Story by Peyton Doyle
Chris. Doherty. The Marlborough Masher. The Incredible Hulk. The Fair-haired Goliath. The Red Raider. The Beast from the East. The Bearded Behemoth. The man that some may say is better than current NBA MVP favorite Joel Embiid.
However you know him by, he put on the best performance of his entire career when it mattered most for the Northeastern Huskies in their 68-63 win over William & Mary in the opening round of the CAA Tournament.
Doherty lifted his team from the edge of elimination in the second half of the game where he scored 21 of his career-high 26 points in the game.
“[Chris] is a big part of what we do,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “He not only can generate offense for himself, but he commands extra attention where he gets other guys open and is able to create some easy shots. He came back with an unbelievable effort in the second half and overtime and really willed us to victory.”
Over the course of this season, Doherty has pummeled the Tribe, going 20-for-20 combined from the field in his two games against them, however he was not as strong as his team needed to be in the first half. Frankly, nobody on either side was showing much offensive ability early on in the contest.
The Huskies started off the game finding their much favored corner threes but could not connect on their opportunities. Nikola Djogo, the sharpest shooter on the roster, struggled mightily, not just from beyond the arc but from all over the court as well to start the game. The forward missed all six of his field goals in the first half, including four from deep.
However, Coach Coen, now the winningest coach in CAA Tournament history, with 19 career wins, was not worried by the slow start for his star man.
“I think the first game [of a tournament] is always the toughest,” Coen said. “You have a lot of jitters and anxiety on a new court. This is a different mind game, and Nik came out a little anxious. He had some looks that would normally go for him not go, but we called his number on a sideline out of bounds play when we needed a three. He’s our best three point shooter and he delivered. We talk about competitive greatness, being at your best when your best is needed, and even though he wasn’t having that type of night, he stepped up in the moment.”
With Djogo and Shaquille Walters struggling from deep to open the game, and Doherty finding himself with two personal fouls just four minutes into the game, Coen knew he had to look to his bench for assistance. The name called upon was Jason Strong, the longest tenured player on this Northeastern roster, a player with all kinds of tournament experience under Coen.
“Jason is a seasoned veteran for us,” Coen said. “He knows the in-and-out of our program. He did yeoman’s work [tonight], playing out of position with Chris in foul trouble in the first half and being able to knock down some shots and provide some offense.”
With Strong being the only one producing offense for Northeastern in the first half, he tallied eight points on two of five three point shots — William & Mary had the chance to take a stranglehold on the game. However, their offensive grip went loose in the first half, where they managed just 17 total points on 22.7% shooting from the field.
The only real producer for the Tribe was Tyler Rice, who himself was perfect from the field, but led his team with just four points.
Even after entering the second half with a score of just 18-17 in Northeastern’s favor, neither team seemed like they wanted to start playing well offensively in the latter period of the game. Only 29 total points were scored in the first 10 minutes of the second half as each team adjusted their defensive gameplans.
While Northeastern found open looks from beyond the arch in much of the first half, in the second they found few opportunities from deep, as William & Mary pushed closeouts hard and amped up their defensive rotations.
When it came to defense for the Huskies, they knew that the Tribe wanted to get their shots at the rim after they made the least 3-pointers in the conference in the regular season. Players like Connor Kochera and Rice, while not the most talented shooters, took the chances they got in the second half, and went 3-for-3 combined from beyond the arc.
As each coach took their time to digest the defenses being thrown at their players, their minds began to turn, and the offenses got going in the second half of this win-or-go-home game.
A layup at the 10:10 mark to tie the game at 32 from Walters got the ball rolling for what can only be described as an offensive explosion and a defensive implosion for both teams.
Over the next six minutes and 19 seconds, 38 points were scored between the two teams as bucket after bucket fell to the bottom of the rim. This magical stretch of gameplay is where Doherty made his mark, using his size to bury the weaker Ben Wight and his finesse to get by the stronger Mehkel Harvey, depending on the matchup presented by Tribe head coach Dane Fischer.
Over five minutes the BIG man had 12 points and brought the pain to the paint. Joining him was fellow Husky Walters, who too decided to punish his defenders and attack the rim as if it threatened his family.
The duo kept Northeastern in the game as Wight and Kochera combined for 14 points over six minutes, with buckets from Rice and Brandon Carroll sprinkled in.
As the game clock wound down, just four field goals were made in the final four minutes of game play. A Doherty layup brought the Huskies within one with a minute and a half to go but it was quickly removed by a Wight hook shot over Doherty to give the Tribe a three point lead.
Exactly 34 seconds after that play, Nikola Djogo hit one of the biggest shots in his Northeastern career, nailing a long range three off of a Doherty screen to tie the game and eventually force overtime.
With the game going beyond regulation, both teams sent out their starting fives for a second tip-off, this time however, it was Doherty who came away with the win over Carroll.
In overtime, the Huskies quickly jumped out to a lead, scoring the first nine points of the period, including a crippling three by Walters to put them up five just a minute in.
As the game began to crawl to a free throw competition, the Huskies struggled to keep their large lead, going 5-14 from the line in overtime.
Those five points, however, including one from Strong who entered off the bench, were all Northeastern needed to advance in this tournament. The Huskies were able to slow the Tribe’s offense down enough, including one key block by Jahmyl Telfort to hold on and win the game.
Coen saw Strong’s free throw as one of his most important contributions of the night.
“He made a big free throw,” Coen said. “We inserted him late in the game, hoping that he would get fouled, because we had confidence in his ability to make a shot. We needed that one to get over the hump.”
The next matchup for Northeastern in the tournament will come against Towson at noon on Sunday, Mar. 6. The top-seeded Tigers split the regular season series with the Huskies, each team taking a win at home. This time though, both teams play in neutral territory, making it anyone’s game. WRBB Sports will have coverage of that game with Peyton Doyle and Justin Diament on the call.