By Rae Deer
There were high expectations set for the Northeastern men’s basketball team. After going 9-3 in conference play last year and being projected second in this season’s CAA preseason poll, they were regarded as one of the top teams to beat. This also meant that their start to conference play would be essential in setting the tone not only for them, but the rest of the conference as well. Would they rise as expected or fall off the deep end?
To answer the question, unfortunately, it seems they’re teetering on the edge. With an uncharacteristically bad introduction to this year’s CAA squads, Northeastern is now 0-4, after an unsightly loss 89-66 to James Madison University Tuesday night.
However, there hasn’t been much coverage between then and now, as COVID-19 protocol and game cancellations have made it unbearably hard to organize. Therefore, let’s recap what was missed.
NU AT ELON:
The Huskies had their first CAA matchup Dec. 29 and lost 79-62 against a vicious Elon team down in North Carolina. Despite Elon being 4-10 and projected to fall right in the middle of the conference at the time, they quickly proved they were not to be underestimated. Elon held them to at least a 10-point deficit for the entire 40 minutes and had the Huskies fighting tirelessly to close the gap to no avail.
The game was nowhere near a good showing for Northeastern as Elon outperformed them immensely; they shot 52% overall and outrebounded NU 38-30. While it could be noted that Northeastern had a depleted bench (most notably the loss of Shaquille Walters) and were rather rusty after a 17-day break, this game regardless was Northeastern’s to lose. Jahmyl Telfort (16 points) and Tyreek Scott-Grayson (15 points) led the team for that game, but were 5-13 and 4-11 respectively and the team shot 34% overall: a game like that was impossible to win with such poor shooting.
NU AT WILLIAM & MARY:
The next tilt on New Year’s Eve showed promise for the Huskies. Up against a 2-12 William & Mary team that was projected dead last in the preseason poll, this game should’ve come as a relief and a way to finally get things going. However, after the Tribe upset Hofstra University in a last second push days before, it was important that Northeastern stayed on their guard, improved their shooting and made no small mistakes. While they saw a better day than they did against Elon and shot 48% from the field, the small mistakes were exactly what propelled William & Mary to a 71-70 victory over Northeastern in the last few seconds.
Surprisingly, the Tribe led at the start of the contest and left NU picking up pieces to garner a lead at the half, which came in the form of a 15-4 run. Despite holding said lead for most of the second half, letting up a 20-0 run stuck a dagger in what should’ve been a clean victory. After clawing back with mere seconds left, they performed the worst possible sequence of events. With milliseconds left, Coleman Stucke, in his second game back from injury, fouled W&M guard Yuri Covington, who made both of his free throws, tying the game. Then a messy turnover and foul from Notre Dame transfer Nikola Djogo allowed the Tribe to take the lead and knock Northeastern down to an 0-2 record. Nevertheless, this was once again a standout performance for Telfort, who had a game leading 21 points, as well as a great show for Djogo (16 points) and Scott-Grayson (15 points).
NU AT TOWSON:
On Jan. 9, Northeastern had their first game of the new year, and it was much later than expected. Cancellations and postponements took home games against UNCW and College of Charleston off of the schedule. Therefore, their next opponent became a strong Towson University team, who at the time were 0-1 albeit to a powerhouse Delaware squad. If the two previous matchups were hard on Northeastern, this posed a much greater challenge.
Although, as if it couldn’t get any harder, the injury bug struck the Huskies again. With the return of Hurricane Glen McClintock from injury, came the departure of Scott-Grayson, another one of Northeastern’s strongest point producers. And to make matters worse, NU was without much of their coaching staff including head coach Bill Coen due to COVID-19 protocol. However in spite of the hardships, Northeastern held their own in arguably their best performance of the three-game stretch, falling to Towson by a mere three points,70-67.
The Towson Tigers took off to start the game, holding a lead in the opening half, until the Huskies were able to pull ahead slightly at the under-eight. But a 13-4 run by the Tigers right before the break gave them the advantage again, and NU had to enter the second half on a deficit. From there they couldn’t clutch a lead, only tying the game up five minutes in, before Towson guard Cam Holden tore through the Huskies defense. Northeastern fought tooth and nail to pull it within reach, but couldn’t quite get there, and Telfort hit a buzzer beater to pull the deficit to three at the end. This was once again an impressive show from Telfort and Djogo, with the two leading the team in points with 17 and 14 respectively. This was also a highlight performance from Chris Doherty, who earned his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
NU AT JMU:
The final road stretch placed NU in Harrisonburg, Virginia Tuesday night to take on the toughest team in the CAA, JMU. For quite a bit of time early in the first half, it seemed like the Huskies could hold their own, trading shots evenly with the Dukes. They were dominating rebounds early and getting lucky with messy JMU turnovers. At one point, the Huskies pulled a six point lead and held on.
However it was painfully obvious that they were still struggling offensively, missing a few good looks from the outside and lacking key communication in the paint. It only got worse when JMU decided to commit to their full press. Northeastern had immense trouble breaking out of the press and pacing their plays. When they would try to slow down the play, the Dukes would easily poke the ball out, therefore they had to rush. When they rushed, the plays were messy and the JMU defense smothered them. This turned into the Huskies feeling pressured to throw up threes, an awful decision considering they shot a measly 16% from three at the half.
The game sort of fell from them at that point. They couldn’t regain a lead and JMU shot nearly 60% overall, after going point crazy and widening the gap to 20 in the second half. With several JMU guards breaching double-digit performances, shooting only 43% was just not going to cut it for the Huskies. Northeastern still managed to out rebound the Dukes 33-22, boasting one of the better offensive performances of the season with 16 offensive boards to JMU’s two. Outside of Telfort’s usual double-digit performance (17 points), this game saw a season high reached by Quirin Emanga (12 points).
This four-game stretch has not been the most successful for this team. And that’s an understatement.
Firstly, they need Shaq back. In the time Shaq has been gone, a lot of the cracks this team has have begun to show. It has become extremely evident just how much of the offensive and defensive prowess that people see in the Huskies comes from Walters, and it is very noticeable that this team has not played the same without him. He is the lead ball handler who drives a play like no other and shuts down opposing shooters well on the other end. He plays a key role in the offensive and defensive core of the Huskies and is inarguably one of the most essential players on this team. Until he returns, the others will need to elevate their play to match the gap he’s left or they will continue to lose.
Next, the issues this team has off the court have also probably impacted their issues on the court. It’s extremely difficult to put together a squad that is always having pieces inserted or taken away. Typically, this is the time where Coach Coen has his core five, but with frequent injury troubles or protocol issues, Northeastern hasn’t been able to play a consistent starting or bench roster for long stretches. Even in this four-game stretch, the first game was without a lot of the Northeastern bench and as players came back, others departed. The lack of consistency can quickly disrupt the flow and chemistry of a team.
Shooting. Northeastern typically has not been a high-scoring team this season thus far, and while it has worked for them in terms of their out of conference wins, the CAA is a conference full of shooters. And sure, top guards can be locked down for a half or two, but if NU can’t outshoot their opponents, they’re not going to win many games. One of the biggest worries going into this season was who was going to command the shooting. Tyson Walker’s departure left room for others to step up and head the offense. Telfort and Walters have absolutely tried, and they’ve had great performances this season to show for it, but it’s not enough. Shooting under 50 for all four games definitely cost the Huskies, especially in games they could’ve won like W&M or Towson.
Nonetheless, they still have time. The schedule unfortunately gets no easier, but it’s absolutely possible for the Huskies to turn things around. The next four games for Northeastern are on home court, in Matthews Arena, and they have just a little bit of time to rest and refocus. Their next game is against Drexel University Jan. 15. WRBB will have written coverage on our website. Follow our social media to stay informed.