Story by Justin Diament
On Nov. 27, 2019, the defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers held Maine Black Bears men’s basketball team to 26 points. That’s how far back you have to go to find a worse offensive showing than the William & Mary Tribe put up today. The Tribe posted a mere 28 points as the Huskies ran circles around them at both ends of the floor, culminating in a dominant 62-28 victory.
The story of the game was of course the Northeastern defense, which was stifling all night long. Every time a Tribe player tried to penetrate the paint, they found themselves doubled by a barrage of high-energy Huskies defenders. Chris Doherty held down the paint as usual for Northeastern and managed to stay out of foul trouble, allowing him to stay on the court for long stretches and clog the paint. Doherty managed two blocks and two steals to go with his 15 rebounds, not to mention countless altered shots. It was just another day at the office for the big man, who was also a perfect six of six from the field.
Quirin Emanga continued to be a defensive standout for Northeastern; the junior had a block and a steal to go with two charges drawn and timely double teams on driving Tribe players. Doherty and Emanga may have been the headliners, but it was a full team effort for Northeastern in the trenches. Everyone looked crisp, prepared, and dialed in on the defensive end, leaving little room for William & Mary to maneuver and end scoring droughts with easy buckets.
“Typically if you hold a team to 28 points in a half you’ve done a pretty good job,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “I just thought it was our energy and our communication on the defensive end, and we were really connected. Guys were in tune. It was a quick turnaround from Tuesday night; we really only had one day of prep. The guys did a great job absorbing the prep and went out and executed in a great way. We were aggressive on defense, able to generate some turnovers, and I think that the defensive side of the ball really set the tone for us tonight. That’s what it has to be for us.”
The absolute weakest part of William & Mary’s offensive performance was their three-point shooting. The Tribe shot a mere one of 17 from beyond the arc. This is far from the first time Northeastern has held a team to an anemic game from deep: both Boston University and Towson, two of the Huskies signature wins this year, were held to just one made three each as well. Key to Northeastern’s defense on the perimeter were Jahmyl Telfort and Shaquille Walters, who swarmed smaller William & Mary guards with their 6’7” and 6’6” size respectively. Telfort starred on the offensive end as well, dishing out six assists and contributing 11 points.
“On the offensive end, I thought we shared the ball really well,” Coen said. “We had 17 assists on 25 baskets, so whenever your numbers are like that, you know you’re playing unselfishly. With the combination of that level of defense and that level of unselfishness, we were able to pull off a win.”
One player who was an offensive centerpiece at times was Jason Strong. Strong, who has had a reduced role this season off the bench, has stepped up in a big way since a recent injury to starting forward Coleman Stucke. He continued his ascent tonight, tying for the team lead with 13 points, including a respectable three of seven from deep. Strong added two assists and two rebounds to boot. Another important piece of Strong’s game was his defense. Against a team without a dominant center in William & Mary, Coen was able to play Strong as his de facto center for the minutes Doherty needed to rest on the bench rather than relying on reserve centers Connor Braun and Alexander Nwagha.
“Jason’s played really really well for us,” Coen said. “He’s a redshirt senior. He’s been around. He knows the ins and outs of the program. He shot the ball well down at Hofstra, made some shots tonight, really allows us to loosen up the offense. He’s an execution guy, he gets in the right spots, he’s got a level of experience, and it was great to see him playing like that down the stretch.”
The one piece of Northeastern’s game that was not up to snuff was their own three-point shooting. While it wasn’t historically bad like William & Mary’s, the Huskies did run through stretches of bricked three after bricked three, resulting in an ugly 27% line from deep for the game on 33 shots. Northeastern wasn’t taking tough shots either; most of their threes were open or weakly defended. The Huskies complimented their poor effort from deep with great passes into the paint, so they were able to keep the offense running, but with so many open looks not falling, there is reason for concern.
“I think we had some really good looks. We missed some open threes, but when I looked at halftime, I didn’t realize we had taken 20 in the first half,” Coen said. “Probably a bit too much for my liking, but the defense is kind of going to take away something and give you something. Those passes were there and the shots were there, and our guys put them up. Hopefully, we’ll improve upon that, but I thought Jason, when he came in, and made a couple on a roll, gave us some separation.”
With the regular season drawing to a close, Northeastern is positioning themselves to enter the CAA tournament on a positive note. In all likelihood, the Huskies will face the Tribe once again in the first round of the tournament next weekend, so they certainly hope this dominant performance is a sign of things to come. In that regard, Coen cautions that the Huskies need to take things one game at a time.
“Every game is going to set up differently,” Coen said. “If we do play William & Mary, it’ll be the third time, so there are no secrets in terms of what we run and what they run. It just comes down to execution, and tonight I thought we did a great job on our execution on the offensive and defensive ends. We’ll need that and more comes tournament time. It’s a special time of the year, and both teams are playing with a lot of emotion and passion.”
The Huskies finish out the regular season on Saturday at home against Elon. It’ll be senior day for Northeastern, whose lineup features two seniors in Walters and Strong, plus two graduate students in Nikola Djogo and the injured Tyreek Scott-Grayson. Justin Diament, Jordan Walsh, and Rae Deer will be on the call on WRBB for that noon matchup.