As the game clock steadily ticked off its final seconds, Jason Strong took charge. He took the ball out top, put his head down, and drove down the right side of the lane. He tossed the ball with a gentle hooking motion, and his layup settled neatly into the basket with 0.6 seconds remaining.
His teammates were frustrated. A couple of them had yelled at Strong as he charged down the lane. Bolden Brace gestured animatedly to no avail.
Northeastern needed a three, not a two. Strong’s layup pulled cut the deficit to one, and there wasn’t enough time left to do anything about it.
An execution mistake. But Northeastern’s 59–56 loss to Drake on Tuesday afternoon didn’t stem from Strong’s mistake alone.
It began with turnovers. Both teams had 64 possessions, and Northeastern gave the ball up on 19 of theirs. Nearly every Husky had at least one giveaway; five players had more than two. Jordan Roland led the way with six; Max Boursiquot — despite playing just 12 minutes before fouling out — had four.
The turnovers handed the Bulldogs a 20–7 advantage in points off turnovers, but in a game without a ton of transition basketball, the biggest turnover-induced hurt came elsewhere. Northeastern lost despite outshooting Drake by 14 percent, a fact possible only because Drake attempted 59 shots to Northeastern’s 39. Northeastern’s turnovers — combined with the Bulldogs’ 11–2 offensive rebounding margin — allowed for the gap in attempts.
Foul trouble hampered the Huskies in the first half, with Brace and Tyson Walker both heading to the bench with two early fouls. It was the third consecutive game in which foul trouble has limited Brace’s playing time. Walker, who exited after just five minutes, did not return. The personnel losses hurt a team already missing starting big man Tomas Murphy, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
Heavy Drake fouling put Northeastern in the bonus around the halfway mark in the first half; they spent the last four minutes in the double bonus. The Huskies turned this into an 11–4 free-throw advantage, which helped them reclaim the lead after an 8–0 Drake run to open the game. Myles Franklin led the way, netting five points from the charity stripe.
Roland struggled for the second straight game. Though he enjoyed some success driving to the basket and nailed a spectacular, standstill, fadeaway three-pointer. Drake’s constant, intense defense often denied him the ball and crowded him on jumpshots. He made just one of six attempts from three and lost the ball trying to burrow his way to the basket through multiple defenders. He finished with 13 points and, for the first time this season, ceded the title of nation’s top scorer. Delaware guard Nate Darling now tops the list.
That said, this and-one floater was gorgeous.
Brace stayed out of foul trouble in the second half and netted himself a milestone. His two three-pointers tied him with Chaisson Allen for sixth place on Northeastern’s career list.
Shaq Walters played a strong first half for the Huskies, scoring nine points and helping the Huskies to a 7–0 run and a three-point halftime lead.
Roman Penn and Anthony Murphy led the Bulldogs, combining for 32 points. Penn had an inefficient shooting night but made up for it at the foul line, while Murphy nailed six of his 11 shots and pulled down seven boards.
Though the offensive struggles felled Northeastern, their defense was largely solid. They rotated well to perimeter shooters, limiting the Bulldogs to a measly 24 percent from downtown. Greg Eboigbodin played well on the interior, contesting inside shots and picking up just two fouls, a big improvement considering his foul troubles in the season’s first few games.
But it was ultimately in vain. The mistakes kept piling up — errant passes, unsure ballhandling, a slew of travels and offensive fouls, anything to end possessions without attempting a shot. The frustration came to a head on the last play.
With Northeastern inbounding the ball down three with 11 seconds remaining, it’s possible head coach Bill Coen instructed his team to sprint downcourt, get a quick two, and foul. It would certainly explain Strong’s no-hesitation drive. But Myles Franklin stumbled catching an inbounds pass in the backcourt. Though he ultimately saved the ball, it ate several precious seconds off the clock. When Drake put the lead back up to three with a pair of free throws, Northeastern couldn’t do anything with 0.2 seconds left.
Northeastern will play its final game of the tournament tomorrow at 11 AM EST against the loser of the Murray State–Weber State game.