PRINCETON, N.J. – The clash between Northeastern and Princeton unfolded with intense energy in the first half, leaving fans with a game that was unexpected based on what it showed on paper.
Princeton came into this contest with a 5-0 record, taking down Power-5 opponent Rutgers earlier this season. But how soon can last year’s Cinderella NCAA Tournament run for this Princeton squad, barring some roster changes, be forgotten? After taking down Arizona in the first round, they defeated Missouri in the second round, which led them to the Sweet-16 where they ended their season.
The game kicked off with a flurry of action as Northeastern’s Alexander Nwagha showcased his defensive prowess with a steal early on the first possession. Matt Allocco of Princeton, however, quickly turned the tables, forcing a turnover and gaining possession for the Tigers.
The back-and-forth nature of the game was evident in the early minutes, with both teams hustling for control. Luka Sakota displayed his accuracy from the free-throw line, earning easy points for the Huskies. Princeton responded swiftly, with Xaivian Lee sinking a three-point basket and adding to the scoreboard.
Those points were only the beginning of the tear that Lee would have throughout the rest of the contest, as he soon would tally two more three-pointers in a row, which got him to 11 points with 11 minutes left in the first half.
Northeastern’s Harold Woods showcased his scoring ability with a series of layups, demonstrating his agility on the court. However, Princeton’s Matt Allocco answered back with a combination of free throws and a well-executed layup, keeping the Tigers in the game.
The battle in the paint was intense, with players fighting for rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Chris Doherty and Jared Turner of Northeastern, along with Zach Martini and Blake Peters of Princeton, made significant contributions on the boards, showcasing their versatility and effort to keep the ball in their team’s hands.
“I thought we had an effort that put us in a position to win the game,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.
Three-pointers played a pivotal role in shaping the scoreboard. Woods and Rashad King, along with Jack Scott and the continuation of scoring from Lee, attempted key shots from beyond the arc. Woods found success with a clutch three-pointer, narrowing the gap between the two teams.
The pace of the game remained relentless as both teams executed fast breaks and capitalized on turnovers. Without many fouls by either team, the first half flew by. To combat this, the coaching staff strategically utilized timeouts to make crucial adjustments.
As the first half neared its conclusion, both teams intensified their efforts. Allocco continued to be a force on the offensive end, converting free throws and contributing valuable points in the paint. Northeastern, led by Turner and Masai Troutman, countered with a mix of jumpers and layups to keep the score tight.
The scoreboard reflected a close contest, with each possession becoming more crucial than the last. Princeton held a narrow lead, but Northeastern’s resilience and strategic substitutions kept them within striking distance.
In the final moments of the first half, a flurry of action unfolded. Doherty found himself in some foul trouble for the Huskies after collecting two infractions late. Princeton’s defensive efforts, highlighted by crucial rebounds and steals, allowed them to maintain their lead.
The halftime buzzer sounded with the score 35-29 in favor of the Tigers. As the teams headed to the locker rooms, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation. The Huskies found themselves bouncing in and out of making it a one- or two-possession game many times in the first half. The first half delivered a spectacle of skill, intensity, and strategy, setting the stage for an equally thrilling second half.
The second half opened with Princeton’s Darius Gakwasi making a steal from Joe Pridgen of Northeastern, which set the tone for the Tigers. Jackson Hicke capitalized on the steal with a successful jumper, adding valuable points to Princeton’s tally.
Quickly both teams had to make some substitutions and strategic changes. Woods, who had been a key player for Northeastern in the first half, took a breather along with the other starters. Princeton shuffled its lineup as well, bringing in fresh legs to maintain momentum.
However, Northeastern faced challenges with turnovers and fouls. Woods, after returning to the floor from his stint on the sideline, committed a turnover and accumulated his fourth personal foul, putting him in a dangerous position. On the other side, Lee continued to shine, sinking a layup, and further extending his team’s lead to 46-42.
At that point in the game, Lee was having his way around the Northeastern defense. He was the best player on the court on either side, as he finished the contest with 30 total points.
With 7:54 left in the second half, Allocco showcased his scoring prowess with a series of successful jumpers and free throws. Northeastern, determined to close the gap, responded with Pridgen making crucial free throws. The physicality of the game was evident, as Pridgen was making it difficult for the Princeton defense to cover his physical style of play as he dragged the opposing player to the low post.
The game continued to move at an uptempo pace, with both teams executing fast breaks, attempting three-pointers, and engaging in a fierce battle in the paint. Sakota and Turner attempted key shots from beyond the arc, while Princeton’s Scott and Peters answered back with three-pointers of their own.
As the clock wound down, Northeastern made a push to narrow the gap. Pridgen’s free throws, coupled with a three-pointer from Turner, injected new life into the Huskies. However, Princeton’s defensive efforts, coupled with successful free throws from Caden Pierce and Allocco, allowed them to maintain their lead.
Both teams fought tooth and nail for control of possession. Peters and Scott showcased their three-point shooting skills to keep Princeton’s offense going, while King and Sakota made key plays to keep Northeastern in the game.
In the final three minutes, and with it being only a two-possession game, the tension reached its peak. Woods, despite foul trouble, made critical free throws, showcasing his composure under pressure. Coen was pleased with Woods’ overall effort on the court in Saturday’s contest, as he finished with 21 points – the highest on the team..
“He’s been playing well for us,” Coen said. “He impacts the game on the defensive end, but today he made some great reads and found himself opening for baskets. He’s a hard worker, extremely dedicated, and it shows in his development.”
As the clock hit zero, the scoreboard read 80-66 in favor of Princeton, continuing their perfect season and dropping the Huskies to 3-4 overall. The second half was a rollercoaster of emotions, with both teams leaving everything on the court. The Tigers’ consistent scoring, defensive plays, and strategic decisions proved decisive in securing their victory. Northeastern fought valiantly, but in the end, Princeton emerged victorious in a hard-fought contest against an incredibly strong opponent.
Despite the loss, Coen had a positive outlook on his team’s performance.
“I thought we got better today,” he said. “ It didn’t manifest itself in victory, [but] I think we saw some tangible progress.”
The Huskies look to continue their progress as they return to New Jersey to face Seton Hall.
WRBB will have full coverage when Northeastern returns to Matthews Arena for the second time this season on Saturday, Dec. 2nd. Justin Diament and Jordan Walsh will be live on 104.9 FM with tip-off scheduled for 2 p.m.