggressive kid. He’s got a low center of gravity and he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, he’s not afraid of contact. I thought he did an admirable job on him. It’s a tall task; Nathan Knight could start for a lot of Power Five teams.”
The teams continued their tug-of-war in the second half, with William & Mary taking advantage of their slight head start to keep Northeastern at bay. A 14–2 Tribe run boosted their lead to 14 points, threatening to blow the game wide open as they did against Hofstra.
Jordan Roland was struggling from the field and had just seven points, and it looked like the Huskies were out of answers. Coen pulled Roland in favor of grad transfer Guilien Smith, who has played sparingly this season.
“Guilien is an outstanding teammate. He’s one of the most well-liked guys in our locker room, provides great energy every day in practice,” Coen said of his decision. “We were a little flat. Nothing against Jordan, but [Guilien plays] his position and I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to change the energy on the floor.”
The move paid off, and the Huskies went on a 21–7 run over the next eight minutes to tie the game at 64. The largest contributor was Shaquille Walters, who scored 12 of those 21 points, including an and-one layup with 13 seconds left to even the score and send Matthews Arena into a frenzy.
After running the clock down to five seconds and taking a timeout, William & Mary gave the ball to Nathan Knight looking for the game-winner. After losing the ball on a drive to the hoop, Knight regained control, rose up, and nailed a tough, contested layup to take the lead with just over a second left.
Northeastern had to inbound the ball from full court, and Walker’s 65-foot heave hit both the front and back of the rim, but wouldn’t fall as the Tribe escaped with the 66–64 victory.
Walters and Bolden Brace scored 15 points each to lead the Huskies, combining for 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Roland tied his season low with seven points (3–14 FG, 1–5 3FG) and, for the first time all season, ceded his position as the CAA’s top scorer. He now trails Charleston’s Grant Riller, who scored 31 points against James Madison on Saturday and is averaging 26 points across four conference games.
Knight recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double, finishing with 23 points and 11 boards to lead all players in both categories. Van Vliet chipped in 15 points and six rebounds of his own.
“It’s tough to say that you’re happy when they shoot 55 percent from the floor, but we generated 17 turnovers and we had to be in a scramble mode because they had such a size advantage on us,” Coen said. “We had to give help in the post, so we were constantly rotating. Those situations either generated turnovers and runouts for us or baskets for them. They shot the ball well from three, their high–low post attack is very effective, and Nathan Knight’s a special player. He’s without a doubt one of the top five players in our league.”
The Huskies will face more stiff competition when they play the Hofstra Pride on Thursday. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 7:45 PM EST.