People fall in love with teams for different reasons.
Sometimes it happens before you reach the age of awareness. By the time you can talk, you can recite the whole starting lineup, and by that point it’s so ingrained in your DNA that you can’t fathom a “before” time. You can’t fathom an “after” time either. It’s a part of who you are.
Sometimes you find a team because you switch cities, and it seems as good a way as any to make the new town into a hometown. Sometimes it’s the influence of a new group of friends or a new romantic partner, and before you know it, you’re rooting for a team you never cared about before, or even actively despised.
And sometimes it happens because you observe a team closely — not just physically, but as a storyteller. When you craft a narrative for that team in real time on the radio, then synthesize a more detailed one in print after the final buzzer, weekend after weekend after weekend, you find yourself attached to it in a way you can’t quite explain. It’s something different. It’s a new first love.
You become aware of all the little things about the team that escape the box score, the recaps, and the casual fans. You become unflinchingly convinced that Max Boursiquot should win CAA Defensive Player of the Year, even though the media and coaches leave him off the all-defensive team altogether. You’re only half-joking when you swear up and down on the radio that Shaq Walters, a 20-something percent three-point shooter, could be a viable threat from distance, then smile with satisfaction when he shoots 38 percent the next season. You understand that Donnell Gresham Jr.’s value comes not from his stats, but from his leadership, savvy, and impossibly steady hand directing an offense. You appreciate the way the basket apparatus shakes after Anthony Green throws down a monstrous alley-oop, and the way it keeps shaking as the Huskies set up on defense. You marvel at Jordan Roland hitting multiple threes with his non-dominant hand, but you know what the hosts on SportsCenter don’t — that his consistent, deadly left-hand floater game means he could hit that shot a third time.
You become intimately familiar — too familiar — with the conference they play in, and realize that it has no consistent internal logic, that predictions are guesswork, that the only point in forming expectations at all is to have them shattered. Like the universe, it is under no obligation to make sense to anyone. So when the team you love is pegged to finish seventh out of ten, trudges into conference play embattled by a non-conference schedule groaning under the weight of high-major schools, then wins its first seven conference games and ties for the regular season title, you’re enthralled, but by no means shocked. The conference is simply insane.
You see the team’s balanced offense, the endless string of all-conference first team guards, the bevy of valuable role players, the March Madness trip, the three straight CAA title game appearances — and yet the one that sticks in your head most is the time they took a helpless Holy Cross team behind the woodshed and made them wish they’d picked up a different sport as children. Maybe it’s because you spent the last few minutes of the first half involuntarily laughing into your headset as they built a 41-point lead.
For the last three and a half years, I’ve covered Northeastern men’s basketball for this station, first as a mostly lost sideline reporter, then as a slightly more comfortable color announcer, and finally as the lead play-by-play guy. That journey made me comfortable behind a microphone and confident telling a story. It confirmed that this is the line of work I want for myself, mostly because it seldom felt like work.
It also granted me access to a smaller, cozier fandom than most. Northeastern basketball, while reliably competitive in the CAA and occasionally a thorn in the side of a Power Five squad, is not world-famous, especially in a city where every college team is overshadowed by the perennial powerhouse that dons green in TD Garden. So the team’s dedicated fans can always identify with each other in a niche, specific way.
And that’s why, after spending my entire life as a Lakers fan and two-thirds of it as a Dodgers fan, the Northeastern Huskies men’s basketball team occupies a space in my heart that no other team does. It’s intimate and up close and personal. It’s a story waiting to be told.
“It’s like you’re on a treadmill, you’re running about ten miles an hour, and somebody hits the stop button. And everything stops. Your mind, the players’ rhythm, ‘what time is practice tomorrow’, ‘what are we doing’, ‘what do we have to get better at’ — you’re just in that kind of cycle.”
Bill Coen had good reason to feel that way. One night after setting the Northeastern record for career wins, one night after his team notched a resounding playoff win without two players who had started every game to that point, they were done. A conference season that began with a seven-game winning streak and yielded a share of the regular season title ended with a 74–67 loss to Drexel in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament.
“The thing that doesn’t change at the end of the year is the emotion in the locker room,” Coen said, clearly dealing with plenty of it himself. “When you see guys get visibly emotional, although it’s tough, I think that’s a good sign. It shows how much they care, it shows how important it is to them, and it shows how much pride and character they have.”
Without the services of Shaquille Walters for the second day in a row, and without Jason Strong for most of the night, the Huskies couldn’t overcome Drexel’s potent, balanced attack or the one-dimensional nature of their own shorthanded offense.
“Ten days ago, a lot of us were in beds not even knowing if we were going to play,” forward Jahmyl Telfort said. “We practiced probably three times before the tournament.”
“We had guys who played in the game who weren’t even close to 100 percent,” Coen noted. “We had guys who were basically coming to the tournament without having practiced. So we were just trying to cobble it together with different guys and different lineups.”
Early on, Northeastern started relying on just two players to carry the scoring load, as All-CAA First Teamer Tyson Walker and Sixth Man of the Year Telfort notched 25 of the Huskies’ 29 first-half points. Telfort, who has typically had frigid first halves and white-hot second halves, turned in a performance to remember, ending the first frame with a game-high 13.
Walker was close behind with 12, and while both shooters posted efficient lines, Walker’s four missed threes — including an airball on his first attempt — were a harbinger of things to come.
Northeastern searched constantly for a third hot hand in Walters’s stead. The ailing Strong subbed in, committed several errors including an unforced inbound violation, and was done for the night. Vito Cubrilo played 23 minutes and contributed mightily with effort and aggression, but didn’t spark the offense much. Chris Doherty chipped in three points and five valuable rebounds, but was exceeded by his counterpart James Butler, who notched 12 points and 12 boards. Doherty did impact the game with the sort of defense that box scores elide, but the Dragons’ 38–26 rebounding advantage stung.
The Huskies’ defense kept them afloat. Northeastern made things difficult for Drexel ballhandlers — filling passing lanes, snatching steals, co-opting the shot clock as a sixth defender, and forcing Drexel to settle for poor shots.
“They’re really aggressive with their hands,” Drexel head coach Zach Spiker explained. “Coach Coen has built a culture of playing and defending without fouling.”
Unlike their wire-to-wire masterpiece from Sunday night, however, this iron defense would not last. As the first half progressed, the Dragons poked holes in the Husky fortifications, finding open looks under the hoop, in the midrange, and beyond the arc. They got diverse first-half contributions, with Xavier Bell, Zach Walton, and Camren Wynter notching seven points and TJ Bickerstaff adding six. Northeastern finished the half down just five, but Drexel held significant momentum and the Husky offense was still searching for answers.
Early in the second frame, Coen reached into his bag of tricks again and found an unexpected answer in reserve forward Alexander Nwagha. Nwagha, who had played just 41 minutes in the Huskies 18 previous games, restarted the defense with his length, leaping, and activity. Cubrilo also returned to the floor and made unexpected defensive contributions, grabbing two key steals and forcing an additional turnover as the Huskies clawed their way back.
Drexel kept Northeastern at arm’s length for the first half of the final period, but Northeastern finally made their move with eight minutes remaining. Telfort put in a nifty layup, followed by a fastbreak finish from Walker, a free throw from Doherty, and an emphatic stepback three from Telfort to bring the Huskies within one.
“We put a little game pressure on them,” Coen said. “Until that point, we hadn’t put any game pressure on them. We just needed one more stop.”
They didn’t get it. Drexel’s offense lit up and regrew the lead. The Dragons’ shooting barrage included the first of two threes from Butler, who had made just two treys all season.
“I knew it was going in,” Wynter said. “JB’s a good shooter and in practice he shoots guard numbers.”
“He’s shot a whole lot in his career, they just haven’t been in games yet,” Spiker added. “James Butler took advantage of the pandemic. James Butler evolved his game.”
Wynter, Walton, and Bell each turned in a double-digit performance on 50 perfect shooting or better, while Bickerstaff nearly matched Butler in rebounds. Defeating these performances would have required brilliance from Northeastern’s stars. They did get an 30-point masterpiece from Telfort, who also defended Wynter for long stretches.
“You could score 60 points or you could score zero,” a dejected Telfort said. “A loss is a loss.”
Walker finished with 23 points, four boards, and five assists, though his one-for-eight mark from downtown damaged his efficiency.
“I thought we did a great job on him, making everything tough, putting multiple bodies on him,” Wynter said. “We were just trying to tire him out and make him take a lot of contested shots, and we did just that.”
But the rest of the Huskies combined for just 14 points on 29 percent shooting, not enough to overcome Drexel’s four double-digit scorers. And thus ended a season that exceeded expectations in so many respects.
“Even though it was a young group, it was able to accomplish a lot of great things,” Coen said. “We earned a share of the CAA regular season title. I think we had the most road wins in the conference.
HARRISONBURG, VA — If you were paying attention, you could see the answers coming an hour in advance.
After each of his team’s last three wins, plus a CAA press conference a month ago, Northeastern head coach Bill Coen fielded a question about his march toward the program’s all-time wins record of 250, set by Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun from 1972 to 1986.
He offered nearly identical answers each time — rejecting comparisons to Calhoun’s vaunted résumé and deferring credit for the wins to his players, assistant coaches, the university, and medical, training, and support staff. It’s who he is, and it’s why he’s so respected around the conference. He’s naturally humble and gracious. He doesn’t strut. And the last thing he wants, especially after his team wins, is to make himself the story.
“Coaches get way too much credit,” he remarked after Sunday night’s game. “I haven’t scored a basket or grabbed a rebound in a long time. These guys do all the work.”
But after a 63–47 win over William & Mary made him the winningest coach in the history of a century-old program, he didn’t have any say in that. He was the story.
Or at least he was part of it. The win vaulted the second-seeded Huskies into the semifinals of the CAA Tournament, where they will battle the Drexel Dragons. Milton Posner, Jordan Baron, and Justin Diament will call that game for WRBB, with coverage beginning around 9:20 PM Eastern.
“It meant more to me that we’re moving on and playing in the best month of the year — if you’re a college basketball fan,” Coen said. “It meant more to me that these guys were willing to play and show that type of heart and resilience given what we’ve been through.”
The road to this landmark win was not as easy as the final score suggests. Without key starters Shaquille Walters (out for the tournament) and Jason Strong (day-to-day), the Huskies looked lost offensively in the first half. Without Strong, a key perimeter shooter, and Walters, an important ballhandler, the Huskies spent their first 15 minutes searching for answers, and scored just 25 points by the intermission.
“We hadn’t played in three weeks,” star point guard Tyson Walker said. “We were all in quarantine and stuff. We didn’t have that much time to practice. So coming back was rough . . . We all spoke a lot over quarantine. So we were mentally together; it was all about the physical.”
“I think we’ve played three games in about 40 days,” Coen added. “We really didn’t get much practice time before we got down here. Guys were getting out of quarantine at different times.”
Numerous strange lineup configurations found their way to the hardwood. One was a starting lineup featuring defensive-minded guard Quirin Emanga and back-from-injury big man Chris Doherty. Another featured starting point guard Tyson Walker and reserve guard Vito Cubrilo, who usually only enters the game to spell Walker.
Northeastern often meandered late into the shot clock, lacking direction and settling for contested looks. Strong pressure from the Tribe, who feature two CAA All-Defensive selections, piled on the pain for the disoriented Huskies, who racked up 10 first-half turnovers. Northeastern also went without an assist for nearly 15 minutes.
“The ball was sticking a little bit,” Coen explained. “A great metric for us is when you see assisted baskets; that means the ball is moving, it’s not sticking, we’re not overdribbling, we’re cutting better, attacking the paint. In the first half, we didn’t do enough of that.”
The culmination of these attempts to fill the shoes of Strong and Walters was the debut of freshman forward Connor Braun, who had missed the entire season with an ankle injury. Braun played just four minutes, but his presence in such a pivotal game indicated the Huskies far-reaching search for lineup answers.
But they had a saving grace.
“All year long, our defense kept us in games,” Coen said. “That was consistent tonight. We did a really good job on the defensive end and gave ourselves a chance.”
They harassed William & Mary’s drives, collecting five first-half blocks from five different Huskies. Northeastern held William & Mary to just 38 percent shooting from the floor, which kept the game tight despite a massive turnover advantage for the Tribe. Confoundingly, despite the aggressive nature of the defense from both teams, neither side attempted a free throw in the first half.
One first-half highlight for the Huskies was the return of Doherty, who hadn’t played major minutes since January 23. He grabbed seven first-half boards and created key second chances for the Huskies. His contributions on both ends were essential to mitigating the losses of Walters and Strong.
With 5:58 remaining in the first half, the Huskies’ offensive woes had them in a 21–12 hole. However, back-to-back threes from Coleman Stucke and Walker served as harbingers of things to come, while another pair of downtown buckets from Emanga and Walker evened the score at 23. William & Mary finished the first half strong and took a three-point lead into the locker room, but the table was set for the turnaround.
Northeastern returned to the floor with a vengeance. Newly minted Sixth Man of the Year Jahmyl Telfort logged seven points in the opening three minutes, including a three-pointer that gave the Huskies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Huskies quickly found another hot hand in Stucke, who splashed two deep threes to raise the Northeastern lead to double digits. Midway through the second half, Stucke led all scorers with 13, while adding five boards and two assists.
The Huskies settled into an offensive groove with contributions from numerous players, including buckets from Telfort and two nifty layups from Cubrilo. However, the biggest key to the sustained Husky dominance was Tyson Walker, who came alive after scoring only seven first-half points. He finished with 19 — including eight in a two-minute stretch — and contributed five rebounds and four assists.
While Northeastern’s offense received a much-needed second half boost, their already-stout defense reached new heights. It was William & Mary’s turn to look lost offensively, as they managed just five second-half field goals and couldn’t keep pace with the invigorated Husky attack. Defenders harassed the Tribe’s ballhandlers and forced eight turnovers, many of which lead to transition opportunities.
Doherty continued to swallow the Tribe’s plentiful missed shots, and finished with an astounding 18 boards in his return. Additionally, both teams rediscovered the free-throw line, combining for 24 free throws in the second half after attempting none in the first. The Huskies outpaced the Tribe in this area as well, connecting on more foul shots despite fewer attempts.
“We talked about him coming into the game,” Tribe head coach Dane Fischer said. “We talked about having a body on him every time the ball goes up, if not two . . . Eight offensive rebounds is way too many for anybody to have.”
“We lost two games in conference this year, and the only two games we lost we didn’t have Chris,” Coen noted. “You can see what kind of a difference he makes — controlling the paint, getting on the glass. Having that type of rebounding effort was special.”
“He’s a dog,” Walker said bluntly. “He works hard. He gets all of his stuff on his own.”
William & Mary was led by star senior Luke Loewe, who contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the Tribe’s lone bright performance. The only other Tribe player in double figures was Quinn Blair, who suffered a shoulder injury early on but pushed through the pain to record 11 points on inefficient four-of-11 shooting.
With their second double-digit scoring effort in as many days, Northeastern (2–2) notched an 11–2 win over UMass (0–1) Wednesday afternoon at Parsons Field.
The Huskies scored in five of the first six frames, including nine runs across the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings to put the game well out of reach. Ben Malgeri and Teddy Beaudet smacked three hits apiece, while Corey DiLoreto smack two doubles, walked twice, and scored four runs.
Freshman hurler Wyatt Scotti fanned five across four scoreless innings to earn the win in his debut. Though the Huskies ceded a run in each of the final frames, the relief trio of Matt Downing, Jake Gigliotti, and James Quinlivan had kept the Minutemen scoreless through the seventh, effectively sealing the game.
But the most absurd moment of the game came on the basepaths. And no, it wasn’t one of the Huskies 10 stolen bases on the day, the ones head coach Mike Glavine said would be key to their offense moving forward. No, it was this preposterous slide from Scott Holzwasser that topped the SportsCenter list at day’s end.
The Huskies will travel south for three games against Old Dominion on March 5, 6, and 7. The Monarchs are 6–2 and, like the Huskies, have scored 11 or more runs in half of their games.
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 alot 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.
The Northeastern Huskies have had some pretty crazy CAA win streaks. In 2012–13 they began conference play with eight wins and finished 14–4. In 2018, they marched to the CAA Championship game on the back of a nine-game streak. The next year, a string of seven victories lifted them into March Madness.
And now, in a pandemic-riddled season, they’ve added another — a seven-game run to open the conference season. Though it ended on Sunday with a loss to James Madison, it positioned the Huskies as the overwhelming favorite to win the conference’s regular-season crown. That it happened at all is a testament to a young team figuring things out absurdly quickly.
Northeastern head coach Bill Coen likes to use the non-conference slate to expose his teams to different strategies and schemes, and tough opponents — including Power Five squads — are always a part of that. But by the time the Huskies had cobbled together a mid-pandemic schedule, theirs was — according to ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index — the 17th toughest in the nation.
A cursory glance at their 1–5 record in those games — the worst of any CAA team in the non-conference — wouldn’t reveal much to be excited about. They threw away so many passes in their opener against UMass’s full-court press that the Minutemen hung 94 points on them. They almost ceded a double-digit lead down the stretch of the only game they won. They faltered late against Syracuse, missed their first 13 shots against Old Dominion, allowed Georgia to rattle off 21 unanswered points, and were outclassed in the paint by West Virginia.
But a closer look revealed the CAA’s youngest team making major strides. In their second game against UMass, the Huskies got their turnovers under control by harnessing the speed of Tyson Walker, the ball-handling of Shaq Walters, and the steadying presence of Jason Strong to routinely break the Minutemen press.
Against Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone, the Huskies’ hot three-point shooting kept them in control throughout the first half and turned a predicted trouncing into a six-point squeaker. It showed just how many Huskies were viable and willing perimeter shooters, as well as the team’s strong defensive resilience to hold Syracuse to 62 points.
While the Georgia game will be most remembered for the Huskies’ worst offensive half in more than a decade, we’d be remiss to overlook the first half, which was arguably their best of the season. They knocked down 69 percent of their threes, which they fired off in large volume. Jahmyl Telfort logged 15 points without missing a shot. And the Huskies led a Power Five team by double digits at halftime.
But perhaps most important was the tightening of the bond between the young teammates. By fighting through such a tough slate of games, they proved to themselves that they could compete against uber-talented teams outside of the CAA.
It only made them more confident going into conference play, and that confidence reigned supreme across an unbelievable seven-game stretch — starting with two victories against Elon, carrying into an unbelievable road overtime win and a subsequent home victory over Hofstra, accompanying them south for a sweep of Charleston, and back up home with a win against James Madison.
Let’s break down what powered the run.
The Doherty Effect
The effect wasn’t immediate, as Doherty missed the first two conference games with an injury. Nor is it guaranteed to continue, as Doherty missed the Huskies’ last game with an ankle sprain. But when he’s healthy, the sophomore forward has been one of the Huskies’ most impactful players.
Much of this stems from his relentless energy and positional awareness, which fuel his prodigious offensive rebounding and effective pick-and-roll scoring. He leads the team in offensive rating, per-minute rebounding, and per-minute win shares, and is third in per-minute scoring. He even notched a dramatic game-winner against Charleston in typical Doherty fashion: securing a rebounding and laying in the putback.
His energy has kickstarted the Huskies’ offense on numerous occasions, and if he remains healthy he will be an indispensable part of the rotation.
When Max Boursiquot left the Huskies after a spectacular junior season, he left a pair of versatile shoes to fill. The gift of a muscular, crafty, capable, 6’5” guard/forward who can defend essentially anyone anywhere on the floor is not the sort of thing you just find every season.
Unless you’re Bill Coen, in which case you can turn to a guy who averaged five minutes per game last season and unveil him as your new defensive stopper.
The guy in question in Quirin Emanga, and his coming-out party as an elite defensive force came January 9 against Hofstra. Facing a 19-point deficit and the task of guarding bulldozing Pride forward Isaac Kante, Coen turned to Emanga when Strong went to the bench with four fouls. Kante, the all-CAA-caliber big man who had looked unstoppable to that point, was held to a couple of buckets the rest of the way as the Huskies mounted a dramatic comeback and won the game in overtime. Kante didn’t fare much better against Emanga two days later either.
Ever since, Emanga has been a defensive factor. Though he hasn’t quite matched Boursiquot’s rim protection and all-around brilliance yet, he has been stellar defending big men on the block and wings on the perimeter. In five games as a starter, he’s committed just seven fouls in 164 minutes despite being asked to guard major scoring threats. He has also pitched in, albeit in moderate volume, on the offensive end — he has the highest three-point percentage on the squad and the second-highest effective field goal percentage behind Doherty.
Shaq Walters showed his rebounding prowess last season, and began to display some playmaking chops in the last half-dozen contests. And given his height, length, and athletic ability, it wasn’t necessarily a shock to see him become Coen’s go-to man to defend the other team’s top perimeter threat this year.
But the shooting was a surprise. After connecting on a meager 29 percent of his three-point tries last year, Walters doubled his shooting volume and upped his percentage to a remarkable 41 percent this season. Suddenly his rainbow shots are finding gold routinely, as he’s hit multiple threes in half of Northeastern’s conference tilts. And he’s hitting some tough ones too.
But none resonated more than the one he hit against Hofstra on January 9, the one that clinched the Huskies’ overtime win after a frantic second-half comeback.
He’s still finding the time and energy to lead the Huskies in rebounding, but make no mistake — Walters’ newfound marksmanship is the single most important individual skill jump the team has seen this year.
Holding Down the Tel-Fort
When Bill Coen says you’re one of the best two-way freshmen to pass through his program in years, it means you’re doing a ton of stuff right. Despite starting only two of the Huskies’ 14 games, Jahmyl Telfort has established himself as the team’s second-leading scorer, a versatile wing with athleticism, awareness, and good defensive instincts.
His finest hour thus far came on Saturday against James Madison. After a scoreless first half, Telfort exploded for 23 points in the second to put the game out of the Dukes’ reach. And he did it with a variety of weapons, from transition layups to midrangers to catch-and-shoot threes.
As the only player to win CAA Rookie of the Week at least three times this season, he’s the clear frontrunner for the end-of-season award. And he’s become a major engine for a contending team.
It must be nice to be Bill Coen, knowing that almost every player out on the court wearing a Northeastern jersey can reliably shoot the three and make it. Of the six players who have logged 200 minutes or more, five have made at least a third of their tries from deep.
The Huskies’ perimeter ball movement — not just on their win streak, but for the entire season — has been excellent, as they seem to always find the open man beyond the arc. Walker and Walters have honed into the drive-and-kick play, with Strong, Telfort, and Emanga as the biggest beneficiaries of their penetration, gravity, and playmaking.
The Huskies have attempted 205 three-point shots in eight conference games. To put that number into perspective, last year’s squad attempted just 383 long balls across the entire 18-game conference schedule. This year’s Huskies are on pace to shatter that mark, and with a large portion of their team capable of reliably sinking that shot, there’s no reason for them to stop.
We can’t analyze the circumstances that led to this win streak without talking about the leadership, overall skill, and athleticism that sophomore guard Tyson Walker brings.
In conference play, Walker has accumulated the most points (141), assists (43), steals (22), free throws made (23), and free throws attempted (32) of any Husky. Sure, he’s struggled with turnovers at times, but for a guy who almost always controls the ball and is constantly making plays for younger, less experienced players, turnovers will happen.
Walker has showcased an unbelievable ability to pick up lost momentum for his team, and it’s led to the Huskies winning games they were seemingly out of. Against Hofstra on January 9, the Pride were busy devouring the Huskies until Walker decided he’d had enough. He drained five threes to slingshot the Huskies back into the lead. Even when the streak ended on Sunday, he still poured in a season-high 30 points to key the attack.
On Thursday afternoon, the CAA announced that Northeastern’s games against Drexel (January 30 and 31) and Delaware (February 6 and 7) were being postponed due to a positive COVID-19 case within the Huskies’ program, with a rescheduling decision to be made later.
But in a season rendered completely insane by the pandemic, it might not hurt the Huskies’ position as much as you might think. To understand why, let’s examine the CAA’s seeding mechanisms.
Seeding is based on conference winning percentage. Teams must play at least eight CAA games to be eligible for their seed; if they don’t, “virtual losses” are added until the record is eligible (e.g. a 3–3 team becomes 3–5). If the average number of conference games played by all teams is below eight, teams must play no less than two fewer games than that average number (say, five games to be eligible if the average team has played seven). Teams must also play 13 games overall — or receive an NCAA waiver — to be CAA tournament eligible.
Here are the standings as of January 29:
Games missed as of 1/29
William & Mary
Seven of the nine other teams have already lost three or four games, and thus cannot catch Northeastern’s current winning percentage of .875 even if they win out.
Elon theoretically could exceed that mark, but only if they play the typical 18 CAA games and win their next 16 in a row. For a team that hasn’t played since January 3, that volume of games is nearly impossible.
James Madison has the best shot at reaching .875, as the Dukes have lost just one CAA game. But at the rate they’ve played games, they would likely have to win out to do so.
All of this would be moot if Northeastern plays — and loses — another game. But that’s the thing; the Huskies have played eight conference games, so they’ll be eligible for their tournament seed no matter what. Purely from a standings standpoint, they’re better off not playing again until the CAA Tournament. They’d almost certainly earn the top seed.
Of course, head coach Bill Coen and his team wouldn’t choose this path. They’re a basketball team, and basketball teams are meant to play, well, basketball games. They want to be in gear for the CAA Tournament, not trying to overcome a month’s worth of rust. And the only way games get cancelled is if people get sick, which no one wants.
This isn’t to recommend that Northeastern sit out games or to imply that they could choose to. It’s just to point out that, after a seven-game winning streak to start conference play, they are in the driver’s seat. They control their own destiny. And especially if their games are lost to the pandemic — instead of being rescheduled — it might only take another two or three wins to seal the top seed.
But regardless of which seed they wind up with, these Huskies have proven so much this month, and are well positioned to make the CAA championship game for the fourth straight year.
As they watched James Madison dribble out the clock to complete a surprising 79–72 win, they also watched their seven-game winning streak, their longest in two years, end.
The Dukes were led by junior guard Vado Morse, who contributed 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting after nailing just one of his 10 tries in the Dukes’ loss yesterday. Morse was matched on the other end by Husky star Tyson Walker, who finished with a season-high 30 points and five assists.
James Madison jumped out to a quick 10–3 lead, but the Huskies quickly closed the gap and forced a Dukes timeout. Northeastern held their momentum and built a six-point lead with 11 minutes to play, but the rest of the half was all Dukes. Two Morse threes keyed a 28–8 rampage that gave the Dukes a commanding 14-point advantage.
“We got off to a really, really slow start and that set the tone,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “We allowed them to get very very aggressive to start the game.”
The Dukes also benefited from their swarming perimeter defense, which held the Huskies to just 25 percent from beyond the arc. Northeastern attempted 16 first-half threes, making their deep-shot woes cut quite deep.
“They had a terrific night shooting the ball, some deep shots and we got caught in a couple of bad rotations,” Coen noted. “You got to give them some credit, they made some big shots, and they have a really good three-point-shooting team. But we made our own errors.”
The Huskies’ over-reliance on the three was clearly a point of interest for Coen at halftime, as Northeastern returned to the floor with a renewed focus on driving and passing into the paint. The refreshed Husky attack strung together a 5–0 run and then a 6–0 run to cut the deficit to four.
“We wanted to just not sit back and settle for contested shots,” said Coen. “We opened up the half of the play designed to get [Shaq Walters] in and around the basket. We wanted to make sure we attacked the rim and put some pressure on their defense that way, and I thought that allowed us to climb back into it.”
However, the Huskies quickly fell back into old habits, missing threes and allowing the Dukes to regrow their commanding lead. This pattern repeated often across the second half, as offensive bursts would bring the Huskies within single digits only for the Dukes to put in a few buckets to snuff the Huskies’ momentum.
Almost every Northeastern push was on the back of Walker, who exited the game late in the first half with an apparent knee injury but came back strong and was nigh unstoppable for stretches. While most of his teammates never got their offense on track, Walker shot 10-of-19, a line that was even stronger before some late desperation attempts.
“He had a terrific game and bounced back from a rough afternoon yesterday,” Coen said. “He was the difference on their end.” However, Coen conceded that Walker “struggled a little bit to keep [Morse] under wraps.”
James Madison star and reigning USBWA National Player of the Week Matt Lewis deferred to the surging Morse for most of the afternoon, but made his presence known with game-sealing drives and finished with 16 points. Freshman big man Justin Amadi and sophomore forward Julian Wooden also notched double figures for the Dukes; Shaq Walters and Jahmyl Telfort did the same for the Huskies.
“I was really proud of our effort in the second half,” Coen said. “Execution still left something to be desired, but our effort gave us a chance to kind of make it a little closer game than it was. This is a learning curve for this young group.”
While Amadi showed no signs of the injury he suffered yesterday, Northeastern was without the services of big man Chris Doherty, who chipped in 10 points and 10 boards in the Huskies’ victory on Saturday. Coen confirmed that Doherty, who was sporting a walking boot and crutches, is nursing a sprained ankle, and did not specify a timetable for his return.
“He’s had treatment around the clock and he’s a tough kid,” Coen said. “If there is a chance for him to play at all he wants to play. But we want to make sure that his long-term health, because it’s a long season, that we have him at full strength.”
After the buzzer, Coen kept his team on the floor to observe just how excited James Madison was to defeat them.
“It speaks to the level of respect that this program has throughout the league if someone is going to get that excited over this victory,” Coen explained. He wanted his players to understand “what it means to be a part of this program.”
But, as Coen noted, there is a flip side.
“I want our guys, our young team to understand the emotional edge that other teams may have when they play a first-place team,” he said. “We have to combat that with our own emotional energy going forward because that is what it’s going to be night in and night out from here on out. So teams are going to get excited to play you, you’re ‘the team’ now, and you’re going to get everybody’s best effort.”
Northeastern (8–6, 7–1 CAA) will try to rebound next weekend on the road against the Drexel Dragons (7–5, 2–3 CAA), who finished third in the conference preseason poll. Coen will again try for his record-tying 250th Northeastern win.
BOSTON — Northeastern men’s basketball’s 72–63 win over James Madison on Saturday afternoon wasn’t exactly surprising. The Huskies were on an absolute roll coming in, and while the Dukes boasted a seemingly solid record, they hadn’t played much in the way of sturdy competition.
But when the buzzer sounded, it was hard not to marvel at the totality of what the Huskies had achieved. It was their seventh straight win, matching the streak from two seasons ago that took them to the NCAA Tournament. It was their best start to a conference slate since an eight-game run eight seasons before. It moved head coach Bill Coen to within one game of Jim Calhoun’s career program record of 250. And it showed just how many weapons this young Huskies team can wield.
It began with Tyson Walker, who scored eight quick points to keep pace with the Dukes’ Matt Lewis. Lewis entered the game as the reigning USBWA National Player of the Week after nailing nine of 12 three-pointers against Towson on Saturday. But both players tailed off after a quick start, posting passable scoring totals on iffy efficiency.
The rest of the half belonged to Chris Doherty, as the red-haired Goliath hounded the Dukes to a tune of 10 points and seven rebounds — four of which came on the offensive glass — in the first half. Doherty was often the lone Husky in the paint, valiantly battling for boards among legions of Dukes.
“It goes beyond the first half,” Coen said. “You look at the Charleston series, in game one he did a monster job on the boards, a lot of grit and toughness. And then he had the tip-in for a victory [in game two].”
But Doherty’s momentum would come to a screeching stop with about eight minutes left in the second half. After James Madison’s Vado Morse (14 points) attacked him in the pick and roll, Doherty leaped to contest the layup. He landed awkwardly on his right ankle and immediately grabbed it as he lay under the basket. Though he managed to lift himself and hobble downcourt, he made a beeline for the Northeastern bench and soon sank to the court in pain.
Though Doherty seemed to be moving with a less pronounced limp later on, he did not return to the court, and Coen said the “tweaked” ankle meant Doherty’s status for tomorrow’s rematch is uncertain. It’s a gut punch for the Husky big man, who had just returned to the swing of things after missing four games earlier in the season with another injury.
But by that point, the Huskies had all but blown the game open.
The first half was close; JMU led for much of it before Northeastern seized the momentum to build a 37–31 halftime lead. The second half was not, and Jahmyl Telfort was the reason why.
After a scoreless first half, the freshman exploded for 23 points in the second. The only Northeastern players to have bested his total in a half are a who’s who of program mainstays and stars: Bolden Brace, TJ Williams, David Walker, JJ Barea, and Jordan Roland.
“He scored in a variety of ways,” Coen said. “Transition threes to drives to the basket to offensive rebound putbacks to mid-range shots. He got on a roll.”
For most of the half, Telfort kept pace with the entire James Madison team, ultimately nailing nine of his 12 shots and punctuating the affair was a fastbreak alley-oop slam.
Shaq Walters also chipped in 15 points of his own in a team-high 37 minutes, including 10 in the second half. He and Telfort combined for all but two of the Huskies 35 second-half points. Walters nailed three momentum-grabbing triples — he’s shooting above 42 percent on the season — and added eleven rebounds and four assists.
On defense, the Huskies did an excellent job slowing down Lewis and the quick-hitting Dukes, holding the senior to just five second half points on seven shots. Northeastern also had a much improved perimeter defense coming out of halftime; JMU connected on just 27 percent of their triples in the second half after hitting 57 percent in the first.
When asked about his game plan to slow Lewis, Coen simply replied, “Shaq Walters.”
He waited a good few seconds before adding, “That was our game plan. In case you guys haven’t noticed, Shaq Walters is a pretty good defender. Every day he draws the best assignment. He takes pride in his defense, he’s got size and strength, he’s committed to that end of the floor, and he gives 110 percent effort.”
None of this is to say the Huskies ran away with the game entirely. After going up 20 points with two-and-a-half minutes to go, the Huskies watched the lead quickly contract as the Dukes’ reserves mounted a furious run.
“They extended really, really, high; they almost had four guys above the free-throw line,” Coen said. “A trapping, attacking zone, kind of a 1-1-3 zone. We got lucky . . . but we settled for too many quick threes against it. That’s what it’s designed to do — bait you into falling in love with the three. I’m sure we’re going to see it again tomorrow, so we’ve got to execute better against it.”
But the lead was too much to overcome, as the Huskies held on for a nine-point victory to extend their unbeaten streak in conference play. Coen can tie the all-time program record for wins tomorrow, and although he’s consistently downplayed any comparisons to Jim Calhoun — and deferred credit to the players, assistant coaches, trainers, support staff, and university — it would mark a momentous achievement in the career of the CAA’s longest-tenured coach.
WRBB will call that potentially historic game, with coverage beginning a few minutes before the 12 PM Eastern tipoff. Mike Puzzanghera, Jordan Baron, and Justin Diament will be on the call.
If it wasn’t obvious by now, there’s some kind of magic in the air for Northeastern men’s basketball.
In a season thrown into chaos by the unpredictability of a pandemic, with the youngest roster in the CAA, amid injuries that sidelined three big men simultaneously, and after being pummeled by high-major teams throughout the non-conference slate, the Huskies are still undefeated in conference play.
They won their sixth straight game on Sunday afternoon after a Chris Doherty putback with 15 seconds to play. 68–66 Northeastern. Ballgame.
From the start, and for the entire first half, it didn’t appear that a finishing blow would be necessary. The Huskies leapt out to an 11–2 lead in the first six-and-a-half minutes behind a flurry of quick, assertive drives into the paint. Tyson Walker led the attack, earning a number of short floaters and jumpers in transition and in the halfcourt. He and Coleman Stucke would lead the Huskies with eight points apiece by halftime.
Meanwhile, the Cougars had about as much luck finding the basket as a blind pirate does finding buried treasure. The Huskies rotated well, shutting off easy lanes to the paint and forcing the Cougars into contested looks. When the Cougars improved the quality of their looks, they still struggled to find a rhythm, with Brendan Tucker being the sole bright spot. Minnesota transfer Payton Willis was scoreless, as was Saint Joseph’s transfer Lorenzo Edwards. Zep Jasper cashed in on just one of seven attempts.
“Our defense has traveled with us,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “[By the metrics] we’re the best defensive team in the league, and usually you need veteran players to do that. The freshman players get caught on the trick plays, or they haven’t seen certain actions enough. They don’t have enough in their reads in their database to be so consistent defensively.
“Our young guys [can] really absorb a scouting report. As a coach you’re always a little bit nervous in giving them too much, because you don’t want them thinking — you want them playing . . . But this group has been remarkable in terms of what they’ve been able to process and execute in the game.”
The first-half numbers reflect the Huskies overwhelming defense. Charleston shot 28 percent from the floor against the Huskies’ 50 percent, made one of nine threes against the Huskies’ four of nine, and lost the rebounding battle by eight. Most importantly, the Huskies led 34–20.
Six minutes later, the lead had evaporated.
The Cougars had already equaled their first-half total. Willis and Jasper had discovered their mojo. The Huskies inherited the Cougars’ first-half inability to penetrate the paint, then tacked on a few turnovers that jumpstarted the Cougars’ transition game.
By the midway point of the second half, Charleston had built a seven-point lead. Northeastern had mustered just ten points and still didn’t have a double-digit scorer. The tug-of-war that ensued over the next handful of possessions left the lead hanging at six with five minutes to play, easily the most serious threat to the Huskies since Hofstra had them in blowout territory in the second half on January 7.
But Northeastern woke up just in time. A couple of buckets apiece from Jahmyl Telfort and Shaq Walters did the trick, with a Walters stepback jumper tying things at 66 with a minute to play.
And then a catlike Telfort block on Tucker set the stage for an unlikely finish.
Walker ran a pick-and-roll with Doherty, then drove along the left side of the lane. Jasper pursued him and Osinachi Smart peeled off of Doherty to meet Walker at the rim. The contest worked, but Doherty was left uncovered in the middle of the lane.
The Huskies clogged the middle to pressure Jasper into a missed layup, then smothered Smart on the putback attempt. Game over.
“This group has come together quicker and without expectation, because you really don’t expect a team without a senior on the roster to play at this high level,” Coen noted. “We’re getting leadership from up and down the lineup. Guys really enjoy each other, they enjoy playing for each other. They don’t want to let their teammate down.”
As has become typical in conference play, the Huskies got balanced contributions up and down their roster. Telfort notched 16 points to lead the way. Walker chipped in 10 points and six dimes. Walters complimented his 15 points with eight rebounds, and played a large role in shutting down Charleston’s guards in the first half.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for where we are at,” Coen said of Walters. “He’s made big, big shots, he always guards the opponent’s best player, and his intensity and competitiveness is igniting the younger guys.” Coen also remarked that Telfort is “one of the best two-way freshmen I’ve seen come through this program.”
Tucker had another excellent game for the Cougars, posting 20 points. Jasper and Willis chipped in 10 points apiece for a Cougar squad that fell to 5–8 overall and 3–3 in conference.
The Huskies (7–5, 6–0 CAA) will return to Boston for Saturday and Sunday games against James Madison, both at noon Eastern. WRBB will call those games, with coverage beginning about ten minutes before tip-off. With all the uncertainty over how many games will be played this season, every win only makes it more likely that the Huskies run away with the CAA regular season crown.
“How can you not enjoy coaching this group?” Coen said. “Toughness and grit all the way around . . . This group has shown time and time again the type of resiliency that you love to see as a coach. They just never give up, they never stop believing in themselves and their teammates.”
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.