Second-Half Woes Sink Men’s Basketball Again

By Matt Neiser

HEMPSTEAD, NY — The Northeastern men’s basketball team came into Saturday afternoon’s game against Hofstra on a three-game losing streak, desperate for a win as William & Mary, Charleston, and Hofstra have begun to separate themselves at the top of the CAA.

Looking for revenge after Eli Pemberton’s last-second game-winner in their last matchup, the Huskies came rocketing out of the gate and built a sizable first-half lead. But Northeastern’s demons followed them to Hempstead, as they succumbed to yet another second-half comeback and lost 75–71.

The Huskies’ (11–13, 5–7 CAA) defense stifled the Pride (18–7, 9–3, CAA) early on, keying an 8–0 run to start the game and forcing a timeout from Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich just two minutes in. Shaquille Walters started the game matched up with Pemberton, who dropped a team-high 24 points in the reverse fixture at Matthews earlier this season. Walters defended his assignment exceptionally, using his size and length to bother the 6’5” Pemberton, who is used to rising up over defenders for shots. Clearly affected by Walters, Pemberton missed his first five shots and seven of his first eight.

Likewise, freshman Tyson Walker’s defense on Desure Buie — Hofstra’s leading scorer this season — was a huge part of the Huskies’ early success. Buie clanked six shots to begin his afternoon and struggled throughout the game to create separation from Walker.

While Walters and Walker kept things in check defensively, Jordan Roland kept it rolling on the offensive end. The redshirt senior poured in 19 efficient first-half points, going seven-for-12 from the field while knocking down a trio of triples. Fellow senior Bolden Brace knocked down six free throws en route to eight points of his own in the first 20 minutes. 

Despite the great individual efforts in the first half, a Buie buzzer-beating jumper cut Northeastern’s lead to 10 heading into the break. With Hofstra’s league-best offense looking to break free and the Huskies’ penchant for letting teams back into games, the second half was bound to entertain.

And entertain it did. Well, if you’re a Pride fan at least.

With Max Boursiquot committing three fouls in the first half, Husky head coach Bill Coen went to Jason Strong to start the second half. Equal to the task, the redshirt sophomore compiled a quick six points over the first 3:14 of the frame — the only Husky to score in that span. 

“Jason’s got some ability . . . he played with some energy today. We needed it,” Coen said. “I thought he made some really nice plays for us.”

His last basket of the stretch put the Huskies up 46–32, and they looked to be in the driver’s seat.

From then on, those pesky demons reared their ugly heads once again. From the 18:24 mark to 10:23, Northeastern was whistled for 10 fouls to Hofstra’s one. When the dust settled, Roland and Boursiquot each had four fouls, while Walker and Strong sat at three apiece. The free throws awarded from those fouls helped the Pride rip off a 21–6 run over the next seven minutes after Strong’s bucket, capped off by a Jaylen Ray three-pointer to give Hofstra their first lead of the game at 53–52 with just over nine minutes to play.

Roland briefly regained the lead for the Huskies with a jumper of his own, but Buie responded with a pair of swagger-filled triples and a couple of free throws to push the Hofstra lead back to seven points. Try as they might, Northeastern just couldn’t find the juice to claw their way back. 

Strong drilled a clutch three-pointer with 33 seconds left to cut the deficit to three.

After Ray went one-for-two at the charity stripe, Roland missed a trey on the other end. Guilien Smith came up with an offensive rebound off the miss, and the ball found its way back to Roland. The Huskies’ star proceeded to hit one of the most ridiculous shots you’ll ever see — an off-balance, left-handed, Hail Mary of a prayer. Because it’s Jordan Roland, it of course swished right through.

Now in a one-point game, the Huskies tried their best to play the foul game. But six straight made free throws from Buie and Ray held the Huskies at bay, as Northeastern fell to the Pride for their fourth straight loss and fifth in six games.

“I don’t know if I have a message [to the team]. You’ve gotta play winning basketball. Somebody’s gotta make a winning play,” Coen lamented. “A defensive stop, a rebound, a shot . . . obviously we’re not finding a way to win, we’re finding a way to lose.”

Roland finished with a game-high 32 points while pulling down five rebounds. Strong, with 14, was the only other Husky in double-digits. Walters chipped in nine points, nine boards, and four assists of his own, while Brace contributed eight, eight, and three. Ray and Buie ended with 22 points apiece to pace the Pride, while Pemberton added 12.

Northeastern will look to break out of their funk on Thursday, when UNCW makes its way to Matthews Arena. WRBB will provide live coverage, starting with pregame analysis at 6:45 p.m.

Men’s Basketball Loses Third Straight, Drops Below .500

By Milton Posner and Adam Doucette

ELON, North Carolina — The last name the Northeastern Huskies visited the Elon Phoenix, dominant overtime play gave the Huskies an 11-point win and moved them to 2–2 in CAA play.

That was January 10, 2019. It was also the last time the Huskies would possess a losing conference record. Until Saturday.

The Huskies entered the Schar Center having lost their last two and three of their last four. In a game that, at least for standings and momentum purposes, was a must-win, the Huskies faltered down the stretch and let Elon slip past, 74–69. Northeastern is now 11–12 and 5–6 in conference play. They are alone in seventh place.

Elon entered the game shooting more threes than any other CAA team, but averaging only 33 percent on those attempts. They shot plenty of threes on Saturday, but unfortunately for Northeastern they made 53 percent of them, including six makes on eight attempts in the first half. Unlike Thursday against William & Mary, the Huskies struggled to close out the three-point line, giving Elon a number of great looks. Freshman guard Hunter McIntosh’s 12 first-half points led his team to a 36–30 halftime lead. (McIntosh finished with 24 points and missed just one shot all game.)

Elon also came up big on defense. From the beginning, Northeastern guard Jordan Roland struggled to find his rhythm and didn’t score until the three-minute mark of the first half. He finished with 19 points but made just four of his 16 shots. Elon head coach Mike Schrage credited the 6’6” McIntosh whose “positional length” allowed him to tightly contest Roland’s shots.

“The job we did on Jordan Roland and Tyson Walker — big difference in the game,” Schrage noted. “Our guards were better today.”

Northeastern coach Bill Coen seemed to agree, saying of Roland, “He’s got to be aggressive, he’s got to be our leader, no one’s denying that. But I think everybody in the gym knows that at the end of the game he’s going to get it. So he’s got to use that to his advantage and maybe create easy baskets for his teammates . . . He’s a little bit frustrated right now because he can’t get quality looks.”

Elon also stifled the Northeastern offense by neutralizing its screening actions. When the teams met last month, Northeastern did an excellent job making contact on its screens, getting Elon into the habit of switching them. Elon refused to switch this time, double teaming the ballhandler — often Roland — to deny a shot or pass.

“If you’re coming off the screen with the sole intent to score, you’re gonna miss the window when that guy’s open,” Coen said. He also agreed that the Huskies need “better spacing on offense and better play and player movement.”

“The ball’s sticking right now,” he noted. “We’re dribbling the ball too much and not passing and cutting enough. When you hold the ball . . . the defense loads up on all the good players and you end up not getting as good a shot as you would like.”

One of the bright spots for Northeastern was Shaquille Walters, who kicked off Northeastern’s scoring with an and-one layup and stayed aggressive throughout the first half. He notched nine points on five shots to lead the team at halftime.

Though a massive Marcus Sheffield block on Tyson Walker — and Sheffield’s subsequent three-pointer — made it seem as though Elon would control the second half too, Northeastern reversed the tides. The Huskies pushed the ball inside, sometimes earning layups but more often earning free throws. After missing seven of their 11 tries from the line against William & Mary last night — a clip Coen cited as the largest reason for the loss — the Huskies made all 19 free throws tonight.

“We came into practice yesterday and made sure got our rhythm from the line,” Coen said. “Free throws are about routine and confidence. We’re a good free-throw-shooting team.”

The Huskies’ impeccable foul shooting somewhat mitigated a subpar effort from the field, which saw them shoot 39 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. Northeastern also displayed active hands the entire game, forcing a season-high 14 steals and generating 26 points off turnovers.

“We were trying to fit really close passes,” Schrage explained. “They ramped up their pressure even more . . . Pick six turnovers are the worst and we gave up too many of those. That’s where the lead swung in their direction really quickly.”

With 4:26 to go in the game, Northeastern had outscored Elon by 14 points in the second half, led by eight, and appeared to have the game in hand. But Sheffield, Elon’s top scorer this year, scored 14 points to power an 18–5 run. He hit big shot after big shot, none more important than the huge three pointer he nailed with 1:25 left to go that gave Elon a two-point lead. Sheffield ended the night with 28 points on 10–15 shooting including three-for-six from three-point land. Elon made five of its last six shots; Northeastern made one of its last 10.

“He can get his shot any time,” Schrage said of Sheffield. “You could always use or two guys like that.”

“It felt like their either scored a bucket or got fouled,” Coen said. “We didn’t get stops in the last three minutes . . . Our defense let us down today.”

When the Huskies first started dropping conference games by close margins, the problem wasn’t exclusively their execution down the stretch. Against William & Mary it could be Roland’s seven points, against Hofstra it could be the Huskies’ innumerable first-half turnovers, and against UNCW it could be the sudden surge of energy interim head coach Rob Burke brought to his squad.

But after another second-half lead fizzled out, this time against an eighth-place team that had won just two games since Christmas, it has become clear that crunch time failings are this team’s most glaring weakness.

The Huskies will have a week off before their matchup with the tied-for-first Hofstra Pride. Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST on February 8.

Men’s Basketball and The Knight That Won’t End

By Milton Posner

WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia — The green-and-gold-clad players leapt joyfully on the sidelines. The similarly dressed fans erupted into deafening cheers. And the scoreboard, for the final time on a frantic Thursday evening, changed its mind.

But Northeastern fans who were paying attention — and perhaps even a few who weren’t — would have noticed something peculiar. Hadn’t this happened before? Hadn’t Nathan Knight, William & Mary’s uber-talented, hyper-versatile senior big man, done this to them in almost exactly the same way about four weeks before?

For anyone who thought that the eerie similarities between Northeastern’s games against William & Mary and Hofstra reeked of basketball screenwriters too lazy to conjure up an alternate script, the Tribe’s 59–58 win over the Huskies re-opened every recently healed wound.

Once again, a superhuman defensive effort by Max Boursiquot was wasted. Though Knight and fellow big man Andy Van Vliet combined for 23 rebounds, they mustered just 24 points on seven-for-23 shooting.

“Huge credit to Max,” Knight said. “He’s deceptively strong . . . a lot stronger than he appears on paper. His physicality and his quickness, being the size of a guard with the strength of a big, really grants him some upside on the defensive end playing against guys like me who play a little more inside out.

“He’s 212 [pounds], I’m 250, so I try to take advantage of that size by getting the ball as close as I can to the basket. He did a tremendous job today of pressuring our bigs, making us catch the ball where we didn’t want it when there were plays drawn up for us to get on the block.”

But once again, after being locked down by Boursiquot in the first half, Knight came alive in the second, this time logging 13 points on four-of-five shooting from the field and five-of-six from the line.

“The biggest thing was our guards making themselves available when we got the ball in the post,” Knight said of the second-half surge. “Backdoor cuts, getting into open spots for us to see them and get them the ball. Also just being a little more aggressive when we got the ball in the post.

“Being aggressive like that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. It makes them decide: are they going to come help or are they going to stay on the shooters? Applying that kind of pressure was probably the biggest change from the first to the second half, when we weren’t as aggressive getting to the rim, settling for long shots, jump hooks 15 feet away from the basket. But the biggest thing for us was getting into their bodies and making them decide. And it paid off for us.”

And once again, Knight broke Husky hearts with a last-second layup. The Tribe placed Van Vliet and Miguel Ayesa, both excellent three-point shooters, in opposite corners, forcing Northeastern to respect their spacing.

“He gets the ball where he wants to get it and there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We thought it was coming to him, but I didn’t think it was going to be off the dribble. Max has a quickness advantage there, so I thought they’d post him and hunt a foul.”

But the Tribe had other plans, inbounding to Knight 75 feet from the rim with 6.8 seconds to go. Boursiquot stayed attached to Knight until the big man reached the lane, at which point Boursiquot probably figured there was nothing left that he could do and that his teammates would pressure Knight. But Bolden Brace stepped out of Knight’s way, Shaq Walters’ rotation was too little too late, and the Huskies fell short when (once again) a halfcourt heave from Tyson Walker didn’t fall.

“It was drawn up for me to go make something happen,” Knight said of the play. “Seven seconds is a long time in the grand scheme of things. They’re obviously not going to let you walk the ball up the court and you don’t want to launch the ball down the court, so someone has to go get it. We were expecting some pressure, so the best way to get the ball in my hands was to go get it.”

But while the lasting image of Thursday’s game will be Knight’s game-winner and the striking resemblance it bears to his last game-winner against the Huskies, it would be disingenuous to pretend that Knight’s layup is the reason the Huskies lost. After all, Northeastern limited star center Andy Van Vliet to a meager seven points on two-for-11 shooting. They plugged passing lanes, pressured ballhandlers, and denied post players the chance to work in open space. The Tribe shot just 37 percent from the field and a pathetic 12 percent from beyond the three-point arc; Northeastern outshot them handily in both categories while limiting the CAA’s best offensive team to one of its lowest outputs of the year. So how did they lose?

“It wasn’t a defensive loss,” Bill Coen stated flatly. “It was a free throw loss.”

Free throws, as Coen pointed out, are arguably the last way Northeastern would expect to lose. Entering Thursday, the Huskies boasted a free-throw percentage of about 80 percent, the best mark in the CAA and the third-best mark in the country. Yet the Huskies made just four of their 11 free-throw attempts in the second half.

The free throw tallies were a function of accuracy but also of each team’s volume of fouls. While the Tribe certainly dealt with foul trouble — Bryce Barnes, Knight, and Van Vliet all picked up four fouls, with Knight missing minutes he otherwise wouldn’t have — the bug bit Northeastern hardest.

Greg Eboigbodin fouled out with nine minutes still to play. Brace picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go. Boursiquot was whistled for his fourth down the stretch. Shaq Walters played most of the second half with three. Because the fouls were so concentrated in the Husky frontcourt — none of the guards had more than one — they further wounded the Huskies. Northeastern was trying to contend with a surging Nathan Knight — inarguably the most powerful post force in the conference — without much minute-to-minute lineup consistency.

Jordan Roland’s performance also sheds light on the game’s momentum swings. Roland’s respectable stat line is the product of a high-octane first half (16 points on 10 attempts) and a near-invisible second half (two points on four attempts).

“There was no change schematically,” Knight said of his squad’s defense on Roland. “Huge credit to Luke Loewe — probably one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever seen in my life. It was him on top of a group of guys out there determined to stop him. Jordan Roland is a dynamic scorer, scores the ball in a bunch of ways. One of the biggest things for us was making him uncomfortable and having a crowded floor when he did get the ball in space. Make him get the ball out, make the secondary guys beat us.”

That said, Roland’s effort was not without larger meaning.

While the win kept William & Mary atop the conference standings with an 8–2 record (16–7 overall), the Huskies dropped to 5–5 (11–11 overall). With Delaware and Drexel not playing Thursday, the Huskies assumed sole possession of seventh place.

Some measures would indicate the Huskies are better than that. Their average margin (6.8 points) in conference play is still best in the CAA, and their five losses have come by a combined nine points (Thursday’s one-point loss follows four two-point losses). But even the admittedly small ten-game conference sample indicates that the Huskies are struggling to execute at the end of games, an issue they’ll need to resolve given the CAA’s preposterous parity this season.

“It’s frustrating to be this close,” Coen said. “We’ve been around the block here and there’s nobody in this league that we can’t compete with . . . it should have been more than a one-possession game.”

The Huskies will travel a couple hundred miles south for a Saturday tilt against the Elon Phoenix. Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Delaware, 76–74

By Milton Posner

BOSTON — At the close of CAA action on Saturday, the Northeastern Huskies’ average margin of victory in conference play rested at 7.7 points, nearly three points better than the next-best team. And yet they sat tied for fifth, owners of a 5–4 conference record, an anomaly possible only because each one of their losses has been by two points.

Four losses. Three of them in front of their home crowd. Two of them on last-second game-winners. Eight combined points.

The Huskies appeared to be in the driver’s seat for most of Saturday’s tilt against the Delaware Blue Hens. They took a 13-point lead into halftime, buoyed by Jordan Roland’s 14 points. Max Boursiquot and Myles Franklin each contributed eight points without missing a shot.

Northeastern picked up where it left off Thursday night against Drexel. Players moved constantly and the ball didn’t sit in one person’s hands for too long. Boursiquot, Bolden Brace, and Greg Eboigbodin sprung ballhandlers loose on screens; if the screens didn’t force switches or create separation, they would spread out and re-screen the ball. Roland earned a number of open perimeter looks by dashing around staggered pindown screens. The offense was efficient, precise, and energetic.

On defense, Boursiquot once again held fast against larger matchups, in this case 6’10” Villanova transfer Dylan Painter and 6’7” standout Justyn Mutts. The Huskies fought through and around screens, rotated swiftly, and swiped errant or lazy passes. Transfer guard Nate Darling, who nearly kept pace with Jordan Roland’s scoring in non-conference play, registered just six points on eight shots.

The first half mirrored Thursday’s game against Drexel; the second mirrored last week’s game at UNCW. Once again, a 16-point second-half lead steadily evaporated. Once again, Northeastern allowed the opponents’ guards easy access to the lane. Once again, the game ended in a 76–74 Husky loss.

“We just couldn’t get a stop in the second half,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We just came out really, really flat . . . They made a couple shots, got their energy up, and decided to play attack basketball.”

On one level it was a team problem. Northeastern’s rotations weren’t as crisp in the second half as they’d been in the first, and sometimes close contests didn’t happen even when the rotations did. Perimeter defenders had a harder time keeping their assignments in front of them. The Blue Hens tried 12 second-half two-pointers and nailed 11 of them.

But the biggest post-halftime change was Darling, who poured in 28 points and missed just three shots all half. He established his perimeter shooting and his assertive driving simultaneously, leaving the Huskies wondering which way to force him. He finished with a game-high 34 points — his best total since November 10 — and catalyzed the Blue Hens’ 47-point second half.

Just like the UNCW game, the meltdown didn’t happen all at once. In the absence of speedy transition basketball (the squads combined for just 13 fastbreak points) or numerous turnovers, the lead shifted gradually.

The Huskies also suffered from factors outside their control. Junior forward Shaq Walters was not present at Matthews Arena, which Coen attributed to a “violent stomach bug.”

“Just really, really bad timing for Shaq . . . it was a day that we could really use him,” Coen noted. “With his perimeter defense he would have been the perfect guy in this role.”

It was a significant loss for a Northeastern frontcourt already missing junior forward Tomas Murphy, who has been sidelined for more than two months with an ankle injury.

“Tomas hasn’t returned to practice yet,” Coen confirmed. “I’m not really sure where it’s gonna go but he hasn’t been healthy enough to get back and practice . . . The deeper it gets into the season I’m less hopeful.”

All the challenges aside, the Huskies had a chance to pull out a victory. Down two points with the shot clock turned off, they planned to feed Roland for their last shot, with an inside option for Boursiquot as well. But with 10 seconds left, Tyson Walker found himself with the ball out top, guarded by the larger, slower Jacob Cushing. Walker started his drive, but lost his balance on a crossover, fell, and couldn’t bet Cushing’s dive for the ball.

Roland finished with 27 points and is averaging 30 points per game across the team’s last five contests. Boursiquot chipped in a career-high 18 points, adding six rebounds and immeasurable defensive presence in the first half. Besides Darling, the only Blue Hen with a great stat line was junior guard Kevin Anderson, who notched an efficient 12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

The Huskies have shown brilliance at times in non-conference play, but the brilliance has been dulled by poor execution down the stretches of close games. They will try to get back on track Thursday night at William & Mary, the team that dealt them the first of their four two-point losses. Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call the game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Tribe on Knight’s Game-Winner

By Matt Neiser

BOSTON — Entering Saturday’s games, three CAA men’s basketball teams boasted undefeated records. Two of those teams, Northeastern and Charleston, were of no surprise to most CAA followers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted the third team would be where they are.

The William & Mary Tribe, with long-time head coach Tony Shaver freshly fired and four of five starters from last year transferring, were projected to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches and media poll. After an impressive non-conference run and a 2–0 start to the CAA slate — including a 27-point destruction of preseason-favorite Hofstra — no one is picking them that low anymore.

Northeastern looked to leave a black mark on that résumé while adding to their own as the two teams faced off in Matthews Arena Saturday evening. In a back-and-forth affair that came right down to the final possession, the Huskies — and Tyson Walker’s last-second half court heave — came up just short as the Tribe came away with their second-straight statement win over a conference heavyweight.

After a quick William & Mary (11–5, 3–0 CAA) burst to begin the game, Northeastern (9–7, 3–1 CAA) found their groove and evened the game at nine points apiece heading into the first media timeout. This theme would persist for most of the first half, with the two sides trading runs. Trailing 21–15 a little over halfway through the first frame, the Huskies went on a 12–0 scoring spree to take a six-point lead.

Not to be outdone, the Tribe answered with their own 12–0 burst to close the half, spurred by seven points from seven-foot Wisconsin transfer Andy Van Vliet. While Van Vliet scored 11 points in the first half, his partner-in-crime on the low block — reigning All-CAA First Teamer Nathan Knight — was relatively quiet, scoring just six points on two-for-five shooting.

Why did Knight struggle, you may ask? Two words: Max Boursiquot. The 6’5”, 210-pound redshirt junior gave up five inches and 25 pounds to Knight, but more than matched the star forward’s strength. Boursiquot battled on the block all half, keeping Knight in check and drawing a pair of fouls that kept Knight on the bench for the final 5:32 of the frame. He got it done offensively as well, pouring in a team-high eight points in the first half.

Husky head coach Bill Coen praised Boursiquot’s play, saying, “Max is a strong, aggressive kid. He’s got a low center of gravity and he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, he’s not afraid of contact. I thought he did an admirable job on him. It’s a tall task; Nathan Knight could start for a lot of Power Five teams.”

The teams continued their tug-of-war in the second half, with William & Mary taking advantage of their slight head start to keep Northeastern at bay. A 14–2 Tribe run boosted their lead to 14 points, threatening to blow the game wide open as they did against Hofstra.

Jordan Roland was struggling from the field and had just seven points, and it looked like the Huskies were out of answers. Coen pulled Roland in favor of grad transfer Guilien Smith, who has played sparingly this season.

“Guilien is an outstanding teammate. He’s one of the most well-liked guys in our locker room, provides great energy every day in practice,” Coen said of his decision. “We were a little flat. Nothing against Jordan, but [Guilien plays] his position and I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to change the energy on the floor.”

The move paid off, and the Huskies went on a 21–7 run over the next eight minutes to tie the game at 64. The largest contributor was Shaquille Walters, who scored 12 of those 21 points, including an and-one layup with 13 seconds left to even the score and send Matthews Arena into a frenzy.

After running the clock down to five seconds and taking a timeout, William & Mary gave the ball to Nathan Knight looking for the game-winner. After losing the ball on a drive to the hoop, Knight regained control, rose up, and nailed a tough, contested layup to take the lead with just over a second left.

Northeastern had to inbound the ball from full court, and Walker’s 65-foot heave hit both the front and back of the rim, but wouldn’t fall as the Tribe escaped with the 66–64 victory.

Walters and Bolden Brace scored 15 points each to lead the Huskies, combining for 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Roland tied his season low with seven points (3–14 FG, 1–5 3FG) and, for the first time all season, ceded his position as the CAA’s top scorer. He now trails Charleston’s Grant Riller, who scored 31 points against James Madison on Saturday and is averaging 26 points across four conference games.

Knight recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double, finishing with 23 points and 11 boards to lead all players in both categories. Van Vliet chipped in 15 points and six rebounds of his own.

“It’s tough to say that you’re happy when they shoot 55 percent from the floor, but we generated 17 turnovers and we had to be in a scramble mode because they had such a size advantage on us,” Coen said. “We had to give help in the post, so we were constantly rotating. Those situations either generated turnovers and runouts for us or baskets for them. They shot the ball well from three, their high–low post attack is very effective, and Nathan Knight’s a special player. He’s without a doubt one of the top five players in our league.”

The Huskies will face more stiff competition when they play the Hofstra Pride on Thursday. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 7:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Deposes the Dukes

By Milton Posner

For a few games, it appeared as though Jordan Roland had settled down. His scoring average dropped from the national top-five toward slightly more reasonable territory, and he was shooting just 30 percent in the team’s last three games.

But he couldn’t lie dormant forever, and on Monday evening he woke up, burying a James Madison lineup stocked with talented juniors. The Huskies ran past the Dukes, 88–72, in one of their best offensive showings of the year. The last Northeastern sporting event of the 2010s had a happy ending for the Huskies.

Roland wasted no time, putting himself on the board with an early lay-in.

He made it into double figures before the midway point of the second half, assailing the Dukes with his trademark blend of lefty floaters and three-point bombs. He was particularly zoned in on attacking late closes; if a defender didn’t get back to him in time, Roland would field the pass and take a quick, strong first step in the direction the defender was coming from. When his man couldn’t change direction in time, Roland drove to the basket and wreaked havoc.

When Roland’s white-hot shooting touch faded a bit, Tyson Walker picked up the torch.

By the end of the first half, Roland had amassed 21 points on 11 shots. Walker was somehow more efficient, collecting 15 points and making all six of his attempts, including three triples. Northeastern’s backcourt had outscored James Madison all by themselves.

But the Huskies’ first-half success also stemmed from their solid defense. Save for Deshon Parker and Matt Lewis, who both scored nine points, none of the Dukes really got going in the first 20 minutes. Just as they did against Towson on Saturday, Northeastern packed the lane, forcing difficult shots that frequently dripped off the rim.

Husky forward Max Boursiquot, starting his fourth consecutive game as a small-ball center, was once again tasked with guarding a larger player. Though James Madison forward Dwight Wilson was three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier, Boursiquot rose to the challenge with a deranged intensity, fighting for every rebound like his life depended on it. He routinely tipped balls away from Wilson’s reach, turning easy James Madison rebounds into scrambles for loose balls. Boursiquot also held firm on the low block, denying Wilson favorable position and limiting him to two points on one-of-four shooting in the first half.

The Huskies led by 12 at halftime. Four minutes into the second half, the lead had all but evaporated.

Lewis and Darius Banks drove in for layups. Wilson notched back-to-back buckets from point-blank range. Banks. Parker. Wilson. A 16–5 James Madison run shaved the Northeastern lead to one with 15:19 to play.

“They came out fired up and they were scoring — it felt like — in the first two seconds every time,” Roland remarked. “They played so fast that it catches you off guard. They’re laying the ball up before you’re even ready to play defense.”

But the first-half offensive floodgates were about to burst open once more. Roland got things back on track with a triple. Bolden Brace slid a slick bounce pass to a cutting Shaq Walters for an easy jam.

Roland drove to the basket for a layup, then notched another layup on a leakout. Brace nailed his first three-pointer of the evening.

Boursiquot scored off a nice dish from Walker. Walters nailed a pair of free throws. Three minutes after the Dukes cut the lead to one, Northeastern completed a 16–0 run and blew the game open. Though the lead oscillated for the rest of the game, the outcome was never really in doubt. Northeastern matched JMU bucket-for-bucket to keep the lead in double digits.

Roland finished with 33 points (12–18 FG, 4–9 3PT), three rebounds, and three assists in his best offensive game in more than a month. Oddly enough, he missed three of his eight free throws, the most he’s ever missed in a college game. His CAA-best mark of 93 percent and streak of 26 straight made free throws entering the game — along with the fact that he hadn’t missed multiple free throws in a game in nearly two years — shows his prodigious skill from the stripe.

Tyson Walker didn’t score in the second half, but added six assists to accompany his 15 points. Brace and Walters contributed superb all-around stat lines, with Walters notching 12 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists and Brace logging 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

James Madison’s junior quartet of Lewis, Parker, Banks, and Wilson paced the team; each finished in double figures. Parker played brilliantly, notching 19 points and six assists while cutting through the defense like a warm butter knife. He took note of how Husky defenders were playing him, then made split-second decisions regarding whether to take or reject his teammates’ screens.

Wilson turned on the jets in the second half to net another double-double, while Lewis made up for inefficient field goal shooting with eight free throws. Banks was the only one without a ton of upside, making just five of his 18 shots.

The result boosted Northeastern to 8–6 (2–0 CAA) and dropped James Madison to 7–6 (0–2 CAA). Both teams have a quicker turnaround than usual due to compact nature of the CAA’s opening week schedule. Northeastern will return to Boston for a Thursday matchup with the Elon Phoenix. Matt Neiser and Milton Posner will call that game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Trounces Towson to Open Conference Play

By Milton Posner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10: How CAA Teams Fared in Non-Conference Play

By Milton Posner

With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.

CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.

They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross — came against a Division I team.

Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record, strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.

With that said . . .

#10: Elon Phoenix

Non-Conference Record: 4–9

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth

Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)

Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you pronounce it correctly or not

This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.

Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.

The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.

But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.

The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10 threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.

The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.

#9: UNCW Seahawks

Non-Conference Record: 5–8

Strength of Schedule Rank: Third

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for him

If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.

Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.

The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury, played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee, went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division I teams without a senior).

But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.” Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.

In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.

Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in, logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a starting spot several weeks in.

But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank ninth.

Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.

#8: Drexel Dragons

Non-Conference Record: 7–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth

Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name of all time

Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.

Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.

The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was denied the ball.

Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t too shabby either.

Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category, Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin, the third-best in the CAA.

But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.

#7: Northeastern Huskies

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,” there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline

It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.

That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s. In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right mind would think to shoot a basketball.

Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a 42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.

Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his 22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best, and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game (37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.

Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.

But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him, Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.

The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5” utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their ability to build and maintain momentum in games.

The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their interior defense.

The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.

#6: Towson Tigers

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Second

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)

Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right places

Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.

Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern, but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a six-point win.

As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.

Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson can take the next step.

The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies as any sort of offensive standout.

Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.

#5: Charleston Cougars

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: First

Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)

Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives

Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.

Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest, Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.

They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.

On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.

That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season, but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.

The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.

Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.

#4: James Madison Dukes

Non-Conference Record: 7–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh

Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)

Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time is here

At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.

Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team with no seniors in the regular rotation.

His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping the ball 1.6 times per contest.

And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in eight points and six boards a game.

But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas, who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46 percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man highlight reel.

The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher. At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots down the list.

More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.

The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team. They also led the conference in blocks.

The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.

#3: Hofstra Pride

Non-Conference Record: 9–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth

Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)

Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th century

Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?

But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.

The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages 17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists, good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads the conference with 2.7 steals a night.

Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt, averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.

Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on 61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.

The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.

Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history for Hofstra.

The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far, though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s 82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.

Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.

The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.

#2: William & Mary Tribe

Non-Conference Record: 8–5

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth

Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)

Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house

This one was a surprise.

A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.

New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker schedules.

It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed, posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.

As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal percentage and blocks.

Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting, creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.

The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points, three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging 11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and 47 percent from downtown.

Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.

The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won its last 17 home games in a row.

Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30 per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his twin towers for longer stretches.

William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.

Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.

#1: Delaware Blue Hens

Non-Conference Record: 10–3

Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth

Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them

December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.

The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to beat in the CAA.

Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His 21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank 16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.

But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53 percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds (fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are electric.

Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer? He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut? Sure, why not? This might as well happen.

Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down low.

And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.

The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined for 69 points.

Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Davidson

By Milton Posner

Photo by Sarah Olender

Many of Northeastern’s wins this season have resulted from a wave of improbable Jordan Roland shots. The senior guard has shown out this season, his long-distance bombs guiding the Husky offense.

On Saturday afternoon, a squad hailing from Roland’s old conference arrived at Matthews Arena to battle the Huskies. Roland stood a good chance of winning the senior guard battle over Jon Axel Gudmundsson, whose sporadic play this season is a far cry from his dominance last year.

But Gudmundsson rediscovered the play that garnered him the 2018–19 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Award, dropping 28 points on just 12 shots and adding seven rebounds and four assists. He paced his Davidson Wildcats to a 70–63 win over the Huskies in Northeastern’s last big test before the start of conference play later this month.

Gudmundsson’s deadly onslaught and preposterous efficiency stemmed from his three-point shooting. His six makes on eight attempts were all the more remarkable considering many of them were shot from a no-rhythm standstill, under duress from Northeastern’s wing defenders, from several feet beyond the arc. After heavily riding Roland’s hot perimeter shooting hand early this season, the Huskies finally felt what it’s like to be on the other end.

“You never want to live with that,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said after the game. “We want to make him put it down [on the floor] a little better, our closeouts have to be better. But he was spaced pretty deep.

“Stretching your help into the post or way out to 30 feet — when you shoot with range like that it makes it tough on the defense . . . he didn’t miss; so he’s got to help you out a little bit.”

Photo by Sarah Olender

Compounding Northeastern’s defensive to-do list was Davidson big man Luka Brajkovic. The 6’10” sophomore stands five inches taller than Max Boursiquot, who guarded him for most of the game.

“You could let him go one-on-one in the post or you could try to bring somebody at him and hope that your rotation is better than his ability to pass out of it,” Coen explained. “We did both and he was elite at both things.

“In the first half I thought he did a great job getting the ball out of the post, out of the double team. We were a little slow on our rotation or closed out a little short and they didn’t miss any shots. We did a little better job playing them one-on-one and tried to beat them to the spot but he’s a good player and that’s what good players do.

“He plays with great poise and composure in the low post, which is unique. He’s got the ability to score the ball with both hands and he’s a very good passer. When you spread the floor with very good shooters and put them around that level of a post player it’s tough to guard.”

Brajkovic finished with 14 points (7–11 FG), pulled down four rebounds, and dished out three assists. Junior guard Kellan Grady, who entered the game averaging a team-leading 17 points, was quiet for most of the game. Though his seven rebounds tied Gudmundsson for the team lead, he never quite found his shot, missing nine of his 13 shots and finishing with just nine points. Some of the misses are a credit to Northeastern’s interior defense, others were makeable shots that caromed, slid, or dripped off the rim.

Photo by Sarah Olender

Despite the blend of rebounding, shooting, and time management errors that doomed Northeastern down the stretch, the Huskies played a solid game. Roland, who entered the contest as the nation’s second leader scorer behind Marquette guard Markus Howard, logged 24 points and five rebounds. Though his two-for-six effort from three-point range was pedestrian by his standards, his six-for-seven mark on two-pointers ensured a high offensive efficiency.

Senior forward Bolden Brace hit two clutch threes but missed the other five he took. Most of the shots were quality looks, and given that Brace has made about half of his threes this season, Coen was understandably unconcerned with the open misses.

“Bo’s going to end up top-five in three-pointers made,” Coen said, referring to Brace’s place on Northeastern’s all-time list. “It’s going to come and go. For whatever reason he missed his shots, but I’ll take Bolden Brace with his feet set from three any day of the week. I think most opposing coaches don’t feel too comfortable if he’s got his feet set.”

Shaq Walters and Tyson Walker joined Roland in double figures, with each netting 11 points. Walters added five rebounds and two assists, and — a couple of airballed jumpshots notwithstanding — played a productive, energetic game. He even showed off some new moves.

Walker tacked on five assists and tallied 36 minutes despite being sent to the bench twice after hard body-check fouls from Davidson big men. Two of his assists yielded dunks, including a gorgeous transition feed to Walters for a one-handed spike.

Despite entering the game shooting a substandard 33 percent from downtown, the Wildcats won the game on the perimeter, nailing two more threes than the Huskies despite taking four fewer shots. Northeastern’s season-low turnovers (none of which yielded fastbreak points for Davidson) helped them gain momentum after halftime and tie the game. But Gudmundsson found the range again, Brajkovic’s gravity re-opened the floor, and Northeastern had no answer.

Northeastern (5–5) has four remaining games in December, all road games. After a weeklong rest, they will fly to Michigan for tilts against Eastern Michigan (December 17) and Detroit Mercy (December 19). After another break, they begin conference play against Towson (December 28) and James Madison (December 30).

WRBB will not broadcast those games, but will upload game stories to the website. On December 27, the day before Northeastern opens CAA play, the site will feature a breakdown of the Huskies’ CAA opponents, including rankings and analysis of their non-conference performance and what to expect moving forward.

Men’s Basketball Tops Weber State Behind Three-Point Torrent

By Milton Posner

Photo by Sarah Olender

As Northeastern took the court against Weber State Wednesday morning, they were fresh off a close defeat at Drake’s hands, a defeat caused in part by 19 Northeastern turnovers and the resulting disparity in shot attempts.

For the second day in a row, Northeastern give the ball away 19 times. But this time, they did everything else right, and walked away with a 79–69 win over the Wildcats in their third and final game in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.

Northeastern hit first, and they hit hard. Tyson Walker opened the game with a three-pointer.

When Weber State’s Cody John responded with a three, Jordan Roland hit right back with a triple of his own. On the Huskies’ next possession, Bolden Brace snatched an offensive rebound from the jaws of three Wildcats. The contested fadeaway three they earned from the rebound doesn’t seem like a bargain on its face. But when it’s Jordan Roland taking the shot, this sort of thing can happen.

A moment later, when Shaquille Walters threaded a bounce pass to Walker for a transition layup, Weber State was forced to call for time. Three minutes in, Northeastern had opened an 11–3 lead.

When the teams resumed play, Northeastern decided the right corner was looking pretty good. Brace set up shop there, Roland dished him the rock, and Brace nailed a three, passing Chaisson Allen for sole possession of sixth place on Northeastern’s career three-point list.

Seconds later, Roland stole the ball, pushed the pace, and found Walters behind the line in the same spot. Good.

Next possession, same shooter, same spot. Good.

After two made free throws by Greg Eboigbodin, Brace tried a pump-fake, sidestep three from the same spot. Same result.

After two games of tough shots, the Husky offense had finally clicked. The ball moved without friction, passes were crisp, players moved without the ball. Passers screened for the players they dished to and any player who caught the ball immediately did something with it, preventing Weber State from rotating to shooters in time. The open looks helped NU shoot 57 percent from three — including 10-for-14 in the first half — a marked improvement from the 31 percent they shot in last two games.

Northeastern swarmed Weber State’s passing lanes, choking their offense, forcing live ball turnovers, and generating easy transition looks. That, plus the infrequent whistles in the first ten minutes, aided the Huskies’ momentum and helped them jump out to a 20-point first half lead.

Then Northeastern turned the ball over five times in two minutes, Weber State trimmed the lead to 13, and it appears as though yesterday’s habits were returning to bite the Huskies.

But Eboigbodin and Roland had other plans. Their superb play to close the half handed the Huskies an 18-point lead entering the locker room.

In the last three games, Eboigbodin has played more minutes — and scored more points — than in any of the games before. Wednesday’s game saw his best effort yet, as he logged 13 points (5–6 FG, 3–3 FT) pulled down seven rebounds, and dished out three assists without turning the ball over once. He showed off his agile post moves with a couple of jump hooks, finished a nifty lob from Walker, and even drove to the basket for an and-one layup.

But his best play came a minute into the second half. He had the ball on the wing when Brace took a free-throw line screen and curled along the right side of the lane toward the basket. The screen didn’t get Brace much separation and he wasn’t expecting a pass. But Eboigbodin threw a bounce pass so perfect that Brace, who wasn’t looking, corralled it and laid it in without a hitch.

Roland, who scored a combined 22 points in his last two games, came alive Wednesday with a 24-point showing. Eleven of those points came in the last four minutes of the first half, courtesy of two three-point fouls — he made five of six free throws — and two three-point buckets.

Brace turned in his first quality performance since his 20-point, 12-rebound showing against UMass on November 12. He picked up just two fouls — which allowed him to play 36 minutes — and notched 18 points (7–10 FG, 4–6 3FG) and seven boards. It was just his second double-digit scoring effort in eight games this year, and it showed how much more efficient, well-spaced, and free-flowing the offense can be when teams need to worry about him and throw as many bodies at Roland.

Though the stat sheet would claim Tyson Walker’s eight points and five assists were somewhat negated by his four fouls and four turnovers, his passing was eye-popping. He threw crisp, accurate, cross-court passes to open shooters, demonstrating chemistry and positional awareness that would be excellent for anyone, let alone a freshman point guard in his eighth game with the team.

Shaq Walters, starting his sixth game this season, turned in eight points and eight rebounds. He nailed a couple of first-half threes, indicative of his expanded skill set and role in the offense.

After three games in three days, the Huskies (4–4) can rest for six days before their Wednesday tilt against Maine at Matthews Arena. Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call the game for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.