Ella Bramwell/WRBB Sports File

With the end to a difficult season looming over them, Northeastern knew they had to fight every minute in the opening round of the CAA tournament. The Huskies had only won one game in their last 10, a senior day victory the last time they’d taken the court —  but against a team with a similar struggles, the bottom-seeded UNCW Seahawks, they had a chance. Through a hard-fought 40 minutes, the lead went back and forth, until Northeastern pulled away in the final minutes to take the game 66-60.

After forfeiting their previous two games due to a team-wide injury crisis, Northeastern came into the tournament well-rested and slightly renewed. They dressed seven players, up from their previous six, as senior guard Halle Idowu returned to the bench for the first time in a month. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Huskies, though, as senior forward Deja Bristol bounced on and off the court, clearly playing through pain. But everyone was determined to make the most of what could have been their final game and fighting to the very end, the Huskies lived to see another day.

“The last 10 days or whatever it’s been, it’s just been about trying to get as healthy as possible and still trying to stay sharp and confident,” said head coach Priscilla Edwards-Lloyd. “There’s challenges with being able to do that with limited reps because you don’t want to do too much, but I think they did a really good job of clocking in mentally.”

Northeastern freshman forward Sophia Carlisle opened the game with a bucket, the start to her career-high, team-leading 15-point performance. The rookie took the court for the first time halfway through the season, in the team’s regular-season 79-49 win over the Seahawks, and has since worked her way up to play big minutes. Now a starter for Northeastern, Carlisle’s impact was evident in the game as she consistently made herself open under the net, calling for the ball, and added seven rebounds. 

Most often, she was calling for the ball from senior guard Derin Erdogan, the player of the game who seemed to have eyes everywhere as her stellar passes contributed nine assists on top of her double-double in points (14) and rebounds (10).

“[Erdogan] is one of the best players in the country and sometimes she forgets,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “Today was one of those days where she showed everything she’s capable of on both sides of the floor.”

Early in the first quarter, UNCW went on an 8-0 run, which Erdogan responded to with four points of her own to give the Huskies their groove back and fight a six-point deficit.

Northeastern was able to retake the lead off threes from freshman guard Yirsy Queliz and sophomore guard Marian Turnbull, ending the frame up 14-12. 

The Seahawks started the second quarter with a deep two, a play they favored more and more as the game progressed. They were often just a step away from a three-pointer, toeing the line, and it made all the difference for the Huskies in the close matchup.

UNCW started running down the shot clock on the Huskies, forcing them to take buzzer-beating shots before turning play the other way. However, they couldn’t execute on the offense and Northeastern responded with 29 defensive rebounds through the game over the Seahawks’ 17.

With great ball movement in the second quarter, Northeastern maintained its lead for the majority of the frame, and Carlisle put in three layups from underneath the basket before UNCW could figure out what she was doing. 

However, in the final few minutes of the half, the Seahawks came back on a nine-point run, including two free throws after earning the first attempts of the game. 

It was Erdogan who responded once again, and just like the end of the first, Turnbull put up the Huskies’ last tally of the frame with a three-pointer to end the half up 33-32.

While the first half of the game had been calm, with few stoppages of play, the second half grew more physical, with fouls from both sides.

UNCW opened the third quarter with two free throws, moving ahead by one. The lead flip-flopped back and forth again, but the Seahawks held a slide edge through the frame, mainly due to senior guard Evan Miller, who notched 24 points in the game, nearly half of the team’s total.

The Huskies started to struggle, losing the ball to a couple big turnovers, but they hung in there, never letting the Seahawks get more than three points ahead. 

A layup from Carlisle with a minute and a half to go was the last tally of the quarter, tying the score 45-45. A combination of missed shots, defensive rebounds, steals, and turnovers kept both teams off the board until the next frame began. 

Once again, the fourth quarter started with a free throw, this time in favor of the Huskies. Carlisle made one of her two shots, giving Northeastern a slight lead. The Huskies went on a 6-0 run in those first two minutes, including Queliz scoring the team’s only fast break points of the day, but UNCW clawed its way back quickly, tying the game at 51. 

Northeastern didn’t allow the Seahawks to gain the lead for the rest of the game. The Huskies were determined to earn rebounds, going down on the ground to cover up the ball. Despite UNCW’s efforts, including a three-pointer from redshirt freshman guard Taylor Henderson, a huge contributor of their game with 13 total points, with 35 seconds left, their opportunity slipped away. The Seahawks grew physical and messy as the game came to a close, and Northeastern sealed it with six successful free throws in the last 30 seconds to take the win 66-60.

“It was a hard-fought battle today and we knew it was going to be, so just really proud of the fight that our team showed today,” Edwards-Lloyd said. “With everyone who touched the ball, they did something positive, they recovered, they played together, they played connected.”

The Seahawks took a lot of shots, including 21 field goal attempts each off Miller and Henderson, but Northeastern was more successful in its tries, going 46.2% inside the arc, well above their season average 40.7%

With the win, the Huskies’ roller coaster of a season continues. Northeastern will play No. 6 Towson, who they have yet to face this season, in the second round of the CAA tournament Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.