BOSTON — The Northeastern Huskies opened up the rubber match of their short two-game homestand against the Wagner Seahawks, hoping to come away with a win going into Thanksgiving. They did just that with a big 63-46 to victory, though things didn’t go as smoothly as the final score may suggest.
The Huskies came into the game firing on all cylinders, surrendering the opening bucket but going on a 9-0 in the following three and a half minutes behind a pair of layups by Gemima Motema and a three from Maddie Vizza But things stalled soon after — following an Oralye Keifer jumper to take a 13-4 lead halfway through the quarter, the offense would go completely silent to close the quarter. Good thing the Seahawks didn’t take advantage of this drought – only closing the deficit by one from a free throw.
Looking to start the Huskies’ second quarter on a better note, Kiefer did just that, cutting to the basket for an open layup assisted by Asha Parker. Vizza would tack on her second three of the night soon after, but this is when Wagner woke up — Or, at least Semie Brar did, connecting on three triples in the next four minutes and closing the deficit to four. Sensing some urgency, Motema and Keifer answered with their own triples to stop the bleeding and the two teams traded points with Northeastern taking a 31-19 lead to close the half.
Northeastern came out of the break looking to put an end to the Seahawks’ night early, and Vizza got the scoring going with another three. But Wagner had other plans — Kiera Edmonds countered with a couple of tough finishes in the paint, and the Husky offense stalled once again, going almost four minutes without putting any points on the board.
The Seahawks weren’t able to capitalize on Northeastern’s poor offensive execution and turnovers, cutting the lead to nine before Parker finally broke the scoreless streak with a free throw. Behind Parker and fellow forward Deja Bristol, the Huskies stretched the lead back to 42-28 going under the three minute mark of the quarter. Wagner capitalized on yet another Brar triple, turnover, shooting foul, and a second-chance layup to get back within single digits again, and trailed by only nine heading into the last frame.
The Huskies’ offense finally woke up for real in the fourth quarter, as Asha Parker converted on an and-one off a turnover while Vizza connected from downtown again to put the Husky lead back to 13. Brar, being chased off the three point line by Northeastern because ofher hot shooting, allowed the Seahawks to still hang around, by adjusting and taking open jumpers by attacking aggressive closeouts. Bristol and Parker kept attacking the paint, and their contributions from the free throw line thwarted the comeback attempt. Vizza, not to be out-done by her sharpshooting counterpart, was able to finally put Wagner away with a pair of threes – bringing her total to seven – in the final two minutes. While it didn’t look pretty, Northeastern secured the 17-point win and a sweep of two NEC foes on the homestand.
Here’s three takeaways from the win:
Raining… no, Showering Triples
While there was a lot of sloppy play by both offenses on Tuesday, the shooters came in ready to play. Brar finished with a game high 23 points on an efficient 9/13 from the field and 5/8 from deep, with only three turnovers. It was most impressive to see her attack the mid-range once Northeastern started running her off the line later in the game, and she was integral in keeping the game close.
On the Northeastern side, it goes without saying how impressive Vizza’s performance was tonight. She shot 7/11 from the field — all threes — and led Northeastern with 21 points while raising her season three-point percentage to 61% on over five attempts per game.
“She deserves a game like this [coming back from injuries], she’s just always ready to step up… she definitely played like a senior tonight and made some big plays for us,” head coach Priscilla Edwards-Lloyd said.
Outshined by her fellow guard, Motema connected on two of three triples as part of her ten point, zero turnover night. In the past, she’s shown an unwillingness to fire from distance, choosing to attack the paint with her outstanding finishing ability, and struggled with turnovers as a primary ball handler. However, neither of those concerns were present tonight and is an encouraging sign for a Husky team needing to find more spacing on the floor.
“She spent a lot of time in the summer working on her shot… so I’m not surprised by her making those shots,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “We tell her ‘feet set, when you’re open, get ready to shoot it and be confident’ and she was today.”
Who else is going to step up?
The prowess of Northeastern’s starting lineup is unquestionable, but the depth hasn’t been there this season yet. The Huskies went cold in the first class while replying heavily on their second unit during that stretch — and while it didn’t come back to bite them against Wagner, it definitely will against tougher opponents.
Derin Erdogan has been hampered by a right shoulder injury she suffered against Stonehill on opening night, and she has been shying away from driving to the rim since. She hasn’t been the productive scorer she was last year, only averaging 11 points per game on 34% shooting, but still a great facilitator, dropping 5.6 dimes a contest and eight tonight. That said, it’s still obvious that there is a need for more guard contributions off the bench.
Freshman point guard Yirsey Quéliz struggled again, her second straight game without any field goals while turning the ball over four times. She’s been called on often so far this season and has impressed for stretches, but the consistency isn’t there yet. It’s clear she’s trusted with handling the ball and may just need some time to settle in as her collegiate career progresses. With Jaelyn Batts out tonight, they relied heavily on staggering the minutes of Motema and Erdogan.
One of the recent bright spots from the bench, though, has been Kiefer. She saw inconsistent playing time last year and it seemed to be the case this season too until tonight – an impressive seven point, seven rebound, two block performance in 23 minutes. Kiefer didn’t block all the shots she faced, but altered a lot of them with her wide wingspan and disciplined defense, only commiting one foul.
“She really protected the paint for us with her length and had some big shots too,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “This is one of those games where different people had to step up so I was pleased with how [Kiefer] and other players came in and made plays for us.”
The 6’3” forward also connected from deep again, and is shooting 75% on her four attempts this season. With Bristol feeling under the weather and limited tonight, Kiefer’s contributions were crucial.
Things need to be polished
The last two games were not the cleanest of wins for Northeastern, with a lot of unforced turnovers and resulted in missed opportunities. Wagner’s defense was overreacting to any sort of ball movement, leading to plenty of open looks underneath the basket for the bigger Husky forwards but were unable to convert on a lot of them, whether it be a dropped pass or missed layup. The Seahawks were also overmatched in transition, but miscommunicated passes and struggles breaking a full-court press nullified the advantage there. It’s one thing to go on a cold shooting night, it happens, but it’s another to not even get shots up on multiple straight possessions.
“We still have to find ways to take care of the ball, we were better today which is a good thing but there’s still unforced turnovers we need to improve on,” said Edwards-Lloyd. “We’re going to keep working on our defense and communication and continuing to get better in any way we can.”
Credit definitely needs to be given to the Seahawks, though, as they were flying all over the place causing deflections and crashing the board to create second chances — winning the offensive rebound battle 13-7 — despite the size mismatch. They ended up taking more shots than Northeastern, 53-49, a testament to the work Wagner did on creating opportunities on the glass.
It won’t be easy for the Huskies to improve on these errors, as they get ready to hit the road to face Columbia, New Hampshire, Syracuse, and Holy Cross over the next few weeks but the team will embrace that challenge.
“You have to have a different toughness and mentality [going on the road], we’re actually looking forward to getting on the road because that’s going to also prepare for conference play which is around the corner,” Edwards-Lloyd said.
The Huskies return to action on Saturday at 4 p.m., where they will travel to New York to face Columbia.