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.
BOSTON — It’s not the greatest idea to wake a sleeping dragon.
But during the second half Saturday afternoon, the Hofstra Pride did just that. Northeastern’s Tyson Walker had been a consistent if unremarkable presence all game, dropping eight points in a first half where the Huskies dominated on both sides of the court. But after the Pride rattled off 17 unanswered points coming out of the locker room, Walker decided he’d had enough.
Along with Jahmyl Telfort and Shaq Walters, Walker keyed a second-half onslaught that launched the Northeastern to a 67–56 win over Hofstra.
The Huskies, who lost five of six non-conference games on a heavy diet of high-major programs, now sit at 5–5. They just swept a team they lost to three times last year. Their 4–0 start to conference play is their best since 2016–17. And they have established themselves as frontrunners in a conference where they were projected to finish seventh.
“The game we played against Syracuse helped us this weekend, because you’re playing against the zone, you’re working out some kinks, guys are getting a little bit of feel,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said. “We played against pressing teams, we played against really physical inside teams in West Virginia and athletic teams in Georgia, so it’s given our guys a tutorial of what it takes to win at a competitive level.”
That flexible matchup zone, a calling card of the Pride, nudged the Huskies toward a perimeter-oriented style. They hoisted 37 three-pointers, more than they had in any game since the conference championship in March. They also tried just three free-throws, their fewest since February 21, 2016. Both of those games were against Hofstra.
“That’s what they give you,” Coen observed. “Year in and year out they’re one of the best teams in the country at not fouling. So you’re not getting any free points there . . . We got some really quality twos, but you’re going to need to make some threes against them.”
In the first half, Quirin Emanga set the tone for the Huskies. Although forwards Greg Eboigbodin, Chris Doherty, and Connor Braun were all available, Coen said that none had practiced live since being injured and he didn’t want to risk their health. Doherty played a few minutes to relieve Emanga, but Emanga was expected to carry a heavy load in his first college start.
He was brilliant from the opening tip, scoring seven of Northeastern’s first 13 points on two drives and a three-pointer. He finished with 14, but his defense shone brightest. For the second straight game, he locked up Hofstra’s star big man Isaac Kante, who tried just seven shots all game. Emanga kept Kante away from favorable spots, took charges, and kept the Husky defense from scrambling.
“We’re way faster,” Walker said about Emanga’s impact. “I feel like Q just brings a lot of fight on the court, so everybody feeds off of that.”
Jason Strong was red-hot from deep to start the game, eventually finishing with 11 points. His two blocks were a key element of the Huskies’ stifling first-half defense, which held the Pride to 21 points on 33 percent shooting. The Huskies also dominated the turnover battle; after coughing up the ball 11 times in a rough first half on Thursday, Northeastern had just nine giveaways all game on Saturday.
But the first seven minutes of the second half were all Hofstra. By the time a Walker three stopped the bleeding with 12:44 remaining, the Pride had exploded for 17 straight points. Everything they wanted on offense, they got. The Huskies offense went dark, at first due to stringent Hofstra pressure and then due to missed open looks.
And then Tyson Walker happened.
His barrage of threes, including a couple of unconscionably long heat checks, stopped the Pride in their tracks. Walker would finish with 23 points; of his 17 tries from the field, 13 were threes. Seven went in.
“It wasn’t anything really different, it was just me being aware that I was more open,” Walker said. “I took a step back, I was more open, the farther I stepped back I was more open.”
“He earned the heat check,” Coen said. “All of the sudden the energy picked up on the bench. His teammates now are playing with that same confidence, they borrowed his confidence. He’s a confident kid, he’s an accomplished player, he’s our most accomplished player, and I was really really happy for him that he stepped up and led us to victory.”
Telfort and Walters, both of whom logged scoreless first halves, found their rhythms too, burying back-to-back threes late in the half to open up an insurmountable 10-point lead. Telfort made his mark under the basket as well, picking up an athletic offensive rebound off of a Strong miss and securing the putback to quell a desperate Hofstra run.
Walker put a bow on the contest with a beautiful press-breaking pass to a wide-open Walters, who slammed down the overhead dunk.
“I was really proud of our guys being able to recalibrate in the heat of the moment, find a way,” Coen said of the second half. “Felt like there was a lid on the basket for the first eight minutes, and then all of a sudden Tyson just willed us back into the game. And everybody else joined the party and settled down.
Tareq Coburn led the way for Hofstra with 15 points, joined by Jalen Ray (14), and Caleb Burgess (10). Though many of Hofstra’s top players logged solid games on the whole, none scored in overwhelming volume or with notable efficiency. Kante and Kvonn Cramer pulled down a combined 26 rebounds, but aside from the opening seven minutes of the half, they never entirely clicked on offense.
“We didn’t match their physicality and toughness in the first half,” Hofstra Acting Head Coach Mike Farrelly said. “A lot of the time you think about toughness as ‘get in a defensive stance, get a rebound,’ all that stuff. But you have to be tough with the ball against Northeastern. We weren’t good with that in the first half.”
The Huskies will get a week off before heading down to South Carolina to take on the College of Charleston in a two-game weekend set.
HEMPSTEAD, NY — When Bill Coen led his team into the locker room at halftime Thursday evening, he was less than pleased with the state of affairs.
The Huskies trailed the preseason favorite Hofstra Pride by 17. The four most prolific scorers in the game were all wearing blue, while Northeastern’s best had tallied just six. The Huskies seemingly had no answer for Isaac Kante, who looked like he’d not just eaten his own Wheaties, but everyone else’s too. And the Huskies’ perimeter-oriented ball movement wasn’t exactly smashing holes in Hofstra’s zone defense. By all accounts, the lead seemed insurmountable.
Fast forward about an hour and fifteen minutes — Shaquille Walters pump fakes from the triple-threat, fakes a drive, calmly pulls up, and strokes home his third three-pointer of the overtime period to push the Northeastern lead to five with 15.8 seconds to play.
Wait . . . what?
A persistent second-half surge from Northeastern (4–5, 3–0 CAA), as well as key contributions up and down the roster, erased a 17-point halftime deficit en route to an 81–78 overtime win over Hofstra (6–4, 2–1 CAA).
Walters poured in 20 points — nine of which came in overtime — along with seven rebounds and six assists. He knocked down seven of his 10 shots, including four of five from beyond the arc. Jason Strong scored 18 while playing most of the second half (and overtime) with four fouls; he also added six boards.
But arguably the most important contribution came from Quirin Emanga, as the 6’5”, 220-pound sophomore was tasked with guarding the 6’7”, 240-pound Kante after Strong headed to the bench with four fouls early in the second half.
Kante had made all seven field goals he’d tried to that point. He wouldn’t make another.
“He’s not afraid to give up his body, he’s not afraid to get on the floor,” Coen said of Emanga. “He puts a body on somebody to box out. He just gave us that backbone we needed to help our team to get a little bit more confident.”
In arguably the best game of his college career, Emanga finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and the sort of game-changing defense box scores can’t capture. The Huskies were +19 with Emanga on the floor.
The Huskies had many issues in the opening 20 minutes. Besides the omnipotent bruising of Kante — who said afterward that he knew he could abuse Strong underneath — Northeastern had 11 turnovers to their name and shot a horrid two-for-12 from deep. Their defense had no answers and their offense wasn’t penetrating Hofstra’s matchup zone. Hofstra’s perimeter shooting was clicking, they were hunting down rebounds, and their ball movement ran circles around the Huskies. The upshot was a 24–6 Pride run to close the half.
“We probably played our best half of the year in the first 20 minutes,” Hofstra Acting Head Coach Mike Farrelly said, “certainly followed up by our worst 20 minutes of the year.”
Tyson Walker’s passes, a bit off at the start, started hitting his teammates in stride. The shots that didn’t fall in the first half were now finding the bottom of the bucket. And, just as importantly, it was the opposite script for Kante and the Pride. Six Hofstra players recorded multiple makes from the field in the first half; in the second, just two did.
“Strange that a team could play so well, then lose their identity and come out that way in the second half,” Farrelly remarked. “Not a great effort in the second half. Didn’t love our spirit in the second half.”
After two big buckets from freshman J’Vonne Hadley, a personal 7–0 run from Strong gave Northeastern a five-point edge — their largest of the night — with just over five minutes to play in the second half.
But Northeastern couldn’t hold on, as they managed just a single Jahmyl Telfort free throw the rest of the way. Hofstra got two inside shots from Caleb Burgess (15 points, eight assists) down the stretch to even the score at 68, then turned the ball over with ten seconds to play.
“I really don’t usually take timeouts in those situations,” Coen said. “I usually have a strong trust with our point guards, but it was about five seconds [on the clock] and it didn’t look like we were getting anything.”
The first play Coen drew up didn’t work, as quick Hofstra hands knocked a Walker pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds to go. Coen’s second play didn’t work either, as the only open player was Telfort — 35 feet from the basket — who fired long.
“We were trying to get a backside flare with Tyson and a skip over the top, but it didn’t materialize,” Coen said. “I didn’t help our guys at the end of regulation, that’s for sure. Luckily, they bailed me out.”
In the overtime, a quick 7–2 run gave Northeastern a five-point cushion. But Hofstra nailed their free throws down the stretch, and cut the lead to one with a minute and a half to play.
But Walters waltzed up and calmly hit a three.
Burgess retorted with a layup. Then Walters did the exact same thing again. The sharpshooting struck Farrelly as abnormal, especially given Walters’ 32 percent clip from deep on the year, and his 29 percent mark last season.
“He’s a very good player. He’s not a great shooter,” Farrelly said. “He’s a really good playmaker, drives against the zone, drives and kicks, excellent passer at that size. But certainly him going four-for-five from three is an anomaly.”
After two free throws, Hofstra still had a final chance to tie with two seconds to play. But a contested desperation heave from Jalen Ray came up short. Ray, Hofstra’s leading scorer on the year, shot just five-for-19 from the field for 15 points. Fellow senior Tareq Coburn fared better, posting 13 points on more efficient shooting.
As a rematch of the last two CAA title games, the game’s importance, even this early in the season, was noted. And the fierceness of the competition was not lost on the players.
“A little trash talking here and there, a lot of chippiness,” Kante said. “This is a rivalry; let’s call it what it is. They took something from us two years ago, we took something from them last year.”
After a difficult non-conference slate chock full of high-major opponents, Northeastern is up to 3–0 in the CAA for the second straight season, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Huskies and Pride will rematch Saturday in Boston. Milton Posner and Mike Puzzanghera will call that game, with coverage beginning at 11:50 AM Eastern.
BOSTON — Northeastern men’s basketball entered Sunday afternoon’s rematch with Elon after demolishing the Phoenix the day before. A game that stayed close through halftime was decided by a furious 11–0 run to begin the second half.
Sunday’s game was precisely the opposite. After opening a double-digit lead four minutes in, Northeastern (3–5, 2–0 CAA) held off a furious second-half comeback from Elon (3–3, 0–2 CAA) to win 66–58. The weekend sweep marks a stark turnaround for a Husky team that spent its non-conference slate being bludgeoned by high-major teams.
The Huskies began the afternoon on a torrid stretch, sinking their first eight shots. Freshman Coleman Stucke led the way, connecting on his first two triples. By the time Northeastern missed a shot, they led 19–7.
The Huskies’ run was driven in good part by their first starting lineup tweak of the season. With usual starting center Greg Eboigbodin suffering from spasms before the game, Jason Strong slid down to the five and Jahmyl Telfort joined the group.
“It changes my mindset,” Strong said. “Being the five, I have to be the best rebounder out there. I have to be the anchor of the defense and that changes my style.”
Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen noted that while the move gave Strong a jump-shot and pick-and-pop mismatch against traditional post players, his most important rationale for the move was Strong’s familiarity with Elon’s Princeton offense.
“It was more about brains over brawn in that situation,” Coen explained. “He had done it before last year, he had played a little five against them . . . He was the most experienced guy at that spot and I thought he did a tremendous job.”
Elon answered Northeastern’s opening run with one of their own, working the ball inside to make it a 21–15 game with 12 minutes to play in the first half. Part of this was Federico Poser, Elon’s big man off the bench, contributing multiple buckets after not playing the previous day. Coen brought in Alexander Nwagha, who immediately made his presence felt down low with a spectacular block on Poser.
The Huskies turned right around and put together a 12–0 run, capped by a Jahmyl Telfort slam.
In the closing minutes of the half, Elon’s Hunter McIntosh reminded people why he is the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year, scoring six points to close the deficit to ten entering the break.
Neither team had found the bottom of the net from downtown since the 15-minute mark of the first half. They each connected on a pair of triples in the first two and a half minutes after the break, although both finished with subpar efforts from distance.
“In the second half of a back-to-back series your legs go a little bit and you lose some of your three point range,” Coen said. “We had to rely a little more on getting to the basket.”
With 14 minutes to play, Strong ended a brief scoring drought for the Huskies with his second triple of the game. The junior finished with a strong 17 points and seven boards.
As Elon fought back down the stretch, even shrinking the Northeastern lead to three with four-and-a-half minutes remaining, Shaquille Walters and Tyson Walker stole the show for the Huskies.
“He’s our go-to guy, he knows it, our team knows it and our staff knows it,” Coen said of Walker. “At that juncture in the game, he [can] feel the game and make the appropriate play . . . A lot of guys have the ability but don’t have the mindset or the personality for it. He’s got the confidence to do that, and we’re going to rely on him heavily.”
Walker and Walters combined for 13 points in the last seven minutes of the game, with Walker scoring or assisting on 13 of the Huskies’ final 15 points.
The Huskies’ next games come against the Hofstra Pride, who ended the Huskies’ season last year in the CAA Championship Game. Because the teams are travel partners, it will be the one traditional home-and-home for the Huskies in conference play. Game one begins Thursday night at 7 PM Eastern from Hempstead, NY.
When Shaq Walters splashed home a long, difficult three-pointer with 17:53 left in the game, Northeastern men’s basketball fans had every reason to be jubilant. The team had tried 15 triples to that point, converting 10. And they led the undefeated Georgia Bulldogs by 14 points on the road.
Ten minutes later, they trailed by seven. Twenty-one unanswered Georgia points turned a dominant Husky first half into a footnote in a 76–58 Bulldog blowout.
“I thought it was physicality, to be honest,” Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen said of the second-half struggles. “Every cut there was a body on, every dribble there was a body on. They were climbing the glass and they’ve got some terrific athletes . . . We had a couple plays where I thought we could’ve settled down and got back into flow, but that didn’t happen.”
The Huskies mustered just 13 points after the intermission, their lowest total in a half since they logged 11 first-half points against South Florida on November 29, 2008. They made just five of 30 tries from the field, turned the ball over 13 times, and attempted no free throws. Georgia forced their way inside to earn quality looks, contested Husky shots, and coaxed Tyson Walker into foul trouble that limited his second-half minutes.
“Our secondary ballhandlers have to get better,” Coen said bluntly. “Tyson had his way in the first half and was able to split ball screens and everything else. They had a strategy to go at him and try to foul him out of the game and make somebody else handle it. So our other guys have to grow, learn in that role, and do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
Had the Huskies not collapsed in the second half, the first half would have been the story. In arguably the best 20 minutes of basketball the team has played this season, they dialed in from downtown to the tune of 69 percent. Jahmyl Telfort led the way, splashing home all four triples he attempted and logging a game-high 15 points in the period.
Tyson Walker catalyzed the offense, torching the Bulldogs with lightning-quick drives and smooth-stroked jumpers on his way to 14 points and six assists before halftime. Even when Georgia started taking better care of the ball and limiting Northeastern with a zone defense, the Huskies kept knocking down shots, and led 45–32 at halftime.
“We had really good spacing,” Coen said. “When we got into the paint, we knew they were gonna take charges, so we emphasized getting two feet down and making passes, rather than trying to score over them or around them.”
But they couldn’t recreate that formula in the second.
“I thought the second half we got sped up and guys got into the lane and didn’t look to spray it,” Coen observed. “The first half we got in and we made really good plays; whenever we get assisted baskets we’re playing our type of game. Second half was more one on one, more dribbling, less passing, and that’s never a good sign.”
Walker and Telfort finished with 19 and 15 points, respectively, to lead the Huskies, though they both fell off in the second half and no other Huskies were major contributors on offense. Andrew Garcia, Toumani Camara, P.J. Horne, and Sahvir Wheeler keyed the Bulldogs’ attack, each posting double figures in points.
The win made Georgia one of only eight teams in the country to stay undefeated through seven games. The Huskies dropped to 1–4 in their last scheduled non-conference game, though Coen confirmed that the team is seeking another contest — hopefully a home game — early next week.