Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

BOSTON — Taking down the reigning CAA champions College of Charleston was always going to be a challenge, and it proved a bit too difficult for Northeastern on Thursday night as the Cougars edged the Huskies, 77-73.

It was an exciting, back-and-forth affair between two hot, healthy teams. Charleston entered leading the conference and riding a three-game win streak, and Northeastern looked to build on their own two-game win streak.

While the Huskies’ last game started slowly, this contest couldn’t have started quicker. Hot shooting from both sides saw 30 points scored in the first six minutes, and the teams went into the first media timeout knotted at 15 apiece. The sizzling pace continued after the stoppage, with the teams trading blows before nine quick points from graduate star Luka Sakota helped Northeastern open up a 32-25 lead with a touch over seven minutes to play in the half. 

The lead didn’t last long. Charleston, as they’ve done so often this season, battled back. After a Rashad King layup pushed the lead back to seven at the 6:20 mark, the Huskies scored just one point over the next 6:14 as the Cougars went on an extended, 12-1 run to seize control. A three by graduate forward Chris Doherty mere seconds before the halftime buzzer appeared to be Northeastern’s saving grace, but Cougars freshman guard Khalil London silenced the crowd with a deep, buzzer-beating three while getting fouled. He converted the four-point play, and a deflated Matthews Arena could only watch as Charleston took a 43-38 lead into halftime.

The first half was an interesting clash in offensive styles. Charleston’s scoring was dispersed among seven players, while Sakota, Doherty, and sophomore guard Harold Woods carried the majority of the load for Northeastern. The Cougars shot 20 first-half threes to the Huskies’ eight, snagged nine offensive rebounds, and attempted 11 more field goals, entering the break with the lead despite shooting nearly 15% worse from the floor.

Just like the first half, both teams struggled to open much of a lead in the second. After some back-and-forth play, Charleston built a nine-point cushion with 8:24 to play, but Northeastern fought back to cut it to three at 5:54. An ensuing 8-0 Cougars run pushed the lead back to 11 after a three from junior guard Reyne Smith completed a five-point possession. Once again, the Huskies responded: a two-minute, 8-0 run capped off by a transition dunk from sophomore center Collin Johnson brought the crowd to life and slashed the lead to 76-73. With 1:34 still to play, Northeastern posed a real threat to snatch a signature home victory from the jaws of defeat.

Unfortunately for head coach Bill Coen’s men, they couldn’t close it out. Back-to-back missed free throws by Charleston opened the door, but the Huskies went 0-for-4 from the field and committed a traveling violation before Smith iced the game from the free throw line with ten seconds to play. A Sakota three fell short as Charleston prevailed, 77-73.

Northeastern fought valiantly against a very good Cougars team, pushing them to the brink on a night where they hit 15 threes. It was another solid night from Sakota, who finished with 23 points, pacing the team. Woods stood out as well, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 from the floor, while Doherty added 14 to round out the Huskies’ scoring trio. Sophomore center Collin Metcalf was the only scorer off the bench, converting his only field goal attempt to finish with two points.

There were certainly some cracks in a mostly encouraging Northeastern performance, though. Aside from the glaring discrepancy in the bench scoring category (33-2), Charleston dominated the offensive glass, securing 19 offensive rebounds and attempting 69 field goals to the Huskies’ 57. 

“We’re the best defensive rebounding team in the league,” Coen said postgame. “But not tonight. Our identity let us down.”

One plus for Northeastern was the play of Metcalf. The little-used big man played just seven minutes, but impressed in his limited time, altering several shots, notching a block, and slamming home a key dunk down the stretch.

“He’s earned more playing time,” Coen said. “He’s got tremendous upside … the ability to alter shots, to block shots… We’re trying to get him a bit more seasoned for the final stretch of the year.”

For Charleston, it was another impressive team win. The Cougars have 10 players that all average over 10 minutes, and their depth scored tonight. Eight players scored at least six points, while Smith paced the team with 21. No matter who was in the game for head coach Pat Kelsey, they were making big shots, and Charleston ultimately needed every single one of them to eke out this road win. 

Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

Northeastern will look to bounce back during a Saturday road date with Hofstra. The Cougars will welcome William & Mary for a nationally televised affair on Monday night.

The Huskies continue to jockey for tournament seeding against Hofstra on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.