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.