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.