By Jordan Baron and Milton Posner
On Wednesday afternoon, the Northeastern Huskies were a young, undersized team entering the jaws of a basketball shark. They drove west to Syracuse to battle a team coached by a man who’s won more games than many of us have watched, the same team that most recently polished off Boston College by 38 points.
But in an expected turn, the Huskies led for much of the game and never trailed by more than seven. Though they ultimately fell to the Orange, 62–56, they walked away with plenty to be happy about.
Amid stringent Husky defense, the Orange struggled to hit shots, converting just 32 percent of their shots and a measly 11 percent of their threes. Although the Huskies didn’t block many shots, they had quite a few tips and touches that kept the Orange offense guessing.
“We tried to make life difficult for them,” said Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen. “We’ve got some pretty good size on the wing, guys who can present some challenges and get up in shot pockets and make guys uncomfortable. For a young group, they really absorbed the scouting report.”
Early on, Husky freshman Coleman Stucke and Jahmyl Telfort splashed home three triples apiece to key the offense. Stucke sagged off eventually, but Telfort finished with 16 points to lead the team.
“He’s got a couple of mornings free where he doesn’t have classes — he’s in the gym all the time,” Coen said of Telfort. “When you’re blessed with the kind of talent that he has and you marry that with an incredible work ethic, you can see him evolving. He can go off the dribble, he can make a three, he rebounds the ball well, he’s a good two-way player, he’s a good defender.”
But the Orange countered with sophomore guard Joseph Girard III, who would finish with a team-high 21 points and six steals. Although his shooting was not exactly efficient, he was the only Syracuse player to hit a shot from beyond the arc, and he also hit all nine of his free throws.
The Huskies shot well from three-point range in the first half — knocking down 39 percent — and matched the much taller Orange on the glass. But they struggled with turnovers, committing nine in the period. Four were credited to Walker, who kept trying to find Telfort with tough-angle passes that sailed out of bounds.
The second half began with disaster for the Huskies, as Walker dove for a loose ball and smashed his head against the shin of an Orange defender. He laid face-down on the floor before rolling onto his back, receiving assistance from trainers and coaches, and slowly walking off the floor under his own power. He did not re-enter the game, and Coen confirmed that he will be examined in Boston to determine whether he can play on Sunday.
Vito Cubrilo subbed in, looking to take Walker’s place as playmaker. He did his best, slotting five points off a three-pointer and some free throws, but the offensive rhythm was thrown off, as was the Huskies’ ability to break the occasional full-court press Syracuse threw at them.
“We were without Tyson in the second half and he’s our number one creator, a guy that gives other guys some confidence,” Coen said. “So we had to shift roles a little bit.”
Still, the Huskies remained strong on defense, and thanks in part to the Orange missing some open looks, stayed in the game. Entering the final five minutes, they found themselves losing by just three points. Greg Eboigbodin and Shaquille Walters traded off playing time to stop them both from fouling out. Northeastern fell behind by five with four minutes to play, but Jason Strong, who had been quiet offensively all game, sank a three to bring the Huskies back within two.
This is where things slipped away. Some careless Husky fouls and turnovers gave the Orange the opportunity to pounce, and they did, building a two-possession lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Huskies’ three-point shooting fell off in the second half, neutering their most valuable weapon against a Syracuse 2-3 zone that ceded outside shots to protect the paint. Northeastern also committed 12 turnovers in the second half, compared to just five from Syracuse. The Huskies’ defense continued to shine, however, as they kept pace on the boards and forced another low-scoring half from an offense that hung 101 points on ACC foe Boston College in their last game.
“I was really proud of their effort,” Coen said. “I thought our defensive help was really strong. We just mishandled the ball a little bit too much. Little execution errors on the offensive end.”
Other than Girard, Syracuse’s top contributor was sophomore forward Quincy Gurrier, who scored 18 points and snatched 16 rebounds.
“The difference in the game was Quincy Guerrier,” Coen said. “Sometimes you just can’t do anything if he’s got a physical advantage, there’s not enough strategy that can get you out of that. He’s a world-class athlete and he’s strong and explosive.”
But despite the loss, the game will certainly prove instructive for the Huskies. Coen likes to use non-conference contests to show his team different styles and sets. The home-and-home with UMass forced them to reckon with a full-court press, and today’s matchup may prepare the Huskies well for the zone-playing Hofstra Pride.
“We’ve got some tape so we can get better on our zone execution, we’ve got tape so we can learn in terms of our press break,” Coen said, “and that experience will pay dividends once we get into CAA play.”
The Huskies will travel south to Virginia to face Old Dominion this Sunday. Milton Posner and Catherine Morrison will broadcast that game live from Chartway Arena in Norfolk, VA, with coverage kicking off at 1:45 PM Eastern.