By Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair
MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA — After the pandemic necessitated an abbreviated, last-minute non-conference slate, Bill Coen and his staff cobbled together the toughest schedule the team has had since Coen’s first year.
Never was that more apparent than Sunday afternoon, when Northeastern fell to No. 9 West Virginia, 73–51. The Mountaineers were the highest-ranked Husky opponent since No. 1 Michigan State more than five years before.
The Huskies certainly had their bright spots. Their first-half three-point shooting kept the game within reach. Coleman Stucke landed a pair of threes in the game’s opening minutes. Quirin Emanga, who played more minutes in this game than he had in the previous five put together, dropped 13 points — his previous college best was five — and took a number of rough charges down low.
“He was hampered by some ankle injuries earlier in the year, which hampered his development going in,” Coen said. “He played a little bit at the four for us today and that really helped us . . . He scored some points, but I’m most proud of his defensive effort and his toughness.”
But the Mountaineers’ sheer size overwhelmed the smaller Huskies from wire to wire. Sure, Northeastern was missing 6’7” forward Chris Doherty, who was a late scratch with an unspecified injury. But it’s hard to say that his presence would have made a massive difference around the rim. Mountaineer big men Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, both of whom outweigh every Husky by at least 15 pounds, had their way underneath.
Early on it was Culver, who earned a number of easy layups by sealing off Greg Eboigbodin when Eboigbodin tried to front him, or by sneaking behind the Husky defense in transition for a runout. He finished with a game-high 18 points (8–11 FG) in just 24 minutes.
Tshiebwe would find his way to 12 points, but his rebounding resonated loudest. His 15 boards more than doubled every other player’s total and keyed a nine-rebound advantage for West Virginia on the offensive glass, one that yielded 22 second-chance points to Northeastern’s nine.
“They’ve got a big front line,” Coen said bluntly. “Those guys aren’t moving around. If they’re located at the weak side block, it’s hard to move them . . . You’re rebounding against one of the best rebounding teams in the nation.”
The Huskies made things even harder on themselves as the game progressed. Turnovers plagued them like COVID, as they amassed 19 by the final buzzer. The Mountaineers committed just eight, and most of them were dead-ball turnovers stemming from offensive fouls.
“Some of them are execution errors and silly decision-making, others are style of play where [West Virginia] presses and turns you over,” Coen observed. “We’ve gotta get that number under 15 consistently when we enter CAA play. No turnovers mean you’re not taking any chances, you’re not running, you’re not pushing tempo, and that’s not good either. But typically our sweet spot is between 12 and 15 and we haven’t gotten to that spot yet. We’ve got work to do.”
The Mountaineers used their size to plug up the center of the court, notching 50 points in the paint to the Huskies’ 20. They also broke out a full-court press, making it tough for the Huskies to penetrate past the perimeter. And even when Tyson Walker got into the lane, he seemed more intent on dishing for corner threes than he did finishing at the rim, something Coen confirmed was key to the game plan.
“They have tremendous help defense and tremendous rim protection,” Coen said. “Often when you try to drive they have three or four guys attacking the basketball. I thought that was the right play. I thought we had some feet-set threes that, if we’d made them, could have changed the momentum of the game a little bit.”
Besides Emanga and Walker (10 points), no other Husky finished with more than seven. Though the Husky forwards avoided the foul trouble that had crippled them in prior games, the team could not match the Mountaineers in any category save for perimeter shooting.
The Huskies conclude non-conference play with a 1–5 record. How well that actually reflects their play will become clearer over the next few weeks, as the Huskies turn to a conference schedule devoid of high-major schools. They’ll get going against Elon on Saturday; WRBB will call that game live from the Cabot Center in Boston, with coverage beginning at 11:45 AM Eastern.