BOSTON — It was easy to lose track of how many times bodies crashed to the hardwood Thursday night at the Cabot Center, as Northeastern endured a physical, scrappy game against Merrimack, prevailing by a final score of 58-47.
The Huskies were banged up to begin with, specifically senior guard Derin Erdogan, who has been playing through an injury she sustained in the season opener against Stonehill. Erdogan has had wrapping on her right shoulder since that game, so Huskies fans held their collective breath when she got hit in that exact area while trying to intercept a pass in the second quarter. Erdogan appeared to be in some significant pain while down on the floor, but she got evaluated by the team trainers and checked back in after less than two minutes of game time.
Despite not being at 100 percent physically, Erdogan hasn’t had much time to rest during game action — Northeastern was getting dominated for the brief periods she was on the bench Sunday against Boston College, so she played 35 minutes in that game, and played 33 minutes Thursday night coming off of that effort. Erdogan seems committed to staying active, even in the non-conference portion of the schedule, which is essentially just a tune-up for conference play.
Showing just how important Erdogan’s presence is to the team’s play, the Huskies again struggled in the few moments she was not on the floor. The injury scare came on the defensive end, after Erdogan nailed her first three-pointer of the night to put Northeastern up by double digits for the first time in the game. After she checked out, freshman guard Paloma Garcia hit two quick threes of her own, the start of a 12-0 Warriors run that put the visitors ahead for the first time in the quarter.
Shots from deep were the name of the game for Merrimack early on, as eight of their nine field goal attempts in the first quarter came from beyond the arc. One of those makes was by graduate student guard Jayme DeCesare, the star point guard in her fifth year as a starter for the Warriors. Last season, in the only previous meeting between these two squads, the Huskies held DeCesare to 0-for-4 shooting from the field, doubleteaming her and forcing other players to take shots. Northeastern did not defend her as aggressively Thursday night, but she was cold for the rest of the game, finishing 2-for-11 from the field with 10 of those attempts coming from three-point range.
Neither team could really get it going from the floor, with the squads shooting a combined 37 percent from the field on the night. The Huskies had 19 turnovers, not a great number, but a marked improvement from their 31 giveaways against Boston College. Northeastern was able to take advantage of Merrimack’s blunders, though, scoring 26 points off of the Warriors’ 24 turnovers.
“I thought we did a better job in stretches of taking care of the ball, still not where we want to be, but at least calming down and not getting the same types of turnovers,” said Northeastern head coach Priscilla Edwards-Lloyd. “I also thought [the team] took the lessons of just emotionally being locked in. … I felt that they had a good response when Merrimack made their runs, we responded a lot better as a team.”
Both sides played an incredibly physical game, as the thud of bodies hitting the court in fights for the ball was heard constantly throughout the night. The teams committed a combined 41 fouls, with Garcia fouling out for Merrimack and Erdogan and fifth-year guard Jaelyn Batts coming dangerously close to doing so for the Huskies.
While the Huskies jumped out to double-digit leads multiple times throughout the game, Merrimack would not go away quietly. Junior forward Asha Parker drained a three in the third quarter (the first made three-pointer of her collegiate career, on just her second-ever attempt from deep) to put Northeastern up 13, but the Warriors responded with an 8-0 run. The Huskies did a good job of staying resilient, though, and kept a multiple-possession lead for the entire second half.
Erdogan finished the night with 17 points, 11 of those coming in the second half, as she gritted out the game to lead Northeastern in scoring despite the pain. Erdogan wasn’t the only Northeastern player to have an injury scare Thursday night, as junior guard Gemima Motema seemed to land awkwardly on her right ankle in the third quarter and had to be helped off the court. Motema was also able to return, playing the last four-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter. The injuries across the board opened up playing time for Huskies lower in the depth chart, including sophomore guards Marian Turnbull and Ariana Webb, who each made their season debuts.
“One of the first things I said in the locker room after the game was how proud I was of Marian, because Marian is someone who battled her own injuries and doesn’t play as much, but she was ready,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “She made good plays, she knew what she was doing, and that’s what we ask for, is when your number is called to be ready.”
Northeastern did a good job all night of battling against a Merrimack defense that likes to clog up the paint and make interior plays difficult by swarming their opponents. The Huskies did not necessarily find their forwards on rolls to the basket as much as they had in previous games this season, but they were able to feed the ball to their bigs down low, often getting an offensive rebound or drawing a foul even if the initial shot didn’t go in.
“We spent a lot of time this week on just being patient, trying to reverse the ball and getting secondary post-ups, and I thought our posts did a really good job of being patient with that, and just allowing the offense to come,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “I thought we moved the ball well, too, which opened up things for us.”
The victory improves Northeastern’s record to 3-1 on the season and 2-0 at home as they get ready to host another Northeast Conference opponent, Wagner, at the Cabot Center on Tuesday night.
The Huskies will look to maintain their undefeated home record as they face Wagner on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Justin Diament and Justin Chen will have the call for WRBB.