Photo by Justin Chen

TOWSON, MD. – Nobody played No. 3 Northeastern tougher in the regular season than No. 7 Monmouth.

The Huskies and Hawks split their first-ever regular season series as CAA opponents, with each team taking their respective victory at home. The third meeting of the two programs came Saturday night in SECU Arena, with Monmouth earning a 73-60 win in the conference semifinal game.

Despite the neutral site of Towson, both teams drew a strong group of passionate fans and the Hawks used this as fuel to put together one of the best performances of the entire tournament. Their blitzkrieg switching and even quicker triggers on 3-pointers confounded the Huskies for stretches of the game and propelled the New Jersey-based squad to a spot in the CAA Championship game in just their first year in the conference. 

Photo by Justin Chen

Entering the tournament as a seven seed, Monmouth didn’t look like a team that could knock off not only Northeastern but also No. 2 Drexel as well in the round before. 

The Hawks went 9-9 in CAA play in the regular season and weren’t stellar on either side of the ball. Head Coach Ginny Boggess however, knew there was something dangerous lying within her squad though.

“There was a moment that we talked about three weeks ago when some people were on the fence, not about the buy-in, but about the vulnerability of giving it everything you have and selling out and seeing what we could actually become,” Boggess said. “It’s a scary thing, when you’ve never been a part of a winning program or winning culture, that was the shift.”

Boggess also noted that the team was suffering through several key injuries throughout the season, including when they lost to Northeastern on Jan. 29.

The two key losses for that match were Lovin Marsicano and Belle Kranbuhl, two of the team’s starting forwards. Marsicano missed the game altogether while Kranbuhl exited after just five minutes following a shoulder injury. 

In Saturday’s contest, Marsicano had 13 points and seven rebounds, including two on the offensive glass. 

On the other side of the floor, Khranbul anchored the Hawks defense. The first game against the Huskies the center had two blocks and four steals, Saturday she filled the box score even more.

Kranbuhl finished with 12 points on perfecting shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and adding three blocks and a steal.

“We have all the confidence in the world in Belle and it was great to see her out there healthy and having fun playing,” Boggess said. “She was ready to go when the ball went up tonight and that confidence that she has is contagious and we were just really fortunate to have her out there healthy tonight.”

It wasn’t just Kranbuhl’s paint presence that stunted the Huskies, it seemed as if every player on the Hawks knew exactly what they needed to do at the right time.

The spider-like wings of Marsicano, Kaci Donovan, and Ariana Vanderhoop gave Northeastern’s perimeter players no room to work on the outside. 

During the season, Monmouth was one of the best teams in the country at preventing 3-pointers and contesting shots at the rim. Those strengths carried over into the tournament as they forced their opponents into all kinds of off-balance mid-range shots that found the bottom of the basket but not often enough.

When the Huskies did get off triples, they simply wouldn’t fall. Just five of their 23 shots from beyond the arc connected.

The struggles were best exemplified by the team’s two best three point shooters, Derin Erdogan and Jamiya Braxton, who combined to shoot 3-15 from deep.

The most success Northeastern found was while using a full-court trap early in the game. Monmouth was  flustered by the pressure at first, but eventually they figured out how to overcome that too.

When the Huskies stopped utilizing the press and tried to preserve some energy with their half-court defense, the Hawks executed a motion-offense to perfection. 

If Northeastern players weren’t losing track of their mark through a screen or a headfake, they’d overhelp and allow an opposing player to come in for an offensive rebound unbothered or give up an easy back-door cut. 

The Hawks knew how to target some of the mobility issues of the Huskies and understood that they could simply exhaust them by forcing them to navigate screens and hand-offs all over the court. 

The loss will surely leave Northeastern wanting more from their best regular season in over two decades, but there is promise for next season. 

Just two players, Braxton and Anna Boruta, are graduating. The team will get another year of growth from freshmen Oralye Kiefer and Ariana Webb, who showed plenty of promise throughout the season. And perhaps most importantly, Erdogan is expected to return as one of the CAA’s top scorers.

The Huskies are also in a strong position to bring in more top transfers in the offseason and barring any catastrophe, this roster should compete once again for the CAA title.