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.