By Jordan Walsh
A performance that Northeastern head coach Bill Coen called “one of our best efforts of the season” was not enough to snap the men’s basketball team’s six-week losing skid.
The Huskies (6-13) played in front of spectators at Matthews Arena for the first time since Dec. 12, 2021, but the sparse crowd that showed up went home disappointed, as the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks (12-5) prevailed by a final score of 74-68.
The game was played at a frantic, back-and-forth pace right out of the gate, with the two teams combining for four turnovers in the first five minutes. Northeastern gained their first lead of the game when a three-pointer from graduate student guard Nikola Djogo put the Huskies up 9-7, and they would not relinquish the advantage for the rest of the first half.
One bright spot for Northeastern throughout the entire game was their scrappiness in battles for possession, particularly from forwards Chris Doherty, a redshirt junior, and Coleman Stucke, a sophomore. There were multiple scrums on the floor, including one early on that produced a Doherty layup. Doherty used his muscle to his advantage against a smaller, guard-heavy UNCW team, leading the Huskies in scoring in the first half, tallying 10 points off of five-for-six shooting.
The Huskies were not afraid to drive and attack the basket in the first half, reaching their largest lead of the game via a hook shot from redshirt senior forward Jason Strong, which put them up 24-12.
Stucke continued to impress, scoring eight points in the first half. He would finish the game with 12, his second-highest points total of the season.
The Huskies were up 38-36 at the break, leading at halftime for the first time since Dec. 31, 2021. The Seahawks were aggressive in their defense for almost the entire game, frequently employing full-court pressure and disrupting passing lanes in an attempt to force turnovers. While the Seahawks held only a slim margin in terms of turnovers forced in the first half (nine to eight), UNCW scored 13 points off turnovers compared to Northeastern’s four. This continued the Seahawks’ dominance in this category, as UNCW outscored their opponents 56-25 off of turnovers in the other three games of their road trip.
The Huskies had already let the Seahawks back into the game after leading by double-digits early, and senior guard Jaylen Sims put UNCW back ahead with a three just over two minutes into the second half.
Points off turnovers would continue to be a problem for Northeastern, as the Seahawks led 12-4 in this category in the final 20 minutes. Doherty added nine points in the second half, with seven of those coming at the free throw line, but he got into some foul trouble of his own and was not as effective from the field as he had been before the half. This spelled disaster for the Huskies, as the team outside of Doherty simply could not produce in crunch time. During a stretch of more than six minutes towards the end of the game, the only Northeastern points came from five Doherty free throws. Also during this period, a pair of untimely turnovers (a shot clock violation immediately followed with a traveling violation by redshirt senior guard Shaquille Walters) effectively sealed the loss for the Huskies.
Northeastern is currently tied with Marshall University for the fifth-longest active losing streak in the country. Speaking postgame, Coen recognized that this game was winnable.
“I think that, in terms of our effort, that was one of our best efforts of the season,” Coen said. “Obviously a talented team in UNCW, but just way too many turnovers. We had opportunities. We left points on the line and missed way too many free throws. Points off turnovers led to easy scores. I thought our defense was pretty good when we got them in the half court. They used a lot of full-court pressure and man-to-man pressure and took advantage of us today, so we have got to be better about that on Thursday.”
Coen also praised the play of Doherty, whose 19 points were a career high. “Doherty had it going early,” Coen said. “Got into a bit of foul trouble and lost his rhythm a little bit, but his effort was what got us off to a good start. He’s a big part of what we do.”
Coen noted the disruptive approach of the Seahawks on the defensive end. “They were very aggressive on us and sometimes it pays dividends and it certainly did for [UNCW] this evening, but sometimes it gets you fouls,” Coen said. “We just have to be stronger with the ball. They jumped a few passing lanes, so we just have to make sure our passers and receivers are being responsible and that was the biggest source of our turnovers. We got rushed a little bit. The pressure gets you to put your head down and drive to the basket. They took a couple of charges in the first half, so we have got to be a little more composed in that regard.”
Finally, looking forward to the rest of the conference slate as Northeastern still seeks its first CAA win, Coen said he will tell his team to “just get better.” “The first thing in the bucket is we have to play as well as we did tonight,” Coen said. “I usually tell them that the team that plays harder usually wins. I thought we played harder than them tonight; unfortunately we didn’t win because of our miscues. But that’s generally a good barometer; you can tell which team is playing harder and digging in. We got the 50/50 balls, but we left some points on the free throw line and mishandled the ball. In the short term, if we can maintain that effort, that’s generally a harbinger of winning basketball. If you’re playing harder and you execute, then you have a winning formula. We had part of that, but certainly our execution against their pressure needs to improve.”
The Huskies will next take to the court Thursday night in an immediate rematch against UNCW, this time in Wilmington.