Men’s Basketball Falls to South Alabama

By Milton Posner

Photo by Sarah Olender

As Boston trudges inexorably toward winter, as the days end earlier, the winds blow harder, and the temperatures drop, the Northeastern Huskies migrated south, if only for a few days.

They flew to Fort Myers, Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase, an annual eight-team tournament. The Huskies’ three-day, three-game slate is, according to head coach Bill Coen, “perfect practice” for the CAA Tournament in March.

The Huskies — fresh off the most dominant win in program history — returned to earth, losing 74–62 to the South Alabama Jaguars Monday afternoon. The Huskies’ 62 points are a season low, and a stark departure for a team that averaged 79 points through their first five games.

Four double-digit scorers — Chad Lott, Josh Ajayi, Trhae Mitchell, and Andre Fox — powered a balanced Jaguar scoring effort. Lott shone among the four, netting 19 points on nine shots and pulling down seven rebounds. Ajayi logged a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Though Mitchell scored his 14 points on an efficient nine shots, his biggest contribution was defending Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, who entered the game averaging an NCAA-leading 30 points per game. Mitchell hounded Roland, denying him the ball and preventing him from developing a rhythm. When Roland did catch the ball, he often saw two defenders jumping out at him, eating up any space a ball screen might have bought him. Even when he looked to draw the defenders and dish to open teammates, South Alabama’s constant pressure allowed them to enlist an ever-ticking shot clock as a sixth defender.

Roland hit a number of difficult shots through the team’s first five games, but today’s shots were next to impossible — flailing floaters, twisting layups, long threes, almost always tightly contested by one or two Jaguars. Many of them missed the rim entirely. A frustrated Roland finished with nine points on 3-for-13 shooting. He still leads college basketball in scoring, beating out fellow CAA guard Nate Darling (Delaware) by four tenths of a point.

Despite his struggles, Roland still notched the game’s two biggest highlights. The first came with five minutes remaining in the first half, when he stole the ball, drove downcourt, and hacked it through over Lott.

The next came about halfway through the second half, when he splashed a no-rhythm thirty-footer from out top.

The Huskies struggled to control the ball, yielding 23 points to the Jaguars on 16 turnovers. South Alabama’s inside dominance is slightly apparent in their six-point advantage in the paint, but becomes clearer with their 18–8 advantage in made free throws. The higher-quality shots they earned inside allowed them to outshoot the Huskies from the floor by 13 percent.

Bolden Brace, who would normally shore up these deficiencies for the Huskies, was scoreless in just 17 minutes on the floor, as early fouls sent him to bench for the second straight game. He fouled out with a minute left in the game after attempting two shots.

There were some encouraging signs for Northeastern, as the intense pressure on Roland forced younger players to step up on offense. Freshman guard Tyson Walker and sophomore big man Greg Eboigbodin had their best games of the young season. Walker — who, earlier in the day, was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the second time this season — dropped 20 points (8–13 FG, 2–3 3FG) and four assists in 29 minutes, assailing the Jaguars with jabstep jumpers and dashing drives.

Eboigbodin set season highs in points (12) and rebounds (9). His best play of the night came a minute into the second half, when he threw down a two-handed dunk. Three seconds later, the lights in the arena went out, leaving both squads to strategize and shoot around in the dark for about 15 minutes while building personnel scrambled to address the malfunction. Broadcasters cited a malfunction of the computer that controls the lights; Husky fans might jokingly argue otherwise.

Myles Franklin poured in eight quick points to key the Huskies’ first-half comeback, but went silent for the rest of the contest. Despite a second-half stretch where every bucket changed the lead, it was ultimately a game of runs. South Alabama forged a 15–2 in the first half; Northeastern answered it to take a one-point halftime lead. South Alabama made a run late in the second half; Northeastern had no answer. An eight-point lead became a 12-point lead through desperate intentional fouling down the stretch.

The Huskies (3–3) move to the left side of the bracket, the Jaguars (4–2) to the right. The Huskies face the Drake Bulldogs tomorrow at 11 AM EST.