Doherty’s the Hero as Huskies Win Sixth in a Row

By Milton Posner

If it wasn’t obvious by now, there’s some kind of magic in the air for Northeastern men’s basketball.

In a season thrown into chaos by the unpredictability of a pandemic, with the youngest roster in the CAA, amid injuries that sidelined three big men simultaneously, and after being pummeled by high-major teams throughout the non-conference slate, the Huskies are still undefeated in conference play.

They won their sixth straight game on Sunday afternoon after a Chris Doherty putback with 15 seconds to play. 68–66 Northeastern. Ballgame.

From the start, and for the entire first half, it didn’t appear that a finishing blow would be necessary. The Huskies leapt out to an 11–2 lead in the first six-and-a-half minutes behind a flurry of quick, assertive drives into the paint. Tyson Walker led the attack, earning a number of short floaters and jumpers in transition and in the halfcourt. He and Coleman Stucke would lead the Huskies with eight points apiece by halftime.

Meanwhile, the Cougars had about as much luck finding the basket as a blind pirate does finding buried treasure. The Huskies rotated well, shutting off easy lanes to the paint and forcing the Cougars into contested looks. When the Cougars improved the quality of their looks, they still struggled to find a rhythm, with Brendan Tucker being the sole bright spot. Minnesota transfer Payton Willis was scoreless, as was Saint Joseph’s transfer Lorenzo Edwards. Zep Jasper cashed in on just one of seven attempts.

“Our defense has traveled with us,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “[By the metrics] we’re the best defensive team in the league, and usually you need veteran players to do that. The freshman players get caught on the trick plays, or they haven’t seen certain actions enough. They don’t have enough in their reads in their database to be so consistent defensively.

“Our young guys [can] really absorb a scouting report. As a coach you’re always a little bit nervous in giving them too much, because you don’t want them thinking — you want them playing . . . But this group has been remarkable in terms of what they’ve been able to process and execute in the game.”

The first-half numbers reflect the Huskies overwhelming defense. Charleston shot 28 percent from the floor against the Huskies’ 50 percent, made one of nine threes against the Huskies’ four of nine, and lost the rebounding battle by eight. Most importantly, the Huskies led 34–20.

Six minutes later, the lead had evaporated.

The Cougars had already equaled their first-half total. Willis and Jasper had discovered their mojo. The Huskies inherited the Cougars’ first-half inability to penetrate the paint, then tacked on a few turnovers that jumpstarted the Cougars’ transition game.

By the midway point of the second half, Charleston had built a seven-point lead. Northeastern had mustered just ten points and still didn’t have a double-digit scorer. The tug-of-war that ensued over the next handful of possessions left the lead hanging at six with five minutes to play, easily the most serious threat to the Huskies since Hofstra had them in blowout territory in the second half on January 7.

But Northeastern woke up just in time. A couple of buckets apiece from Jahmyl Telfort and Shaq Walters did the trick, with a Walters stepback jumper tying things at 66 with a minute to play.

And then a catlike Telfort block on Tucker set the stage for an unlikely finish.

Walker ran a pick-and-roll with Doherty, then drove along the left side of the lane. Jasper pursued him and Osinachi Smart peeled off of Doherty to meet Walker at the rim. The contest worked, but Doherty was left uncovered in the middle of the lane.

The Huskies clogged the middle to pressure Jasper into a missed layup, then smothered Smart on the putback attempt. Game over.

“This group has come together quicker and without expectation, because you really don’t expect a team without a senior on the roster to play at this high level,” Coen noted. “We’re getting leadership from up and down the lineup. Guys really enjoy each other, they enjoy playing for each other. They don’t want to let their teammate down.”

As has become typical in conference play, the Huskies got balanced contributions up and down their roster. Telfort notched 16 points to lead the way. Walker chipped in 10 points and six dimes. Walters complimented his 15 points with eight rebounds, and played a large role in shutting down Charleston’s guards in the first half.

“He doesn’t get enough credit for where we are at,” Coen said of Walters. “He’s made big, big shots, he always guards the opponent’s best player, and his intensity and competitiveness is igniting the younger guys.” Coen also remarked that Telfort is “one of the best two-way freshmen I’ve seen come through this program.”

Tucker had another excellent game for the Cougars, posting 20 points. Jasper and Willis chipped in 10 points apiece for a Cougar squad that fell to 5–8 overall and 3–3 in conference.

The Huskies (7–5, 6–0 CAA) will return to Boston for Saturday and Sunday games against James Madison, both at noon Eastern. WRBB will call those games, with coverage beginning about ten minutes before tip-off. With all the uncertainty over how many games will be played this season, every win only makes it more likely that the Huskies run away with the CAA regular season crown.

“How can you not enjoy coaching this group?” Coen said. “Toughness and grit all the way around . . . This group has shown time and time again the type of resiliency that you love to see as a coach. They just never give up, they never stop believing in themselves and their teammates.”

Huskies Put Cougars to Bed

By Jordan Baron and Milton Posner

Since their introduction to the Colonial Athletic Association in May of 2005, the Northeastern Huskies had started conference play 5–0 in only three seasons.

Make that four.

Behind quality performances from Jason Strong, Tyson Walker, Shaq Walters, and Chris Doherty, the Huskies did just that, securing their fifth straight win by knocking off the Charleston Cougars, 67–62.

The win gives Northeastern a two-game lead over second-place Charleston in the CAA standings. After the graduation of many talented seniors across the league, in a season defined by uneven, rapidly changing schedules, the Huskies have upended the predicted pecking order. They are now the team to beat.

“This team is competitive well beyond its years,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “They want to win, they want to do the right thing, they like each other and they’re playing hard for each other.”

The Huskies came steaming out of the gate Saturday afternoon, sinking four three-pointers in the first five minutes. Two of those threes came from Strong, who notched 13 first-half points and missed just one shot. But the Cougars kept pace from downtown, and both teams notched 16 points within the first seven minutes.

Both teams limited turnovers, with the Huskies coughing up the ball five times in the opening 20 minutes and Charleston doing so just twice. Neither squad fouled much either. The Huskies entered the locker room up 37–33. 

But something must’ve happened to Strong during the break, as he came out from the locker room ice cold. He didn’t score the rest of the way.

“In the second half he had some clean looks that just didn’t go,” Coen said. “He didn’t have the same rhythm. But other guys stepped up and we scored in different ways. That’s the hallmark of a good team — not relying on one player or one action.”

Doherty, who played just four minutes in the first half, became a second-half mainstay by controlling the paint. He grabbed multiple offensive rebounds and was fouled again and again, shooting 12 free throws in the second half alone. 

“I thought Chris Doherty was the difference-maker, especially on the offensive glass,” Coen said. “While he struggled a bit from the free-throw line, he got us into the bonus really quickly through his effort and activity on the glass.”

Walker added to his eight-point first half by tallying 12 in the second, going five-for-six from the charity stripe and one-for-three from deep. 

Thanks to a transition and-one from Walters and a straight-on three from Walker, the Huskies found themselves up five with just under a minute to go. Cougars guard Brenden Tucker brought himself to the line on a brilliant drive to the hoop and sank both his foul shots to bring Charleston within one possession. Tucker was a key engine for the Cougars, and was a target for the Huskies’ defense after his 35-point performance last weekend versus Drexel.

“When a player gets going early, the basket seems really big. We just had to make him earn stuff early and I’m not sure we did a really good job of that,” Coen said. “His three-point shot is getting better. Last year he was more of a driver, but this year he’s been able to stretch the floor, which makes him a harder guard since he’s so strong going to the basket. He’s on the uptick. We just try to make him work for everything he gets.”

After a missed three-pointer from Walker, Charleston called a timeout and gave themselves an opportunity to tie the game with 14 seconds remaining. After a missed three and an offensive board, the inbound came to freshman forward Keegan Harvey, who stepped well over the sideline as he caught the pass. Two Shaq Walters free throws and another Charleston turnover later, the Huskies had the W.

Walker finished with 20 points, while Strong and Quirin Emanga tallied 13 each. Doherty added 11, seven of which came from the free-throw line. The Huskies also did a great job limiting turnovers, losing the ball only nine times.

“Only nine turnovers against a group that’s number one in the league at generating turnovers, so I thought it was really good,” Coen said. “And a few of them were a little unforced, not really ballhandling errors.”

On the Cougars’ side, Tucker led the way with 17, with Zep Jasper’s 14 close behind.

“They have some really terrific shooters, but I think our guys were conscious of it, it was a really big key to our game,” Coen said. “They’re tough because they have a pick-and-pop four, a pick-and-pop five. It’s hard to get it under control when there are numerous guys up and down their lineup who can make a three. It had to be a team effort — guys on the ball, guys helping, our closeouts had to be good.”

The Huskies will take on the Cougars tomorrow to complete the two-game road set. Jordan Baron and Milton Posner will call that game, with coverage beginning at 12:50 PM Eastern.

2020–21 CAA Preview: Charleston Cougars

Last season: 17–14 (11–7, fourth place CAA), lost to Delaware in CAA Quarterfinals

Head coach: Earl Grant (seventh season)

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: Sixth

Departures — ppg/rpg/apg (fg% / 3fg% / ft%)

  • G Jaylen Richard — 3/1/0 (33/24/77)
  • G Grant Riller — 22/5/4 (50/36/83)
  • G Quan McCluney — 1/1/0 (26/13/X)
  • F Sam Miller — 8/6/1 (49/42/79)
  • G Trevon Reddish — 1/1/1 (23/X/47)
  • F Jaylen McManus — 9/5/1 (41/23/84)
  • G Zach Rabinowitz — played five minutes

Additions

  • G Payton Willis (senior transfer)
  • G D’Avian Houston
  • G Dontavius King (redshirted last year)
  • G/F Cameron Copeland (junior transfer)
  • F Keegan Harvey
  • F Lorenzo Edwards (senior transfer)
  • F RJ Ogom

By Milton Posner

It took him a couple of years to move the needle, but Head Coach Earl Grant turned the College of Charleston into a perennial CAA powerhouse. In the last four years, the Cougars have never finished worse than 11–7 in conference play. In 2017–18, they won the conference’s regular-season and tournament crowns, then came five points shy of upsetting fourth-seeded Auburn in the NCAA Tournament.

Three players keyed this run: adept showrunning guard Joe Chealey, versatile powerhouse Jarrell Brantley, and elite rim finisher Grant Riller. At their peaks, each averaged about 20 points per game. When Chealey graduated and signed with the Charlotte Hornets in 2018, Brantley and Riller held down the fort just fine, winning 12 of 18 conference games. When Brantley went to the Utah Jazz in the 2019 NBA Draft, Riller fared fine in his absence, guiding the Cougars to 11 conference victories.

But with Riller graduating and signing a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets — the Hornets are a magnet for recent CAA studs — the Cougars’ big three has finally faded completely. Add in the graduations of sweet-shooting, floor-stretching big man Sam Miller and athletic, energetic forward Jaylen McManus, and Earl Grant’s squad projects lower in the conference than at any point in the last five years.

This is not to say that they don’t have assets. Upperclassmen guards Brevin Galloway and Zep Jasper are poised to take the next offensive step in Riller’s absence, and Minnesota transfer guard Payton Willis could be a major shot in the arm. Touted sophomore guard Brenden Tucker, who played just nine minutes per game in his freshman campaign, will have a chance to prove himself, as will redshirt freshman and Brantley-sized forward Dontavius King.

Bottom Line: Earl Grant has a solid-looking, athletic team on his hands, with three strong veteran guards captaining the offense. But for the first time in a few years, the Cougars are not a given to finish among the CAA’s elite, with a middle-of-the-pack finish looking more likely.

CAA Preview: College of Charleston Cougars

Last Season: 24–9 (12–6 CAA, third place), lost in CAA semifinal

Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Second

Losses

  • G Marquise Pointer
  • G Trent Robinson
  • F Jarrell Brantley
  • F Nick Harris
  • F Jermaine Blackmon Jr.
  • F Isaih Moore

Additions

  • G Brenden Tucker
  • G Trevon Reddish
  • G Jeffrey Pizano-McInnis
  • G/F DeAngelo Epps
  • F Dontavius King

By Michael Petillo

The book on the College of Charleston for the 2019–20 season is pretty simple: they have Grant Riller, and he’s the reason the Cougars could recapture the CAA crown.

Earl Grant’s bunch won the conference two years ago but slipped to third in 2018–19 before falling to Northeastern in a close CAA Tournament semifinal game. Now, Charleston will have to overcome the graduation of star forward Jarrell Brantley (now a member of the Utah Jazz), but in a year where most CAA teams are overhauling, the Cougars could do a lot worse than having Riller to fall back on.

Riller burst onto the CAA scene in 2016, averaging 13 ppg as a redshirt freshman, then achieving All-CAA first team recognition each of the past two years. A gifted scorer, he netted 22 ppg in 2018–19 while improving as a passer (4.1 apg). Riller is a terror in the open court, isolation, and the pick and roll who always looks to drive to the rim, where he shot an astronomical 71 percent last year. His offensive rating was fourth in the country, trailing only Zion Williamson, Mike Daum, and Justin Wright-Foreman. This summer, CBB Central ranked him the best mid-major point guard in the country. With Brantley’s departure, the pressure of carrying the scoring load and running the offense falls squarely on his shoulders.

Alongside Riller, the Cougars return an assortment of quality role players looking to take the next step. Chief among them is junior guard Brevin Galloway, a quality shooter who blossomed into a starter last year and will now be a top option. Sophomore guards Jaylen Richard and Zep Jasper will look to build upon solid freshman seasons as they battle for a starting spot.

Replacing Brantley is a tall task, but senior big men Sam Miller and Jaylen McManus both had good moments last season and will be asked to do more. Miller spreads the floor with perimeter shooting; he knocked down 42 percent of his triples last season. McManus, the superior athlete of the two, has improved steadily each year under Coach Grant, and offers some scoring and floor spacing as well.

The Cougars boast a solid class of incoming freshmen, headlined by athletic guard Brenden Tucker. If Tucker — who turned down offers from Clemson, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Northwestern, and Xavier — can contribute right away, he’ll provide scoring punch and much-needed depth.

Bottom Line: Riller is the favorite to win Player of the Year. Grant is one of the league’s best coaches, so there is good reason to believe in the continued development of players like Galloway, McManus, and others. The combination of talent and good coaching makes Charleston an upper-echelon group. If Tucker hits right away and other role players take a step forward, Charleston could emerge as the clear-cut favorite by the time conference play begins.