PHILADELPHIA — The last time Northeastern faced Drexel, the Huskies tore the Dragons up in every way imaginable. The Huskies nailed nine of their 17 tries from beyond the arc as their balanced attack carried them to a 85–52 victory.
Northeastern played seven games between then and Saturday afternoon’s rematch with Drexel. They posted a subpar showing from three-point land in every one of those games and, unsurprisingly for a perimeter-oriented team, their offense has suffered. Five of those seven games were losses. Their perimeter performance Saturday was among the worst of the year, with just three of the Huskies’ 15 long-range bombs settling into the bucket.
But Northeastern finally found a way around the distance deficiency. Led by Jordan Roland and Shaq Walters, the Huskies used ball movement and timely cuts to earn numerous layups and outlast the Dragons, 77–68.
The win is vital for the Huskies’ playoff hopes, as it guarantees they won’t fall below seventh place and — combined with Elon’s loss to Towson on Saturday — greatly boosts their chances of finishing in the top six. The top six seeds in next month’s CAA Tournament receive a first-round bye, essential given the league’s remarkable parity and the rigors of playing three games in three days (four in four days without the bye). If the Huskies split their games against JMU and Towson next week, they will secure the bye.
Saturday’s win was also essential in rebounding from Thursday’s 22-point loss against Delaware.
“You look up and down the league and everybody seems to have one of those games that’s an outlier,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen observed. “We understand it’s the next play mentality . . . [we] have a mature team that doesn’t have a hangover effect into the next game.”
The Huskies jumped out to an early lead, keeping the pressure on the Dragons’ defense despite Roland heading to the bench with two fouls. Walters and Tyson Walker keyed the Husky attack in his stead, with Guilien Smith and Max Boursiquot joining them in nailing multiple buckets.
Roland attempted just two three-pointers, his lowest-ever total in a Husky uniform. It was, more than anything else, a function of Drexel’s defense.
“We all know what Roland does; he’s an elite shot maker, and if he gets going from three life can be pretty hard,” Drexel head Zach Spiker noted. “You want to make him work to get the basketball, you want to make him work to catch it in the right spot. So when you limit him from three and he back cuts, if you don’t have proper rotation he’s going to have a clean look at the rim.”
Nearly every Husky shorter than 6’6” spent most of the game doing just that. Roland, who usually spends most of his time outside the paint, often faked a flare toward the perimeter and slashed back toward the basket, receiving passes and displaying impressive touch and body control to lay it in over larger defenders. Shaq Walters finished a number of buckets inside en route to 16 points, while Boursiquot and Bolden Brace added 10 apiece.
The cuts yielded easy buckets early on, bolstering the Huskies’ resolve and energy. While the Delaware game was marked by stagnant offense and little off-ball movement, Saturday’s contest featured constant activity. Every Husky who made a pass instantly looked for the next cut or screen. Whereas Delaware pressured the Huskies’ passing lanes, Northeastern forced Drexel to choose between covering the passing lanes or the cutters.
“They’re a pressure-and-deny team,” Coen explained, “and when you do that [backdoor cuts are] one of the things that’s available to you.”
Drexel kept things close throughout, trading the lead with Northeastern in the waning minutes of the first half and responding quickly when the Huskies built an 11-point lead after the intermission. Led by 20 points from sophomore guard Camren Wynter and 17 from junior forward James Butler, the Dragons matched the Huskies with 36 points in the paint.
The Dragons also took excellent care of the ball all game, committing just nine turnovers. While the Huskies turned the ball over frequently in the first half, they lost the ball just three times in the second, making it difficult for the Dragons to build momentum and cut into the lead.
But besides the cuts for layups, Northeastern won its biggest advantage at the foul line. While both teams committed just four fouls apiece in the first half, the second half grew more and more chippy as the clock wound down. Northeastern’s 10 fouls were spread out across the half, and were therefore less destructive than Drexel’s concentrated 14. The Dragons shot just six free throws in the second half, while the Huskies shot 20 and made 18 of them. Roland and Brace both went six-for-seven, with Boursiquot and Walters cashing in multiple times as well. Though the Huskies made three fewer field goals than the Dragons in the second half, they outscored them by seven.
The Huskies did have one scary moment or, more precisely, a scary moment in two parts. A few minutes into the half, Butler received a pass on the low block with good position against Boursiquot. Walker rushed over from the weak side to help and reached in with his left hand trying to knock the ball away. When Butler raised the ball to avoid the steal, he caught Walker’s arm in the process, and the freshman point guard doubled over in pain.
Smith subbed in for Walker, who went to the locker room. Walker rejoined the team on the bench a few minutes later, re-entered the game, and played for six minutes without registering a stat before attempting a three and immediately grabbing his arm again. He exited for good this time, though he remained on the bench with his teammates.
“He just kinda ran into Butler and that’s kinda like running into a brick wall,” Coen lamented. “He got him pretty good in the shoulder so when we get back to campus we’ll get it evaluated.”
We won’t speculate on the condition of Walker’s left shoulder, but any time he misses is a body blow to the Huskies, for whom every game now holds critical playoff importance. If Walker is sidelined, Guilien Smith is the most likely candidate to replace him in the starting lineup, as Smith has proven his defensive mettle against some of the conference’s best guards. It would be the first game of the season in which Walker does not start.
The Huskies (14–14, 8–8 CAA) will play their penultimate regular-season game on Thursday at home against last-place James Madison. Michael Petillo and Christian Skroce will call that one, with coverage beginning at 7:45 PM EST.