Ferocious Felines Fell Huskies

By Peyton Doyle and Milton Posner

TOWSON, MD — The coronation of Bill Coen as the winningest coach in Northeastern basketball history seemed almost inevitable entering Sunday.

His team was 8–1 in conference play, with their only loss coming to second-place James Madison. Their opponent, the eighth-place Towson Tigers, had only two conference wins, both against a team below them in the standings. And sophomore point guard Tyson Walker was coming off two straight 30-point games, including a career-high 36 in a win over Towson the day before.

That inevitability seemingly solidified before the game, when it became clear that Towson leading scorer Zane Martin, sitting on the bench with a walking boot on, would not join the day’s festivities. Nor would bench piece Cam Allen, usually good for 15 or 20 minutes of action.

And, as if it needed to get worse, third-leading scorer Jason Gibson drove to the rim six minutes in, took a foul from Jason Strong — replays showed that Strong stayed vertical — lost his balance midair, and crashed down hard on his back. The injury is not projected to be serious, but he did not return.

But despite these disadvantages, the Tigers’ trademark physicality and aggressiveness carried them to a 68–57 victory Sunday afternoon at SECU Arena. Coen’s coronation would have to wait.

The loss dropped Northeastern (9–7, 8–2 CAA) to second place in the conference standings, compounded by a James Madison (13–5, 8–1 CAA) win over Hofstra an hour later. With the next closest team to Northeastern sitting two games behind with two weeks to go, the Huskies and Dukes are in prime position to win the top two seeds.

“I thought we showed our youth and inexperience this afternoon,” Coen said. “I thought Towson came out with a lot of emotional energy. We did not match that to start the game; we dug ourselves a hole.”

The Huskies’ 57 points — their lowest in CAA play this year — pointed to two key issues. The first, which was apparent from the opening tip, was the large volume of missed open shots. One day after shooting a conference-play-best 56 percent, Northeastern shot a season-low 36 percent. Though they entered with a 37 percent mark from downtown (second-best in the CAA), they made just six of their 24 triples.

“Usually close to 50 percent of our shots are threes; that’s how our system is built and that’s how we recruit,” Coen said. “I am not sure you can effectively change your DNA at halftime . . . In the first half we had some very makeable catch-and-shoot threes that just didn’t go. Similar to how Towson has to rebound in order for them to be effective, we have to make shots and share the basketball in order to be effective. They did a better job playing to their identity than we did playing to ours.”

The second issue was the dialed-in Towson defense, replete with clogged driving lanes and rapid rotations. The Tigers held Walker to just four first-half points after he put up 18 in yesterday’s opening period. Northeastern’s other Saturday weapon, Greg Eboigbodin, was silenced as well, registering just four points all game and getting considerably less run time after halftime than before it.

“Chris [Doherty] wasn’t available for the game today,” Coen clarified. “With Greg they were doing some different things on the ball-screen coverage, forcing us to play through the high post and that’s not where he’s best at. We have a couple other guys who are more effective from there but that didn’t seem to work either.”

The Tigers did a terrific job adjusting from yesterday. They doubled Walker effectively off of screens while also blocking passes to his lob lover Eboigbodin. Though a second-half knee hit boosted his energy — after he was slow to get up — he finished with a relatively modest 16 points on six-of-16 shooting, including one-of-six from deep. Save for some late offensive bursts from Shaquille Walters and Jason Strong, Walker didn’t have much help.

On the defensive side, the Huskies had trouble with a couple of Boston-area natives. Reigning CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake exploited one-on-one chances and gaps in Northeastern’s pick-and-roll coverage to score a career-high 22 points. With the Tigers’ first- and third-leading scorers out, he played the entire game. Jakigh Dottin added 13 points of his own, and guided the Towson attack with sturdy, reliable ball handling.

“[Timberlake] played with a lot of emotion,” Coen said. “He’s a Boston kid and I think there is always an extra bit of emotion when he and Jakigh Dottin — who played in Cambridge — play against Northeastern. They are very familiar with a lot of our guys.”

Dottin also showed that intensity after the whistle a couple of times. On one series, Walker collided hard with a Tiger, then was incensed by a foul call. When the referee hit Walker with a technical foul, Dottin got in Walker’s face and hissed at him, prompting Coen to engage Dottin in a back-and-forth.

“[Walker] had a terrific game yesterday and one way to combat that is to get more physical with him,” Coen explained. “They did that from the start and as a player you have to be able to play through that physicality. As a team we have to play through that physicality and still execute. I thought that they did a good job initiating contact and being the aggressor, and we didn’t absorb and process that well. It took us out of rhythm on offense. We only had six assists today; that right there tells you that we had more one-on-one play than we wanted.”

The Huskies closed the Tiger lead to four midway through the second half, then promptly let the lead balloon to 18. Though they knocked down three straight triples to draw closer, they never got within striking distance again.

“There is a tendency, once you lose a basketball game, to step in and fight,” Coen noted. “They were down Zane Martin and a couple other guys. In the short term there is a huge emotional lift that goes to them.”

Northeastern’s next scheduled games are a road doubleheader against William & Mary on February 27 and 28.

2020–21 CAA Preview: Towson Tigers

Last season: 19–13 (12–6, third in CAA); lost to Northeastern in CAA quarterfinals

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (10th season)

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: Fourth

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

  • G Allen Betrand — 14/3/1 (44/39/89)
  • G Nigel Haughton —  played 27 mins
  • G Brian Fobbs — 16/5/2 (43/34/83)
  • F Dennis Tunstall — 4/6/1 (53/26/70)
  • F Nakye Sanders — 9/6/2 (49/X/69)

Additions

  • G Zane Martin
  • G Curtis Holland III
  • G Cam Allen
  • G Darrick Jones Jr.
  • F Chris Biekeu

By Josh Chaskes

After a strong third-place finish last year, the Tigers were eliminated in the CAA quarterfinals by a Northeastern team that had more talent than its record suggested. A respectable showing, but the team then lost its three top three scorers, with guard Brian Fobbs and forward Nakye Sanders graduating, as well as guard Allen Betrand transferring to Rhode Island.

This year, one name will be on everyone’s radar: Zane Martin. The redshirt senior started his college career with two seasons at Towson, averaging ranking third in the conference in scoring his second year. He transferred to New Mexico and averaged 10 points and three rebounds last season while only starting about half their games. With all the notable departures Towson has suffered, Martin’s senior leadership and ability to reacclimate to head coach Pat Skerry’s play style will be big influences on the team’s success.

Some of last year’s role players are also making convincing arguments to play larger roles this time around. Skerry confirmed CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake would “not come off the bench and that he’s been the team’s “most consistent performer in practice,” even going so far as to say he would have started last year if not for his injury. Timberlake and redshirt senior forward Juwan Gray, who put up seven points and four rebounds off the bench last year, will be expected to fill the gaps left by last year’s leaders.

Gray will be looked upon to fill the forward role abandoned by Sanders, as Towson’s only new forward is freshman Chris Biekeu. Junior guard Curtis Holland III, who transferred this year from High Point, could also factor into the team’s positional battles, having averaged 13 points per game in his sophomore year.

The presence of the Uyaelunmo brothers, Solomon and Victor, gives the Tigers a bit more depth this year, as Solomon, a 6’7” forward, was injured last year and Victor, a 7’0” center, could not play due to transfer rules. The two likely won’t revolutionize the squad, but they could give it a bit of bully ball potential down low, offering valuable minutes and rebounding.

The team will likely start slow, and the improvements expected of every player won’t be seen immediately, but their schedule is well-suited to their story this year, with most of their home games coming in the second half of the season, including four of their last six. If the new stars hit their strides at the right time, Towson could make a late push up the standings and put themselves in a good position for the playoffs.

Bottom Line: Towson has a talented team, and if everyone performs as Skerry expects and hopes, they could approach last season’s strong finish. But with so many notable departures, the returning Martin’s play early on will be a huge indicator of how they’ll end up. If their role players struggle to adapt to the steep learning curve of the starting lineup, we could see them slip right back down.

Men’s Basketball Trounces Towson to Open Conference Play

By Milton Posner

For years now, anyone who has strolled into SECU Arena to face Pat Skerry’s Towson Tigers has known exactly what they’re up against. The Tigers are tough, scrappy, and energetic on defense, and every point scored against them is a point well-earned. They lived up to that reputation in non-conference play this year, riding their CAA-best scoring defense to a winning record.

So when the Northeastern Huskies — who made their non-conference living by sinking a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers — squared off with the Tigers on Saturday afternoon, the billing was straightforward: Northeastern’s high-powered offense against Towson’s relentless defense.

The billing was wrong. Northeastern out-Towsoned Towson, stifling the Tigers’ attack all game en route to a 61–45 win. It was the Huskies’ eighth straight victory in a conference opener, their best defensive showing since crushing Holy Cross into the ground on November 19, and their best defensive showing in conference play since they topped Towson 47–44 almost four years ago.

Brian Fobbs is Towson’s only elite offensive threat, and Northeastern suffocated him the entire game. Shaq Walters and Quirin Emanga, both long-limbed guard/forwards, stayed attached to Fobbs whether he had the ball or not, and left him precious little breathing room to get comfortable. It took Fobbs completely out of any kind of offensive rhythm; he missed the first shot of the game, didn’t shoot for about 12 minutes, then was stifled by Emanga into a bad airball from close range. Fobbs finished with nine points on eight shots — a far cry from his averages of 17 points on 13 shots — and committed three turnovers.

But Fobbs wasn’t the only one struggling. Save for sophomore guard Allen Betrand — who notched 16 points on 15 shots — and Nicolas Timberlake and Jason Gibson (six points apiece), the Towson box score is a zero-laden wasteland. Even Betrand, the best-performing Tiger by any standard, committed three turnovers.

The Huskies took advantage of spotty Tiger spacing to clog the middle, denying the Tigers easy looks at the rim. They shut off driving and passing lanes. Towson, deprived of any consistent offensive rhythm, stopped setting hard screens, allowing Husky defenders to remain attached to ballhandlers and cutters.

Greg Eboigbodin was central to limiting the Tigers in the paint, returning after missing both games on the Huskies’ Michigan trip. The team said that fellow big man Tomas Murphy’s ankle — which had sidelined him for seven games — was good to go, but he was ultimately a game-time scratch due to flu symptoms. He is questionable for Monday’s game.

The Huskies’ defensive effort was never more apparent than it was four minutes from the end of the first half. Freshman Tiger Charles Thompson snagged a rebound and, with just himself and fellow freshman Jason Gibson in the backcourt, fired a pass ahead of Gibson out of bounds. As the whistle blew and the other eight players returned to the Husky frontcourt, Thompson and Gibson stood facing each other, hands raised in exasperation, trying to figure out who had messed up. The Husky defense was so successful in denying the Tigers any offensive momentum that they were making unforced errors.

The Huskies’ 61-point offensive effort was among their lowest-scoring of the season, but was sufficient in a game where the defense led the way. Junior Max Boursiquot scored eight quick points in the first half, starting as a small-ball center for the third straight game despite the return of Eboigbodin. He finished with 12 points on seven shots to go along with five rebounds.

Jordan Roland finished with 14 points and six rebounds, and though he was active on both sides of the ball throughout the game, he never quite got a rhythm going on offense, missing two-thirds of his shots and all five of his threes. Many of the misses were quality looks that simply didn’t fall.

But Roland wasn’t exactly unique in this regard. At the end of the first half, the teams combined for one made three-pointer in 15 tries. Given the strength of Towson’s defense and Northeastern’s reliance on perimeter shooting this season, one would expect the Huskies to be trailing.

They were up 12. And while Towson nearly abandoned the three altogether in the second half, the Huskies found their shooting touch and blew the game open. Bolden Brace got things going with a swish from the wing a minute into the half.

After Tyson Walker threw the ball away, then recovered to pressure Towson’s Nakye Sanders into a missed layup, Northeastern had a five-on-four the other way. Brace swished another three.

Then Walker took the baton. He would finish with a game-high 17 points, 12 of which came after the intermission. He began with a pull-up three in semi-transition.

Then he popped the balloon of a brilliant Towson defensive effort by draining a rainbow three over a close contest by Sanders as the shot clock expired.

By this point, Walker was feeling himself. So when Towson big man Dennis Tunstall switched onto him, Walker deployed a blistering series of crossovers to set up a slick reverse layup.

Walker capped off his electric second half by throwing another few crossovers, pulling up for three, and splashing it through. Walker also added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line, emerging as the game’s best performer despite playing just 23 minutes.

Amid Walker’s brilliance came a play that won’t be credited to him on a stat sheet, but is the sort that makes coaches proud. Greg Eboigbodin slid over to help on a drive, swatting the ball out of the air and sending it bouncing toward the corner by the Towson bench. Walker leaped from the edge of the court and, while in midair behind the baseline, caught the ball, turned, and threw an accurate pass to Emanga. Emanga found Roland leaking the other way, and Roland had just one man to beat as he earned himself an easy layup. Northeastern led by 20 and the game was effectively over.

Northeastern didn’t just outshoot Towson; they outrebounded them on the offensive and defensive glass. Besides Walker, Boursiquot, and Roland, who all scored in double figures and pulled down five or more boards, the rebounding catalyst was Brace, who secured eight. Many of his boards came in the second half, which ensured the Huskies could burn clock and preserve their lead. Though the turnover counts eventually evened out, Northeastern’s 13–0 first-half advantage in points off turnovers gave them a double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Huskies will travel south to Harrisonburg, Virginia for a Monday evening matchup with the up-and-coming James Madison Dukes. WRBB will not broadcast the game — the last Northeastern sporting event of the 2010s — but will upload written coverage to the website.