Northeastern Loses CAA Championship

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — Before the swarming zone defense, before the frantic scrambles for offensive rebounds, before the drives and the kickouts and the one-on-one brilliance, Tuesday night’s game was about vengeance.

The Northeastern Huskies knew it better than anybody. Two years ago, after locking up a share of the CAA regular-season title, battling their way to the conference championship, and building a 17-point lead in the second half, the Huskies slowly collapsed as the Charleston Cougars clawed their way to an overtime victory.

The Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies went home.

That loss stayed with the Huskies. It fueled them. As they embarked on their 2018–19 season, they focused on a singular goal: returning to the championship game and seizing the moment that had slipped through their fingers. After exacting revenge on Charleston in the semifinal, the Huskies did just that, knocking off the Hofstra Pride, 82–74, to win the March Madness berth they’d dreamed of for a year. It was vengeance, and it felt fantastic.

The Huskies went to the NCAA Tournament. The Pride went home.

But on Tuesday night, in a rematch with the Pride, the Huskies found out what the other end of vengeance feels like. In a remarkably close, ludicrously energetic championship game, the Huskies fell to the Pride, 70–61.

The Pride are going to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are going home.

“It’s tough,” a visibly choked-up Max Boursiquot said after the game. “It’s called March Madness for a reason.”

“That feeling of losing and then coming back the next year and having another opportunity is a special feeling,” Bolden Brace added. “You don’t get that unless you lose . . . They played with an edge and played with that desire to win and I think they deserve it.”

Though Hofstra was coming off blowout wins over Drexel and Delaware, it was Northeastern that struck first, running up an early lead thanks to aggressive drives. Sometimes those drives yielded layups, other times they yielded open threes off the catch for Husky guards who filled to the corner when Hofstra shifted to protect the paint. With his team trailing 10–3, Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich called for time.

While the scoring came more evenly after that, the Huskies continued to earn quality looks. Hofstra famously plays a matchup zone, a combination of zone and man-to-man principles that allows for pressuring ballhandlers on the perimeter without the draining effort of man defense. The Huskies, who struggled against zone defenses in their other CAA Tournament games against Towson and Elon, countered by repeatedly entering the ball to small-ball center Max Boursiquot near the foul line, warping the zone and freeing up cutting and kickout opportunities. The Huskies’ threes were finally falling, they hustled to every rebound and loose ball, and held the Pride at bay.

But the squad with the best regular-season record couldn’t be subdued indefinitely, and when Husky point guard Tyson Walker aggravated a left shoulder injury and went to the bench, the Pride seized the momentum and sent their fans into a frenzy. Walker returned but struggled, finishing with just four points.

“When he started the second half he just didn’t look right to me, just didn’t look his normal competitive self,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen noted. “I gotta give him a world of credit just for going out there and trying. His competitiveness, his grit and determination, and his toughness are really admirable . . . that was a physical game and he put himself out there and put himself on the line for the team and the program.”

After a few minutes of hanging around and trading buckets, Hofstra finally drew even. Three Jalen Ray free throws were bookended by two eerily similar sequences in which a Hofstra guard drove into the paint and had a layup blocked, only for his teammates to secure the rebound and nail a three as the shot clock ran down. The upshot of these three mediocre possessions: nine points.

Guilien Smith, not to be outdone, let the Pride have the lead for all of 18 seconds.

By this point the energy in the building was palpable. Each team sensed the audible footsteps of the other and the gradual ticking of the clock, and boosted their energy accordingly. It didn’t matter that their workload — three playoff games in three days — was unprecedented in their schedules this season; they played like their jerseys had been set ablaze.

“The way we summoned that energy was just playing together and using each other and feeding off each other’s energy,” Brace said. “When somebody was down, I think there was always someone there to pick them up, and I think that just goes to show you how good of a team we were this year.”

A turnaround jumper from Shaq Walters afforded the Huskies a two-point halftime edge, far narrower than their double-digit halftime margins in their last two games. But that was the only real constant for much of the game: neither team could free itself from the other. For a 23-minute stretch spanning both halves, neither team built a lead greater than five points.

There was plenty for the Huskies to be happy about at the break. Boursiquot, Walters, and Brace all had at least five points and three rebounds, and all of them were shooting efficiently. On the opposite side of the box score, Eli Pemberton decidedly wasn’t; he’d missed eight of his 11 shots amid excellent pressure from Walters and Smith.

But there were also deficiencies that allowed the Pride to close the gap. Roland, the conference’s leading scorer, had shot the ball just three times. Hofstra pulled down six more offensive rebounds than Northeastern and netted 10 second-chance points to the Huskies’ none. Isaac Kante, the lone man in the middle on a team built around guards, snatched 10 rebounds.

The second half began with promise, as Brace knocked down a catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Brace often played with hesitation this season, opting for ball fakes, halfhearted drives, and slow-moving handoffs instead of relying on his elite perimeter shooting. That version of him completely vanished in the CAA Tournament, as he performed with the conviction, determination, and leadership of a senior who didn’t want to play his last college game.

Desure Buie didn’t want to play his last game either. While his scoring buoyed the Pride all night, it was his passing that turned heads, excited fans, and catalyzed the Hofstra run. He began with a quick first step around Walker, which forced Walters to help off Pemberton. Without looking, Buie wrapped a magnificent bounce pass around his head to a now-wide open Pemberton in the corner, who finished off the play to retake the lead.

Just seconds later, Buie snuck up behind Boursiquot and jabbed the ball loose. On the ensuing two-on-one, Walters planned his chase-down block, timing his approach and jump to meet Buie at the rim. But with the level of grace and smarts Buie has shown this year, he wasn’t about to be on anyone’s highlight reel. Instead he added to his own and forced Coen to call timeout.

The Pride looked poised to pull away and the Huskies needed an energy boost. And did Max Boursiquot ever respond.

Boursiquot has been anything and everything the Huskies needed to turn around a season marked by an unrealistic number of close, disappointing losses. He provides shooting, passing, positional versatility, perimeter and post defense, rebounding, and, most importantly, energy. He treats every rebound and loose ball as if it’s his birthright.

Right out of the timeout, Boursiquot, under duress, threw a picture-perfect cross-court pass to Roland for a triple. When Roland missed a three the next trip down, Boursiquot bodied Kante — who outweighs him by about 30 pounds — to snatch the rebound, received a pass at the top of the arc, and beat Kante with a right-to-left crossover and first step so quick that he seemed to teleport from the perimeter to the block. Even when he stumbled and lost the ball on a drive, Boursiquot grabbed it from Kante and threw a spot-on pass to a teammate — all while sitting on the floor.

When Boursiquot’s offense forced Mihalich to call timeout, his message to Kante in the huddle was simple: we need to defend Max Boursiquot because he’s killing us.

That said, Kante had his way offensively with Boursiquot on a handful of possessions. Kante would establish deep position, earning himself either an easy layup off a feed or an offensive rebound when a perimeter shot clanged off the iron. Though Boursiquot enjoyed slightly greater success when fronting Kante to deny him the ball, the Pride forward still posted a preposterous nine points and 15 rebounds. He had as many offensive rebounds (six) as the entire Northeastern team.

But it was not Kante that governed play down the stretch. It was Buie.

Buie had an admirable campaign a year ago, but was considered the third offensive option behind Pemberton and two-time CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman. After Boursiquot and Roland each picked up their fourth foul and headed to the bench with 5:23 to play, and with Hofstra’s other top scorers — Pemberton and Jalen Ray — not shooting efficiently, Buie seized his moment.

He began with a tough, drifting, pullup long two, a difficult shot with low value. He made it anyway. As Northeastern’s offense sputtered amid suffocating on-ball pressure from the Pride, Buie stretched the lead to nine with a quick drive, a pump fake to get Guilien Smith in the air, and a strong finish through contact.

With less than two minutes left and the shot clock ticking down on a stagnant Hofstra possession, Buie sized up a top-notch defender in Guilien Smith, threw him a few crossovers, and fired up a contested three when the dribbles failed to earn him a sliver of separation.

Buie wound up on the floor. The ball wound up in the bucket.

Despite Roland’s impressive drifting three a short while later, Buie’s bucket proved the dagger. The Huskies’ second-half fouling had put the Pride in the double bonus, so the Huskies couldn’t get lucky with the Pride missing the front end of one-and-ones. They could only watch as the Pride made every one of their free throws.

The Pride had their first March Madness berth since 2001. They also had their revenge.

“It is awfully sweet,” Mihalich said after the on-court celebration, his undone blue tie still hanging from his neck. “Not just because we won. It’s something to be really proud of. We beat a bunch of champions. The championship went through them.”

“This feeling is everything,” Ray said. “This has been our mission since day one . . . this time we completed our mission.”

“We came up about 20 minutes short,” Coen said. “I thought we played a really strong first half, very competitive game overall, and these guys played their hearts out. But in the end I thought it was a little bit too much Desure Buie.”

With 19 seconds to play and the outcome no longer in doubt, both coaches opted for a platoon swap. While the Hofstra players enjoyed the applause, cheers, and adulation of a jubilant fan section, the Huskies filed off the court and into the waiting embrace of Bill Coen. The moment was especially poignant for Brace, Roland, and Smith, who ended their college careers on a brutal loss.

“I thanked those guys for their unwavering commitment to Northeastern University, to this program, all their hard work and dedication,” Coen said, his voice breaking a bit. “So much goes unseen — the long days in the weight room, long days of training, hours of practice, hours of individual time, hours of watching tape. It’s a commitment, and that group was a special group.

“Bo has played in three CAA Championship games in his four years; he’s made an incredible mark on this program. Jordan has made an incredible mark on this program. And I think if you asked every player on our team, maybe the favorite teammate in the locker room is Guilien Smith. In a short time he’s made an incredible impact in terms of relationships, and ultimately that’s what this whole experience is all about.

“You’d love to win championships each and every year, but . . . what lasts is the mutual respect that you earn by giving your best. And when you do that, whether you win or lose, nobody can take that from you for the rest of your life. These guys will share a bond because they know they gave it up for each other, and that’s the real championship in my mind.”

Men’s Basketball Downs Elon, Advances to CAA Championship

Reminder: Northeastern faces Hofstra in the CAA Championship tonight at 7 PM. Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner will have the call from Washington D.C., with covering beginning around 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Matt Neiser

WASHINGTON — No. 6 seed vs. No. 7 seed in a ten-team tournament. It sounds like an early-round matchup that no one cares about because neither team will threaten for the title. Right?

Wrong. It’s actually a semifinal, and both teams beat top-three seeds to get there.

Confused? You must be new around here. Welcome to the CAA. 

Northeastern and Elon, two teams most onlookers probably did not expect to make deep postseason runs, found themselves face-to-face in the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals on Monday night after beating No. 3 Towson and No. 2 William & Mary, respectively, the night before. 

Despite similar postseason expectations, the teams’ seedings arose for different reasons. For Northeastern, it was mostly a lack of consistency and inability to close out tight games. For Elon, it was more a lack of depth and talent.

Things finally began to make a little more sense in the semifinal, as the deeper, higher-seeded team came out on top for once. Using an early-game run to thrust themselves in front, the Huskies never looked back as they put together a convincing, wire-to-wire 68–60 victory to advance to the championship game for the third year in a row.

Defense has been the Huskies’ calling card all season. They called on it once again on Monday, stifling the Phoenix offense throughout the night. Bill Coen’s squad was locked in, flying all over the court with the boundless ferocity of their canine namesake. It took nearly six minutes for the Phoenix to put a number on the board, by which time Northeastern had tallied nine points.

“Our defensive energy to start the game really set the tone for us, allowing us to get into transition a little bit, and get our confidence going,” remarked Coen.

Elon head coach Mike Schrage had plenty of praise for Coen’s defensive game plan.

“Give them credit. They had a lot of juice and a good game plan, a unique game plan in how they guard our offense [after] not even a one-day prep,” Schrage remarked. “Defensively, he’s a great coach. He did some really good things to exploit our defense.”

The biggest driver of Northeastern’s blistering two-way start? If you’ve followed this team at all the past few weeks, you probably guessed already: Max Boursiquot. By the time Elon scored their first basket, the redshirt junior had already accumulated four points, two rebounds, and two steals. His energy was infectious; his teammates followed suit as they stayed attached to bodies, contested shots, and secured rebounds to limit the Phoenix’s offensive opportunities.

While Boursiquot buoyed the Husky defense, Bolden Brace carried the offensive torch. Brace, who’s no stranger to big games against Elon — he dropped a career-high 40 points against the Phoenix his freshman year — splashed home three triples in a four-minute span partway through the first half to extend the Northeastern lead to 13. The senior added a layup to finish the first 20 minutes with a game-leading 11 points and push the Husky advantage to its peak: 35–15.

Junior Shaquille Walters, who Coen identified as one of the team’s most improved players this season, left his mark on the opening half as well. The London native drilled a shot-clock-beating three from all the way across the pond, then followed it up with a pair of free throws, a steal and gorgeous one-handed feed ahead to Brace for his aforementioned layup, and an assist on a Jordan Roland three-pointer. All told, Walters dished out a team-high four assists in the half.

It’s fortunate for the Huskies that many different players made a significant impact in the first half; Roland, who had a relatively quiet game against Towson the night before, struggled again to start the semifinal. Though he chipped in eight first-half points, it was on an inefficient 3–10 shooting. 

Roland did find other ways to impact the game; he finished the half with two rebounds, three assists, a block, and zero turnovers. However, he was nowhere near his usual lofty standards.

That’s been the biggest question for Northeastern this season: can they stay competitive when Roland isn’t on his game? In this tournament, the answer’s been yes. Boursiquot, Brace, Walters, and Co. have all stepped up, and that’s why the Huskies are playing in the championship game.

Despite chugging along for much of the half, the Huskies’ offense sputtered as they neared halftime. The Phoenix took advantage, mounting a quick 6–0 run that forced a timeout from Coen with 33 seconds remaining. Roland hit a baseline jumper right out of the huddle to bring the Northeastern lead back to 16 points, throwing a splash of water on Elon’s spark.

The Phoenix kept striking that flint in the second stanza, but the Huskies were right there every time to stamp out the nascent flames. After the two sides traded a few baskets to begin the frame, freshman Hunter McIntosh knocked down a triple. Roland responded with a trey of his own, but the Phoenix came right back with an 8–0 run courtesy of a short-range McIntosh jumper and three straight interior makes from Federico Poser to cut the Husky lead to 11. 

All-CAA Second Team swingman Marcus Sheffield finally joined the party after that, pouring in 13 points in a six-minute span as Elon whittled the Northeastern lead to seven with just under three minutes remaining.

“He’s one of the hardest matchups in the league. Luckily we have a guy with Shaquille’s size and length who can kind of match it,” Coen remarked. “He’s quick enough to keep him off the dribble and long enough to get a hand in his shot pocket. That being said, I’m not sure anyone can guard him when he gets going.”

The Huskies were on their heels, but a familiar face burst back onto the scene to save the day.

“I just kind of felt like the game was getting close,” Roland explained. “I just wanted to do my part to help close out the game. I wanted to get a little more aggressive toward the end of the game even though I wasn’t shooting that well.”

Pull-up, triple, good.

Elon got two looks at a three-pointer on the other end, but McIntosh and Sheffield couldn’t connect. Rebound Northeastern.

Crossover, three-ball, money.

There’s the Jordan Roland Husky fans are accustomed to — the one who takes over games.

Elon was relegated to the foul game after that, and the Huskies knocked down enough shots at the charity stripe to close the game out.

Northeastern becomes just the fifth team in CAA history to reach three straight championship games, setting up a rematch of last year’s battle with the Hofstra Pride. The title-game rematch will be just the third since the league’s inception.

Coen started both Sunday and Monday’s press conferences by reiterating how grateful he is to still be playing this late into March, adding, “With everything that’s on the line, an NCAA bid and everything, there’s nothing else like it.”

Brace, a senior, is reveling in the pressure of his final season, remarking, “I’ve finally realized that every game could be my last and it’s made this tournament super awesome and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Hopefully we can get another one tomorrow.”

The Huskies have a tough task ahead of them, as No. 1 seeded Hofstra comes into the game blazing hot. Joe Mihalich’s squad won their previous two tournament games by an average of 16 points, including a 14-point drubbing of an impressive Delaware team in the other semifinal.

Said Coen of the impending matchup, “I think they’ve played with a chip. I think they’ve had great senior leadership. It’s going to be a difficult game for us, but that’s what you want if you’re a competitor. You want to go against the best, you want to try yourself against the best, and that’s what this time is all about.”

CAA Tournament Day Two

Reminder: Northeastern plays Elon in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament today at 8:30 PM EDT. Michael Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will call the game, with coverage beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — An atypical day for the CAA is, well, typical.

Sunday’s schedule saw four quarterfinal games, all of them bemusing to one degree or another.

Hofstra 61, Drexel 43

This contest was decided, more than anything else, by starkly contrasting star performances.

On one end, Hofstra senior guard Eli Pemberton rebounded from a decent but unremarkable first half to eviscerate the Dragons in the second. He began the half with a three-pointer, a driving layup, and a putback after snatching an offensive rebound in traffic. A three-point halftime lead had swelled to ten, Drexel called timeout to regroup, and Pemberton let out a primal scream as his teammates surrounded him.

Pemberton maintained the energy even as Hofstra built an insurmountable lead, diving for a loose rebound with seven minutes left and his team up 20. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Pride.

Pemberton’s exact opposite was fellow All-CAA Second Team guard Camren Wynter of Drexel, who had his worst college game at the worst possible time. Hofstra’s matchup zone defense made things difficult for the Drexel guards, who were left to pass aimlessly on the perimeter and toss up an array of tightly contested layups that trickled off the rim. Wynter took just eight shots, failed to score, and turned the ball over five times. Zach Walton (17 points and 10 rebounds) and James Butler (14 points and 14 rebounds) were left to shoulder almost all of the burden for a sputtering Drexel offense.

Drexel will be back. Barring transfers, they will return their three top scorers next year. But it is Hofstra that moves on to the next round.

Delaware 79, Charleston 67

It’s a testament to how insane the CAA has been this year that these teams were the fourth and fifth seeds in a ten-team tournament. You’d be forgiven for thinking each was a top-three team. In Grant Riller and Nate Darling, each team had one of the league’s most dynamic, talented scorers. Each boasted a strong, versatile, athletic frontcourt that makes life difficult for their opponents on both sides of the ball.

But ultimately it was Delaware — a team flush with high-powered transfers and homegrown juniors maturing at the perfect time — that looked the elite team.

The Blue Hens built a slim first-half lead largely thanks to two strong points. The first was Darling, who rained down consistent fire on the Cougars from all over the floor, including a couple of difficult one-on-one shots the Cougars couldn’t do much about. The other was a strong defensive game plan similar to the one Northeastern used against Charleston last month: keep Grant Riller out of the paint.

This is a tall order, but the Blue Hens largely succeeded in the first half. Riller tried a number of tough shots around the basket and grew frustrated when his attempts to draw fouls didn’t succeed. After the game, Darling pinned the defensive success on the decision to have Justyn Mutts guard Sam Miller, allowing Delaware’s guards to switch on screens without worrying about the sweet-shooting Miller pick and popping to the three-point line. Riller got hot in the second half, but by then the Blue Hens were in the driver’s seat. Delaware scored 47 second-half points to advance to the next round, where they will face No. 1 Hofstra.

It also marked the last college game for one of the best players the CAA has ever seen. Riller overcame a season-ending injury during his freshman year to make three All-CAA First Teams and score 2,474 points, trailing only David Robinson and Charles Jenkins on the conference’s all-time list.

Elon 68, William & Mary 63

At first it seemed improbable, then mildly unlikely, then reasonable, then likely, then certain.

This year, William & Mary had their best regular season in seven decades. They were stacked and versatile, best exemplified by senior forward Nathan Knight, who was crowned CAA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year two days earlier. By any measure, Knight is one of the best players the conference has ever seen.

And now he’s done.

The Phoenix sledgehammered the Tribe from the opening tip. By the time Tribe head coach Dane Fischer called for time with three-and-a-half minutes gone, Marcus Sheffield II had led Elon to a 13–2 lead.

Though Sheffield would soon drop off and wind up with a merely solid if inefficient stat line, Elon forwards Hunter Woods and Federico Poser picked up the slack. Poser posted his second straight good game, nailing a number of short shots. Woods dropped 20 points and 15 rebounds, playing the entire game and expending so much effort that his sweat-laden jersey was distinguishable in color from his teammates’. He nailed five of seven tries from beyond the arc.

The Tribe eventually fought their way back, buoyed by thousands of fans who traveled the relatively short distance from Williamsburg to Washington D.C. Those fans, easily the loudest of any crowd in the tournament thus far, boosted the Tribe during their steady second-half run.

The energy in the last 10 minutes was on an entirely different level, peaking when Van Vliet’s titanic rejection of a layup led to a momentum-building three by Quinn Blair down the other end. Blair, soon joined by the William & Mary bench, motioned repeatedly to the crowd to get loud, which they happily did.

When Bryce Barnes’ three-pointer cut the lead to two, the crowd was so loud that it drowned out the Elon marching band.

But Elon’s starters took turns hitting shots at opportune moments, and the Tribe would never quite catch them. A No. 7 team that few gave much of a chance is now in the semifinals, where they will play No. 6 Northeastern.

Northeastern 72, Towson 62

For detailed coverage of this game, click here.

Men’s Basketball Topples Towson in CAA Quarterfinal

Reminder: Northeastern plays Elon at 8:30 PM EDT on Monday in the semifinal of the CAA Tournament. Michael Petillo, Milton Posner, and Matt Neiser will be on the call from Washington D.C., with coverage beginning about 15 minutes before tipoff.

By Milton Posner

WASHINGTON — The calling card of Northeastern’s conference season was an infuriating one: they couldn’t figure out how to win close games. They forfeited second-half leads large and small, going long stretches without a bucket and letting other teams pillage them down low with little defensive resistance.

So when the Huskies went up 16 a few minutes into the second half, and when Towson mounted a furious run to trim the lead to four, Husky fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst.

But not tonight.

With their season on the line and the Tigers bearing down on them, the Huskies found another gear, securing a 72–62 win and advancing to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament. They will face No. 7 Elon on Monday night in the first six–seven semifinal matchup since 1993.

The game began in a rather unexpected fashion. Pat Skerry’s Towson squads are known for size, strength, and defensive intensity, all of which manifest in fierce play around the basket. But the Huskies used a number of lateral cuts and slides to earn strong position in the paint, and their ballhandlers ably found the cutters for layups. Max Boursiquot set the tone for this style of play, scoring Northeastern’s three buckets and finishing with 16 points (7–10 FG). Greg Eboigbodin also notched a pair of buckets off penetration and drop-off passes from the Husky guards.

“We knew Towson was going to blitz on ball screens, so we had a game plan to slip me to the mid-post and try to be aggressive,” Boursiquot noted. “My teammates were doing a great job of finding me and I was doing a good job of getting in and out of screens.”

Eventually the Huskies diversified their attack, with Bolden Brace chipping in some outside shooting. His three triples keyed a 15-point, eight-rebound performance that helped to negate several of Towson’s physical strengths.

In an odd scheduling quirk, Northeastern had played Towson a week before in their last regular-season game. Northeastern head coach Bill Coen attributed the Huskies’ three-point loss in that game primarily to Northeastern’s excessive second-half fouling, which give the Tigers a hefty advantage from the charity stripe and landed several key forwards in foul trouble.

Tonight there would be no repeat mistake. The Huskies played brilliant defense throughout the first half, limiting the Tigers to 23 points and fouling just five times. By holding their defensive positions on the low block and maintaining verticality when contesting shots, the Huskies turned the Tigers’ famous physicality against them, drawing offensive fouls that killed any chance Towson had at offensive momentum. It also placed nearly every Towson starter in foul trouble.

“We left our feet a lot when the ball came [inside],” Skerry said. “We were a little bit all over the place.”

After a slow start, Husky point guard Tyson Walker turned on the jets to boost Northeastern’s lead to 10 by halftime. Walker injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Drexel, and until he emerged from the tunnel before the game it was unclear if he would play. But he said the shoulder felt “perfectly fine” and undoubtedly played like it, netting 14 points.

The true oddity for the Huskies was Roland, who went scoreless in the first half amid foul trouble. When he finally stole a pass and slammed home a breakaway dunk with 18:24 to go in the second half, he immediately picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench.

Coen deployed him in short bursts for the rest of the game, playing him for just 10 minutes in the second half when Roland would normally play all or almost all of it. He finished with just eight points after missing most of his shots and committing two turnovers. (The Huskies as a team were extraordinarily disciplined, turning the ball over just seven times to Towson’s 15.)

Northeastern wasn’t missing Roland, though, and after a pair of bailout threes from Walker and Shaq Walters — plus a layup form Guilien Smith — the Husky lead stood at a game-high 16 points.

But Towson finally tightened the screws, switching to a 3-2 zone.

“They were findings guys for a lot of layups . . . we couldn’t handle them off the dribble,” Skerry explained. “We probably played a lot more zone tonight than we’ve played in 20, 25 games, but we needed it to try to get back in the game.”

The zone threw Northeastern’s offense off the rhythm it had established from the opening tip. The Huskies started turning the ball over and forcing up contested long-range shots. Towson, normally the slowest-playing team in the CAA, used every defensive rebound as a chance to push in transition. Between their layups, foul drawing, perimeter shooting, and offensive rebounding, the Tigers went nine possessions without an empty trip. The zone threw Northeastern’s offense off the rhythm it had established from the opening tip. The Huskies started turning the ball over and forcing up contested long-range shots. Towson, normally the slowest-playing team in the CAA, used every defensive rebound as a chance to push in transition. Between their layups, foul drawing, perimeter shooting, and offensive rebounding, the Tigers went nine possessions without an empty trip. The run was keyed by Brian Fobbs — who finished with 21 points to lead all scorers — as well as Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall, who each scored nine without missing a shot.

Combined with their rediscovered defensive restraint — they didn’t commit a foul for the first ten minutes of the second half — it allowed the Tigers to seize the momentum, with a resounding rejection by Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake prompting a Jakigh Dottin layup that trimmed the lead to four.

But with Towson bearing down on them like a bowling ball, the Huskies refused to fall. Brace hit a quick three off a baseline inbounds to stem the tide, then Boursiquot threw down an basket-shaking jam off a slick pick-and-roll feed from Walker.

But the final dagger would come with a minute left when Walker stole an errant dribble and flew downcourt. With Towson big man Nakye Sanders bearing down on him, Walker tossed a pass to Walters — the man who filled in for him at point guard last week — who flushed home a clean one-handed dunk to seal the game and end Towson’s season.

The Tigers truly had a commendable year, leaping several spots in the conference standings after posting one of the largest record improvements of any team in the country. But this is the CAA, where absurdity is the new normal and calling a team an underdog proves only that you’re about to lose the money you bet against them.

The Huskies’ next opponent is a perfect example of that. After needing last-second heroics from Marcus Sheffield just to squeak by the worst team in the conference, No. 7 Elon scrapped their way to a win over No. 2 William & Mary and Nathan Knight, their newly crowned Player of the Year. Northeastern and Elon will square off at 8:30, and god only knows what happens then.

“We’re really, really excited to still be playing basketball in March,” Coen said with a wide smile. “It’s the greatest month of the year, and if you’re involved at all — as a player, as a fan, as a coach — the excitement around these tournaments is just unbelievable.”

Men’s Basketball Media Day

By Milton Posner

The CAA Tournament is a funny thing.

Save for the top six teams receiving a first-round bye — which Northeastern has — there isn’t much advantage in being a one seed instead of a six seed. This is especially true this season, in which the league’s almost ludicrous parity limits the matchup advantages higher seeds would normally enjoy.

With just a few days left before the Huskies depart for Washington D.C., WRBB Sports caught up with them during their Wednesday practice at Northeastern University’s Cabot Center to talk about their quarterfinal matchup, their preparation, and the mental challenges of a conference tournament.

Head Coach Bill Coen

What’s the prognosis [on Tyson Walker]?

He’s working hard with our trainers. We’re hopeful he can he can give us something, but nothing’s been decided yet. Obviously he’s an elite competitor, he wants to get out there and help the team. But right now he hasn’t practiced yet, hasn’t been cleared to practice five on five yet, so it’s going to be day to day for him and probably a game-time decision.

Is he practicing today?

He’ll be conditioning and doing everything you could do, everything short of playing basketball.

So what do you do to try to flood the hole with that? Who has to step up?

Shaquille Walters finished the [Drexel] game, played really, really well on the ball. Then he had a terrific game against JMU, played the point against Towson last game, played 35 minutes on the ball and had nine assists and one turnover. So he’s done an unbelievable job in Tyson’s absence. We’ll need another great supporting effort from Shaq, I’m sure.

What went into the decision to have Shaq slide in for Tyson at the point?

He’s played there all year long, since really the beginning of the season. Part of our system [is] we like guys that play multiple positions. We try to rotate around — whether it’s developing our offense or defense — we’ll move guys around. Right from the beginning he played some point guard. He has a natural ability because of his size and length, the way we play in a ball-screen motion offense. He’s able to make passes with both hands, handle the ball, and get into the lane. So he’s gotten better and better at it and I think you’ve seen that over the last couple games. But still, you have to give him credit for his mental toughness to be able to step up in that type of situation and really try to help the team.

And for Guilien who’s slid into the starting lineup for Tyson, how does his defense and offense compare to what Tyson brings to the table?

Completely different player than Tyson. But he’s a very good on-ball defender, gives you some athleticism and some rebounding and has shown the ability to make shots. He’s gonna have to play at a high level in order for us to be successful. He’s a mature kid, a fifth-year student athlete. He’s played a lot of college basketball, so I know where his heart is and what he’d like to do. If we’re going to be successful, it’ll come down to some of his contributions.

How does your team change depending on whether Tyson plays?

With two different point guards you get two different styles of play. Shaq has shown the ability in the half court to run offense and make passes. Tyson can be more of an open-court player; he’s got a little bit more quickness where he can get to the rim and penetrate and draw some fouls. Hopefully, we’ll have both those guys available and that’ll give us a nice little option.

How is the health overall of the team? How many cylinders are you firing on?

I think everybody this time of year is . . . a little banged up, a little sore but really, really excited because it’s March and if you’re a college basketball player or college basketball fan, you know what that month means. Our guys are excited to get out there and compete. It’s kind of the third portion of the season where you’re out there you’re in one-and-done territory. So the urgency is at the utmost high and they’re excited to get ready and get down to D.C.

What kind of a challenge does Towson bring to you guys? What do you guys have to do well in order to beat them?

They’re playing almost as well as anybody in the country. They’ve been on kind of a hot streak since we played them the first time back in late December. They’re a team that’s built on aggressive defense and rebounding. What’s really allowed them to have great success during CAA play is that their offense is highly efficient, both from the free-throw line and from the three-point line. When you marry that type of offense with great defense and rebounding, you’ve got a pretty good club.

Did you learn much from the last game?

You’re certainly in the neighborhood, but you’ve got to finish the game a little bit better. We had maybe a five-point lead with about six minutes to go. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping them off the foul line. I thought we gave them too many easy points and ultimately that was the difference in the game. They outscored us by nine at the line. So we’ve got to be a little bit more disciplined there and try to keep them off the line.

Why do you think you guys are so highly considered in this tournament? You’re a six seed but the oddsmakers are saying you’ve got a good shot here.

We’ve played competitively all year long. I think each and every team and each and every game we’ve been competitive. Out of 18 league games, we’ve had one game where it was kind of lopsided. In one-possession games, everything comes down to maybe just get one possession better and that’s what we’re trying to do this week is to improve in those areas.

So playoffs now — what do you tell your guys?

They know that. It’s not too much explaining for me to do. It comes down to execution in the moment. As John Wooden would say, “You have to be best when your best is required.” That’s what makes March so special; guys step up and you get some magical moments when guys really live out their dreams in this type of environment under this type of spotlight.

Have you ever seen a team lose so many close games and at the same time keep showing up?

I think it speaks to the resiliency of this group. Certainly there’s a level of frustration. We’ve been in more close games and had opportunities to win and opportunities to reverse the fortunes of the season, but this group is coming to practice each and every day. That keep believing in themselves and keep trusting in the system and in the coaching staff. We’re hoping that resiliency will bear fruit in the tournament down in DC.

Who are one or two guys that you’ve seen the most improvement from over the course of the season?

One guy we talked a lot about is Shaquille Walters. He’s a guy who had shooting struggles early on and was more of a defensive-minded guy, now he’s proven at the end of the year with a lot of his hard work that he’s a more-than-capable point guard. He’s able to make plays, makes his free throws, and has learned to attack the basket a little bit more and create some offense for us that way. So I think he’s made the biggest improvement over the course of the year.

You have a few guys from last year’s team in leadership positions. How helpful will they be [in the tournament]?

You’re going to need that leadership and that tournament experience. It’s an emotional time. You have to stay ready; the preparation time is very, very quick in between games. And just keeping the guys focused and keep everybody in it. We need that voice in the locker room and we have a couple of guys who have been on championship teams and played in that environment. That should help us.

Are there any Towson players that you’re particularly looking to key in on after Sunday’s game?

They have a very balanced attack right now, but I think Brian Fobbs and Allen Betrand are the two guys who have been most consistent throughout the year. Freshman [Jason] Gibson played really well against us, had a very efficient game. So, not so much keying in on, but you have to know everybody’s tendencies and take try to take the best part of their game away from them. And that’s hard to do against a talented group like Towson.

Is there a sense that if you guys could just win one of these close games, it would be a breakthrough that would get you going?

I thought we did that kind of towards the end the year. We had some terrific outings against Charleston both times. We played well down the stretch, had one very competitive game down at Drexel, and they’ve been great at home. We’ve been close.

Unfortunately, foul trouble put us in a position where we couldn’t finish the game. We’ve just got to be better in certain areas. It’s not always that; sometimes it comes down to making a shot, sometimes it’s getting rebounds, sometimes it’s making a smarter play, better execution. But we have to find a way to be one or two possessions better and then we’ll be right in the mix.

When teams key in on Jordan, what do you have to do?

You’ve seen that all year long. Teams will try to take him out of what he does. He’s hard to deal with because he’s a prolific scorer. Two things have to happen. He’s got to kind of give himself up a little bit and pick his spots and not feel rushed at the end of the game that he’s got to do it all by himself. And then somebody else has to step up and help carry the load.

So I think we’ve been much better at that as of late; we’ve had a more balanced scoring attack, and Jordan’s been better in terms of understanding he can be a little bit more of a playmaker and pick the spots where he’s most aggressive.

What’s it going to be like playing in this new venue?

It’s supposed to be a beautiful venue. I’ve never been in it, but it’s an NBA arena. The G League team from the [Washington] Wizards plays there. It’s fairly new so it’s going to be a first-class arena and I know our guys are excited going down in that area. I think having a tournament down in D.C. gives — at least for a northern school — more of a chance for our fans and alums and students to get there. It’s a little bit more accessible than some of the other venues we’ve competed at. So we’re hoping people come out and support the team.

Bolden Brace

How do you think your experience will help you and the team heading into this tournament?

Personally, I think I feel a lot more comfortable than some of these guys who haven’t been here. Jordan and I both — as well as some other guys — won it. We also know the feeling of losing as we did like against Charleston two years ago. But having experience kind of just calms you. You can think back on that and use that to your advantage.

It’s amazing to look back at the schedule and all the close games, all the close losses, and you guys keep putting yourselves in that situation. Where do you fall whether to take more bad out of it or more optimism?

I think that the theme this year has been trying to learn from our losses, try to learn as much as we can, try to get better from that. But the fact that we’re in with every team and we have a chance is good, and we can beat anyone. The three-day tournament is awesome, because it’s hard. If you win, it’s one of the most amazing feelings ever. So just knowing that we can stay with any team, we’ll have a chance. We’ve just got to prepare and be ready.

What are some takeaways from the game you just played against Towson that you could use for this Sunday’s game?

The offense that they run isn’t really that difficult. In terms of a scouting perspective, they just play really hard and they’re athletic, and they rebound. So just knowing that we know what they’re going to do and better preparing ourselves on the scout perspective is going to be big. And just fighting on the glass and playing as hard as we can knowing it could be our last game.

And what’s been the difference just from your standpoint with Shaq running the offense versus Tyson?

They’re different players. They both bring different things to the table, and Shaq’s been playing really well at the point. He can pass well. I think he if he can keep doing that, we the guys around him just have to play better and help him succeed.

But Tyson’s great, hopefully we can get him back. He brings another dimension to our offense and scoring, passing, and just doing a bunch of little things. So no matter who we have, we just got to do our best and work together as best we can.

You get to the doldrums of February, then all of a sudden you’ve got to turn it on. It must get you rejuvenated.

Yeah, Coach always says there’s three parts of the season: the non-conference, the conference, and the conference tournament. It seems like every year the conference goes by super fast; non-conference goes pretty slow, but once we’re done it seems like it went fast. And then the conference tournament is just a whole new beast.

Some guys have never been here before and preparing for that three days in a row is tough. But I think just knowing what we’re getting ourselves into and knowing that we can stay in the game with anyone and hopefully beat anyone is going to be big for that.

How have you viewed your role this year, your leadership position?

I think of my role this year as a little bit similar to last year. I think going into the season, Coach told me that I’d have to have a little bit more aggressive offensively and keep trying to play well defensively, guard some of the best four men in the league.

It’s taken me a while to kind of assert myself offensively; I haven’t played that style since high school. Last year we had great passers like Vasa and a bunch of guys who could do different things, and we all worked together well last year. So this has kind of been about figuring it out as we go. And I think right now, I’m playing with more confidence than I have all season just knowing my role and trusting the guys around me. I’m ready. I’m ready to get it going.

You had an uptick in the number of shots you were taking as conference play went on. Was that confidence?

Yeah. Coach was telling me to shoot the whole time but I had to remind myself throughout the game: do the little things — rebound, defense — and the shots will come. And that’s kind of how I’ve been trying to provide for the team this year. It’s kind of hard for me to always remember to shoot but once my shot gets going, I forget about it and just play my game.

Have you had to play bigger this year because of injuries to big men?

Max has done a great job down low. He kind of took away some of that pressure that we felt earlier when we lost Tom. And Greg’s played well. I definitely have tried to rebound more in terms of playing big and guarding other teams’ big men. But the way our offense works, I don’t really feel like I’ve had to play bigger defensively.

Jordan Roland

Sometimes when defenses set up stop you, you have to change your game and make the other players around you better.

I think that’s definitely something I have to work on, passing the ball to put the other guys in a situation where they could be successful. But it’s something I’ve been running into all year. It’s a constant adjustment. Especially going to tournament time this will be the third time that we’ve seen teams, so going in and knowing what their scheme will be [is important] and I’m trying to make that adjustment for those guys.

You got off to a great start, teams started reacting. How did you learn to adapt to the defenses that you saw?

I came on the scene pretty quickly. Just a matter of trying to keep my composure. I was getting a lot of attention, and just like I was saying earlier, I’m just trying to make those adjustments. Try to figure out what kind of looks teams are going to give me before the game. The biggest thing is trying to keep my composure.

What’s the excitement of tournament time been like?

This is the best time of the year for almost all sports. I feel like the brackets are super fun, especially us getting to be a part of last year, winning the championship. So we kind of have a taste of what that feels like. I think that experience will definitely help us. Me, Bo, and a bunch of guys have been in this situation already. It’s a super fun time for sure.

It is weird playing a team in the first round of the tournament that you played so recently? Is it an advantage?

Yeah, it’s definitely kind of weird, I don’t think a lot of teams are in the situation where they’re playing the team that that they just played. But I don’t think it’s necessarily an advantage or disadvantage. Whoever we play we would have played twice already. So it’s definitely a weird coincidence, but I don’t I don’t really look at it any different.

How was it for you against Towson’s defense on Sunday, and how do you think that factors into the game plan for this Sunday?

They’re a good defensive team with how they how they attack you off the ball screens and everything. They’re a team that you’ve got to be able to move the ball against and we have a whole week to prepare in practice, so we’ll definitely be ready for them.

How much do you think your experience will help you?

I think it’ll be huge. I think experience is huge in college basketball. Senior teams are usually the teams that do well. We don’t necessarily have a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of guys who have been around. Max played in the conference championship two years ago. Bo has won a conference championship, as I have. Shaq has been around in college basketball for three years. So I think experiences is one of the biggest examples, it’ll definitely be able to help us.

Your record wasn’t what you would have hoped, but you were [close] in every game. Do you think there’s a lot of respect for your team heading into this tournament?

I would think so. I’m not sure what other teams are thinking about us. But I don’t think that really matters. I think we’re really confident that we can beat any team in this league. I think that we’ve shown that. I think any team that we haven’t beat we’ve been within one possession and if you can play with a team you can beat them. So even though we’re a six seed I think we’re going in with the mindset that we have as good a chance as anybody to win the whole thing.

Last year the pressure was all on you guys. This year you’re a little bit of an underdog. Do you feel that makes things a little bit easier?

I wouldn’t say it makes anything easier or harder. It’s definitely a different situation. Last year I feel like we were in a situation where the tournament was kind of ours to lose. I think the league is also so much more open this year. I think we have as good a chance as anybody, but there’s seven or eight teams that are thinking the same thing. You’ve got to win three games in three days regardless of what your mindset is, so I’ve just got to be ready to play every day.

How do you guys manage your energy and the fatigue of playing three games in three days?

Just trying to be smart with this week. You don’t want to go too hard but you want to make sure you’re in shape. These guys have been there before. The biggest thing, I think, is the quick turnarounds and just getting ready, coming off of the game and going through scout the next morning and just getting the game plan in a short time, more than the fatigue.

Northeastern’s Convoluted Playoff Scenarios

By Milton Posner

Claustrophobics beware.

With one week remaining in the CAA’s men’s basketball regular season, just four games separate third and eight place, and just two games separate third and sixth.

The Northeastern Huskies sit in sixth place with an 8–8 record. There are four games on Thursday, four on Saturday, and one on Sunday (moved to accommodate the CBS Sports Network). Nine games to determine playoff seeding. All 10 teams make the CAA Tournament, but only the bottom four seeds play in the first round on Saturday, March 7. The top six teams receive a first-round bye. Because of the league’s higher-than-usual parity — and because the top six teams will play, at most, three games in three days instead of four games in four days — securing the bye is critical.

TeamCAA RecordGames Back
Hofstra Pride13–3
William & Mary Tribe12–51.5
Delaware Blue Hens10–63
Towson Tigers10–63
Charleston Cougars9–74
Northeastern Huskies8–85
Elon Phoenix7–106.5
Drexel Dragons6–107
UNCW Seahawks4–129
James Madison Dukes2–1411

The top and bottom of the standings have more or less hardened. James Madison can move from tenth to ninth if they win both of their games and UNCW loses both of theirs, but James Madison’s recent play and the quality of their opponents this week makes that highly unlikely. Same goes for UNCW, which will remain in ninth barring two UNCW wins and two Drexel losses.

At the top of the standings, Hofstra has clinched a share of the regular season title and can claim sole possession with a split or sweep this week, highly likely given that they play last-place James Madison. William & Mary owns the tiebreaker over Delaware, and therefore cannot fall lower than second.

But the other six teams are in flux. Dissecting every possible outcome and ripple effect would take hours, so ahead of Northeastern’s games against James Madison and Towson this week, here are the Huskies’ possible outcomes from worst to best.

If Northeastern loses both games . . .

They will drop to 8–10. An Elon win over William & Mary would bring Northeastern and Elon into a tie. Because the pair have split their season series, it would trigger the next tiebreaker, record against the top team in the CAA. Both teams have lost twice to Hofstra, so Elon’s season split against William & Mary would give them the sixth seed and a first-round bye.

This is the only way the Huskies could possibly fall out of the top six. It would require them to lose to a solid team in Towson and the CAA’s worst team in James Madison, and it would also require a middling Elon team to beat William & Mary. This outcome is possible, but highly unlikely.

If Northeastern wins one game . . .

They will finish at 9–9 and guarantee a first-round bye regardless of which game they win. If Charleston loses both its games — unlikely but not impossible given their current four-game losing streak — the Huskies will vault over them for fifth place due to their season sweep of the Cougars. If Charleston win one or both of their games, the Huskies will finish sixth.

If Northeastern wins both games . . .

They will finish at 10–8 and guarantee a first-round bye. They finish fifth unless Charleston wins both of its games. If Towson loses to Hofstra on Thursday, Northeastern and Towson will finish with the same record, and Northeastern holds the season series tiebreaker.

Thus, a 2–0 record this week could put Northeastern anywhere between fourth and sixth. Rising from fifth to fourth helps with optics and bragging rights but is strategically and competitively useless because the fourth and fifth seeds play each other in the quarterfinal anyway.

***

Assuming the Huskies avoid the worst-case scenario and finish in the top six, they will face either Delaware, Charleston, or Towson. If this season’s games are any indication of how a CAA Tournament matchup will go, Northeastern would prefer Charleston, who they swept, over Delaware, who swept them. Northeastern is 1–0 against Towson, who they play on Sunday.

Two wins this week would also provide a massive momentum boost for the Huskies, who haven’t strung three wins together since the beginning of conference play.

The Huskies’ game against James Madison begins at 8 PM EST; WRBB’s live coverage from Matthews Arena begins about 15 minutes before tip-off.