Men’s Basketball Falls to Tar Heels Despite Walker’s 27

By Milton Posner

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Pandemic seasons, as it turns out, don’t unfold with any semblance of narrative cohesion. Most of the time, it feels like an eight-year-old on a sugar high is trying — and failing — to tell you a story.

Your UNCW games got cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test within their program? Okay. Chop off the W.

The Northeastern men’s basketball team, which proved a glutton for Power Five punishment in December, took the rarest of mid-February detours to play a non-conference game against one of the most illustrious programs in the history of intercollegiate sports. The result, a 82–62 North Carolina win, wasn’t shocking. But that’s not to say that nothing about the game was.

For starters, it was scheduled in a manner bizarre even by pandemic standards. Faced with three cancelled home games in a nine-day span, North Carolina — you know, the team with more Final Four appearances than any other — took to Twitter to replace them.

Northeastern, which was already engaged in talks to play the Tar Heels and was willing to make the trip on short notice, answered the call. North Carolina was the fourth Power Five team the Huskies had played this season, as they had already lost by six to Syracuse, by 18 to Georgia, and by 22 to No. 8 West Virginia. This willingness to meet a challenge is reflected in their strength of schedule, which, according to KenPom, is more than three points per 100 possessions better than the next-best CAA team. The Huskies are also the only CAA team to have a positive number in that stat.

But for Northeastern head coach Bill Coen — whose next win will break Jim Calhoun’s program record — the games are a welcome challenge.

“It’s always a risk when you play that type of schedule because it’s not likely you’ll have tremendous success against those types of programs,” he admitted the day before Wednesday’s game. “But we had moments. Each and every game showed us a little bit more who we could become.”

As far as North Carolina went, Coen noted that “there isn’t a player who, growing up, didn’t become familiar with North Carolina’s program and the great tradition here. So right away that brand name got our guys really excited.” 

He also added that he relished the chance to confront his team with A-plus versions of different schemes, including Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and West Virginia’s rebounding. For North Carolina, it was rebounding and transition offense.

“We didn’t tell them about the four seven-footers [at first],” Coen said with a smile. “And then we got into the scouting report and saw some film, and there was a little concern there.”

With Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, and Garrison Brooks all standing at least 6’10” and weighing at least 240 pounds, Northeastern struggled to keep pace. In a showing reminiscent of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe’s dominance in West Virginia, the quartet combined for 45 points and 36 rebounds, with Sharpe’s 15 points and Brooks’s 13 boards leading the way. It also didn’t help that the Huskies were missing big man Chris Doherty, who is nursing a sprained ankle sustained against James Madison on January 23.

“They got position down low, dominated the backboards, and we didn’t have the numbers to compete,” Coen explained. “We tried to front and back the low post and give the perimeter big a bit of space. That hurt us a little bit. But there’s not much else you can do . . . They have multiple five-star recruits in their front line and they just come in waves. Even when I thought we did a pretty good job, the fatigue factor, particularly up front, made a difference.

Photo credit: North Carolina men’s basketball

The upshot? Carolina won the rebounding category by 15, offensive rebounding by nine, second-chance points by 11, and points in the paint by 20. Combine that with their transition intensity and speedy defensive presence, and the Huskies couldn’t adapt.

“That’s their trademark — push up-tempo, force you to play faster than you normally do, and turn you over,” Coen noted. “Sixteen [turnovers] isn’t an unusually large number; it’s not a great number, usually we like to get around 12 or less. I thought some of those were unforced; we kinda fed into the tempo. But you have to give North Carolina credit. That’s what they do. They pressure the ball, they trap ball screens, and they rush your decisions.”

The Huskies had two main bright spots. One was Coleman Stucke, who logged 14 points and five rebounds after heating up at the start of the second half. The other upside, and the far more prominent one, was Tyson Walker. The reigning CAA Player of the Week, just four days removed from a career-high 36-point annihilation of Towson, turned in his best half as a Husky, pouring in 21 points while missing just one field goal.

“He’s made that statement all year long,” Coen said of his star. “He’s a terrific player. He’s got extreme confidence in his own abilities. He’s got a vision for the game and a feel for the game that’s really hard to find.”

Walker began with seven unanswered points to open the Husky scoring and give Northeastern what would prove to be their only lead of the game. The respect Carolina showed him was astounding; every time he blew past his cover on the perimeter, the Tar Heels crashed the paint with all five bodies and dared his teammates to hit open shots. For most of the game, and especially during their four-for-22 first half, they couldn’t.

By halftime, Walker had more than doubled the point total of every other player in the Dean Dome. After a quiet second half, he finished with 27 points on eight-for-15 shooting. He is averaging 27 points over the team’s last four games.

But his shooting alone wasn’t enough to overcome the well-roundedness of a Tar Heel offense where every player — save for those who played one or two minutes of garbage time — scored, and where six players scored four or more field goals.

Northeastern’s next scheduled games are February 27 and 28 in Williamsburg, Virginia against the William & Mary Tribe. After that will come the CAA Tournament from March 6 to March 9, which Coen says Wednesday’s game was great prep for.

“We had to come up with a gameplan really quickly,” he said. “I’ve found that with our weekend series, with a full week to prepare, you can overly obsess on the opponent. But this, we had to get right to work. I think that’s great preparation for the CAA Tournament where we’ll have to play back-to-back-to-back. Those scouting reports, you’ll have less time than this.”

The Huskies are almost assured a first-round bye and are likely to secure a top seed. And though their overall record has some Power-Five-shaped dents in it, the young Huskies will be battle-hardened beyond their years.

Tyson Torches Towson for Career-High 36, Coen Ties Program Wins Record

By Peyton Doyle and Milton Posner

TOWSON, MD — It’s hard to overstate how fun Tyson Walker is to watch.

When he’s given command of an offense, and when he’s dialed in, he moves about the court with a palpable ease and confidence. The game’s pace and his own internal clock become inexorably linked, and the defense has increasingly little say in whether his shots go in.

Never was Walker as dialed in as he was Saturday afternoon in SECU Arena, when he poured in a career-high 36 points — his second-straight 30-point game — to power Northeastern to a 76–67 win over the Towson Tigers. It was the best individual scoring effort the Huskies had seen since January 18 of last year, when Jordan Roland dropped 38 on UNCW.

It also marked head coach Bill Coen’s 250th Northeastern win, tying him with Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun for the program record.

The Huskies, playing their first game after a 20-day COVID hiatus, moved to 9–6 (8–1 CAA) and preserved their pole position in the conference standings. James Madison, with whom the Huskies split a pair last month, defeated Hofstra on Saturday to remain the only team in Northeastern’s neighborhood as the season hits the home stretch.

Coen told WRBB before the game that he knew he was wading into uncharted territory. Never before had a team of his taken such a lengthy midseason break.

“For the early portion of the pause, we weren’t allowed to do anything,” he said after Saturday’s game. “We didn’t play live until Tuesday. At the same time, if guys had been away for two weeks, we weren’t confident to have a full practice. So we had shorter, more intense practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and then did more of a mental preparation coming into this weekend.”

“I was a little nervous because of rest vs. rust,” he continued, “But all in all, I thought it was a good effort. It took our guys a few minutes to get back into the swing of the competition, but once they did I thought they did much better.”

Walker wasn’t the only Husky hammering the Tigers. Jason Strong logged 12 points on highly efficient perimeter shooting. And Greg Eboigbodin tallied his own career-high with 13 points, 10 of which came in the first half.

“He has been hampered with some minor injuries,” Coen explained. “Greg finally got healthy over the pause . . . We needed him against a really tough front line of Towson and their ability to rebound the ball. He gave us an anchor on the backboards and in the low post.”

Eboigbodin erupted early, showing that he wouldn’t let the down time halt his performance. He brought his bouncy shoes too, helping Walker carve up the Towson defense in the game’s opening minutes and throwing an alley-oop from the point guard. 

The pick-and-roll duo combined for 28 first-half points, but the Huskies’ inability to hush Towson’s offensive roar meant that their offensive brilliance netted only a 39–38 halftime lead.

“Defensively we weren’t aggressive enough, we weren’t helping outside the lane on penetration,” Coen said. “We really weren’t attacking dribblers and we were letting them get too comfortable . . . We talked about that at halftime and said, ‘If we come out and defend we’ll put ourselves in a great spot.’ We were already scoring enough points.”

In the second half, Northeastern tamed the Tigers. Leading scorer Zane Martin had just three points on one-for-six shooting (giving him an inefficient 14 points on the afternoon). As a team, Towson shot 32 percent from the field, and while they earned 20 free-throw attempts after the intermission, they bricked nine of them.

As Towson’s shooting slid, Walker kept stoking his iridescent inferno. The soft-handed sophomore dug deep into his bag of tricks to send defenders skidding all over the court. Bamboozling brakes and demoralizing dekes created space for himself and his teammates. Walker matched his first-half total of 18 points which, along with a game-high five assists, blew the game open.

“[Towson] tried a couple different things on him,” Coen explained. “They tried to be very aggressive on ball-screen plays early in the game. They tried to press on most makes, trying to limit his ability and make him give it up to someone else. They also tried switching late in the game and trapping him.”

“It is just a function of having a really good day,” Coen continued. “He has seen those types of coverages before and he has a great sense of when he has to score and when he has to get others involved. He’s going to see that and more tomorrow when we face Towson again. They are certainly going to gameplan to try and limit his effectiveness.”

The only Tiger who improved after halftime was Demetrius Mims, who finished with 11 points on a team-best four-for-five from the field. Jason Gibson contributed 14 points but dealt with foul trouble late in the game.

Coen also confirmed that sparkplug forward Chris Doherty, who played just six minutes and did not attempt a shot, is still working his way back from the injury that kept him out of Northeastern’s last game 20 days ago. Doherty will be available tomorrow, but Coen admitted that “he’s not quite where he needs to be.”

Tomorrow’s game could also be huge for Coen, who can pass Calhoun’s record with a win. Milton Posner and Peyton Doyle will call that contest for WRBB, with coverage commencing at 12:45 PM Eastern.

Northeastern Men’s Basketball Falls to UMass in Season Opener

By Justin Diament and Milton Posner

After several cancellations, reschedulings, and a storm of “will they, won’t they” questions, the Huskies returned to action on Friday afternoon. Despite a scintillating display from sophomore guard Tyson Walker, they buckled under the Minutemen’s robust offense and stifling full court press.

The 94–79 final score reflected a game driven by offensive intensity, as well as the sort of rust and sloppiness you’d expect from two teams that hadn’t played in nine months and had their practice and conditioning interrupted by the pandemic last month. Though both teams fouled constantly throughout, it was Northeastern’s 15 first-half turnovers that fueled UMass’s offense and put the Huskies on the defensive.

“Our spacing was really, really bad. We overhandled and mishandled the ball,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said bluntly. “When you’re up against a pressing team you have to keep your composure. We had moments where we did that and moments that led to 6–0, 8–0 runs that stretched the game out. It has to be a coordinated, five-man effort with proper spacing and proper passing. In the first half we didn’t get that.”

Walker’s first-half play was the more refined aspect of the Huskies’ game. Though he attempted just four shots, he earned numerous trips to the free-throw line and knocked down nine of 10. “Early on, we’re going to expect Tyson to be an all-star guy for us,” Coen said, and all-star Walker was. He stayed just as effective after halftime, finishing with 29 points on seven-of-nine shooting from the floor and 13 of 14 from the line.

“Tyson’s going to have the freedom that [Jordan] Roland had because that’s how good Tyson is,” UMass Head Coach Matt McCall said. “We’ve got find ways to get the call out of his hands. We can’t let him split traps in the halfcourt.”


Despite Walker’s best efforts, the Huskies turnover and foul woes helped UMass to an 11-point halftime lead. Though Northeastern took better care of the ball after the break — just three giveaways — UMass’s outside shooters rained a barrage of three pointers that snuffed out Husky rallies in the early minutes of the second half.

UMass freshman Javohn Garcia had a college debut to remember, logging 23 points on just 13 shots. McCall said that he did not plan to play Garcia for 33 minutes, but “when something’s working you’ve got to stick with it.”

Garcia’s offensive contributions may have been the difference, but UMass got no shortage of buckets from their main star, sophomore center Tre Mitchell. Mitchell dominated against every defender Northeastern threw at him, particularly starting big man Greg Eboigbodin.

“I knew that I kinda had a step on him,” Mitchell said. “so I wanted to bring him out to the perimeter a bit more.”

Coen praised Mitchell effusively, remarking that “He’s a terrific low-post players with terrific footwork. He can pass out of the double team. He can catch the ball at 18, 20 feet, put the ball down, and get to the rim. And he can make threes. When you put him in ball screen coverage, it makes it a little tougher because he can drive closeouts and create some space.

“UMass did a great job screening for him and getting him the ball in spots where he could be effective. And it’s always great when you play around a guy who commands extra attention. He’s a willing passer, he’s got great vision out of the post.”

McCall was more concise and lofty in his praise, saying simply, “He’s the best frontcourt player in the country and he needs to be recognized as that.”

All of this is not to say that the Huskies didn’t have bright spots as well. Transfer forward Chris Doherty shone in spots, using clever, well-timed cuts to notch eight points; he also grabbed a handful of high-leverage rebounds. Jahmyl Telfort played 28 minutes, the most of any of the newcomers, and logged 12 points while making both of his three-point tries.

The Huskies were missing freshman forward Alex Nwagha, who is dealing with an injury sustained in practice. Coen said that Nwagha could have played in an emergency today, but that they “want to give him the best chance to do what he does when he is healthy.”

Coen observed that it was a tough first college experience for his five new players given UMass’s skill and pressing capability, and that the team didn’t respond well. They’ll have a chance to make amends Sunday at noon, when the Minuteman pay a visit to Matthews Arena for the back end of the home-and-home. Milton Posner, Justin Diament, and Jordan Baron will have the call, with coverage beginning at 11:45 AM Eastern.

Northeastern Basketball Schedules Announced

By Milton Posner

The Colonial Athletic Association announced its 2020–21 schedules for men’s and women’s basketball on Wednesday morning.

Teams will play 18 conference games across January and February, same as usual. But to limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, teams will play back-to-back games on Saturdays and Sundays against the same opponent in the same venue. If Northeastern’s men’s team faces a school at home on a given weekend, the women face that same school on the road.

Credit: Northeastern Athletics

The only exceptions are games against a school’s travel partner (closest neighbor), which will take place as a traditional home-and-home on Thursdays and Saturdays. This ensures that teams will play the same number of road games as home games. Northeastern’s travel partner is Hofstra.

The schedule innovations mean that roughly half of games will be played on the second night of a back-to-back, something CAA schools usually do only for tournaments.

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge to play two games in 48 hours with travel and everything else,” Northeastern men’s basketball head coach Bill Coen observed. “It’s going to be new for everybody. So it’s not going to be an advantage for one team or another. But we’ll have to be mindful and thoughtful about how we construct our practices and at least once a week have two really intense practices back-to-back to build up some capacity and some understanding of what that’s going to feel like. I think that that’s going to be the single biggest adjustment for us in the preseason.”

Coen’s team has not commenced live practices yet, and has tried to adhere to pandemic protocols for the ones that happen. Coaches and players wear masks and distance from one another, plus there is a limit on the number of people allowed in the gym.

“As we . . . get into some live play, we want to [gradually accelerate] our activity,” Coen explained. “We don’t want to jump all into it because you got guys who didn’t go through our normal summer strength and conditioning program. Some guys had access to gyms, other guys were pretty limited on what they could do . . . We don’t want to go too quickly before we’re ready physically to compete and bang bodies.”

Game times, broadcast schedules, and tie-breaking formats have yet to be announced, and games can be made up if the pandemic forces delays.

According to the NCAA, schools can begin play as early as November 25. Northeastern has not finalized its non-conference slate, although it has  committed to a tournament in Washington, D.C., with George Mason, Howard, and UMBC.

Said Coen of the non-conference slate: “We have a very young team, and we’re searching for some games where we can have some learning opportunities and play differing styles and get some preparation against the press, get some preparation against a zone team, play different levels and different types of coaching styles. I think those are really great teachers, and give us the experience and tape that we need to move forward before we get into CAA play.” He added that where the Huskies play will depend on the rate of new COVID-19 cases in opponents’ states.

NCAA D1 Council Approves Nov. 25 Start Date for Basketball

By Milton Posner

The NCAA’s Division I Council voted Wednesday to kick off the men’s and women’s college basketball seasons the day before Thanksgiving.

According to Associate Athletic Director Scott MacDonald, Northeastern will finalize its schedules after the NCAA Board of Directors approves the council’s proposal on September 22. The Colonial Athletic Association, which houses both Northeastern basketball squads, is continuing to evaluate what its season will look like.

The council seems to be counting on the timing of the start to help ensure safety. By November 25, roughly three-quarters of Division I schools will have either concluded their fall terms or will have moved instruction online. Northeastern concludes fall classes on December 2 and finals week on December 11.

However, if cases spike between now and November, the start date could be pushed back. The council did not offer regulations on COVID-related game-day protocols or testing, although Matt Norlander of CBS cited “speculation from stakeholders” that Division I sports will have access to more affordable testing by the time the season begins. Northeastern, which already has a large testing operation and a low positive test rate in a low-risk state, has a decent shot at remaining healthy.

Because the season is starting 15 days later than originally planned, the NCAA reduced the maximum number of games teams can schedule. Men’s basketball teams can play 24 regular season games and one multi-team event of up to three games, or 25 regular season games and a multi-team even of two games. Women’s basketball teams can play 23 regular-season games and a four-game event, or 25 regular season games and no event. To meet sponsorship requirements and be considered for NCAA championship selection, teams must play 13 games against Division I opponents and should play at least four non-conference games.

There will be a transition period from September 21 to October 13, in which teams can schedule up to 12 combined hours a week of strength and conditioning, sport-related meetings, and skill instruction, though skill instruction cannot take up more than eight of the 12 hours. Players must also have two days off per week.

Teams can begin full practices on October 14, six weeks before the season commences. They can conduct a maximum of 30 practices. Players can work out for up to 20 hours per week, though they cannot work out for more than four hours per day and must have one off day per week. Teams cannot play exhibitions or closed scrimmages before November 25, and though they can request to play games before then, the NCAA oversight committees have indicated they are unlikely to grant waivers.

Although the council did not make a long-term decision on recruiting, the dead period — during which coaches cannot visit recruits in person — has been extended to January 1.

Northeastern’s women’s basketball team went 13–16 (9–9 CAA) last year and secured the fifth seed in the CAA Tournament, which was canceled due to the pandemic. The men’s team went 17–16 (9–9 CAA), secured the sixth seed in the conference tournament, and defeated No. 3 Towson and No. 7 Elon before falling to No. 1 Hofstra in the final.

Men’s Basketball Finishes Third in Preseason Poll

Image credit: nuhuskies.com

By Milton Posner

Ahh, the CAA Preseason Poll. That wonderful time of year when the conference’s coaches, media relations directors, and media members (including a few from your favorite Northeastern student radio station) gaze deep into their crystal balls and relay the results of the upcoming season. The results of this annual divination ritual, released Wednesday, were among the closest ever, with five teams receiving first-place votes.

TeamPoints (First-Place Votes
Hofstra Pride331 (14)
Charleston Cougars323 (18)
Northeastern Huskies291 (4)
James Madison Dukes253 (3)
Delaware Blue Hens241 (2)
Towson Tigers194
William & Mary Tribe131
Drexel Dragons125
UNCW Seahawks118
Elon Phoenix48

Hofstra, the defending regular-season titleholder, narrowly topped Charleston despite receiving fewer first-place votes. Northeastern finished third without immediate neighbors, and James Madison squeaked ahead of Delaware.

Charleston senior guard Grant Riller took home Preseason Player of the Year Honors and headlined the All-CAA First Team.

First TeamGrant Riller, Charleston
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Brian Fobbs, Towson
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Matt Lewis, James Madison
Second TeamJordan Roland, Northeastern
Ryan Allen, Delaware
Camren Wynter, Drexel
Desure Buie, Hofstra
Darius Banks, James Madison
Honorable MentionBolden Brace, Northeastern
Kai Toews, UNCW
Kevin Anderson, Delaware
James Butler, Drexel
Marcus Sheffield II, Elon

Hofstra, Charleston, and Northeastern, the top three finishers in the poll, were the top three finishers in the regular season last year, albeit in a different order. All three lost major contributors — Justin Wright-Foreman, Jarrell Brantley, and Vasa Pusica, respectively — to graduation. They, along with fellow first-teamer Devontae Cacok of UNCW, signed pro contracts. This was a familiar theme during the CAA offseason; many of the conference’s most talented players graduated or transferred, including William & Mary’s Justin Pierce, Drexel’s Alihan Demir, and Northeastern’s Shawn Occeus.

Hofstra will look to defend its regular-season crown behind a trio of guards: second-teamer Eli Pemberton, third-teamer and Defensive Player of the Year Desure Buie, and the sweet-shooting Tareq Coburn. Charleston will lean heavily on Riller and hope for increased contributions from their maturing role players, namely Brevin Galloway. Northeastern, the defending CAA champion, offers second-teamer Jordan Roland, versatile guard/forward Bolden Brace, and a mix of returning role players and freshman recruits. James Madison and Delaware look to rebound from losing years behind star guards and, in Delaware’s case, two high-powered transfers in Dylan Painter and Nate Darling.

WRBB will post detailed previews for each CAA team the week before Northeastern’s November 5 opening again Boston University. Michael Petillo and Milton Posner will be on the call; coverage begins at 6:45 PM ET.