BOSTON — On December 31, 13 hours before the clock hit midnight and the year reset, Tyson Walker was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the third time this season; no other player has won it more than once. The main reason the league cited was his scoring; Walker notched a combined 32 points in the Huskies’ double-digit wins over Towson and James Madison on Saturday and Monday.
But apparently three awards weren’t enough. Tyson Walker wants a fourth.
Think 32 points in two games isn’t impressive? How about 32 in one game? Walker’s performance — remarkable for anyone but astonishing for a freshman — buoyed Northeastern throughout a 77–68 victory over the Phoenix. It was the fourth straight win for Northeastern (9–6) and their third straight to begin conference play.
“He’s got the ability to score the ball. He’s got the ability to distribute the ball,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “He’s got great feel, he’s got great confidence, and he’s got great presence.
“The hardest position in college basketball to transition into is the point guard position. You’re growing into your own game, trying to get a feel for how the coaches would like you to play, get a feel for how your teammates play. But Tyson has been unbelievable. It’s been a seamless transition to the position.”
Much of the offensive success that Walker and the Huskies found could be attributed to Elon’s strategy of — or, at the very least, resignation to — switching on Northeastern’s ball screens.
“When they kept switching,” Walker remarked, “and it was a mismatch where the big man’s guarding me, I recognize that I’m pretty fast and it’s hard to guard me.”
“It gets teams to slow down their pace,” Coen added. “Tyson’s a hard guy to switch on. A lot of teams have tried it, but he’s able — with his quickness — to get to the rim and use his shooting ability to create shots from the perimeter.”
In case his driving layups weren’t sufficient, Walker also splashed home four of his seven three-point attempts, raising his season three-point mark to a blazing 46 percent.
Walker was aided by Northeastern’s constant offensive activity. Players moved well without the ball, cutting to the basket and popping into open perimeter space. When a player completed an action, be it a dribble, pass, or screen, he immediately looked for the next one. Particularly essential was 6’5” Max Boursiquot, who started his fifth consecutive game as an undersized center. His effort has boosted the Huskies’ inside presence and floor balance in the absence of injured forward Tomas Murphy, who Coen confirmed has not been cleared to return to practice.
“When we gang-rebound it really helps our transition game,” Coen explained. “Max can really run the floor; he can rebound and run and push the ball. So it makes us a little bit more deadly in transition. Obviously we give away a little bit of size and girth down underneath, but Max is a tough, physical competitor and he’s battled through that.”
Elon jumped out to a 10–2 lead before Northeastern’s shooters found their rhythm. The teams traded buckets — yielding eight lead changes and four ties — until Walker got hot, with Elon’s last lead of the evening coming with 7:21 to play in the first half.
Walker had 14 points at halftime, then dropped another eight in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the second half. When Walker went to the bench and the Phoenix made a run, Jordan Roland was there to slow them down with a series of midrange jumpers. Roland finished with 17 points and four rebounds.
But when Elon closed the gap down the stretch, even trimming the lead to two points three separate times in the game’s waning minutes, it was Walker who held them at bay.
The Phoenix (4–11, 0–2 CAA), who have struggled all year after graduating or losing last year’s top five scorers, were led by freshman guard Hunter McIntosh and grad transfer guard Marcus Sheffield II. Both scored 17 points, though McIntosh was markedly more efficient, making six of his 11 shots and four of his six triples. Freshman guard Hunter Woods contributed 12 points and eight assists.
The Huskies were extremely disciplined, committing a season-low five turnovers and scoring 15 points off 11 Elon giveaways; nine of the 11 came off Northeastern steals. Though Walker’s superhuman scoring allowed the Huskies to weather it, they did lose the rebounding battle, 37–24, to a team that entered the game with the conference’s worst rebounding margin. The Phoenix pulled down nine offensive rebounds to the Huskies’ two and scored 14 second-chance points to the Huskies’ three. Things worked out against Elon, but such a deficit could prove more costly against a great rebounding team like William & Mary.
Northeastern closed the 2019 calendar year with a win on Monday at James Madison, then opened 2020 with a win at home. After a sporadic start to the season leading to a 6–6 record in non-conference play, the Huskies appear to have hit their stride.
“We’ve gained valuable experience,” Coen observed. “Tyson’s not the same player he was [in the season opener] at BU. He’s grown. Shaq had a whole year off; now he’s 15 games into it and getting a little bit of rhythm. Max was out with an injury for a year; he’s getting a rhythm. Greg was out for a whole year. It takes time to blend in those new pieces.”
The Huskies will remain in Boston awaiting the William & Mary Tribe, who will visit Matthews Arena on Saturday afternoon. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 EST. It will be the Huskies’ first major test in conference play, but the Huskies are up to the challenge, especially if Walker can carry Thursday night’s momentum into Saturday’s matchup.
“We’ve had a lot of really good point guards here,” Coen said. “I think Tyson, when everything’s said and done, will be one of the best ones we’ve had.”