Story by Peyton Doyle and Mike Puzzanghera
Photos by Sarah Olender and Matthew Chu
BOSTON – Throughout James Madison’s run in the CAA, it felt like they always had Northeastern’s number. And they really did — before this season, Northeastern was 2-28 against the Dukes, including just one win on their home floor in 2012. But after the Dukes announced they would be making the switch to the Sun Belt next season, something finally clicked for the Huskies.
Northeastern beat JMU on the road earlier this season for just their second-ever win in Harrisonburg. Friday night, they said “buen viaje” to the Dukes with a thrilling 65-52 win, putting together a late 12-0 run keyed by a trio of clutch fourth-quarter steals from freshman sensation Claudia Soriano.
“To do something like that, we’re all about creating memories and moments,” Northeastern head coach Bridgette Mitchell said.
After JMU cut the NU lead down to one, the Huskies kicked it into another gear. Emily Calabrese hit a quick bucket, Soriano made a transition layup, then after a JMU free throw, the Huskies made their run. Kendall Currence scored seven straight points for the Huskies as part of her game-high 22, and the winter dogs never looked back.
“I asked them, “what defense do you want to be in?”, because we’ve tried three,” Mitchell said of the late switch to man defense. “I said to them, ‘My expectation is that we get stops, and then we go down on the other end and score.’ And they took that challenge, and they took it the right way, and really produced.”
Early on it was the Huskies’ defensive hounding that gave them the lead that they maintained throughout, with Soriano and Donna Ntambue combining to squeeze the life out of Kiki Jefferson’s shooting spirit early on.
The star guard for the Dukes, who entered the game averaging nearly 19 points a game, fouled out in the final quarter and sulked away with a meager eight points, the majority of which came from her generous attempts at the foul line. The 2021 All-CAA First Team member couldn’t hit the bottom of the basket even if it stood head high, she finished with just one field goal on her 12 shots in the game.
The two players who were able to hold it together for JMU through the first three quarters were Brianna Tinsley and Steph Ouderkirk. The duo who entered the game averaging a combined 8.6 points finished with 24 points between them on 6-9 shooting from beyond the arch.
That deep shooting was really the only thing keeping the Dukes’ heads above water, and even that barely provided a doggy paddle. The team shot 46.2% from beyond the three point line in the first half, well above their season mark of 27.6%.
One would think that hitting nearly half of your 13 triples in a half would put a team in a solid position to win, but their shots from inside the arch absolutely refused to fall throughout the whole game and they shot just 2-19 on two point attempts in the opening half.
“[The interior defense] was great, Emily was moving and rotating, Leyla and Asha stepped up in big minutes, Izzy did as well,” Mitchell said. “I challenge the team all the time, we have our starters, who is going to step up? Today everyone decided, ‘why not have it be my day.’”
To start out the second half the Huskies allowed the Dukes to come back into the game a bit. Northeastern gave up a 6-0 run over a four minute stretch in the third quarter, where they scored just three points to start off the half.
As the second half continued and the Huskies offense stalled, Jamia Hazell and Steph Ouderkirk began to step up for the Dukes. Hazell provided seven third quarter points and Ouderkirk added five of her own to bring the Northeastern lead to just six after being up by 11 at halftime.
The fourth quarter run, fueled by the Currence confidence, allowed the Huskies to finish their season series against the Dukes and sweep them for the final time in CAA play.
“We talked pregame about fighting, today is our Think Pink game and we have breast cancer survivors and their families and they’re all in a fight and their fight is a lot more serious than ours, so we took this as an opportunity for us to get out there and fight the best way we know how,” Mitchell said.
The next game for the Huskies will be a true test as they prepare for the CAA tournament. Northeastern will take on Towson on Sunday at noon, for their senior day, WRBB will have coverage of that game. Peyton Doyle, Mike Puzzanghera, and Jordan Walsh will be on the call.