Since their introduction to the Colonial Athletic Association in May of 2005, the Northeastern Huskies had started conference play 5–0 in only three seasons.
Make that four.
Behind quality performances from Jason Strong, Tyson Walker, Shaq Walters, and Chris Doherty, the Huskies did just that, securing their fifth straight win by knocking off the Charleston Cougars, 67–62.
The win gives Northeastern a two-game lead over second-place Charleston in the CAA standings. After the graduation of many talented seniors across the league, in a season defined by uneven, rapidly changing schedules, the Huskies have upended the predicted pecking order. They are now the team to beat.
“This team is competitive well beyond its years,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “They want to win, they want to do the right thing, they like each other and they’re playing hard for each other.”
The Huskies came steaming out of the gate Saturday afternoon, sinking four three-pointers in the first five minutes. Two of those threes came from Strong, who notched 13 first-half points and missed just one shot. But the Cougars kept pace from downtown, and both teams notched 16 points within the first seven minutes.
Both teams limited turnovers, with the Huskies coughing up the ball five times in the opening 20 minutes and Charleston doing so just twice. Neither squad fouled much either. The Huskies entered the locker room up 37–33.
But something must’ve happened to Strong during the break, as he came out from the locker room ice cold. He didn’t score the rest of the way.
“In the second half he had some clean looks that just didn’t go,” Coen said. “He didn’t have the same rhythm. But other guys stepped up and we scored in different ways. That’s the hallmark of a good team — not relying on one player or one action.”
Doherty, who played just four minutes in the first half, became a second-half mainstay by controlling the paint. He grabbed multiple offensive rebounds and was fouled again and again, shooting 12 free throws in the second half alone.
“I thought Chris Doherty was the difference-maker, especially on the offensive glass,” Coen said. “While he struggled a bit from the free-throw line, he got us into the bonus really quickly through his effort and activity on the glass.”
Walker added to his eight-point first half by tallying 12 in the second, going five-for-six from the charity stripe and one-for-three from deep.
Thanks to a transition and-one from Walters and a straight-on three from Walker, the Huskies found themselves up five with just under a minute to go. Cougars guard Brenden Tucker brought himself to the line on a brilliant drive to the hoop and sank both his foul shots to bring Charleston within one possession. Tucker was a key engine for the Cougars, and was a target for the Huskies’ defense after his 35-point performance last weekend versus Drexel.
“When a player gets going early, the basket seems really big. We just had to make him earn stuff early and I’m not sure we did a really good job of that,” Coen said. “His three-point shot is getting better. Last year he was more of a driver, but this year he’s been able to stretch the floor, which makes him a harder guard since he’s so strong going to the basket. He’s on the uptick. We just try to make him work for everything he gets.”
After a missed three-pointer from Walker, Charleston called a timeout and gave themselves an opportunity to tie the game with 14 seconds remaining. After a missed three and an offensive board, the inbound came to freshman forward Keegan Harvey, who stepped well over the sideline as he caught the pass. Two Shaq Walters free throws and another Charleston turnover later, the Huskies had the W.
Walker finished with 20 points, while Strong and Quirin Emanga tallied 13 each. Doherty added 11, seven of which came from the free-throw line. The Huskies also did a great job limiting turnovers, losing the ball only nine times.
“Only nine turnovers against a group that’s number one in the league at generating turnovers, so I thought it was really good,” Coen said. “And a few of them were a little unforced, not really ballhandling errors.”
On the Cougars’ side, Tucker led the way with 17, with Zep Jasper’s 14 close behind.
“They have some really terrific shooters, but I think our guys were conscious of it, it was a really big key to our game,” Coen said. “They’re tough because they have a pick-and-pop four, a pick-and-pop five. It’s hard to get it under control when there are numerous guys up and down their lineup who can make a three. It had to be a team effort — guys on the ball, guys helping, our closeouts had to be good.”
The Huskies will take on the Cougars tomorrow to complete the two-game road set. Jordan Baron and Milton Posner will call that game, with coverage beginning at 12:50 PM Eastern.