It wasn’t quite wire to wire, but it was a complete, bounce-back performance for Northeastern in their first ever conference meeting with Campbell on Thursday, as they pulled out a needed 86-76 win.
The Huskies entered the clash losers of four straight, and five of their last six. Campbell’s Fighting Camels, on the other hand, came in winners of five of their last seven home games. Campbell entered the season projected by most outlets to finish dead last in the CAA, having just joined the conference from the Big South, but they’ve defied expectations thus far. They entered tonight’s contest sitting at .500 in conference play.
Interestingly enough, Campbell has seven international players, the most of any D-1 team. They’ve recruited players from England, Lithuania, Australia, Russia, and Turkey as they try to adjust to the competitiveness of the CAA.
Northeastern was more than happy to welcome back two graduate students, guard Luka Sakota and forward Chris Doherty, from injury absences. Arguably the two most important players on the team, Sakota had missed close to two weeks and Doherty just under a week with lower body and head injuries, respectively. The two have combined to average 24 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Campbell’s surprising success seemed likely to continue early, as the Camels quickly got out to a 5-0 lead. However, the rest of the first half belonged to Northeastern, as they went on a nine minute, 24-2 run to open up a 17 point advantage. Campbell went the entirety of those nine minutes without a field goal as the Huskies gained full control.
Northeastern’s position stayed mostly intact for the rest of the half, using stifling defense (eight first-half steals) and red-hot shooting to go into the break up 42-29. Sophomore guards Rashad King and Harold Woods each had excellent first halves for the Huskies, while senior forward Alexander Nwagha played rock-solid extended minutes with Doherty in early foul trouble. Northeastern hit 18 field goals in the first half, just one less than they had all game in their previous contest at Stony Brook.
The only thing going for Campbell in the first half was sophomore guard Anthony Dell’Orso, who hit big shot after big shot to keep the game within reach. Dell’Orso, in his second season from Melbourne, Australia, has been a revelation for the Camels, pacing them in points, rebounds, and steals per game.
Northeastern started the second half similarly, as a Masai Troutman layup stretched the lead to 20 at the 16:17 mark. However, a questionable technical foul on the sophomore killed some momentum, and the lead stayed at 20 before a prolonged 16-0 Camels run cut the lead to four with just 4:31 to play. The run, which culminated in Doherty fouling out, felt all-too-familiar for the shell-shocked Huskies, and Campbell clearly sensed blood in the water.
But, after looking destined to blow a massive road lead, the Northeastern lead never shrunk below four. The Huskies sandwiched consecutive stops with a Woods dunk and a three from sophomore guard Jared Turner, and didn’t look back from there. A Sakota dagger three pushed the lead to 10 with two minutes to play, and capable free throw shooting in the closing seconds secured a much-needed 86-76 victory for Northeastern.
Sakota paced the Huskies with 24 points in his return. Despite Doherty’s struggles (two points, 1-for-3 FG) it was a well-rounded scoring night for Northeastern, who saw five players score in double figures. Woods and King each shot 6-for-8 from the field, while Turner connected on four threes. The Huskies won the turnover battle and made 15 threes, a winning formula which has proved rather elusive for head coach Bill Coen’s team.
Campbell put up a fight, but the three-point margin and a thin bench ultimately let them down. Dell’Orso led the way with 23 points, and junior guard Jasin Sinani contributed 18 points. Lithuanian senior forward Laurynas Vaistaras added 11 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, while English sophomore guard Elijah Walsh chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds. The supporting cast just couldn’t do enough, as the other six Camels could only muster 11 points altogether.
Northeastern will look to continue their winning ways in a home matchup with Monmouth on Saturday. Campbell will look to get back on track during a Saturday home date with Stony Brook.
Matthews Arena plays host when the Huskies take on Monmouth on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. with live coverage provided by Justin Diament and Aiden Barker on WRBBSports+.