TOWSON, MD — The coronation of Bill Coen as the winningest coach in Northeastern basketball history seemed almost inevitable entering Sunday.
His team was 8–1 in conference play, with their only loss coming to second-place James Madison. Their opponent, the eighth-place Towson Tigers, had only two conference wins, both against a team below them in the standings. And sophomore point guard Tyson Walker was coming off two straight 30-point games, including a career-high 36 in a win over Towson the day before.
That inevitability seemingly solidified before the game, when it became clear that Towson leading scorer Zane Martin, sitting on the bench with a walking boot on, would not join the day’s festivities. Nor would bench piece Cam Allen, usually good for 15 or 20 minutes of action.
And, as if it needed to get worse, third-leading scorer Jason Gibson drove to the rim six minutes in, took a foul from Jason Strong — replays showed that Strong stayed vertical — lost his balance midair, and crashed down hard on his back. The injury is not projected to be serious, but he did not return.
But despite these disadvantages, the Tigers’ trademark physicality and aggressiveness carried them to a 68–57 victory Sunday afternoon at SECU Arena. Coen’s coronation would have to wait.
The loss dropped Northeastern (9–7, 8–2 CAA) to second place in the conference standings, compounded by a James Madison (13–5, 8–1 CAA) win over Hofstra an hour later. With the next closest team to Northeastern sitting two games behind with two weeks to go, the Huskies and Dukes are in prime position to win the top two seeds.
“I thought we showed our youth and inexperience this afternoon,” Coen said. “I thought Towson came out with a lot of emotional energy. We did not match that to start the game; we dug ourselves a hole.”
The Huskies’ 57 points — their lowest in CAA play this year — pointed to two key issues. The first, which was apparent from the opening tip, was the large volume of missed open shots. One day after shooting a conference-play-best 56 percent, Northeastern shot a season-low 36 percent. Though they entered with a 37 percent mark from downtown (second-best in the CAA), they made just six of their 24 triples.
“Usually close to 50 percent of our shots are threes; that’s how our system is built and that’s how we recruit,” Coen said. “I am not sure you can effectively change your DNA at halftime . . . In the first half we had some very makeable catch-and-shoot threes that just didn’t go. Similar to how Towson has to rebound in order for them to be effective, we have to make shots and share the basketball in order to be effective. They did a better job playing to their identity than we did playing to ours.”
The second issue was the dialed-in Towson defense, replete with clogged driving lanes and rapid rotations. The Tigers held Walker to just four first-half points after he put up 18 in yesterday’s opening period. Northeastern’s other Saturday weapon, Greg Eboigbodin, was silenced as well, registering just four points all game and getting considerably less run time after halftime than before it.
“Chris [Doherty] wasn’t available for the game today,” Coen clarified. “With Greg they were doing some different things on the ball-screen coverage, forcing us to play through the high post and that’s not where he’s best at. We have a couple other guys who are more effective from there but that didn’t seem to work either.”
The Tigers did a terrific job adjusting from yesterday. They doubled Walker effectively off of screens while also blocking passes to his lob lover Eboigbodin. Though a second-half knee hit boosted his energy — after he was slow to get up — he finished with a relatively modest 16 points on six-of-16 shooting, including one-of-six from deep. Save for some late offensive bursts from Shaquille Walters and Jason Strong, Walker didn’t have much help.
On the defensive side, the Huskies had trouble with a couple of Boston-area natives. Reigning CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake exploited one-on-one chances and gaps in Northeastern’s pick-and-roll coverage to score a career-high 22 points. With the Tigers’ first- and third-leading scorers out, he played the entire game. Jakigh Dottin added 13 points of his own, and guided the Towson attack with sturdy, reliable ball handling.
“[Timberlake] played with alot of emotion,” Coen said. “He’s a Boston kid and I think there is always an extra bit of emotion when he and Jakigh Dottin — who played in Cambridge — play against Northeastern.They are very familiar with a lot of our guys.”
Dottin also showed that intensity after the whistle a couple of times. On one series, Walker collided hard with a Tiger, then was incensed by a foul call. When the referee hit Walker with a technical foul, Dottin got in Walker’s face and hissed at him, prompting Coen to engage Dottin in a back-and-forth.
“[Walker] had a terrific game yesterday and one way to combat that is to get more physical with him,” Coen explained. “They did that from the start and as a player you have to be able to play through that physicality. As a team we have to play through that physicality and still execute. I thought that they did a good job initiating contact and being the aggressor, and we didn’t absorb and process that well. It took us out of rhythm on offense. We only had six assists today; that right there tells you that we had more one-on-one play than we wanted.”
The Huskies closed the Tiger lead to four midway through the second half, then promptly let the lead balloon to 18. Though they knocked down three straight triples to draw closer, they never got within striking distance again.
“There is a tendency, once you lose a basketball game, to step in and fight,” Coen noted. “They were down Zane Martin and a couple other guys. In the short term there is a huge emotional lift that goes to them.”
Northeastern’s next scheduled games are a road doubleheader against William & Mary on February 27 and 28.
TOWSON, MD — It’s hard to overstate how fun Tyson Walker is to watch.
When he’s given command of an offense, and when he’s dialed in, he moves about the court with a palpable ease and confidence. The game’s pace and his own internal clock become inexorably linked, and the defense has increasingly little say in whether his shots go in.
Never was Walker as dialed in as he was Saturday afternoon in SECU Arena, when he poured in a career-high 36 points — his second-straight 30-point game — to power Northeastern to a 76–67 win over the Towson Tigers. It was the best individual scoring effort the Huskies had seen since January 18 of last year, when Jordan Roland dropped 38 on UNCW.
It also marked head coach Bill Coen’s 250th Northeastern win, tying him with Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun for the program record.
The Huskies, playing their first game after a 20-day COVID hiatus, moved to 9–6 (8–1 CAA) and preserved their pole position in the conference standings. James Madison, with whom the Huskies split a pair last month, defeated Hofstra on Saturday to remain the only team in Northeastern’s neighborhood as the season hits the home stretch.
Coen told WRBB before the game that he knew he was wading into uncharted territory. Never before had a team of his taken such a lengthy midseason break.
“For the early portion of the pause, we weren’t allowed to do anything,” he said after Saturday’s game. “We didn’t play live until Tuesday. At the same time, if guys had been away for two weeks, we weren’t confident to have a full practice. So we had shorter, more intense practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and then did more of a mental preparation coming into this weekend.”
“I was a little nervous because of rest vs. rust,” he continued, “But all in all, I thought it was a good effort. It took our guys a few minutes to get back into the swing of the competition, but once they did I thought they did much better.”
Walker wasn’t the only Husky hammering the Tigers. Jason Strong logged 12 points on highly efficient perimeter shooting. And Greg Eboigbodin tallied his own career-high with 13 points, 10 of which came in the first half.
“He has been hampered with some minor injuries,” Coen explained. “Greg finally got healthy over the pause . . . We needed him against a really tough front line of Towson and their ability to rebound the ball. He gave us an anchor on the backboards and in the low post.”
Eboigbodin erupted early, showing that he wouldn’t let the down time halt his performance. He brought his bouncy shoes too, helping Walker carve up the Towson defense in the game’s opening minutes and throwing an alley-oop from the point guard.
The pick-and-roll duo combined for 28 first-half points, but the Huskies’ inability to hush Towson’s offensive roar meant that their offensive brilliance netted only a 39–38 halftime lead.
“Defensively we weren’t aggressive enough, we weren’t helping outside the lane on penetration,” Coen said. “We really weren’t attacking dribblers and we were letting them get too comfortable . . . We talked about that at halftime and said, ‘If we come out and defend we’ll put ourselves in a great spot.’ We were already scoring enough points.”
In the second half, Northeastern tamed the Tigers. Leading scorer Zane Martin had just three points on one-for-six shooting (giving him an inefficient 14 points on the afternoon). As a team, Towson shot 32 percent from the field, and while they earned 20 free-throw attempts after the intermission, they bricked nine of them.
As Towson’s shooting slid, Walker kept stoking his iridescent inferno. The soft-handed sophomore dug deep into his bag of tricks to send defenders skidding all over the court. Bamboozling brakes and demoralizing dekes created space for himself and his teammates. Walker matched his first-half total of 18 points which, along with a game-high five assists, blew the game open.
“[Towson] tried a couple different things on him,” Coen explained. “They tried to be very aggressive on ball-screen plays early in the game. They tried to press on most makes, trying to limit his ability and make him give it up to someone else. They also tried switching late in the game and trapping him.”
“It is just a function of having a really good day,” Coen continued. “He has seen those types of coverages before and he has a great sense of when he has to score and when he has to get others involved. He’s going to see that and more tomorrow when we face Towson again. They are certainly going to gameplan to try and limit his effectiveness.”
The only Tiger who improved after halftime was Demetrius Mims, who finished with 11 points on a team-best four-for-five from the field. Jason Gibson contributed 14 points but dealt with foul trouble late in the game.
Coen also confirmed that sparkplug forward Chris Doherty, who played just six minutes and did not attempt a shot, is still working his way back from the injury that kept him out of Northeastern’s last game 20 days ago. Doherty will be available tomorrow, but Coen admitted that “he’s not quite where he needs to be.”
Tomorrow’s game could also be huge for Coen, who can pass Calhoun’s record with a win. Milton Posner and Peyton Doyle will call that contest for WRBB, with coverage commencing at 12:45 PM Eastern.
BOSTON — In a fiery game that came down the wire, the Northeastern Huskies held off a frantic last-minute run from UMass to notch a 78–75 win, their first of the season.
In Friday’s game, the crushing UMass press forced the Huskies into 15 first-half turnovers and wrecked any prospect of offensive rhythm. On Sunday, the composed ballhandling and passing of Tyson Walker, Jason Strong, and Shaquille Walters overcame the press, allowing the Husky offense to lay a harsh hand to the Minutemen.
“They press, and that’s what they’re known for, so we just had to keep our composure with that,” Strong said. “Just slow down, take our time, and just get back to getting to our open spots.”
Northeastern paced the Minutemen throughout the first half, with the score staying tight until the halftime break. The Huskies minimized turnovers, repeatedly solving the UMass press with outlet passes to the wing. This gave Northeastern more time to run their offense, and they spread the scoring around early. Shaquille Walters stood out as an offensive leader, quickly eclipsing his four-point total from Friday’s game and eventually logging 12 points and nine rebounds in a team-high 37 minutes.
“We need him on the floor, he’s an excellent defender, he’s a really good secondary ball handler, he’s an experienced guy who’s got confidence and ability, but he’s a tremendous rebounder at his position,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said of Walters. “That makes us a little bit more dynamic. Having him available today and having him play at a high level helped us earn the victory.”
Walters led the offense as Tyson Walker spent long stretches of the first half on the bench, pacing around the grid of socially distant seats.
“He picked up a couple of fouls, and then he went to the deck early,” Coen said of Walker. “He had been on the floor quite a bit down in UMass, and then early on there was a play at half court and he landed on his hip again awkwardly. And so we took him out, but Vito came in and the game was going pretty good. We felt like we could steal a couple of minutes.”
Coleman Stucke, who went a dismal zero-for-eight on Friday, added his first buckets as a Husky during Walker’s absence, providing a bit of an early boost. But it was Jason Strong that Northeastern repeatedly returned to for an offensive spark throughout the game. The junior collected 16 points, including three energizing three-pointers, to go with five rebounds.
UMass also turned to some unexpected scorers in the first half, as Friday’s stars were largely silent. Tre Mitchell didn’t score his first points until the final five minutes of the half, while Javohn Garcia scored an early four, but didn’t put in another bucket for the remainder of the period. Noah Fernandes, who spent a large portion of Friday’s game on the bench due to a foul discrepancy, scored seven first-half points. Ronnie DeGray III, who contributed the least out of the Minutemen starters on Friday, added six points of his own.
The Huskies went into the halftime break with a one-point lead after answering many of the questions raised by the Friday loss. Then they hit another gear.
The second half started off with a turnover on Walters, but that was quickly squashed by a huge three from Strong. Walker followed it with a brilliant pass from the top of the key that landed right in the hands of a soaring Greg Eboigbodin for an alley-oop dunk, sending the Husky bench into cheers.
“The energy was great,” Strong said. “There was a time I was sitting on the bench and someone made a great play, and everyone just started standing up and cheering, and it was just great energy on the bench throughout the whole game.”
But just as the offensive exploits of Walker and Walters built an 11-point Husky lead, the team ran into a roadblock. Eboigbodin racked up his fourth foul of the game, and was subbed out. The loss risked the Huskies’ containment of Mitchell, which had been superb.
But the Huskies continued to pressure Mitchell, and although he was drawing fouls and sinking free throws, most of his field-goal attempts were merely attempts, as his signature jump hook kept dripping off the rim.
Northeastern maintained their lead until the final three minutes, when a series of quick steals and buckets slashed the lead from 12 to three. Shaq Walters missed a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left to leave the door open, but UMass captain Carl Pierre inexplicably went for a layup with five seconds remaining, and the Huskies shut off the lane to escape with a three-point win.
Walker led the Huskies with 20 points, with Strong, Walters, and Jahmyl Telfort contributing 16, 12, and 11 respectively.
Despite being the slightly smaller team, the Huskies equaled the Minutemen’s rebounding total. In addition, they committed just 14 turnovers compared to 18 in Friday’s game.
“Extremely proud of our group today,” Coen said. “In a short turnaround, they were able to absorb adjustments in the scouting report, they came with great energy and focus, and we got back to Northeastern basketball.”
Though neither team has announced a start time, the Huskies will face off against Syracuse on Wednesday in what will undoubtedly prove their toughest non-conference test. WRBB will call that game live, with coverage beginning 15 minutes before tip-off.
After several cancellations, reschedulings, and a storm of “will they, won’t they” questions, the Huskies returned to action on Friday afternoon. Despite a scintillating display from sophomore guard Tyson Walker, they buckled under the Minutemen’s robust offense and stifling full court press.
The 94–79 final score reflected a game driven by offensive intensity, as well as the sort of rust and sloppiness you’d expect from two teams that hadn’t played in nine months and had their practice and conditioning interrupted by the pandemic last month. Though both teams fouled constantly throughout, it was Northeastern’s 15 first-half turnovers that fueled UMass’s offense and put the Huskies on the defensive.
“Our spacing was really, really bad. We overhandled and mishandled the ball,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said bluntly. “When you’re up against a pressing team you have to keep your composure. We had moments where we did that and moments that led to 6–0, 8–0 runs that stretched the game out. It has to be a coordinated, five-man effort with proper spacing and proper passing. In the first half we didn’t get that.”
Walker’s first-half play was the more refined aspect of the Huskies’ game. Though he attempted just four shots, he earned numerous trips to the free-throw line and knocked down nine of 10. “Early on, we’re going to expect Tyson to be an all-star guy for us,” Coen said, and all-star Walker was. He stayed just as effective after halftime, finishing with 29 points on seven-of-nine shooting from the floor and 13 of 14 from the line.
“Tyson’s going to have the freedom that [Jordan] Roland had because that’s how good Tyson is,” UMass Head Coach Matt McCall said. “We’ve got find ways to get the call out of his hands. We can’t let him split traps in the halfcourt.”
Despite Walker’s best efforts, the Huskies turnover and foul woes helped UMass to an 11-point halftime lead. Though Northeastern took better care of the ball after the break — just three giveaways — UMass’s outside shooters rained a barrage of three pointers that snuffed out Husky rallies in the early minutes of the second half.
UMass freshman Javohn Garcia had a college debut to remember, logging 23 points on just 13 shots. McCall said that he did not plan to play Garcia for 33 minutes, but “when something’s working you’ve got to stick with it.”
Garcia’s offensive contributions may have been the difference, but UMass got no shortage of buckets from their main star, sophomore center Tre Mitchell. Mitchell dominated against every defender Northeastern threw at him, particularly starting big man Greg Eboigbodin.
“I knew that I kinda had a step on him,” Mitchell said. “so I wanted to bring him out to the perimeter a bit more.”
Coen praised Mitchell effusively, remarking that “He’s a terrific low-post players with terrific footwork. He can pass out of the double team. He can catch the ball at 18, 20 feet, put the ball down, and get to the rim. And he can make threes. When you put him in ball screen coverage, it makes it a little tougher because he can drive closeouts and create some space.
“UMass did a great job screening for him and getting him the ball in spots where he could be effective. And it’s always great when you play around a guy who commands extra attention. He’s a willing passer, he’s got great vision out of the post.”
McCall was more concise and lofty in his praise, saying simply, “He’s the best frontcourt player in the country and he needs to be recognized as that.”
All of this is not to say that the Huskies didn’t have bright spots as well. Transfer forward Chris Doherty shone in spots, using clever, well-timed cuts to notch eight points; he also grabbed a handful of high-leverage rebounds. Jahmyl Telfort played 28 minutes, the most of any of the newcomers, and logged 12 points while making both of his three-point tries.
The Huskies were missing freshman forward Alex Nwagha, who is dealing with an injury sustained in practice. Coen said that Nwagha could have played in an emergency today, but that they “want to give him the best chance to do what he does when he is healthy.”
Coen observed that it was a tough first college experience for his five new players given UMass’s skill and pressing capability, and that the team didn’t respond well. They’ll have a chance to make amends Sunday at noon, when the Minuteman pay a visit to Matthews Arena for the back end of the home-and-home. Milton Posner, Justin Diament, and Jordan Baron will have the call, with coverage beginning at 11:45 AM Eastern.
Not one week after a surprising, inspiring, rejuvenating run
to the CAA Championship game, Northeastern men’s basketball found itself in
Compounding the losses of CAA leading scorer Jordan Roland
and versatile four-year starter Bolden Brace to graduation, three players — Max
Boursiquot, Tomas Murphy, and Myles Franklin — announced their intent to
transfer from the program.
Franklin logged decent minutes in non-conference play this year, but saw his workload wither as the season progressed. Though he showed flashes of a stabilizing, disciplined presence at the point, many of his better offensive performances came in games where the outcome was no longer in doubt. After sitting on the bench for two years behind All-CAA First Teamer Vasa Pusica, then watching freshman Tyson Walker start over him all season, Franklin probably figured his playing team wouldn’t increase next year. As a grad transfer, he’ll be eligible to play this fall.
Murphy was supposed to see a larger
role this season, as the graduation of bruising big man Anthony Green left
shoes to fill in the paint. But after playing just four games, Murphy injured
his ankle in a mid-November practice. Though the team was initially hopeful he’d
return before too long, he’d played his last game in a Husky uniform.
The four-star recruit averaged seven
points and three rebounds per game across two full seasons, with excellent
shooting efficiency and a burgeoning perimeter shot to boot. Husky fans will
never get to see what higher usage would have done to his offensive footprint.
Murphy will head north to the University of Vermont. Because
he played only four games this season, it will count as an redshirt year, meaning
he has two years of eligibility remaining and can suit up this fall.
But by far the biggest loss of the three was Boursiquot.
As Murphy’s absence stretched from mid-November into
conference play, Boursiquot took center stage. His offensive contributions —
nine points and five rebounds per game — were solid, and his versatility on
that end helped to keep the offense moving.
But his defense was otherworldly. Though he stood just 6’5”
and weighed 211 pounds, he started most games at center, routinely frustrating taller,
bigger players. He was as strong, pound-for-pound, as any player in the
conference, and he used his low center of gravity to dislodge the conference’s skyscrapers
and force them into areas where they were less comfortable.
The Husky defense allowed the fewest points of any CAA team,
and Boursiquot was the versatile engine. His speed, quickness, and agility
allowed him to bottle up guards on the perimeter, then battle big men in the
post without missing a beat. In two matchups with eventual CAA Player of the
Year and likely NBA draft pick Nathan Knight, Boursiquot held his own for long
stretches and earned high praise from Knight. His active hands were a constant
presence in passing lanes, forcing live-ball turnovers the Huskies converted
into transition buckets.
He was arguably the most valuable defensive player in the
conference. That Knight won CAA Defensive Player of the Year is unsurprising; award
voters are more likely to evaluate defense through basic stats like rebounds,
blocks, and steals, and Boursiquot was somewhat underwhelming on paper. But his
effort, strength, intensity, spatial awareness, and basketball intelligence
made him a sight to behold, and his exclusion from the All-Defensive Team was a
His finest hour came in the CAA Tournament earlier this
month. With Roland struggling to find his shooting touch, Boursiquot picked up
the offensive load, averaging 13 points on 58 percent shooting to go along with
seven rebounds. This in addition to guarding Towson’s formidable frontcourt, red-hot
forward Federico Poser of Elon, and human-tank hybrid Isaac Kante of Hofstra.
Because he redshirted last year after a hip injury,
Boursiquot will be a grad transfer, eligible to play this fall wherever he
Though the loss of Franklin will likely prove negligible for
head coach Bill Coen’s rotation, Boursiquot and Murphy were the two best
returning forwards. Notre Dame midseason transfer Chris Doherty will likely
provide a boost when he becomes eligible to play, but it will be up to 6’9” junior
Greg Eboigbodin to anchor the defense until then.
The versatility of Shaquille Walters, who assumed some point
guard duties in the last few weeks of the season, is suddenly paramount. So is
the scoring punch of Tyson Walker, whose nine shot attempts per game this
season pale in comparison to what he’ll likely post next year.
But the solution can’t be as simple as those two turning
into stars. Besides Walker and Walters, no returning Husky averaged more than
four points per game. For Northeastern to fill the shoes of their two graduates
and three transfers, everyone will need to step up.
— The green-and-gold-clad players leapt joyfully on the sidelines. The
similarly dressed fans erupted into deafening cheers. And the scoreboard, for
the final time on a frantic Thursday evening, changed its mind.
But Northeastern fans who were paying attention — and
perhaps even a few who weren’t — would have noticed something peculiar. Hadn’t
this happened before? Hadn’t Nathan Knight, William & Mary’s uber-talented,
hyper-versatile senior big man, done this to them in almost exactly the same
way about four weeks before?
For anyone who thought that the eerie similarities between Northeastern’s games against William & Mary and Hofstra reeked of basketball screenwriters too lazy to conjure up an alternate script, the Tribe’s 59–58 win over the Huskies re-opened every recently healed wound.
Once again, a superhuman defensive
effort by Max Boursiquot was wasted. Though Knight and fellow big man Andy Van
Vliet combined for 23 rebounds, they mustered just 24 points on seven-for-23
“Huge credit to Max,” Knight said. “He’s
deceptively strong . . . a lot stronger than he appears on paper. His
physicality and his quickness, being the size of a guard with the strength of a
big, really grants him some upside on the defensive end playing against guys
like me who play a little more inside out.
“He’s 212 [pounds], I’m 250, so I try
to take advantage of that size by getting the ball as close as I can to the
basket. He did a tremendous job today of pressuring our bigs, making us catch the
ball where we didn’t want it when there were plays drawn up for us to get on
But once again, after being locked down
by Boursiquot in the first half, Knight came alive in the second, this time
logging 13 points on four-of-five shooting from the field and five-of-six from
“The biggest thing was our guards
making themselves available when we got the ball in the post,” Knight said of
the second-half surge. “Backdoor cuts, getting into open spots for us to see
them and get them the ball. Also just being a little more aggressive when we got
the ball in the post.
“Being aggressive like that puts
a lot of pressure on the defense. It makes them decide: are they going to come
help or are they going to stay on the shooters? Applying that kind of pressure
was probably the biggest change from the first to the second half, when we
weren’t as aggressive getting to the rim, settling for long shots, jump hooks 15
feet away from the basket. But the biggest thing for us was getting into their
bodies and making them decide. And it paid off for us.”
And once again, Knight broke Husky hearts with a last-second
layup. The Tribe placed Van Vliet and Miguel Ayesa, both excellent three-point
shooters, in opposite corners, forcing Northeastern to respect their spacing.
“He gets the ball where he wants to get it and there’s not a
whole lot we can do,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We thought
it was coming to him, but I didn’t think it was going to be off the dribble.
Max has a quickness advantage there, so I thought they’d post him and hunt a
But the Tribe had other plans,
inbounding to Knight 75 feet from the rim with 6.8 seconds to go. Boursiquot
stayed attached to Knight until the big man reached the lane, at which point
Boursiquot probably figured there was nothing left that he could do and that
his teammates would pressure Knight. But Bolden Brace stepped out of Knight’s
way, Shaq Walters’ rotation was too little too late, and the Huskies fell short
when (once again) a halfcourt heave from Tyson Walker didn’t fall.
“It was drawn up for me to go make
something happen,” Knight said of the play. “Seven seconds is a long time in
the grand scheme of things. They’re obviously not going to let you walk
the ball up the court and you don’t want to launch the ball down the court, so
someone has to go get it. We were expecting some pressure, so the best way to
get the ball in my hands was to go get it.”
But while the lasting image of Thursday’s
game will be Knight’s game-winner and the striking resemblance it bears to his
last game-winner against the Huskies, it would be disingenuous to pretend that
Knight’s layup is the reason the Huskies lost. After all, Northeastern limited
star center Andy Van Vliet to a meager seven points on two-for-11 shooting.
They plugged passing lanes, pressured ballhandlers, and denied post players the
chance to work in open space. The Tribe shot just 37 percent from the field and
a pathetic 12 percent from beyond the three-point arc; Northeastern outshot
them handily in both categories while limiting the CAA’s best offensive team to
one of its lowest outputs of the year. So how did they lose?
“It wasn’t a defensive loss,” Bill Coen
stated flatly. “It was a free throw loss.”
Free throws, as Coen pointed out, are
arguably the last way Northeastern would expect to lose. Entering Thursday, the
Huskies boasted a free-throw percentage of about 80 percent, the best mark in
the CAA and the third-best mark in the country. Yet the Huskies made just four
of their 11 free-throw attempts in the second half.
The free throw tallies were a function
of accuracy but also of each team’s volume of fouls. While the Tribe certainly
dealt with foul trouble — Bryce Barnes, Knight, and Van Vliet all picked up
four fouls, with Knight missing minutes he otherwise wouldn’t have — the bug
bit Northeastern hardest.
Greg Eboigbodin fouled out with nine
minutes still to play. Brace picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go.
Boursiquot was whistled for his fourth down the stretch. Shaq Walters played
most of the second half with three. Because the fouls were so concentrated in
the Husky frontcourt — none of the guards had more than one — they further
wounded the Huskies. Northeastern was trying to contend with a surging Nathan
Knight — inarguably the most powerful post force in the conference — without
much minute-to-minute lineup consistency.
Jordan Roland’s performance also sheds
light on the game’s momentum swings. Roland’s respectable stat line is the
product of a high-octane first half (16 points on 10 attempts) and a near-invisible
second half (two points on four attempts).
“There was no change schematically,” Knight
said of his squad’s defense on Roland. “Huge credit to Luke Loewe —
probably one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever seen in my life. It was him
on top of a group of guys out there determined to stop him. Jordan Roland is a
dynamic scorer, scores the ball in a bunch of ways. One of the biggest things
for us was making him uncomfortable and having a crowded floor when he did get
the ball in space. Make him get the ball out, make the secondary guys beat us.”
That said, Roland’s effort was not without
While the win kept William & Mary
atop the conference standings with an 8–2 record (16–7 overall), the Huskies
dropped to 5–5 (11–11 overall). With Delaware and Drexel not playing Thursday, the
Huskies assumed sole possession of seventh place.
Some measures would indicate the Huskies are better than that. Their average margin (6.8 points) in conference play is still best in the CAA, and their five losses have come by a combined nine points (Thursday’s one-point loss follows four two-point losses). But even the admittedly small ten-game conference sample indicates that the Huskies are struggling to execute at the end of games, an issue they’ll need to resolve given the CAA’s preposterous parity this season.
“It’s frustrating to be this close,”
Coen said. “We’ve been around the block here and there’s nobody in this league
that we can’t compete with . . . it should have been more than a one-possession
The Huskies will travel a couple
hundred miles south for a Saturday tilt against the Elon Phoenix. Milton Posner
and Adam Doucette will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST.
With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.
CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning
percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength
of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.
They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross— came against a Division I team.
Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s
upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their
completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record,
strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just
for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.
With that said . . .
#10: Elon Phoenix
Non-Conference Record: 4–9
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth
Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)
Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you
pronounce it correctly or not
This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.
Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant
surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are
averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form
downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.
The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the
first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering
as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second
half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster
slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.
But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece
of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came
against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw
State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.
The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring
margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They
are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace
is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10
threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there
is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.
The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.
#9: UNCW Seahawks
Non-Conference Record: 5–8
Strength of Schedule Rank: Third
Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)
Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for
If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.
Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the
graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior
standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach
C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.
The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and
leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury,
played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed
he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The
same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee,
went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when
combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted
a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division
I teams without a senior).
But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s
non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point
guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath
called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue
a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on
Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.”
Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national
team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and
three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although
he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last
year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.
In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up
some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while
shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.
Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in,
logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the
Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been
six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per
contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he
uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the
basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a
starting spot several weeks in.
But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against
Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four
departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak
they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their
scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s
top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank
Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.
#8: Drexel Dragons
Non-Conference Record: 7–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth
Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name
of all time
Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.
Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy
talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.
The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been
the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to
Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven
games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in
the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking
the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was
denied the ball.
Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win
over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be
desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of
scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t
too shabby either.
Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the
scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category,
Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside
presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin,
the third-best in the CAA.
But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.
#7: Northeastern Huskies
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth
Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)
Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,”
there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline
It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.
That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s.
In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every
defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into
national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated
defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with
twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right
mind would think to shoot a basketball.
Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on
November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a
42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky
legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.
Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his
22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks
of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the
foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best,
and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game
(37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the
Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.
Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped
up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more
balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and
taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.
But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward
Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind
Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double
figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him,
Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.
The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas
Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg
Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine
performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5”
utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the
Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable
to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in
crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their
ability to build and maintain momentum in games.
The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41
percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter
shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of
their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s
highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their
The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.
#6: Towson Tigers
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: Second
Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)
Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right
Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.
Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern,
but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most
encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the
No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close
throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a
As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson
attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively
low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will
have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye
Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production
from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson
can take the next step.
The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up
this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best
rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top
of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies
as any sort of offensive standout.
Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.
#5: Charleston Cougars
Non-Conference Record: 6–6
Strength of Schedule Rank: First
Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)
Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives
Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.
Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of
Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by
single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest,
Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference
schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.
They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the
Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per
night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the
nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the
conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar
three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.
On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and
passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time
scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.
That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly
regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season,
but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top
player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.
The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind
Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and
Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular
has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in
part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.
The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four
steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting
badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats
compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play
and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.
Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.
#4: James Madison Dukes
Non-Conference Record: 7–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh
Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)
Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time
At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.
Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth
in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and
adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team
with no seniors in the regular rotation.
His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is
faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and
five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping
the ball 1.6 times per contest.
And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound
junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but
has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in
eight points and six boards a game.
But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so
many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas,
who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46
percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man
The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher.
At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell
opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the
fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out
of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots
down the list.
More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up
more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate
story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point
percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are
converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the
charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.
The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest
field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team.
They also led the conference in blocks.
The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.
#3: Hofstra Pride
Non-Conference Record: 9–4
Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)
Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing
basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th
Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?
But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still
have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of
seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.
The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages
17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank
eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind
him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists,
good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive
brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads
the conference with 2.7 steals a night.
Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt,
averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per
contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra
guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.
Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last
season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short
on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on
61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far
this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.
Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came
back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the
Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history
The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far,
though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and
their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four
main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with
Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a
whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s
82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best
assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.
Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as
evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they
ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.
#2: William & Mary Tribe
Non-Conference Record: 8–5
Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth
Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)
Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again
named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house
This one was a surprise.
A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the
Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had
been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the
team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility
remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about
bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.
New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled
everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage
in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker
It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably
does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe
retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant
Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed,
posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark
from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with
Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar
Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.
As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was
expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy
Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is
averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight
for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal
percentage and blocks.
Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good
shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space
the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows
Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting,
creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.
The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad
transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points,
three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the
Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step
forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging
11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and
47 percent from downtown.
Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games
with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe
won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five
rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he
returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.
The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three
of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of
a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won
its last 17 home games in a row.
Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a
relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30
per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what
happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his
twin towers for longer stretches.
William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses
so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field
goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall
between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and
first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and
three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.
Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.
#1: Delaware Blue Hens
Non-Conference Record: 10–3
Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth
Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)
Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think
he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them
December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.
The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had
placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight
games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to
close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to
beat in the CAA.
Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB
transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His
21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank
16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes
than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks
third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has
the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.
But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue
Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with
Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53
percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds
(fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are
Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer?
He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut?
Sure, why not? This might as well happen.
Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently
became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue
Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down
And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards
Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but
have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at
the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal
percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.
The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.
Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record
and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and
the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.
Anyone who glanced at a pre-game matchup sheet could hazard
a guess at how Tuesday evening’s game would go. Northeastern, which entered the
game fifth in the nation in three-point percentage, would rely on outside
shooting. Eastern Michigan, which entered ranked ninth in the nation in scoring
defense, would use their height and length advantage to pressure the Huskies
Those assumptions bore out on the court in Ypsilanti,
Michigan, with Eastern Michigan (9–1) outlasting Northeastern (5–6) and
escaping with a 60–55 victory. It was the Huskies’ second straight loss and the
second time this season they’ve fallen below .500.
Though the Eagles were paced by double-digit scoring efforts
from Noah Morgan (19), Yeikson Montero (10), and Ty Groce (10), their biggest
advantage was seven-footer Boubacar Toure, whose seven-point, six-rebound,
two-block stat line underscores his impact. He established himself defensively
from the opening tip, pressuring Northeastern’s inside shots and forcing them
to attempt more and more threes as the game progressed.
Northeastern’s ability to counter Toure was diminished, with
big men Greg Eboigbodin (6’10”) and Tomas Murphy (6’8”) sitting out. Murphy,
usually good for 10 points and versatile midrange play, injured his ankle and
hasn’t played since November 16 against Old Dominion.
The task of guarding Toure fell to Max Boursiquot, who,
despite his inarguable defensive strength and versatility, is seven inches
shorter and 30 pounds lighter than the Senegalese center. The disparity was
never more apparent than when Toure snatched an offensive rebound and dunked,
seemingly unbothered by three Huskies surrounding him with their arms raised.
This mismatch contributed to a noticeable disparity in play
styles between the squads. Eastern Michigan pushed the ball inside and
rebounded their misses, while Northeastern passed around the perimeter to earn
open threes. The Eagles encouraged this by playing a 2–3 zone, shutting off
interior passing lanes and keeping the Huskies out of the paint.
Eventually Northeastern started rebounding their own misses,
earning a number of easy kickouts to the perimeter. Guilien Smith hit back-to-back
threes, then Myles Franklin nailed another after Toure’s massive block on Roland
sent the ball caroming off the glass and out to the three-point line.
Northeastern led 17–13 with 11:54 remaining. They wouldn’t
score for almost eight minutes, as Eastern Michigan interior defense held
strong and Northeastern went cold from downtown. Behind Montero’s multiple
buckets, the Eagles scored ten unanswered points during that stretch to take a
six-point lead. A steady Northeastern comeback briefly tied the game before an
Eastern Michigan basket gave them a 31–29 halftime lead.
Northeastern was shooting 43 percent from outside the arc,
but just 23 percent from inside it. They closed the rebounding gap against the
larger Eagles, though their increased aggressiveness resulted in 10 fouls and
13 Eastern Michigan free throws in the first half.
Though the exact positioning of the defenders varied, Eastern
Michigan continued their zone after the break, and Northeastern responded by
relying even more heavily on outside shooting. They stuck to a similar game plan
— get the defense scrambling, move the ball on the perimeter, and earn open
shots. But after connecting on six of their 14 attempts from downtown in the
first, Northeastern hit just five of 17 attempts in the second. Several times,
the Huskies passed up a potential transition layup for a kickout to the
Everything Northeastern did in the second half, Eastern
Michigan had an answer. Northeastern regained the lead midway through the
period on a Jordan Roland three; Eastern Michigan responded with a two-handed
jam from Toure and a layup from Morgan. Franklin tied the game with a three;
Montero finished a spinning layup under duress. Tyson Walker hit a corner three
on a friendly bounce; Montero scored another spinning layup.
Northeastern found themselves trailing 58–55 with 30 seconds
remaining. Whatever play head coach Bill Coen drew up during the timeout was
quickly abandoned when the Eagles abandoned Max Boursiquot on the left side.
Boursiquot retreated behind the three-point line, fired, and watched his
game-tying attempt clank off the rim. After Walker’s putback dripped off the
cylinder, Montero hit two free-throws to put the game out of reach.
Though Northeastern’s play was not without flaw, Boursiquot’s
missed equalizer was a microcosm of their biggest difficulty in this game:
missed threes. Many if not most of their tries were good looks, but not enough
of them fell. Their total of 11 makes on 31 attempts is decent enough percentage-wise,
but ultimately posed problems in a game where the Huskies tried more threes
Northeastern’s other problem was their two best players.
Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace combined for just 18 points on five-for-23
shooting from the floor and four-for-16 from three.
Boursiquot had the best game of any Husky, finishing with an
efficient double and strong defensive play given the height and length deficits
he faced. Myles Franklin also had a solid game, finishing with six points, six
rebounds, and five assists.
Northeastern’s 55 points marked their lowest total of the
season, though unsurprising given that Eastern Michigan entered the contest
holding opponents to 57.3 points per game. The Eagles’ size, length, and inside
aggressiveness yielded a 30–12 advantage in points in the paint and an 11
percent advantage in field goal percentage.
A win in Thursday evening’s game against Detroit Mercy would
finalize the Huskies’ non-conference record at .500. WRBB will not broadcast
the game, but will publish a recap online.
As Northeastern took the court against Weber State Wednesday
morning, they were fresh off a close
defeat at Drake’s hands, a defeat caused in part by 19 Northeastern
turnovers and the resulting disparity in shot attempts.
For the second day in a row, Northeastern give the ball away
19 times. But this time, they did everything else right, and walked away with a
79–69 win over the Wildcats in their third and final game in the Gulf Coast
Showcase in Estero, Florida.
Northeastern hit first, and they hit hard. Tyson Walker opened the game with a three-pointer.
When Weber State’s Cody John responded with a three, Jordan
Roland hit right back with a triple of his own. On the Huskies’ next
possession, Bolden Brace snatched an offensive rebound from the jaws of three
Wildcats. The contested fadeaway three they earned from the rebound doesn’t
seem like a bargain on its face. But when it’s Jordan Roland taking the shot,
this sort of thing can happen.
A moment later, when Shaquille Walters threaded a bounce
pass to Walker for a transition layup, Weber State was forced to call for time.
Three minutes in, Northeastern had opened an 11–3 lead.
When the teams resumed play, Northeastern decided the right
corner was looking pretty good. Brace set up shop there, Roland dished him the
rock, and Brace nailed a three, passing Chaisson Allen for sole possession of
sixth place on Northeastern’s career three-point list.
Seconds later, Roland stole the ball, pushed the pace, and
found Walters behind the line in the same spot. Good.
Next possession, same shooter, same spot. Good.
After two made free throws by Greg Eboigbodin, Brace tried a
pump-fake, sidestep three from the same spot. Same result.
After two games of tough shots, the Husky offense had
finally clicked. The ball moved without friction, passes were crisp, players
moved without the ball. Passers screened for the players they dished to and any
player who caught the ball immediately did something with it, preventing Weber
State from rotating to shooters in time. The open looks helped NU shoot 57
percent from three — including 10-for-14 in the first half — a marked
improvement from the 31 percent they shot in last two games.
Northeastern swarmed Weber State’s passing lanes, choking
their offense, forcing live ball turnovers, and generating easy transition
looks. That, plus the infrequent whistles in the first ten minutes, aided the
Huskies’ momentum and helped them jump out to a 20-point first half lead.
Then Northeastern turned the ball over five times in two
minutes, Weber State trimmed the lead to 13, and it appears as though yesterday’s
habits were returning to bite the Huskies.
But Eboigbodin and Roland had other plans. Their superb play
to close the half handed the Huskies an 18-point lead entering the locker room.
In the last three games, Eboigbodin has played more minutes
— and scored more points — than in any of the games before. Wednesday’s game
saw his best effort yet, as he logged 13 points (5–6 FG, 3–3 FT) pulled down
seven rebounds, and dished out three assists without turning the ball over once.
He showed off his agile post moves with a couple of jump hooks, finished a
nifty lob from Walker, and even drove to the basket for an and-one layup.
But his best play came a minute into
the second half. He had the ball on the wing when Brace took a free-throw line
screen and curled along the right side of the lane toward the basket. The screen
didn’t get Brace much separation and he wasn’t expecting a pass. But Eboigbodin
threw a bounce pass so perfect that Brace, who wasn’t looking, corralled it and
laid it in without a hitch.
Roland, who scored a combined 22 points
in his last two games, came alive Wednesday with a 24-point showing. Eleven of
those points came in the last four minutes of the first half, courtesy of two
three-point fouls — he made five of six free throws — and two three-point
Brace turned in his first quality
performance since his 20-point, 12-rebound showing against UMass on November
12. He picked up just two fouls — which allowed him to play 36 minutes — and
notched 18 points (7–10 FG, 4–6 3FG) and seven boards. It was just his second
double-digit scoring effort in eight games this year, and it showed how much
more efficient, well-spaced, and free-flowing the offense can be when teams
need to worry about him and throw as many bodies at Roland.
Though the stat sheet would claim Tyson Walker’s eight
points and five assists were somewhat negated by his four fouls and four turnovers,
his passing was eye-popping. He threw crisp, accurate, cross-court passes to
open shooters, demonstrating chemistry and positional awareness that would be
excellent for anyone, let alone a freshman point guard in his eighth game with
Shaq Walters, starting his sixth game this season, turned in
eight points and eight rebounds. He nailed a couple of first-half threes,
indicative of his expanded skill set and role in the offense.
After three games in three days, the Huskies (4–4) can rest for six days before their Wednesday tilt against Maine at Matthews Arena. Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call the game for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.
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
His teammates were frustrated. A couple of them had yelled
at Strong as he charged down the lane. Bolden Brace gestured animatedly to no
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
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
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
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.