HEMPSTEAD, NY — When Bill Coen led his team into the locker room at halftime Thursday evening, he was less than pleased with the state of affairs.
The Huskies trailed the preseason favorite Hofstra Pride by 17. The four most prolific scorers in the game were all wearing blue, while Northeastern’s best had tallied just six. The Huskies seemingly had no answer for Isaac Kante, who looked like he’d not just eaten his own Wheaties, but everyone else’s too. And the Huskies’ perimeter-oriented ball movement wasn’t exactly smashing holes in Hofstra’s zone defense. By all accounts, the lead seemed insurmountable.
Fast forward about an hour and fifteen minutes — Shaquille Walters pump fakes from the triple-threat, fakes a drive, calmly pulls up, and strokes home his third three-pointer of the overtime period to push the Northeastern lead to five with 15.8 seconds to play.
Wait . . . what?
A persistent second-half surge from Northeastern (4–5, 3–0 CAA), as well as key contributions up and down the roster, erased a 17-point halftime deficit en route to an 81–78 overtime win over Hofstra (6–4, 2–1 CAA).
Walters poured in 20 points — nine of which came in overtime — along with seven rebounds and six assists. He knocked down seven of his 10 shots, including four of five from beyond the arc. Jason Strong scored 18 while playing most of the second half (and overtime) with four fouls; he also added six boards.
But arguably the most important contribution came from Quirin Emanga, as the 6’5”, 220-pound sophomore was tasked with guarding the 6’7”, 240-pound Kante after Strong headed to the bench with four fouls early in the second half.
Kante had made all seven field goals he’d tried to that point. He wouldn’t make another.
“He’s not afraid to give up his body, he’s not afraid to get on the floor,” Coen said of Emanga. “He puts a body on somebody to box out. He just gave us that backbone we needed to help our team to get a little bit more confident.”
In arguably the best game of his college career, Emanga finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and the sort of game-changing defense box scores can’t capture. The Huskies were +19 with Emanga on the floor.
The Huskies had many issues in the opening 20 minutes. Besides the omnipotent bruising of Kante — who said afterward that he knew he could abuse Strong underneath — Northeastern had 11 turnovers to their name and shot a horrid two-for-12 from deep. Their defense had no answers and their offense wasn’t penetrating Hofstra’s matchup zone. Hofstra’s perimeter shooting was clicking, they were hunting down rebounds, and their ball movement ran circles around the Huskies. The upshot was a 24–6 Pride run to close the half.
“We probably played our best half of the year in the first 20 minutes,” Hofstra Acting Head Coach Mike Farrelly said, “certainly followed up by our worst 20 minutes of the year.”
Tyson Walker’s passes, a bit off at the start, started hitting his teammates in stride. The shots that didn’t fall in the first half were now finding the bottom of the bucket. And, just as importantly, it was the opposite script for Kante and the Pride. Six Hofstra players recorded multiple makes from the field in the first half; in the second, just two did.
“Strange that a team could play so well, then lose their identity and come out that way in the second half,” Farrelly remarked. “Not a great effort in the second half. Didn’t love our spirit in the second half.”
After two big buckets from freshman J’Vonne Hadley, a personal 7–0 run from Strong gave Northeastern a five-point edge — their largest of the night — with just over five minutes to play in the second half.
But Northeastern couldn’t hold on, as they managed just a single Jahmyl Telfort free throw the rest of the way. Hofstra got two inside shots from Caleb Burgess (15 points, eight assists) down the stretch to even the score at 68, then turned the ball over with ten seconds to play.
“I really don’t usually take timeouts in those situations,” Coen said. “I usually have a strong trust with our point guards, but it was about five seconds [on the clock] and it didn’t look like we were getting anything.”
The first play Coen drew up didn’t work, as quick Hofstra hands knocked a Walker pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds to go. Coen’s second play didn’t work either, as the only open player was Telfort — 35 feet from the basket — who fired long.
“We were trying to get a backside flare with Tyson and a skip over the top, but it didn’t materialize,” Coen said. “I didn’t help our guys at the end of regulation, that’s for sure. Luckily, they bailed me out.”
In the overtime, a quick 7–2 run gave Northeastern a five-point cushion. But Hofstra nailed their free throws down the stretch, and cut the lead to one with a minute and a half to play.
But Walters waltzed up and calmly hit a three.
Burgess retorted with a layup. Then Walters did the exact same thing again. The sharpshooting struck Farrelly as abnormal, especially given Walters’ 32 percent clip from deep on the year, and his 29 percent mark last season.
“He’s a very good player. He’s not a great shooter,” Farrelly said. “He’s a really good playmaker, drives against the zone, drives and kicks, excellent passer at that size. But certainly him going four-for-five from three is an anomaly.”
After two free throws, Hofstra still had a final chance to tie with two seconds to play. But a contested desperation heave from Jalen Ray came up short. Ray, Hofstra’s leading scorer on the year, shot just five-for-19 from the field for 15 points. Fellow senior Tareq Coburn fared better, posting 13 points on more efficient shooting.
As a rematch of the last two CAA title games, the game’s importance, even this early in the season, was noted. And the fierceness of the competition was not lost on the players.
“A little trash talking here and there, a lot of chippiness,” Kante said. “This is a rivalry; let’s call it what it is. They took something from us two years ago, we took something from them last year.”
After a difficult non-conference slate chock full of high-major opponents, Northeastern is up to 3–0 in the CAA for the second straight season, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Huskies and Pride will rematch Saturday in Boston. Milton Posner and Mike Puzzanghera will call that game, with coverage beginning at 11:50 AM Eastern.