Chiara Jurczak/WRBB Sports

BOSTON – Northeastern bent. And bent. And bent some more. But, when push came to shove, they refused to break, outlasting the Elon Phoenix 61-58 on Thursday night. 

Both the Huskies and the Phoenix entered Thursday’s matchup 5-9 in CAA play, tied for 10th in the conference. Teams seeded 10th or above get a bye in the CAA tournament, which gave this game some extra juice as a potentially pivotal contest in the race for seeding. 

Northeastern, as they’ve done so often this season, jumped out to an early lead. After some sloppy team play in the opening minutes, stellar work from sophomore guards Rashad King and Jared Turner allowed the Huskies to take control. The pair hit five threes and scored 21 first-half points, punctuated by a deep Turner three from the right wing to give Northeastern a 32-21 advantage with 4:26 to play in the period. 

The close to the half was just like the open to the half – slow and ugly. Northeastern had multiple chances to build a commanding lead, but instead went the last 2:46 scoreless while Elon clawed back to narrow the margin to a respectable 10 points. The Phoenix had a chance to cut the deficit even further, but freshman forward Kendall Campbell missed two free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining and the half ended at 36-26.

Against Elon’s zone defense, the Huskies’ first half offense looked excellent. The ball popped inside to out, often ending up in the hands of King or Turner, who combined to shoot 8-9 in the period. Graduate forward Chris Doherty added five points, while the defense excelled, limiting Elon to 26 points and forcing seven turnovers. The Phoenix shot just 3-16 from beyond the arc in the opening frame as Northeastern held sophomore guard and reigning CAA Player of the Week Max Mackinnon scoreless. Junior forward Sam Sherry was the only one standing in the way of a blowout, giving Doherty trouble on both ends while contributing nine points and five rebounds.

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Northeastern looked ready to run away with it early in the second half. After a quick Elon layup, sophomore guard Masai Troutman went on a personal 8-0 run to stretch the Husky advantage to 16 at the 17:27 mark. It was yet another big second half lead for Northeastern, and the Matthews Arena crowd sensed that a beleaguered Phoenix squad was on the ropes.

Watching the Huskies try to hang on to a second half lead this season has felt a bit like watching your favorite movie over and over again. Even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t look away. Lo and behold, Elon chipped away, and a three by freshman guard Nick Dorn capped an 8-0 run to bring the score to 48-41 before Jared Turner responded with a long three to restore the lead to 10 with 10:32 to play.

It would be a whopping 8:21 of game time until Northeastern’s next field goal, scoring only on two Doherty free throws with 6:29 to play. The Phoenix upped the intensity defensively, and the Huskies simply couldn’t figure out their zone. To their credit, though, Northeastern’s defense stood tall, holding Elon to just 12 points over that 8:20 as the game hit the home stretch deadlocked at 53.

Finally, after something of a wild scramble underneath, Doherty’s flip shot snapped the field goal drought and gave the Huskies a 55-53 lead with 2:11 to play. Just over a minute later, sophomore guard TK Simpkins leveled the score at 55 with a wild shot that found its way in off the glass, and Northeastern advanced the ball and called timeout with 0:53 left.

The ensuing possession was as dramatic as it gets. With the shot clock waning, the ball somehow found its way to Doherty, whose open layup rolled around the rim and off. The rebound hung in the air just long enough, though, and Doherty managed to get a finger on it, nudging it back up. After teetering on the rim for what felt like an eternity, his tip shot dropped. The building exploded, and the Huskies regained a 57-55 lead with 25 seconds to go.

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Unfortunately for the Huskies, their opponents weren’t going away. After a timeout, Elon found Mackinnon wide open for a corner three. You couldn’t draw up a better look if you tried, and the sharpshooter knocked it down with eight seconds to play. The Phoenix had risen from the ashes – Elon had its first lead since the 15:09 mark of the first half, and another devastating loss seemed all but certain for Northeastern.

Enter Luka Sakota.

After the Mackinnon three, a Huskies timeout with 5.8 seconds remaining set up a final play in the halfcourt. Elon had a foul to give, and as the ball was inbounded, sophomore guard LA Pratt gave chase to Sakota, intending to foul. Sakota, seemingly on a whim, around 35 feet from the basket, managed to fire the ball at the hoop just as Pratt made contact. A shooting foul was given, and Northeastern’s best free throw shooter calmly made all three shots as the Huskies took a 60-58 lead. 

Simpkins stepped out of bounds carrying the ball up the court on the following possession, and after Troutman padded the lead with a free throw, Mackinnon’s desperate full-court heave fell well short. Somehow, some way, the horn sounded with Northeastern pulling out a 61-58 win.

Despite making the game-winning free throws, Sakota stepped up to the stripe just 1-of-9 from the field for two points. The star guard had been struggling all night, but Coen kept faith in his  veteran guard, and was rewarded.

“[Sakota’s]been there for us all year long,” said Coen postgame. “He didn’t have his rhythm tonight, but stepped up exactly when we needed him.”

Outside of Sakota’s heroics, Jared Turner was instrumental, leading all scorers with 15 points on 5-of-7 from three. Masai Troutman came up strong in the second half, adding 13 points, while Doherty and King ended with 12 each. Senior forward Alexander Nwagha was key off the bench, playing strong defense and providing relief for Doherty, who looked to be nursing a minor injury. 

“The numbers might not show it, but [Turner] is our best shooter,” Coen said when asked about Turner’s contributions. “We knew going into it [against a zone] he had to be that for us tonight.”

After a scoreless first half, Mackinnon scored 13 second-half points to lead the comeback for Elon. Dorn chipped in 14, and Sherry had 11. Outside of those three, the scoring was minimal: their total of 58 points scored was Elon’s third-lowest output all season, and they shot a measly 17% (1-for-6) from the free throw line. They made a spirited effort, but little mistakes ended up costing head coach Billy Taylor’s team dearly as they fell just short.

Northeastern will host Hampton for a Saturday matinee, while Elon will look to bounce back at Hofstra on Saturday evening.

The Huskies welcome Hampton for Senior Night on Saturday. WRBB will have the call, with tip-off scheduled for 12 p.m.