Story by Jordan Walsh
BOSTON — In the final game at Matthews Arena for three players, the Northeastern Huskies men’s basketball team (8-21) could not end the regular season with a win, as they fell to the Elon Phoenix (10-21) by a score of 67-54.
Forward Jason Strong and guard Shaquille Walters, both redshirt seniors, were honored pregame as part of the Senior Day festivities, along with graduate student guard Nikola Djogo. Strong, concluding his fifth and final season with Northeastern, led the way Saturday afternoon with 14 points, his third double-digit scoring performance in the past four games.
“Jason’s the longest tenured guy here,” said Huskies head coach Bill Coen postgame. “He understands our system. He’s a hardworking young man who takes a lot of pride in how he handles his business in the classroom and on the court. I wasn’t surprised by his performance late in the season. He’s been that execution guy for us and I think the last portion of the season he’s kind of stepped up and done a nice job of scoring, rebounding, and defending.”
The game Saturday got off to a choppy start filled with whistles. The teams combined for 11 fouls, six of them offensive, in the first 10 minutes of play. For the Huskies, redshirt junior forward Chris Doherty racked up three fouls in the first 5:30, and was benched for the rest of the first half.
The Phoenix got out to an early 13-3 lead, but even with Doherty on the sidelines, Northeastern was able to respond with a 9-0 run. Threes from Strong, Djogo, and sophomore guard Jahmyl Telfort allowed the Huskies to cut the deficit to one.
In fact, six of Northeastern’s seven field goals in the first half were from beyond the arc, an impressive feat against an Elon defense that holds CAA opponents to just under 31% from three, a conference low. However, the Huskies went into the break trailing 30-20, with junior guard Hunter McIntosh scoring 10 points in the first 20 minutes for the Phoenix.
Even with three fouls, Doherty was in the game to start the second half, which speaks to how much the team relies on his dominant interior presence. Doherty picked up his fourth foul of the day less than four minutes into the half on a questionable call, and headed back to the bench, where he would spend a good portion of the half.
The Huskies’ three-point shooting fell off significantly after halftime, as the home team went just 1-for-10 from deep in the second frame.
“We didn’t make many shots,” Coen said. “We’re going to have to be better in that respect. I’ve got to give Elon credit, they’re a very good defensive team and very disciplined in their approach. I thought the game got physical at one point.
“The referees kind of pulled it tight and put us in a tough spot. When you don’t have Chris Doherty in the game — although he’s not a three-point shooter, he commands so much attention when he’s either posting up or rolling to the basket — that it collapses the defense and opens up our shooting,” Coen said. “Without having that presence in there, we have to fan out more at the perimeter. We moved the ball pretty well, but we didn’t have clean looks. I think a lot of the game it was the lack of Chris being in the paint demanding that attention.”
A few minutes into the second half, Northeastern was able to cut their deficit to as little as five points, but Elon took advantage of the Huskies’ cold shooting and foul trouble to lead wire-to-wire. Doherty had a stretch of five unanswered points but did not score otherwise in the second frame, despite playing 13 of his 19 minutes in the latter half of the game. The Phoenix exploited Doherty’s situation, knowing they would be met with little resistance on the inside from the normally imposing big man.
After the loss, Coen expressed appreciation for his three seniors, following a whirlwind regular season, and reflected on the day’s festivities.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of Senior Days,” Coen said. “They’re either really really fun, you play with great emotion and that feeds into the energy on the court, or you kind of flatten because of the emotions of the day and your friends being here and the ceremonies. Today, we came out a bit flat and got into some early foul trouble that put us behind the eight ball. Still proud of this team and we enter into the third portion of the season, which is the one and done portion. Everyone is undefeated going into the CAA tournament and there’s always a chance we could catch some magic.”
The loss means the Huskies finish CAA regular season play with a record of 2-16, a stunning figure that no one expected going into this season. Northeastern now shifts their focus to the conference tournament, which starts March 5 in Washington, D.C. The Huskies will face William & Mary in the lone first round game of the tournament, needing four wins in four days to punch their ticket to March Madness. Northeastern split the season series with the Tribe, losing a close game on the road in December and then dismantling them at home on Thursday. Coen acknowledged that his team could use some rest before heading down to the nation’s capital.
“It’s been a long, long year,” Coen said. “We’ve played four games in eight days; it’s been like an NBA schedule. We’re not deep on the bench, so you’ve got guys who’ve logged a lot of minutes, not just in this last week and a half but all year. We’ll take a couple days for rest and try to gear up, then practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, practice early Friday, then get on a plane and head down to D.C. Like I said, everyone goes into it on the same level. It’s a turn the page kind of moment where you get to reset your mindset. We’re going to draw William & Mary in the first round. Both teams will be familiar with one another, so it should be another great CAA battle.”
Coen also added that sophomore forward Coleman Stucke, who has missed the past four games with an ankle injury, is receiving treatment and will hopefully be able to return for the conference tournament.
WRBB will have live coverage of the Huskies’ game against William & Mary in the first round of the CAA tournament, with Justin Diament and Peyton Doyle on the call. That game tips on March 5 at 5 p.m., from the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.