Reminder: Northeastern men’s basketball takes on Towson in the quarterfinal of the CAA Tournament Sunday at 8:30 PM EST. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will have the call from Washington D.C., with coverage beginning fifteen minutes before tip-off.
WASHINGTON — The CAA Tournament kicked off Saturday with two games featuring the CAA’s bottom four seeds, those that didn’t earn first-round byes. No. 8 Drexel squared off with No. 9 UNCW, then No. 7 Elon battled No. 10 James Madison.
Drexel 66, UNCW 55
Despite a steady second-half advance from UNCW, Drexel held on to win the tournament’s first game. Drexel will kick off the four-game Sunday slate against the No. 1 Hofstra Pride.
As you might expect of two well-rested teams playing a win-or-go-home game, the energy was sky-high from the opening tip. UNCW began by applying full-court pressure, but the main defensive objective was to funnel Drexel’s ballhandlers into the space between the midcourt line and the three-point arc, force them to the sideline, and trap them with double teams. The scheme required movement and energy, two qualities best exemplified by UNCW interim head coach Rob Burke, whose emphatic, demonstrative, dramatic sideline behavior was on full display.
The traps worked for a few possessions, but eventually the Dragons got more comfortable. They made the Seahawks pay with accurate passes for easy layups, enough to make the Seahawks relax the pressure a bit and finally ramp down the game’s initial chaos.
After a war of inside shots and parallel scoring droughts yielded a stalemate, Drexel’s Coltrane Washington and UNCW’s Ty Gadsden decided a little back-and-forth was needed. Washington kicked things off with a deep three from the left wing, Drexel’s first points in five minutes. Gadsden responded with a three. Washington nailed another three from the same spot after a pump fake and a slick sidestep. Gadsden nailed a tricky leaning midrange jumper. By this point, UNCW’s defensive pressure, again with mixed results, had refocused to swarming every time Drexel put the ball in the paint, so the jumpers were available.
After a close first half, Drexel emerged from the locker room and shot down the Seahawks. All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter got things going by hunting out a layup to open the half. He hit a three, as did Mate Okros. After a pair of buckets from James Butler, the Dragons had built an 11-point lead. Though the Seahawks would steadily eat into the lead, even cutting it to three multiple times, the Dragons would never give it up.
Led by Butler, who finished with 14 boards, the Dragons snatched up most of the high-leverage rebounds and translated them into a momentum advantage. Only Gadsden (13 points) and Martin Linssen (18) got much going for the Seahawks, with Brian Tolefree, Jaylen Sims, and Mike Okauru making just one shot apiece. Three-pointers from Wynter and Zach Walton down the stretch put the game out of reach and ended the Seahawks’ season.
Elon 63, James Madison 61
If, someday, a movie is made of this game, there will be only one logical name for it: The Sheffield Redemption.
For the first 39 minutes of the game, Marcus Sheffield II, Elon’s top scorer, All-CAA Second Teamer, the focal point of their offense and the man who breathed life into a program reeling from the graduation of every volume scorer from last season, couldn’t score a basket to save his life. Long shots or short, contested shots or not, moving shots or stationary ones, it didn’t matter. Sheffield had tried 14 and made just two. He was sucking the life out of Elon’s offense.
But with one shot, a twisting, fading, stepback midrange jumper, Sheffield broke through. Elon’s first lead of the game was the only one they’d need.
The Phoenix will face the No. 2 William & Mary Tribe Sunday at 6 PM EST.
It was a fitting end to a game marked by profound weirdness. That weirdness began when James Madison’s Deshon Parker, a 26 percent three-point shooter this season, kicked off the scoring with a long-range swish. It continued when JMU, unquestionably the worst team in conference play this season, built on that shot until a 14–0 lead forced Elon to call timeout three-and-a-half minutes after the opening tip.
But Elon quickly flipped the script, taking better care of the ball and posting nine unanswered points of their own to make the game competitive.
The game featured poor outside shooting from both squads, partly due to poor shot selection and partly due to missed open looks. JMU want on a second-half run not because their offense clicked, but because Elon missed 11 consecutive shots. The only consistent offensive bright spot for Elon was sophomore big man Federico Poser, who scored more points (14) than he ever had against a Division I team.
If you had approached Elon head coach Mike Schrage before the game and told him that his squad would allow 14 unanswered points to start the game, that his best scorer would miss three-quarters of his shots, that his team would shoot just 28 percent from downtown, and that they would go seven minutes without scoring a bucket, he would have assumed disaster.
But that’s the kind of league the CAA has been this season. The line between disaster and triumph is so narrow that you often can’t see it until after the final buzzer sounds.