BOSTON — In one of the more bizarre Northeastern basketball games in recent memory, the Huskies attempted 51 foul shots and knocked down 40 of them, both program records, as they defeated Old Dominion 81-68 following Monarchs head coach Jeff Jones’ ejection from the contest for protesting the free-throw disparity.
The surreal scene came just under five minutes into the second half, after ODU junior guard Chaunce Jenkins drove past Northeastern graduate student guard Luka Sakota to finish a layup. Jenkins and the Monarchs bench wanted a foul called on the drive, and were upset with the officials as Old Dominion had attempted just four free throws at that point in the game, compared to the Huskies’ 28.
Jones yelled and pointed at the officials after the no-call, and had to be physically restrained from running after them by multiple players and members of his coaching staff following the two technical fouls called on him.
While the Monarchs could understandably be upset with such a stark disparity between the two teams, there didn’t seem to be much contact on the actual play in question, and the reaction from Jones seemed to be more of an accumulation of anger about how the game was being called.
“I actually let [Jenkins] drive, because we didn’t want to commit a foul there,” said Sakota.
Jones took over at Old Dominion in 2013, immediately following the Monarchs’ departure from the CAA, so all three meetings between Jones and Northeastern head coach Bill Coen have been in the non-conference portion of the season, and this is the Huskies’ first win over ODU in that span.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Coen said regarding the ejection. “I know coach Jones, and he’s a terrific coach and runs a terrific program. Sometimes these crazy games get the best of you and emotions get hot.”
It was definitely a physical game from the jump, with players from both sides colliding or hitting the ground hard early on, although no one was injured outside of briefly being shaken up. Despite that in-game play and Jones’ outburst, the physicality between players did not cross the line and become extracurricular.
“I was proud of both teams that it didn’t escalate into anything else,” Coen said. “Both teams settled down, and it was still physical, but I thought it was played cleanly.”
At the time of the ejection, Northeastern led 46-39, before Sakota knocked down all four technical free throws to push the margin up to 11. The Huskies had built that lead in the first half through contributions from a variety of players, with eight different Huskies getting on the board in the first frame. Sakota and sophomore forward Jared Turner led the team with eight points each at the break, with Turner hitting a three-pointer two minutes in and another one from deep with five minutes to go in the first half.
Turner made his mark on the defensive end as well, doing a good job of sticking with his assignment and not letting the opponent blow past him. Defense on the drives was something Northeastern had to do if they wanted to win, since the Monarchs — in particular Jenkins — love to get downhill and take it to the basket. The Huskies executed well against him, as the Preseason All-Sun Belt First Team selection had just six points in the first half on 2-for-8 shooting, despite entering Saturday averaging 18 points per game.
“[Jenkins] was obviously a focal point in our preparation, guys knew that he was the guy that could really hurt you,” Coen said. “We wanted to make sure that he didn’t get comfortable early, and we rotated a few guys on him to try to keep him out of rhythm.”
Coen used the bench quite a bit in the first half, with graduate student forward Chris Doherty and senior forward Alexander Nwagha splitting the 20 minutes evenly at the center position. In previous seasons, Nwagha primarily entered the game to replace Doherty when he got into foul trouble (which was seemingly every game), but Coen put in Nwagha Saturday when Doherty had just one foul, which he picked up 30 seconds into the game and would be his only foul committed the entire contest.
Freshman guard William Kermoury also saw some time in the first half, and the Swede finished the day with 12 minutes, the second-most of his young college career.
“William’s a really talented kid,” Sakota said of his fellow point guard. “It’s tough, I remember back as a freshman, you wanted to get all the opportunities in the world, and when you get in there you want to use them. He’s been great, he’s been working hard in practice, so … [I’m] really happy that he showed what he could do today.”
Despite holding a double-digit lead following the blow-up from Jones, Northeastern let ODU hang in the game, and the lead was down to five points just minutes later. The Huskies were cold from the field in the early second half and were relying on free throws to keep them afloat, having an eight-minute stretch where all of their 12 points came from the foul line.
With their leading scorer Jenkins having an off night, freshman guard Vasean Allette stepped up for the Monarchs, scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting following the ejection, his final bucket cutting the deficit to just four. Northeastern needed a big basket desperately, and got one off of a three-pointer from sophomore guard Masai Troutman which turned into a four-point play. After being knocked down to the floor and barely seeing the shot go through the basket, Troutman celebrated with Turner, who had assisted him on his other three-pointer of the game a few minutes prior.
“I saw an opportunity, shot the three, he fouled me, I was like ‘I hope this goes in!’”, Troutman said. “I saw it, through a crack, go in, and I was like ‘oh, yeah.’ I looked at Jared and immediately started pointing at him. That’s my guy.”
Troutman’s shot, followed by a nice hook shot from Doherty, ultimately iced the game despite the scare. The only thing that was left to decide at that point was whether the free throw records — which stood at 39 made and 49 attempted — would be broken, and Turner hit four foul shots in garbage time to clinch both.
The Huskies have four games left in non-conference play before they start the CAA portion of the schedule in the new year, and to win at home after a challenging road trip is certainly a momentum boost heading into the rest of the slate.
“There’s essentially three different seasons, and the first is the non-conference,” Coen said. “We want this portion of the season to prepare us for [the conference] portion of the season. We’re still learning and growing and trying to build. I thought we made improvements offensively, defensively I think we still have a ways to go, and we’re trying to figure that out before conference play starts.”
It’s hard to say how many other games this season will feature more than 50 free throw attempts and a head coach ejection, though.
“That was one of the most unique games I’ve been a part of in my college career,” Sakota said.
Northeastern hosts Vermont in their final home game of the non-conference slate on Wednesday night. Daisy Roberts and Justin Chen will have the call at 7 p.m. for WRBB.