BOSTON — A slow start didn’t stop Northeastern from turning in one of their most complete performances all season, as they beat Monmouth 77-65 Saturday afternoon.
The contest was a good opportunity for both teams to prove themselves as the CAA Tournament draws ever nearer. For Monmouth, it was an occasion to change their road fortunes; the Hawks came in 12-1 at home, but just 1-10 on the road. For Northeastern, it was a chance to build on Thursday’s victory at Campbell as graduate stars Luka Sakota and Chris Doherty continue to work themselves back from injury.
Both teams struggled to start the game, as neither team connected on a field goal until the 16:35 mark when graduate student forward Nikita Konstantynovski flipped in a layup. From there, the game ignited, as both teams traded baskets before a 15-2 Northeastern run gave them a 13 point advantage right before the six minute mark. A Doherty dunk pushed the lead to 16 with just over two minutes left in the half, and the Huskies looked ready to blow the game wide open.
It wasn’t to be, as Northeastern squandered chances to take a much bigger lead into the break. Sloppy offense and inattentive defense opened the door for the Hawks to come back, as they capitalized on Northeastern mistakes to connect on their first three. A bad foul by senior forward Alexander Nwagha allowed CAA Player of the Year candidate Xander Rice an and-1 opportunity right before the buzzer, and the lead was just 10 as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Rice poured in 13 first half points on 4-of-8 from the field as the Huskies’ dominance forced him to play the duration of the period. Rice, a grad transfer from Bucknell, has played well for the Hawks this season, pacing them in points and minutes played. For the Huskies, sophomore guard Rashad King was excellent in the first half, posting 10 points to go with three offensive rebounds and four assists. Fellow sophomore guard Jared Turner played a solid half as well, knocking down two threes en route to eight first half points.
The second half felt like deja vu all over again for the Huskies, as Konstantynovski and Rice came out blazing to whittle the lead to 50-47 with 13:20 to play. Northeastern has notoriously struggled to hold on to second-half leads this season, and Saturday felt like another gut punch was on its way.
But, just as they did Thursday against Campbell, the Huskies wouldn’t cede control. A four-minute, 13-2 run gave Northeastern a 63-49 lead with a touch over nine minutes remaining. Sakota’s veteran presence was instrumental, as he controlled possessions and hit big shots to keep the Hawks at bay. Doherty and King chipped in with buckets of their own, and the Monmouth surge was rebuffed.
A Rice layup cut the lead to 10 at the seven minute mark, but the score never got closer. Northeastern kept composure and did enough to close this one out on their own floor, as both teams pulled their starters with 1:02 to go and the Huskies capped a complete performance with a 77-65 victory.
Northeastern again got balanced scoring, with four players scoring in double digits. Doherty had a nice bounce-back game after Thursday’s lackluster performance, making 8-of-15 from the field on his way to 19 points. The Huskies made eight threes and 26 field goals overall, but it was the defense that impressed the most, limiting the CAA 3-point percentage leaders to just 2-of-14 from beyond the arc.
“It was the focus of our scouting report,” said head coach Bill Coen postgame. “We knew that they’re a tremendous three-point shooting team… so that was a big key for us, defending that.”
It was also a remarkable performance on the glass from the Huskies. Monmouth’s two centers both stand 6’9” or above, while Northeastern’s tallest rotational player is the 6’8” Turner. They didn’t let that deter them, out-rebounding the Hawks by 12.
“Rebounding is a lot about heart,” Coen said. “When you have a guy like Harold Woods, who’s been consistent in that area, (as well as) Jared Turner, they gave us what we needed to close the game out.”
For Monmouth, it was another disappointing road loss. Outside Rice, Konstanynovski, and senior guard Jakari Spence, it was a tame, out-of-sync performance. The one positive for the Hawks was their paint points, as they outscored the Huskies 48-34 in that department. Outside of that, positives were few and far between as they dropped to 1-11 on the road.
Northeastern will look to continue their hot stretch, welcoming second-place Charleston to Matthews Arena on Thursday night. Monmouth will return home to face Campbell, also on Thursday.
Anticipate a thriller as the Huskies welcome College of Charleston to Matthews Arena on Thursday. WRBB will be providing live coverage with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.