Quirin’s the Main Guy as Huskies WALK ovER Pride

By Jordan Baron and Milton Posner

BOSTON — It’s not the greatest idea to wake a sleeping dragon. 

But during the second half Saturday afternoon, the Hofstra Pride did just that. Northeastern’s Tyson Walker had been a consistent if unremarkable presence all game, dropping eight points in a first half where the Huskies dominated on both sides of the court. But after the Pride rattled off 17 unanswered points coming out of the locker room, Walker decided he’d had enough.

Along with Jahmyl Telfort and Shaq Walters, Walker keyed a second-half onslaught that launched the Northeastern to a 67–56 win over Hofstra.

The Huskies, who lost five of six non-conference games on a heavy diet of high-major programs, now sit at 5–5. They just swept a team they lost to three times last year. Their 4–0 start to conference play is their best since 2016–17. And they have established themselves as frontrunners in a conference where they were projected to finish seventh.

“The game we played against Syracuse helped us this weekend, because you’re playing against the zone, you’re working out some kinks, guys are getting a little bit of feel,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said. “We played against pressing teams, we played against really physical inside teams in West Virginia and athletic teams in Georgia, so it’s given our guys a tutorial of what it takes to win at a competitive level.”

That flexible matchup zone, a calling card of the Pride, nudged the Huskies toward a perimeter-oriented style. They hoisted 37 three-pointers, more than they had in any game since the conference championship in March. They also tried just three free-throws, their fewest since February 21, 2016. Both of those games were against Hofstra.

“That’s what they give you,” Coen observed. “Year in and year out they’re one of the best teams in the country at not fouling. So you’re not getting any free points there . . . We got some really quality twos, but you’re going to need to make some threes against them.”

In the first half, Quirin Emanga set the tone for the Huskies. Although forwards Greg Eboigbodin, Chris Doherty, and Connor Braun were all available, Coen said that none had practiced live since being injured and he didn’t want to risk their health. Doherty played a few minutes to relieve Emanga, but Emanga was expected to carry a heavy load in his first college start.

He was brilliant from the opening tip, scoring seven of Northeastern’s first 13 points on two drives and a three-pointer. He finished with 14, but his defense shone brightest. For the second straight game, he locked up Hofstra’s star big man Isaac Kante, who tried just seven shots all game. Emanga kept Kante away from favorable spots, took charges, and kept the Husky defense from scrambling.

“We’re way faster,” Walker said about Emanga’s impact. “I feel like Q just brings a lot of fight on the court, so everybody feeds off of that.”

Jason Strong was red-hot from deep to start the game, eventually finishing with 11 points. His two blocks were a key element of the Huskies’ stifling first-half defense, which held the Pride to 21 points on 33 percent shooting. The Huskies also dominated the turnover battle; after coughing up the ball 11 times in a rough first half on Thursday, Northeastern had just nine giveaways all game on Saturday.

But the first seven minutes of the second half were all Hofstra. By the time a Walker three stopped the bleeding with 12:44 remaining, the Pride had exploded for 17 straight points. Everything they wanted on offense, they got. The Huskies offense went dark, at first due to stringent Hofstra pressure and then due to missed open looks.

And then Tyson Walker happened.

His barrage of threes, including a couple of unconscionably long heat checks, stopped the Pride in their tracks. Walker would finish with 23 points; of his 17 tries from the field, 13 were threes. Seven went in.

“It wasn’t anything really different, it was just me being aware that I was more open,” Walker said. “I took a step back, I was more open, the farther I stepped back I was more open.”

“He earned the heat check,” Coen said. “All of the sudden the energy picked up on the bench. His teammates now are playing with that same confidence, they borrowed his confidence. He’s a confident kid, he’s an accomplished player, he’s our most accomplished player, and I was really really happy for him that he stepped up and led us to victory.”

Telfort and Walters, both of whom logged scoreless first halves, found their rhythms too, burying back-to-back threes late in the half to open up an insurmountable 10-point lead. Telfort made his mark under the basket as well, picking up an athletic offensive rebound off of a Strong miss and securing the putback to quell a desperate Hofstra run.

Walker put a bow on the contest with a beautiful press-breaking pass to a wide-open Walters, who slammed down the overhead dunk.

“I was really proud of our guys being able to recalibrate in the heat of the moment, find a way,” Coen said of the second half. “Felt like there was a lid on the basket for the first eight minutes, and then all of a sudden Tyson just willed us back into the game. And everybody else joined the party and settled down.

Tareq Coburn led the way for Hofstra with 15 points, joined by Jalen Ray (14), and Caleb Burgess (10). Though many of Hofstra’s top players logged solid games on the whole, none scored in overwhelming volume or with notable efficiency. Kante and Kvonn Cramer pulled down a combined 26 rebounds, but aside from the opening seven minutes of the half, they never entirely clicked on offense.

“We didn’t match their physicality and toughness in the first half,” Hofstra Acting Head Coach Mike Farrelly said. “A lot of the time you think about toughness as ‘get in a defensive stance, get a rebound,’ all that stuff. But you have to be tough with the ball against Northeastern. We weren’t good with that in the first half.”

The Huskies will get a week off before heading down to South Carolina to take on the College of Charleston in a two-game weekend set.

It’s a Shaq Attack!

By Milton Posner and Mike Puzzanghera

HEMPSTEAD, NY — When Bill Coen led his team into the locker room at halftime Thursday evening, he was less than pleased with the state of affairs.

The Huskies trailed the preseason favorite Hofstra Pride by 17. The four most prolific scorers in the game were all wearing blue, while Northeastern’s best had tallied just six. The Huskies seemingly had no answer for Isaac Kante, who looked like he’d not just eaten his own Wheaties, but everyone else’s too. And the Huskies’ perimeter-oriented ball movement wasn’t exactly smashing holes in Hofstra’s zone defense. By all accounts, the lead seemed insurmountable.

Fast forward about an hour and fifteen minutes — Shaquille Walters pump fakes from the triple-threat, fakes a drive, calmly pulls up, and strokes home his third three-pointer of the overtime period to push the Northeastern lead to five with 15.8 seconds to play.

Wait . . . what?

A persistent second-half surge from Northeastern (4–5, 3–0 CAA), as well as key contributions up and down the roster, erased a 17-point halftime deficit en route to an 81–78 overtime win over Hofstra (6–4, 2–1 CAA).

Walters poured in 20 points — nine of which came in overtime — along with seven rebounds and six assists. He knocked down seven of his 10 shots, including four of five from beyond the arc. Jason Strong scored 18 while playing most of the second half (and overtime) with four fouls; he also added six boards.

But arguably the most important contribution came from Quirin Emanga, as the 6’5”, 220-pound sophomore was tasked with guarding the 6’7”, 240-pound Kante after Strong headed to the bench with four fouls early in the second half.

Kante had made all seven field goals he’d tried to that point. He wouldn’t make another.

“He’s not afraid to give up his body, he’s not afraid to get on the floor,” Coen said of Emanga. “He puts a body on somebody to box out. He just gave us that backbone we needed to help our team to get a little bit more confident.”

In arguably the best game of his college career, Emanga finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and the sort of game-changing defense box scores can’t capture. The Huskies were +19 with Emanga on the floor.

The Huskies had many issues in the opening 20 minutes. Besides the omnipotent bruising of Kante — who said afterward that he knew he could abuse Strong underneath — Northeastern had 11 turnovers to their name and shot a horrid two-for-12 from deep. Their defense had no answers and their offense wasn’t penetrating Hofstra’s matchup zone. Hofstra’s perimeter shooting was clicking, they were hunting down rebounds, and their ball movement ran circles around the Huskies. The upshot was a 24–6 Pride run to close the half.

“We probably played our best half of the year in the first 20 minutes,” Hofstra Acting Head Coach Mike Farrelly said, “certainly followed up by our worst 20 minutes of the year.”

Tyson Walker’s passes, a bit off at the start, started hitting his teammates in stride. The shots that didn’t fall in the first half were now finding the bottom of the bucket. And, just as importantly, it was the opposite script for Kante and the Pride. Six Hofstra players recorded multiple makes from the field in the first half; in the second, just two did.

“Strange that a team could play so well, then lose their identity and come out that way in the second half,” Farrelly remarked. “Not a great effort in the second half. Didn’t love our spirit in the second half.”

After two big buckets from freshman J’Vonne Hadley, a personal 7–0 run from Strong gave Northeastern a five-point edge — their largest of the night — with just over five minutes to play in the second half.

But Northeastern couldn’t hold on, as they managed just a single Jahmyl Telfort free throw the rest of the way. Hofstra got two inside shots from Caleb Burgess (15 points, eight assists) down the stretch to even the score at 68, then turned the ball over with ten seconds to play.

“I really don’t usually take timeouts in those situations,” Coen said. “I usually have a strong trust with our point guards, but it was about five seconds [on the clock] and it didn’t look like we were getting anything.”

The first play Coen drew up didn’t work, as quick Hofstra hands knocked a Walker pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds to go. Coen’s second play didn’t work either, as the only open player was Telfort — 35 feet from the basket — who fired long.

“We were trying to get a backside flare with Tyson and a skip over the top, but it didn’t materialize,” Coen said. “I didn’t help our guys at the end of regulation, that’s for sure. Luckily, they bailed me out.”

In the overtime, a quick 7–2 run gave Northeastern a five-point cushion. But Hofstra nailed their free throws down the stretch, and cut the lead to one with a minute and a half to play.

But Walters waltzed up and calmly hit a three. 

Burgess retorted with a layup. Then Walters did the exact same thing again. The sharpshooting struck Farrelly as abnormal, especially given Walters’ 32 percent clip from deep on the year, and his 29 percent mark last season.

“He’s a very good player. He’s not a great shooter,” Farrelly said. “He’s a really good playmaker, drives against the zone, drives and kicks, excellent passer at that size. But certainly him going four-for-five from three is an anomaly.”

After two free throws, Hofstra still had a final chance to tie with two seconds to play. But a contested desperation heave from Jalen Ray came up short. Ray, Hofstra’s leading scorer on the year, shot just five-for-19 from the field for 15 points. Fellow senior Tareq Coburn fared better, posting 13 points on more efficient shooting.

As a rematch of the last two CAA title games, the game’s importance, even this early in the season, was noted. And the fierceness of the competition was not lost on the players.

“A little trash talking here and there, a lot of chippiness,” Kante said. “This is a rivalry; let’s call it what it is. They took something from us two years ago, we took something from them last year.”

After a difficult non-conference slate chock full of high-major opponents, Northeastern is up to 3–0 in the CAA for the second straight season, and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Huskies and Pride will rematch Saturday in Boston. Milton Posner and Mike Puzzanghera will call that game, with coverage beginning at 11:50 AM Eastern.

2020–21 CAA Preview: Hofstra Pride

Last Season: 26–8 (14–4, first place CAA); CAA Conference Champions

Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (eighth season)

Note: Mihalich has been on medical leave since August and it is unknown when he will return. Associate Head Coach Mike Farrelly, in his eighth season with the Pride, is serving as interim head coach.

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: First

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

  • G Desure Buie — 18/4/6 (45/42/85)
  • G Eli Pemberton — 18/6/2 (45/38/85)
  • G Jermaine Miranda — played 45 mins
  • F Hal Hughes — played 60 mins
  • G Connor Klementowicz — played 19 mins

Additions

  • G Shawndarus Cowart (13/7/7 at Pensacola State College)
  • G/F David Green (18/9 at Ocoee High School)
  • G Zion Bethea (18/8/4 at Immaculate Conception)
  • G Vukasin Masic (21/6/6 at Hoosac High School)
  • G Cole Eiber (18 ppg at Western New England University)

By Justin Diament

The Pride ended the 2019–20 season on top, earning the number one seed in the CAA tournament and defeating Drexel, Delaware, and Northeastern to earn their first-ever CAA title. After the Pride avenged a CAA tournament finals loss to the Huskies the season prior and earned their first March Madness bid since 2001, the pandemic cut their dreams short.

This year the Pride will be without two players who keyed that championship season: senior guards Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton. Buie, who was honored as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after contributing a team-high 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the title game, led the Pride in points and assists during the regular season. Pemberton, who joined Buie on the all-tournament team after contributing 19 points and seven rebounds of his own in the championship game, was second on the team in scoring, playmaking, and rebounding.

Fortunately for the Pride, there is a lot to like about their returners. Jalen Ray, who joined Buie and Pemberton on the all-tournament team last year and was a preseason All-CAA honorable mention, notched 12 points per game last year while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc and adding over a steal per game. Coburn, a preseason All-CAA honorable mention alongside Ray, likewise averaged double figures and nearly 40% from downtown last season. If Hofstra wants to live up to its number-one preseason rank, Ray and Coburn must justify the hype.

However, the biggest returning star for the Pride is senior forward and preseason first teamer Isaac Kante. The 6’7” Kante, the lone big man in last year’s four-guard starting lineup, led the team in rebounding with eight boards per contest. He added 11 points a night as well on a CAA-best 66 percent shooting clip. Kante is expected to take over as the focal point for the Pride in Buie and Pemberton’s stead.

Among Hofstra’s additions, one player to watch is junior guard Shawndarius Cowart, who was named to the All-Panhandle Conference First Team at Pensacola State last year after contributing a well-rounded 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals per game. The Pride could use his defensive prowess and playmaking to offset their departures. 

Bottom Line: With defending CAA champion Hostra receiving preseason number one rank despite the departure of their two top scorers, in the words of Joe Mihalich, ‘it’s time to prove ‘em right.’ Senior backcourt mates Coburn and Ray provide an experienced duo that can fill the gap left by Buie and Pemberton, while Kante provides a strong scoring and rebounding presence in the middle. If this trio takes a step forward and newcomers like Cowart provide a boost, there’s no shortage of reasons to believe that the Pride can repeat as CAA champs.

Northeastern Men’s Basketball Places Seventh in Preseason Poll

By Milton Posner

Almost eight months to the day after Northeastern and Hofstra battled it out in the CAA Championship game, the conference released the results of its preseason poll.

For the second straight year, the Pride took the top spot. The Huskies, who underperformed their third-place projection last year before hitting their stride in the conference tournament, placed seventh. The point totals are shown below, with first-place votes in parentheses.

Hofstra will look to defend its regular season and CAA Tournament crowns in a league where several perennial contenders have lost multiple all-conference caliber players. The Pride lost First Teamer Desure Buie and Second Teamer Eli Pemberton to graduation, and will rely on seniors Isaac Kante, Jalen Ray, and Tareq Coburn to key their run.

Northeastern finished sixth last year, due largely to a stretch of one- and two-point losses in January. The Huskies are looking to Tyson Walker and Shaquille Walters to overcome the graduation of CAA leading scorer Jordan Roland and versatile glue guy Bolden Brace.

James Madison senior guard Matt Lewis was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Northeastern’s Tyson Walker joined defending Rookie of the Year Hunter McIntosh as sophomore Second Team selections.

A few other observations:

  • Four teams — Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel, and Towson — got at least four first-place votes. Even in a league noted for parity, this is striking.
  • Two transfers made preseason teams: Payton Willis (comes to Charleston from Minnesota) and Zane Martin, who returns to Towson after transferring from there two years ago.
  • Of the 16 players who earned preseason honors, 13 are pure guards. The CAA’s elite is usually guard-heavy, but the loss of elite big men Nathan Knight and Andy Van Vliet exacerbates that imbalance even more.
  • After a seventh-place finish in last year’s poll, William & Mary rode Knight and Van Vliet to a second-place finish. With those two gone, the Tribe dropped to last place in this year’s poll, and it wasn’t particularly close. Head Coach Dane Fischer has some questions to answer.
  • By far the largest point gap in the poll is that between seventh-place Northeastern and eighth-place UNCW, indicating a sentiment that there is a clear bottom tier. The teams in that tier — UNCW, James Madison, and William & Mary — have been ravaged by graduations, transfers, or both. James Madison and UNCW both have freshman coaches, while W&M Dane Fischer is entering his second season after winning Coach of the Year last year.

And finally . . .

Northeastern will kick off its season at the Paradise Jam Tournament in Washington, DC, on Thursday, November 26 at 2 PM Eastern. Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair will have the call for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 15 minutes before tip-off.

Northeastern Loses CAA Championship

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — Before the swarming zone defense, before the frantic scrambles for offensive rebounds, before the drives and the kickouts and the one-on-one brilliance, Tuesday night’s game was about vengeance.

The Northeastern Huskies knew it better than anybody. Two years ago, after locking up a share of the CAA regular-season title, battling their way to the conference championship, and building a 17-point lead in the second half, the Huskies slowly collapsed as the Charleston Cougars clawed their way to an overtime victory.

The Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies went home.

That loss stayed with the Huskies. It fueled them. As they embarked on their 2018–19 season, they focused on a singular goal: returning to the championship game and seizing the moment that had slipped through their fingers. After exacting revenge on Charleston in the semifinal, the Huskies did just that, knocking off the Hofstra Pride, 82–74, to win the March Madness berth they’d dreamed of for a year. It was vengeance, and it felt fantastic.

The Huskies went to the NCAA Tournament. The Pride went home.

But on Tuesday night, in a rematch with the Pride, the Huskies found out what the other end of vengeance feels like. In a remarkably close, ludicrously energetic championship game, the Huskies fell to the Pride, 70–61.

The Pride are going to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are going home.

“It’s tough,” a visibly choked-up Max Boursiquot said after the game. “It’s called March Madness for a reason.”

“That feeling of losing and then coming back the next year and having another opportunity is a special feeling,” Bolden Brace added. “You don’t get that unless you lose . . . They played with an edge and played with that desire to win and I think they deserve it.”

Though Hofstra was coming off blowout wins over Drexel and Delaware, it was Northeastern that struck first, running up an early lead thanks to aggressive drives. Sometimes those drives yielded layups, other times they yielded open threes off the catch for Husky guards who filled to the corner when Hofstra shifted to protect the paint. With his team trailing 10–3, Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich called for time.

While the scoring came more evenly after that, the Huskies continued to earn quality looks. Hofstra famously plays a matchup zone, a combination of zone and man-to-man principles that allows for pressuring ballhandlers on the perimeter without the draining effort of man defense. The Huskies, who struggled against zone defenses in their other CAA Tournament games against Towson and Elon, countered by repeatedly entering the ball to small-ball center Max Boursiquot near the foul line, warping the zone and freeing up cutting and kickout opportunities. The Huskies’ threes were finally falling, they hustled to every rebound and loose ball, and held the Pride at bay.

But the squad with the best regular-season record couldn’t be subdued indefinitely, and when Husky point guard Tyson Walker aggravated a left shoulder injury and went to the bench, the Pride seized the momentum and sent their fans into a frenzy. Walker returned but struggled, finishing with just four points.

“When he started the second half he just didn’t look right to me, just didn’t look his normal competitive self,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen noted. “I gotta give him a world of credit just for going out there and trying. His competitiveness, his grit and determination, and his toughness are really admirable . . . that was a physical game and he put himself out there and put himself on the line for the team and the program.”

After a few minutes of hanging around and trading buckets, Hofstra finally drew even. Three Jalen Ray free throws were bookended by two eerily similar sequences in which a Hofstra guard drove into the paint and had a layup blocked, only for his teammates to secure the rebound and nail a three as the shot clock ran down. The upshot of these three mediocre possessions: nine points.

Guilien Smith, not to be outdone, let the Pride have the lead for all of 18 seconds.

By this point the energy in the building was palpable. Each team sensed the audible footsteps of the other and the gradual ticking of the clock, and boosted their energy accordingly. It didn’t matter that their workload — three playoff games in three days — was unprecedented in their schedules this season; they played like their jerseys had been set ablaze.

“The way we summoned that energy was just playing together and using each other and feeding off each other’s energy,” Brace said. “When somebody was down, I think there was always someone there to pick them up, and I think that just goes to show you how good of a team we were this year.”

A turnaround jumper from Shaq Walters afforded the Huskies a two-point halftime edge, far narrower than their double-digit halftime margins in their last two games. But that was the only real constant for much of the game: neither team could free itself from the other. For a 23-minute stretch spanning both halves, neither team built a lead greater than five points.

There was plenty for the Huskies to be happy about at the break. Boursiquot, Walters, and Brace all had at least five points and three rebounds, and all of them were shooting efficiently. On the opposite side of the box score, Eli Pemberton decidedly wasn’t; he’d missed eight of his 11 shots amid excellent pressure from Walters and Smith.

But there were also deficiencies that allowed the Pride to close the gap. Roland, the conference’s leading scorer, had shot the ball just three times. Hofstra pulled down six more offensive rebounds than Northeastern and netted 10 second-chance points to the Huskies’ none. Isaac Kante, the lone man in the middle on a team built around guards, snatched 10 rebounds.

The second half began with promise, as Brace knocked down a catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Brace often played with hesitation this season, opting for ball fakes, halfhearted drives, and slow-moving handoffs instead of relying on his elite perimeter shooting. That version of him completely vanished in the CAA Tournament, as he performed with the conviction, determination, and leadership of a senior who didn’t want to play his last college game.

Desure Buie didn’t want to play his last game either. While his scoring buoyed the Pride all night, it was his passing that turned heads, excited fans, and catalyzed the Hofstra run. He began with a quick first step around Walker, which forced Walters to help off Pemberton. Without looking, Buie wrapped a magnificent bounce pass around his head to a now-wide open Pemberton in the corner, who finished off the play to retake the lead.

Just seconds later, Buie snuck up behind Boursiquot and jabbed the ball loose. On the ensuing two-on-one, Walters planned his chase-down block, timing his approach and jump to meet Buie at the rim. But with the level of grace and smarts Buie has shown this year, he wasn’t about to be on anyone’s highlight reel. Instead he added to his own and forced Coen to call timeout.

The Pride looked poised to pull away and the Huskies needed an energy boost. And did Max Boursiquot ever respond.

Boursiquot has been anything and everything the Huskies needed to turn around a season marked by an unrealistic number of close, disappointing losses. He provides shooting, passing, positional versatility, perimeter and post defense, rebounding, and, most importantly, energy. He treats every rebound and loose ball as if it’s his birthright.

Right out of the timeout, Boursiquot, under duress, threw a picture-perfect cross-court pass to Roland for a triple. When Roland missed a three the next trip down, Boursiquot bodied Kante — who outweighs him by about 30 pounds — to snatch the rebound, received a pass at the top of the arc, and beat Kante with a right-to-left crossover and first step so quick that he seemed to teleport from the perimeter to the block. Even when he stumbled and lost the ball on a drive, Boursiquot grabbed it from Kante and threw a spot-on pass to a teammate — all while sitting on the floor.

When Boursiquot’s offense forced Mihalich to call timeout, his message to Kante in the huddle was simple: we need to defend Max Boursiquot because he’s killing us.

That said, Kante had his way offensively with Boursiquot on a handful of possessions. Kante would establish deep position, earning himself either an easy layup off a feed or an offensive rebound when a perimeter shot clanged off the iron. Though Boursiquot enjoyed slightly greater success when fronting Kante to deny him the ball, the Pride forward still posted a preposterous nine points and 15 rebounds. He had as many offensive rebounds (six) as the entire Northeastern team.

But it was not Kante that governed play down the stretch. It was Buie.

Buie had an admirable campaign a year ago, but was considered the third offensive option behind Pemberton and two-time CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman. After Boursiquot and Roland each picked up their fourth foul and headed to the bench with 5:23 to play, and with Hofstra’s other top scorers — Pemberton and Jalen Ray — not shooting efficiently, Buie seized his moment.

He began with a tough, drifting, pullup long two, a difficult shot with low value. He made it anyway. As Northeastern’s offense sputtered amid suffocating on-ball pressure from the Pride, Buie stretched the lead to nine with a quick drive, a pump fake to get Guilien Smith in the air, and a strong finish through contact.

With less than two minutes left and the shot clock ticking down on a stagnant Hofstra possession, Buie sized up a top-notch defender in Guilien Smith, threw him a few crossovers, and fired up a contested three when the dribbles failed to earn him a sliver of separation.

Buie wound up on the floor. The ball wound up in the bucket.

Despite Roland’s impressive drifting three a short while later, Buie’s bucket proved the dagger. The Huskies’ second-half fouling had put the Pride in the double bonus, so the Huskies couldn’t get lucky with the Pride missing the front end of one-and-ones. They could only watch as the Pride made every one of their free throws.

The Pride had their first March Madness berth since 2001. They also had their revenge.

“It is awfully sweet,” Mihalich said after the on-court celebration, his undone blue tie still hanging from his neck. “Not just because we won. It’s something to be really proud of. We beat a bunch of champions. The championship went through them.”

“This feeling is everything,” Ray said. “This has been our mission since day one . . . this time we completed our mission.”

“We came up about 20 minutes short,” Coen said. “I thought we played a really strong first half, very competitive game overall, and these guys played their hearts out. But in the end I thought it was a little bit too much Desure Buie.”

With 19 seconds to play and the outcome no longer in doubt, both coaches opted for a platoon swap. While the Hofstra players enjoyed the applause, cheers, and adulation of a jubilant fan section, the Huskies filed off the court and into the waiting embrace of Bill Coen. The moment was especially poignant for Brace, Roland, and Smith, who ended their college careers on a brutal loss.

“I thanked those guys for their unwavering commitment to Northeastern University, to this program, all their hard work and dedication,” Coen said, his voice breaking a bit. “So much goes unseen — the long days in the weight room, long days of training, hours of practice, hours of individual time, hours of watching tape. It’s a commitment, and that group was a special group.

“Bo has played in three CAA Championship games in his four years; he’s made an incredible mark on this program. Jordan has made an incredible mark on this program. And I think if you asked every player on our team, maybe the favorite teammate in the locker room is Guilien Smith. In a short time he’s made an incredible impact in terms of relationships, and ultimately that’s what this whole experience is all about.

“You’d love to win championships each and every year, but . . . what lasts is the mutual respect that you earn by giving your best. And when you do that, whether you win or lose, nobody can take that from you for the rest of your life. These guys will share a bond because they know they gave it up for each other, and that’s the real championship in my mind.”

CAA Tournament Day Two

Reminder: Northeastern plays Elon in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament today at 8:30 PM EDT. Michael Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will call the game, with coverage beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — An atypical day for the CAA is, well, typical.

Sunday’s schedule saw four quarterfinal games, all of them bemusing to one degree or another.

Hofstra 61, Drexel 43

This contest was decided, more than anything else, by starkly contrasting star performances.

On one end, Hofstra senior guard Eli Pemberton rebounded from a decent but unremarkable first half to eviscerate the Dragons in the second. He began the half with a three-pointer, a driving layup, and a putback after snatching an offensive rebound in traffic. A three-point halftime lead had swelled to ten, Drexel called timeout to regroup, and Pemberton let out a primal scream as his teammates surrounded him.

Pemberton maintained the energy even as Hofstra built an insurmountable lead, diving for a loose rebound with seven minutes left and his team up 20. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Pride.

Pemberton’s exact opposite was fellow All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter of Drexel, who had his worst college game at the worst possible time. Hofstra’s matchup zone defense made things difficult for the Drexel guards, who were left to pass aimlessly on the perimeter and toss up an array of tightly contested layups that trickled off the rim. Wynter took just eight shots, failed to score, and turned the ball over five times. Zach Walton (17 points and 10 rebounds) and James Butler (14 points and 14 rebounds) were left to shoulder almost all of the burden for a sputtering Drexel offense.

Drexel will be back. Barring transfers, they will return their three top scorers next year. But it is Hofstra that moves on to the next round.

Delaware 79, Charleston 67

It’s a testament to how insane the CAA has been this year that these teams were the fourth and fifth seeds in a ten-team tournament. You’d be forgiven for thinking each was a top-three team. In Grant Riller and Nate Darling, each team had one of the league’s most dynamic, talented scorers. Each boasted a strong, versatile, athletic frontcourt that makes life difficult for their opponents on both sides of the ball.

But ultimately it was Delaware — a team flush with high-powered transfers and homegrown juniors maturing at the perfect time — that looked the elite team.

The Blue Hens built a slim first-half lead largely thanks to two strong points. The first was Darling, who rained down consistent fire on the Cougars from all over the floor, including a couple of difficult one-on-one shots the Cougars couldn’t do much about. The other was a strong defensive game plan similar to the one Northeastern used against Charleston last month: keep Grant Riller out of the paint.

This is a tall order, but the Blue Hens largely succeeded in the first half. Riller tried a number of tough shots around the basket and grew frustrated when his attempts to draw fouls didn’t succeed. After the game, Darling pinned the defensive success on the decision to have Justyn Mutts guard Sam Miller, allowing Delaware’s guards to switch on screens without worrying about the sweet-shooting Miller pick and popping to the three-point line. Riller got hot in the second half, but by then the Blue Hens were in the driver’s seat. Delaware scored 47 second-half points to advance to the next round, where they will face No. 1 Hofstra.

It also marked the last college game for one of the best players the CAA has ever seen. Riller overcame a season-ending injury during his freshman year to make three All-CAA First Teams and score 2,474 points, trailing only David Robinson and Charles Jenkins on the conference’s all-time list.

Elon 68, William & Mary 63

At first it seemed improbable, then mildly unlikely, then reasonable, then likely, then certain.

This year, William & Mary had their best regular season in seven decades. They were stacked and versatile, best exemplified by senior forward Nathan Knight, who was crowned CAA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year two days earlier. By any measure, Knight is one of the best players the conference has ever seen.

And now he’s done.

The Phoenix sledgehammered the Tribe from the opening tip. By the time Tribe head coach Dane Fischer called for time with three-and-a-half minutes gone, Marcus Sheffield II had led Elon to a 13–2 lead.

Though Sheffield would soon drop off and wind up with a merely solid if inefficient stat line, Elon forwards Hunter Woods and Federico Poser picked up the slack. Poser posted his second straight good game, nailing a number of short shots. Woods dropped 20 points and 15 rebounds, playing the entire game and expending so much effort that his sweat-laden jersey was distinguishable in color from his teammates’. He nailed five of seven tries from beyond the arc.

The Tribe eventually fought their way back, buoyed by thousands of fans who traveled the relatively short distance from Williamsburg to Washington D.C. Those fans, easily the loudest of any crowd in the tournament thus far, boosted the Tribe during their steady second-half run.

The energy in the last 10 minutes was on an entirely different level, peaking when Van Vliet’s titanic rejection of a layup led to a momentum-building three by Quinn Blair down the other end. Blair, soon joined by the William & Mary bench, motioned repeatedly to the crowd to get loud, which they happily did.

When Bryce Barnes’ three-pointer cut the lead to two, the crowd was so loud that it drowned out the Elon marching band.

But Elon’s starters took turns hitting shots at opportune moments, and the Tribe would never quite catch them. A No. 7 team that few gave much of a chance is now in the semifinals, where they will play No. 6 Northeastern.

Northeastern 72, Towson 62

For detailed coverage of this game, click here.

Northeastern’s Convoluted Playoff Scenarios

By Milton Posner

Claustrophobics beware.

With one week remaining in the CAA’s men’s basketball regular season, just four games separate third and eight place, and just two games separate third and sixth.

The Northeastern Huskies sit in sixth place with an 8–8 record. There are four games on Thursday, four on Saturday, and one on Sunday (moved to accommodate the CBS Sports Network). Nine games to determine playoff seeding. All 10 teams make the CAA Tournament, but only the bottom four seeds play in the first round on Saturday, March 7. The top six teams receive a first-round bye. Because of the league’s higher-than-usual parity — and because the top six teams will play, at most, three games in three days instead of four games in four days — securing the bye is critical.

TeamCAA RecordGames Back
Hofstra Pride13–3
William & Mary Tribe12–51.5
Delaware Blue Hens10–63
Towson Tigers10–63
Charleston Cougars9–74
Northeastern Huskies8–85
Elon Phoenix7–106.5
Drexel Dragons6–107
UNCW Seahawks4–129
James Madison Dukes2–1411

The top and bottom of the standings have more or less hardened. James Madison can move from tenth to ninth if they win both of their games and UNCW loses both of theirs, but James Madison’s recent play and the quality of their opponents this week makes that highly unlikely. Same goes for UNCW, which will remain in ninth barring two UNCW wins and two Drexel losses.

At the top of the standings, Hofstra has clinched a share of the regular season title and can claim sole possession with a split or sweep this week, highly likely given that they play last-place James Madison. William & Mary owns the tiebreaker over Delaware, and therefore cannot fall lower than second.

But the other six teams are in flux. Dissecting every possible outcome and ripple effect would take hours, so ahead of Northeastern’s games against James Madison and Towson this week, here are the Huskies’ possible outcomes from worst to best.

If Northeastern loses both games . . .

They will drop to 8–10. An Elon win over William & Mary would bring Northeastern and Elon into a tie. Because the pair have split their season series, it would trigger the next tiebreaker, record against the top team in the CAA. Both teams have lost twice to Hofstra, so Elon’s season split against William & Mary would give them the sixth seed and a first-round bye.

This is the only way the Huskies could possibly fall out of the top six. It would require them to lose to a solid team in Towson and the CAA’s worst team in James Madison, and it would also require a middling Elon team to beat William & Mary. This outcome is possible, but highly unlikely.

If Northeastern wins one game . . .

They will finish at 9–9 and guarantee a first-round bye regardless of which game they win. If Charleston loses both its games — unlikely but not impossible given their current four-game losing streak — the Huskies will vault over them for fifth place due to their season sweep of the Cougars. If Charleston win one or both of their games, the Huskies will finish sixth.

If Northeastern wins both games . . .

They will finish at 10–8 and guarantee a first-round bye. They finish fifth unless Charleston wins both of its games. If Towson loses to Hofstra on Thursday, Northeastern and Towson will finish with the same record, and Northeastern holds the season series tiebreaker.

Thus, a 2–0 record this week could put Northeastern anywhere between fourth and sixth. Rising from fifth to fourth helps with optics and bragging rights but is strategically and competitively useless because the fourth and fifth seeds play each other in the quarterfinal anyway.

***

Assuming the Huskies avoid the worst-case scenario and finish in the top six, they will face either Delaware, Charleston, or Towson. If this season’s games are any indication of how a CAA Tournament matchup will go, Northeastern would prefer Charleston, who they swept, over Delaware, who swept them. Northeastern is 1–0 against Towson, who they play on Sunday.

Two wins this week would also provide a massive momentum boost for the Huskies, who haven’t strung three wins together since the beginning of conference play.

The Huskies’ game against James Madison begins at 8 PM EST; WRBB’s live coverage from Matthews Arena begins about 15 minutes before tip-off.

Second-Half Woes Sink Men’s Basketball Again

By Matt Neiser

HEMPSTEAD, NY — The Northeastern men’s basketball team came into Saturday afternoon’s game against Hofstra on a three-game losing streak, desperate for a win as William & Mary, Charleston, and Hofstra have begun to separate themselves at the top of the CAA.

Looking for revenge after Eli Pemberton’s last-second game-winner in their last matchup, the Huskies came rocketing out of the gate and built a sizable first-half lead. But Northeastern’s demons followed them to Hempstead, as they succumbed to yet another second-half comeback and lost 75–71.

The Huskies’ (11–13, 5–7 CAA) defense stifled the Pride (18–7, 9–3, CAA) early on, keying an 8–0 run to start the game and forcing a timeout from Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich just two minutes in. Shaquille Walters started the game matched up with Pemberton, who dropped a team-high 24 points in the reverse fixture at Matthews earlier this season. Walters defended his assignment exceptionally, using his size and length to bother the 6’5” Pemberton, who is used to rising up over defenders for shots. Clearly affected by Walters, Pemberton missed his first five shots and seven of his first eight.

Likewise, freshman Tyson Walker’s defense on Desure Buie — Hofstra’s leading scorer this season — was a huge part of the Huskies’ early success. Buie clanked six shots to begin his afternoon and struggled throughout the game to create separation from Walker.

While Walters and Walker kept things in check defensively, Jordan Roland kept it rolling on the offensive end. The redshirt senior poured in 19 efficient first-half points, going seven-for-12 from the field while knocking down a trio of triples. Fellow senior Bolden Brace knocked down six free throws en route to eight points of his own in the first 20 minutes. 

Despite the great individual efforts in the first half, a Buie buzzer-beating jumper cut Northeastern’s lead to 10 heading into the break. With Hofstra’s league-best offense looking to break free and the Huskies’ penchant for letting teams back into games, the second half was bound to entertain.

And entertain it did. Well, if you’re a Pride fan at least.

With Max Boursiquot committing three fouls in the first half, Husky head coach Bill Coen went to Jason Strong to start the second half. Equal to the task, the redshirt sophomore compiled a quick six points over the first 3:14 of the frame — the only Husky to score in that span. 

“Jason’s got some ability . . . he played with some energy today. We needed it,” Coen said. “I thought he made some really nice plays for us.”

His last basket of the stretch put the Huskies up 46–32, and they looked to be in the driver’s seat.

From then on, those pesky demons reared their ugly heads once again. From the 18:24 mark to 10:23, Northeastern was whistled for 10 fouls to Hofstra’s one. When the dust settled, Roland and Boursiquot each had four fouls, while Walker and Strong sat at three apiece. The free throws awarded from those fouls helped the Pride rip off a 21–6 run over the next seven minutes after Strong’s bucket, capped off by a Jaylen Ray three-pointer to give Hofstra their first lead of the game at 53–52 with just over nine minutes to play.

Roland briefly regained the lead for the Huskies with a jumper of his own, but Buie responded with a pair of swagger-filled triples and a couple of free throws to push the Hofstra lead back to seven points. Try as they might, Northeastern just couldn’t find the juice to claw their way back. 

Strong drilled a clutch three-pointer with 33 seconds left to cut the deficit to three.

After Ray went one-for-two at the charity stripe, Roland missed a trey on the other end. Guilien Smith came up with an offensive rebound off the miss, and the ball found its way back to Roland. The Huskies’ star proceeded to hit one of the most ridiculous shots you’ll ever see — an off-balance, left-handed, Hail Mary of a prayer. Because it’s Jordan Roland, it of course swished right through.

Now in a one-point game, the Huskies tried their best to play the foul game. But six straight made free throws from Buie and Ray held the Huskies at bay, as Northeastern fell to the Pride for their fourth straight loss and fifth in six games.

“I don’t know if I have a message [to the team]. You’ve gotta play winning basketball. Somebody’s gotta make a winning play,” Coen lamented. “A defensive stop, a rebound, a shot . . . obviously we’re not finding a way to win, we’re finding a way to lose.”

Roland finished with a game-high 32 points while pulling down five rebounds. Strong, with 14, was the only other Husky in double-digits. Walters chipped in nine points, nine boards, and four assists of his own, while Brace contributed eight, eight, and three. Ray and Buie ended with 22 points apiece to pace the Pride, while Pemberton added 12.

Northeastern will look to break out of their funk on Thursday, when UNCW makes its way to Matthews Arena. WRBB will provide live coverage, starting with pregame analysis at 6:45 p.m.

CAA Men’s Basketball Has Gone Completely Insane

By Milton Posner

If you took a shot every time a CAA coach, player, or commentator said the word “parity,” you’d probably wake up the next morning with a raging hangover, an empty wallet, a lower-back butterfly tattoo, and no clue how you wound up two cities over.

It’s entirely justified. The Hofstra Pride, last year’s regular season champion, finished just one game ahead of the second-place Northeastern Huskies. The last-place UNCW Seahawks finished just one game below James Madison and Towson. The year before, Charleston and Northeastern tied for first, with four teams — Elon, Drexel, Delaware, and James Madison — tied for last.

This is the definition of parity: few outliers. In any given year, a handful of the CAA’s ten teams have a legitimate chance at the conference championship and the automatic March Madness berth that comes with it.

The conclusion of Saturday’s games marked the halfway point of the conference season. Each team has played every other team once, with the distribution of home and away games as even as possible. A cursory glance shows the parity we’ve come to expect; three teams boast 6–3 records and three more boast 5–4 records.

But a deeper dive reveals something completely different. This is not just parity; this is insanity.

Whether by pure chance or the interference of a few rogue basketball gods looking for a laugh, the Colonial Athletic Association’s men’s basketball teams have spent the last month setting, then destroying, the expectations of fans and analysts. By way of a midseason roundup, I’ll try to make sense of the ongoing tornado, beginning with . . .

Game-Winners

Let’s define “game-winner” as a field goal made within the last 10 seconds that gives a team a lead they don’t relinquish. The six game-winners in CAA play have produced two storylines.

The first, and the less interesting of the two, is how often Hofstra is involved. Four of their nine games have been decided by game-winners, with the Pride winning twice and losing twice.

The second, more interesting storyline is the convergence of Northeastern and Delaware.

The Huskies began conference play with wins over Towson, James Madison, and Elon by a combined margin of 41 points. Delaware stalled, losing four of their first six CAA contests in a surprising turnaround for a team that won the most non-conference games of any CAA squad. But game-winners would quickly swing each team’s fortunes.

For Northeastern, last-second shots proved fatal. The first one, a forced layup from William & Mary star Nathan Knight on January 4, handed the Huskies their first conference loss.

Five days later, Hofstra star Eli Pemberton decided that one Husky loss on a last-second lefty layup wasn’t enough, and did it to them again. This time a national television audience got to see it.

The following week, Delaware, by this point trending toward the conference cellar, found themselves in a dogfight with bottom-tier Elon. Ryan Allen drove, drew three defenders, and found infrequent three-point shooter Jacob Cushing atop the arc for the decider.

One game later, Kevin Anderson launched himself to the top of SportsCenter’s nightly top 10 when he fielded an inbounds pass, swerved around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and drove the length of the court for the layup that gave his team a win. Tyus Edney was probably smiling somewhere.

So when the two teams met on Saturday, and when Delaware steadily closed the lead in the second half, you’d be forgiven for assuming a dramatic ending was in store. Would Delaware’s third consecutive game-winner hand Northeastern their third last-second loss in as many weeks? Would Northeastern flip the script on the Blue Hens (and the rest of the CAA) with their own season-defining moment?

Neither. Delaware finally tied the game at 67 with 3:55 remaining. Of the 16 points scored between then and the final buzzer, 10 came from the free-throw line. The last field goal splashed through with 1:53 still left on the clock. When Tyson Walker tried to drive for a game-tying basket with five seconds left, he stumbled and coughed up the ball. The final score — 76–74 in Delaware’s favor — was the product of a sluggish march toward an uncertain conclusion. A game ripe for fireworks fizzled instead.

It’s unreasonable to expect juicy, coherent, fulfilling storylines after just nine conference games. But these squads had polar opposite game-winner storylines. The way the first 35 minutes of Saturday’s game played out inspired hope that a dramatic finish was in order. When such a finish failed to materialize, it was easy to wonder whether the storyline was over. Or, just maybe, the narrative letdown was in itself a story.

But those who require a different sort of absurdity are in luck because . . .

The CAA’s Blowouts Make No Sense

A blowout is defined here as a game decided by a margin of 20 or more points. There were five blowouts in the first half of CAA play.

As with the game-winners, there are two we will ignore because they are of incidental concern. This is primarily because both games — a 27-point Hofstra win on January 4 and a 22-point Drexel win on January 16 — came against the Elon Phoenix, who sit in ninth place and haven’t finished a season higher than seventh place in three years. Especially given that they graduated most of their key players last year, it is understandable that stronger teams can run up the score on them. It is the other three blowouts that make no sense.

On January 2, William & Mary stormed into Hofstra’s house and knocked off the reigning regular-season champions 88–61. Eight Tribe players scored at least six points, and their five starters nailed 25 of their 31 shots. The Tribe held the guard-heavy Pride to a meager four-for-25 from beyond the arc.

The smashing of Hofstra looked to be the crowning jewel in what became a six-game winning streak. But this is the CAA, where all observations are eventually proven wrong.

On January 18, the undefeated Tribe were flattened by the Drexel Dragons 84–57. Zach Walton, Camren Wynter, and James Butler combined for 60 efficient points. Drexel shot the ball well inside and out and limited Tribe center Andy Van Vliet on both ends. It was Drexel’s third straight win, pushing them to 5–2 in conference play and putting everyone on notice.

And . . . yeah you see where this is going. Five days later Northeastern steamrolled Drexel off the floor 85–52, the largest margin of victory in CAA play this year. Even more remarkable was that Northeastern built a 32-point lead by halftime, responding to Drexel’s first bucket with 18 unanswered points and flooring the gas pedal for the rest of the half. Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace turned in stellar performances on both sides of the ball, and seven other Huskies scored at least five points.

Then Northeastern turned around and lost their next game.

In a league with remarkable parity, you wouldn’t expect consistent, overwhelming dominance from one or two teams. But what do you make of swings this large? What do you make of it when the literally cartoonish stereotype of one fish eating another fish, then being eaten by a third larger fish comes to pass on the hardwood?

Even if the blowout train stops here, the abject craziness of the conference slate still begs the question . . .

Who is Actually the Title Favorite?

The meaning of life and the existence of god might be easier questions to answer than this one, so I’ll present the best case I can for each team, starting from last place and working my way up.

James Madison: The Dukes are 1–8 in non-conference play and have the worst average margin of victory (–8.3) of any CAA team. That said, they had the third-best non-conference record and are extremely young, with their top six scorers comprising three juniors, a sophomore, and two freshman who are still developing. Their precipitous plunge in the last month is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and it isn’t unreasonable to think they can rediscover their form in time for the CAA Tournament.

Elon: My mom always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

UNCW: Two weeks ago, the Seahawks’ entry would be the same as Elon’s. They had just lost to Elon by 17 — Elon’s first conference win marked UNCW’s 11th straight loss — and remained the last winless squad in the CAA.

Two days later, UNCW fired head coach C.B. McGrath, who managed just 26 wins in two-and-a-half years at the helm. The promotion of assistant coach Rob Burke to interim head coach didn’t cause much buzz around the league. Why should it? It was mid-January and the Seahawks hadn’t won since before Thanksgiving. Grad transfer Carter Skaggs and point guard of the future Kai Toews had left the program, and junior guard Jay Estimé was done for the year after knee surgery.

But Burke and the Seahawks were about to put everyone on notice. After battling Hofstra to a two-point loss, they faced off against Northeastern on January 18. Burke’s sideline demeanor was just as captivating as the action on the court. His energy was limitless; he jumped around and clapped and encouraged his players. He turned to the crowd, encouraging them to get loud. At one point he started doing jumping jacks. When Shykeim Philips nailed a shot to end the first half, Burke slammed his hand on the scorer’s table.

His energy somehow increased during his team’s second-half comeback. Sometimes he displayed a defensive stance, sometimes he got down on one knee and pounded the floor with his open hand. Trask Coliseum was electric, with fans and players alike feeding off Burke’s energy. By game’s end, he was sweating as much as any of his players.

The Seahawks are still just 2–7 in conference play, and their seven straight losses might keep them from a top seeding even if they run the table. But in three games since Burke took over — against the preseason poll’s top three teams, mind you — they’ve had a two-point loss and two two-point wins. They can’t be ignored any longer.

Northeastern: Spots two through seven on this list are all within one game of each other, so that the CAA’s tiebreakers put Northeastern seventh is hardly a matter of concern. But what’s curious about the Huskies’ 5–4 record is that their average margin of victory (7.7) easily outstrips every other CAA team.

Three of Northeastern’s five wins came by 16 or more points; when they win, they win convincingly. But all four of their losses have come by two points. It’s disingenuous to say that the Huskies are therefore eight points away from a 9–0 record, but their loss margins indicate that their win–loss record could be just as misleading.

Even if forward Tomas Murphy misses the rest of the season — something head coach Bill Coen seems increasingly concerned about — the Huskies still have enough dynamic scoring to contend for the CAA title. There isn’t a player in the CAA who can match the shot-making of an on-fire Jordan Roland, and freshman point guard Tyson Walker has shown flashes of stardom and established himself as the favorite for CAA Rookie of the Year. Throw in Max Boursiquot’s versatile defense, and the defending conference champions are in decent position to do just that.

Drexel: The Dragons arguably have the worst chances of any team outside the bottom tier, but their 27-point win against William & Mary and the emergence of Camren Wynter as a bona fide star mean that they can’t be completely written off. The continued development of James Butler and Zach Walton gives Wynter some backup, though all three need to click for the Dragons to have a shot at beating top teams.

Delaware: It’s tough to say where the Blue Hens stand now. They began the season with nine straight wins, lost seven of their next ten, and have now won three straight games by a combined four points.

That said, they’re scary. None of their top five scorers are seniors and two are transfers, so their development and chemistry progression throughout the rest of conference play could make a difference come tournament time. Nate Darling is a flamethrower, dropping 28 second-half points on Saturday against a Northeastern team that had no answer for him. Kevin Anderson is shooting threes at an elite level in addition to his usual all-around contributions, and versatile forward Justyn Mutts’ play has bolstered the Blue Hens’ attack. Don’t be shocked if things pick up for them soon, especially as Villanova transfer Dylan Painter gets more comfortable in the rotation.

Towson: After losing their first three conference games, the Tigers reeled off six straight victories, all of them by seven or more points. The emergence of sophomore guard Allen Betrand as a backcourt force alongside Brian Fobbs has upped the Tigers’ attack, and, as is typical for a Pat Skerry team, they lead the league in scoring defense, field goal defense, and rebounding margin. If their offense can take another step forward in the next month, no team will feel comfortable against them.

Charleston: The Cougars won their first five, and though they have lost three out of four, only the William & Mary loss was by more than three points. That Grant Riller’s scoring volume hasn’t increased from its non-conference level masks the fact that his three-point shooting, long his biggest offensive weakness, has jumped from 26 percent in non-conference play to 44 percent in conference play. Throw in slightly increased offensive contributions from Brevin Galloway and Sam Miller, and the Cougars are as threatening as they’ve been all season.

Hofstra: Desure Buie has established himself as arguably the conference’s best two-way guard, and his shooting efficiency is on par with Jordan Roland’s. Isaac Kante’s numbers are inflated — unsurprising for a big man on a guard-heavy team — but his inside play has helped cover up the team’s size weakness. Tareq Coburn’s 45 percent mark from downtown in conference play has bolstered the Pride’s attack.

The Pride haven’t always looked great this year, but they’re still a threat. If second-leading scorer Eli Pemberton ever finds his shooting efficiency, watch out.

William & Mary: Though the Tribe have lost two of their last three, their white-hot start laves them as the only CAA squad with seven wins. Though some teams boast solid stretch fours, there are only two genuine centers in the CAA who can protect the rim and score from anywhere at an elite level. William & Mary has both of them.

Nathan Knight is playing his usual elite basketball, Andy Van Vliet is just as scary when he gets going, and Luke Loewe went from afterthought backup to elite perimeter marksman. Throw in Thornton Scott and Bryce Barnes and you have a balanced team on both sides of the ball. When they’re clicking, it’s hard to imagine another CAA team keeping pace. So . . .

Where Does This Leave Us?

What is left to do when parity becomes absurdity? How do we predict? How do we analyze? How do we set our expectations?

I’m just going to sit back, not take anyone’s predictions too seriously, and enjoy the ride. The biggest gift of all this madness is the gift of the unknown — just about any team can realistically beat any other team, in any place, by any margin. I want to see whether Rob Burke’s energy makes UNCW into a contender despite a talent deficiency. I want to see whether anyone can stifle William & Mary’s twin towers. I want to see whether Northeastern’s performance rises and falls with Roland — and Charleston’s with Riller — or whether their supporting casts will back up the stars.

There is no king in this conference. The throne is wide open. Let the crazy continue.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Hofstra on Pemberton’s Game-Winner

By Milton Posner

Thursday night’s ending was a test of just how much déjà vu the college basketball gods can cram into one play.

Just like Saturday, Northeastern faced a top-tier CAA opponent at Matthews Arena. Once again, the Huskies overcame first-half struggles, closed the deficit with hot second-half shooting, and tied the score in the game’s waning minutes with a clutch three.

But, unbelievably, and again, their opponent’s elite senior scorer caught a pass above the arc, drove left, and hit an athletic lefty layup with tenths of a second left on the clock, leaving Northeastern to miss a halfcourt heave as the buzzer sounded.

The only difference: tonight’s victor was Hofstra, not William & Mary. The final assassin was Eli Pemberton, not Nathan Knight. But the result was the same: a two-point loss to a top-notch CAA foe in a game Northeastern arguably should have won. It was like finding out your friend has an identical twin they never mentioned.

The Huskies fell to the Pride, 74–72, losing their second straight game and dropping to 9–8 (3–2 CAA) and fourth place in the CAA. Hofstra (13–5, 4–1 CAA) is third.

After the 66–64 loss to William & Mary on Saturday, the Huskies were left wondering if a few things going right — namely Roland shooting better — would have yielded a victory. Tonight’s first-half culprit was . . . well, how much time do you have?

It began with turnovers. Northeastern surrendered the ball 11 times in the first half, seven of which were Hofstra steals. Forfeiting possession that many times will always hurt your prospects, but the harm is amplified when so many of the giveaways are live-ball turnovers. Though Hofstra didn’t eviscerate the Huskies on points off turnovers or the fastbreak, the Pride benefitted from the extra possessions, took more shots than Northeastern, and retained their momentum for most of the first half.

Northeastern also repeatedly missed uncontested layups. Besides the obvious loss of two points, each miss ended with the shooter underneath the Husky basket, allowing Hofstra to push the ball in transition and attack Northeastern’s defense before it was set.

Northeastern struggled in navigating Hofstra’s matchup zone, a defense that combines zone and man principles, prioritizes switching, and employs quick perimeter defenders. The Pride pressured Husky guards along both sidelines, and the Huskies struggled to circumvent the traps with quick passes. Even when the passes found their targets, their lack of accuracy and zip meant that Northeastern couldn’t make Hofstra pay for doubling.

“Their matchup zone is not the typical zone; it’s not like you run your zone offense and you get [shots],” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen explained. “You have to be able to move, manipulate the defense to be able to create some openings, and understand their slides and their movements. It gets you guarding yourself a little bit and you get timid.”

Coen also remarked that his team’s “ball screen coverage was very soft,” which allowed Hofstra to invade the lane and grab rebounds. The Pride also took advantage by screening to spring shooters loose on out-of-bounds plays, which netted several baskets.

Roland followed up his poor showing Saturday — seven points on woeful three-for-14 shooting — with just three points on five shots in the first half.

“I think I’m just gonna have to play better for us to be able to win games,” Roland said, one of several similar comments he made after the game. “If I played [well] for 40 minutes I feel like we win today.”

It was shocking to see Roland be so hard on himself. True, he was absent in the first half save for one made three, one of many reasons why the Huskies trailed by 16 at the break. But his second half was a fireworks display. Roland posted 25 second-half points, splashing home seven of his nine threes to key the Northeastern comeback. His final stat line — 28 points on 17 shots — was patently ridiculous, and his final three tied the game with 21 seconds left.

There’s no disputing that Roland’s play in the last six weeks has been inconsistent from game to game, and even within games. But when knocks down a few shots, when he finds his rhythm and finds his range, he has a gear most college players can’t reach with a stepladder. It almost doesn’t matter how far he is from the basket or how close the defender is to him; he will rain down three-point fire from above and make opposing guards look foolish for trying to defend him.

The other key Husky performer was Bolden Brace, whose 18-point, 10-rebound effort was easily one of his best games all year. In the first half, he became the 39th player in Northeastern history — and the second player this season — to reach the 1,000-point plateau. He was the only Husky who played well throughout the first half, repeatedly sliding into open space, making intelligent passes, and using his gravity to bend the Hofstra zone.

Tyson Walker, fresh off his second straight and fourth overall CAA Rookie of the Year win, scored 10 points but made just five of his 15 shots. He did notch a couple of gorgeous layups, though, showing impressive driving strength and body control for a six-foot, 162-pound player.

For Hofstra, it was Pemberton and Desure Buie, both senior guards, who led the way. The pair finished with similar stat lines — 20+ points, efficient shooting inside and out, and four rebounds — but Pemberton, courtesy of his game-winner, walked away the center of attention. He made the most of his time on national television, chatting with a CBS reporter as the Huskies trudged off the court. Isaac Kante also made his mark, logging 15 points, making all seven of his shots, and snagging 12 rebounds.

Buie’s efficiency has been remarkable this season, trailing only Roland in shooting efficiency among CAA guards. He has been on fire in conference play, and entered Thursday’s game fresh off a 44-point explosion against Elon. His performance was expected. Pemberton’s was much more in doubt, as his efficiency has been relatively low and his scoring inconsistent. But he showed the Huskies why preseason expectations pegged him as the best player on the conference’s best team.

“He just made a really, really athletic play to his left hand off the glass,” Coen said. “We had a little bit of a sloppy closeout, he’s a terrific athlete, and he’s been a very good player in this league for a long, long time.”

It’s hard to know where the Huskies stand after five conference games. They won their first three conference games by 16, 16, and nine points, then lost the next two on game-winners. They’ve seen stellar performances and season-lows from Roland. They’ve protected the ball brilliantly — just five turnovers against William & Mary — and tossed it around carelessly, committing 11 first-half turnovers tonight. They were outrebounded cleanly by bottom-dwelling Elon, then held their own down low against William & Mary’s twin tower lineup of Knight and Andy Van Vliet.

Sometimes they’ve looked like a first-place team.

And sometimes they’ve been overpowered.

“We got two losses in this league by a total of four points,” Coen lamented. “It’s not where we want to be, but we know we’re not that far away.

“What I do like about both these losses is the character of this team. We got down in both games, came back, and narrowly missed salvaging both games. It’s in these guys, they know it. The standard in this program has been pretty high, it’s a championship-level standard, and their efforts and expectations are the same.

“It’s all about where the teachable moments are . . . and getting to the point where these guys can learn from it and get better. I know the desire is there.”

After Thursday’s games, there are three teams ahead of Northeastern in the conference standings. They just lost to two of them in heartbreaking fashion, making next Thursday’s game against the undefeated Charleston Cougars all the more essential.

Losing will lower their overall and conference records to .500, likely move them to the middle of the standings, and cast serious doubts on the team’s ability to repeat as CAA champions. A win would prove their talent, their execution, and their resilience after a pair of tough losses.

Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.