Northeastern found themselves away from home for the tail end of Thanksgiving break, as the team participated in the inaugural London Basketball Classic, a four-team collegiate tournament taking place at the Copper Box Arena in London. Alongside the Huskies, Army, Manhattan College, and Princeton University all made the trek to bring college basketball across the pond.
The tournament was held in a traditional bracket format, with Northeastern defeating Manhattan in the first round 69-67 and Army losing to Princeton 74-66. After their respective victories, Princeton eclipsed Northeastern 56-54 to cap off a tournament filled with ups and downs for the Huskies.
Game 1: Manhattan
Coming off their recent blowout loss against Syracuse, adding to their four-game slide to begin the season, the Huskies looked to regain their footing against Manhattan. A strong start boosted their confidence, as quality looks inside the paint put the Huskies up 21-13 with eight minutes remaining in the half.
Manhattan did not stay down for long, though. Graduate student forward Josh Roberts highlighted the Jaspers’ push, scoring key buckets from the interior, as well as getting second-chance opportunities to keep his team’s momentum. Roberts finished the game with 19 points, tied for the team lead, as well as tallying a whopping 17 rebounds, seven of which came off the offensive glass.
Both teams were plagued by poor performances from distance in the first half. Northeastern attempted 13 shots beyond the arc, drilling only two of them, while Manhattan went a similar 1-for-7.
The Huskies adapted to their lack of success, though, with the team shifting more towards a mid-range game near the end of the half. Freshman guard Chase Cormier sank back-to-back jumpers to give Northeastern a slight lead, but sloppy fouls gave the Jaspers the opportunity to tie it up at the line. The first half came to a close, the score tied at 29.
The second half began in the Huskies’ favor after a three-pointer from junior forward Coleman Stucke started the stanza. Stucke has started the season strong, greatly improving his success from beyond the arc. His clip from range has jumped from 28.6% last season to 42.4% this year albeit with a small sample size. Against Manhattan, he shot 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, notching 19 total points for second on the team.
The rest of the second half was highlighted by back-and-forth play, with the largest lead of the half being Northeastern’s, at 49-42, which was quickly wiped. With time ticking down, Manhattan led 56-55. Junior guard Jahmyl Telfort dribbled in central, but facing pressure, kicked the ball out to a waiting Cormier. Cormier fired a shot from range, Jaspers closing in on him, and drew a three-point foul with 0.5 seconds remaining on the game clock.
Cormier missed his first free throw but sank his second, tying the game at 56. After a team foul on the Huskies for an illegal substitution, though, the Jaspers had another opportunity to keep themselves in the running. Fifth-year guard Ant Nelson successfully made the shot for Manhattan, putting them up 57-56 with one shot remaining for Cormier at the line. The freshman, facing a high-pressure situation, stepped up and drilled his final make, and as the clock ran out after the inbound, the score remained tied at 57, sending the game to overtime.
Northeastern found their stroke from range in overtime with Telfort, Stucke, and redshirt junior guard Joe Pridgen all knocking down shots from distance. Manhattan stayed close, though, as they drew fouls on the interior to keep the score differential narrow. With 18 seconds remaining in the overtime period, Nelson performed a nifty spin move against freshman guard Harold Woods to tie the game up at 67. After killing some clock, Northeastern head coach Bill Coen had 12.5 seconds to think up a game-winning play to send the Huskies to the tournament final.
Telfort inbounded the ball to Cormier. After a few quick passes around the arc, Pridgen made an undetected, darting run around the edge of the court. Cormier spotted his teammate and floated a perfect alley-oop pass into Pridgen’s path, who nabbed it out of the air and dunked it, putting the Huskies up 69-67 with not enough time left on the clock for Manhattan to make anything happen. Pridgen’s dunk sent the Huskies to the inaugural London Basketball Classic Championship, as he led the team in scoring with 20 points, shooting 9-for-15 from the field.
The win was the first of the season for the Huskies, snapping the four-game losing streak they started the year on.
Game 2: Princeton
Northeastern would then face Princeton, who defeated Army 74-66 two days prior, in the tournament final. The game opened fairly evenly, but Northeastern was able to break away slightly after Telfort beat the shot clock with a hook shot from the edge of the paint to put the Huskies up 13-9.
The Huskies maintained that lead throughout most of the first half, led by junior forward Alex Nwagha. Nwagha did a phenomenal job on the boards, tallying 17 rebounds in Saturday’s game, including 14 on the defensive glass. His presence on the glass limited Princeton’s second-chance opportunities and kept Northeastern ahead.
A common trend throughout both games, Princeton, like Manhattan, was able to stay in close range of the Huskies through free throws. The Tigers went 8-for-9 from the line in the first half alone, going 14-for-18 throughout the entirety of the game. In contrast, Northeastern attempted just seven free throws all game, making only four of them. Through their success at the line, the Tigers pulled back to within a single score, 32-30, by the time the buzzer sounded for the end of the first half.
Northeastern held its grip on the lead and was able to extend it as the second stanza progressed, mostly due to the efforts of Jahmyl Telfort. Stucke was held stagnant from the field, taking only two shots all game and missing both. Pridgen was not connecting on his shots either, going 4-for-15 from the field, so the scoring for the Huskies rested mainly on Telfort’s shoulders. The junior shot a 57% clip, leading the team with 18 points, and made two of Northeastern’s four made free throws.
Though Telfort gave his best efforts, he alone could not fend off the Tigers’ high-powered scoring. Princeton was led by senior guard Ryan Langborg, who led the team in scoring with 17 points. Langborg made some key shots both on the interior and from range while everyone else on the floor struggled to connect. His consistency on the floor propelled the Tigers on a 15-4 run, tying the score at 53 with just over one minute remaining in the game after previously being down 49-38.
Freshman guard Caden Pierce was then sent to the line after being fouled by Nwagha, his fifth of the matchup. Pierce made one out of his two shots, giving the Tigers a one-point lead and completing the comeback after being down by 11 earlier in the half.
As the clock wound down, neither team was able to find success from the floor, forcing Northeastern to foul freshman guard Xaivian Lee with just under nine seconds left in the game. Lee made both of his attempts, and although shortly after, Stucke was sent to the line and tallied one make, it was too little too late from the Huskies’ defense, as the Tigers would take a 56-54 victory, claiming the title of the first ever London Classic champion.
Tournament final thoughts
Most importantly for Northeastern’s trip to London, they secured the first victory of the season, taking pressure off the team’s shoulders.
The win was highlighted by a fantastic ending play from Pridgen, who had his best game of the season thus far. Pridgen had started the season working through an injury, and in his first truly healthy game, he led the team in scoring while coming off the bench. His success in the first game is what is needed out of him, as although he is a combo guard and not the true point the Huskies have been searching for, his performance was promising.
Stucke had a fantastic first game as well. He seems to be finding his stroke from distance and has performed well throughout the six games played this season so far. His development into a true wing will be crucial to the success of the team going forward into CAA play, and his first game was a promising sign.
On the flip side, both Pridgen and Stucke struggled in the second game, bringing up a consistency issue with this roster. If Northeastern is to continue winning games, they need consistent high-quality performances from their top players. Though Telfort had good showings in both contests, games cannot solely rely on him, and the Huskies will need to increase their consistency if they are to have a net-positive season.
One thing to note is that redshirt senior forward Chris Doherty was absent during the tournament due to an injury picked up earlier in the season. An undersized big man who plays larger than his stature implies, Doherty was one of Northeastern’s best players last season, and it does remain a fair point that his presence on the floor is missed. He is a high-impact player, and his return will be very welcome to the Huskies’ lineup.
Most importantly, Coen was able to see how his team would fare against an opponent they could truly battle with. Previous matchups this season have been against teams above the typical caliber of a CAA opponent, and the London Classic provided Northeastern a chance to see their performance against more comparable teams. The Huskies showed that there is more to them than their record, and if all the puzzle pieces fit correctly, they could potentially have a high ceiling when conference play comes around.
Northeastern’s next game is another difficult one, as they travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech Friday at 7:30 p.m., followed by a home matchup with Georgia State Sunday at 2 p.m. WRBB will have live coverage of the latter of the two games.