NEW BRITAIN, CT — Bill Coen could sense the game slipping from Northeastern’s grasp.
A wide-open three by Central Connecticut’s Jordan Jones extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 51-40 early in the second half, punctuating a devastating 21-2 scoring run. With the Detrick Gymnasium crowd on its feet, Coen called timeout and subbed back in two of his top scorers, big Chris Doherty and wing Jared Turner, despite both carrying three fouls.
Coen’s trust in his stars paid off in a big way.
The sharpshooting Turner promptly knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to get Northeastern back to within single digits, and Doherty went to work in the post, finishing the night with 21 points while navigating late foul trouble. Their efforts helped propel the Huskies to a 79-74 comeback victory over Central Connecticut — a major sigh of relief after Northeastern’s previous two losses were by a combined total of four points.
“Really proud of the entire group,” Coen said. “We’ve had a couple of winning efforts that didn’t end up in wins. And we talked about mindset a lot with this team, and being resilient and being mentally tough in order to get over that hump…it looked like the game was going to get away from us, and we dug in.”
With the absence of usual backup big Alex Nwagha, who sprained his ankle in practice last week, the Huskies received a major contribution off the bench from senior Bryce Johnson. Johnson averaged 4.3 minutes per game across Northeastern’s first 11 contests, but he played 24 minutes off the bench on Tuesday. He scored six points and led the team with eight rebounds, while also providing a steadying defensive presence.
“A guy like Bryce Johnson — who hasn’t gotten much playing time — could easily hang his head and feel sorry for himself,” Coen said. “But he was ready when his number was called…he really was a big reason why we were able to win, and his defense stepped up in a big way.”
After clawing back into the game, the Huskies were faced with their third-straight nail-biting finish. Both sides traded interior buckets in the closing minutes of regulation, with Doherty’s four fouls looming and both offensives getting to the rim at will.
The game’s most consequential play came with 38 seconds remaining, as sophomore guard Rashad King crashed the offensive glass off Dohery’s missed layup, and netted a putback to put Northeastern up 75-73. The Huskies didn’t look back, capitalizing on a subsequent missed jumper by CCSU’s star forward Allan Jeanne-Rose, and knocking down 4-of-6 free throws to ice the win.
Sophomore Harold Woods also put together a quality effort in 22 minutes off the bench, finishing with 14 points on an efficient 4-of-6 from the field, and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Both Woods and guard Luka Sakota did a stellar job throughout the game at capitalizing on the Blue Devils’ propensity to cede backdoor passes.
“He’s a tremendous cutter, and he’s able to find seams when the defense loses vision,” Coen said of Woods. “He’s got great passers like Chris that look for him, because he gets behind the defense and he finds a way to get open.”
Northeastern has an 11-day holiday break, before returning to action on Dec. 30 against Rhode Island. Stay tuned to WRBB’s live coverage throughout the season.