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.”

Men’s Basketball Loses Third Straight, Drops Below .500

By Milton Posner and Adam Doucette

ELON, North Carolina — The last name the Northeastern Huskies visited the Elon Phoenix, dominant overtime play gave the Huskies an 11-point win and moved them to 2–2 in CAA play.

That was January 10, 2019. It was also the last time the Huskies would possess a losing conference record. Until Saturday.

The Huskies entered the Schar Center having lost their last two and three of their last four. In a game that, at least for standings and momentum purposes, was a must-win, the Huskies faltered down the stretch and let Elon slip past, 74–69. Northeastern is now 11–12 and 5–6 in conference play. They are alone in seventh place.

Elon entered the game shooting more threes than any other CAA team, but averaging only 33 percent on those attempts. They shot plenty of threes on Saturday, but unfortunately for Northeastern they made 53 percent of them, including six makes on eight attempts in the first half. Unlike Thursday against William & Mary, the Huskies struggled to close out the three-point line, giving Elon a number of great looks. Freshman guard Hunter McIntosh’s 12 first-half points led his team to a 36–30 halftime lead. (McIntosh finished with 24 points and missed just one shot all game.)

Elon also came up big on defense. From the beginning, Northeastern guard Jordan Roland struggled to find his rhythm and didn’t score until the three-minute mark of the first half. He finished with 19 points but made just four of his 16 shots. Elon head coach Mike Schrage credited the 6’6” McIntosh whose “positional length” allowed him to tightly contest Roland’s shots.

“The job we did on Jordan Roland and Tyson Walker — big difference in the game,” Schrage noted. “Our guards were better today.”

Northeastern coach Bill Coen seemed to agree, saying of Roland, “He’s got to be aggressive, he’s got to be our leader, no one’s denying that. But I think everybody in the gym knows that at the end of the game he’s going to get it. So he’s got to use that to his advantage and maybe create easy baskets for his teammates . . . He’s a little bit frustrated right now because he can’t get quality looks.”

Elon also stifled the Northeastern offense by neutralizing its screening actions. When the teams met last month, Northeastern did an excellent job making contact on its screens, getting Elon into the habit of switching them. Elon refused to switch this time, double teaming the ballhandler — often Roland — to deny a shot or pass.

“If you’re coming off the screen with the sole intent to score, you’re gonna miss the window when that guy’s open,” Coen said. He also agreed that the Huskies need “better spacing on offense and better play and player movement.”

“The ball’s sticking right now,” he noted. “We’re dribbling the ball too much and not passing and cutting enough. When you hold the ball . . . the defense loads up on all the good players and you end up not getting as good a shot as you would like.”

One of the bright spots for Northeastern was Shaquille Walters, who kicked off Northeastern’s scoring with an and-one layup and stayed aggressive throughout the first half. He notched nine points on five shots to lead the team at halftime.

Though a massive Marcus Sheffield block on Tyson Walker — and Sheffield’s subsequent three-pointer — made it seem as though Elon would control the second half too, Northeastern reversed the tides. The Huskies pushed the ball inside, sometimes earning layups but more often earning free throws. After missing seven of their 11 tries from the line against William & Mary last night — a clip Coen cited as the largest reason for the loss — the Huskies made all 19 free throws tonight.

“We came into practice yesterday and made sure got our rhythm from the line,” Coen said. “Free throws are about routine and confidence. We’re a good free-throw-shooting team.”

The Huskies’ impeccable foul shooting somewhat mitigated a subpar effort from the field, which saw them shoot 39 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. Northeastern also displayed active hands the entire game, forcing a season-high 14 steals and generating 26 points off turnovers.

“We were trying to fit really close passes,” Schrage explained. “They ramped up their pressure even more . . . Pick six turnovers are the worst and we gave up too many of those. That’s where the lead swung in their direction really quickly.”

With 4:26 to go in the game, Northeastern had outscored Elon by 14 points in the second half, led by eight, and appeared to have the game in hand. But Sheffield, Elon’s top scorer this year, scored 14 points to power an 18–5 run. He hit big shot after big shot, none more important than the huge three pointer he nailed with 1:25 left to go that gave Elon a two-point lead. Sheffield ended the night with 28 points on 10–15 shooting including three-for-six from three-point land. Elon made five of its last six shots; Northeastern made one of its last 10.

“He can get his shot any time,” Schrage said of Sheffield. “You could always use or two guys like that.”

“It felt like their either scored a bucket or got fouled,” Coen said. “We didn’t get stops in the last three minutes . . . Our defense let us down today.”

When the Huskies first started dropping conference games by close margins, the problem wasn’t exclusively their execution down the stretch. Against William & Mary it could be Roland’s seven points, against Hofstra it could be the Huskies’ innumerable first-half turnovers, and against UNCW it could be the sudden surge of energy interim head coach Rob Burke brought to his squad.

But after another second-half lead fizzled out, this time against an eighth-place team that had won just two games since Christmas, it has become clear that crunch time failings are this team’s most glaring weakness.

The Huskies will have a week off before their matchup with the tied-for-first Hofstra Pride. Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST on February 8.

CAA Preview: Elon Phoenix

Last Season: 11–21 (7–11 CAA, eighth place), lost in CAA first round

Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Tenth

Losses

  • G Dainan Swoope
  • G Sheldon Eberhardt
  • G Steven Santa Ana
  • G Nathan Priddy
  • F Tyler Seibring
  • F/C Karolis Kundrotas

Additions

  • G Hunter McIntosh
  • G/F Zac Ervin
  • G/F Hunter Woods
  • G/F Jerald Gillens-Butler
  • G/F Marcus Sheffield II

By Gabe Bibliowicz

A disappointing 2018–19 season sent Elon head coach Matt Matheny from the hot seat to unemployed. In his 10 years as Elon’s head coach (151–169 record) Matheny suffered through five losing seasons, last year’s being his worse since his inaugural. A disappointing CAA finish and three players entering the transfer portal was enough to end Matheny’s tenure.

Director of Athletics Dave Blank took only a month to replace Matheny, settling on Mike Schrage (SHRAW–gee). The Atlanta native spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio State under Chris Holtmann and worked under college basketball legends Mike Krzyzewski (nine seasons) and Bob Knight (four seasons).

Along with a new coaching perspective, Schrage will look to improve Elon’s recruiting. Over his years as an assistant, he helped recruit multiple nationally ranked classes, including a top-25 class at Ohio State in 2018 and a top-10 class in 2019.

In May, Schrage announced the addition of the 6’5” forward Zac Ervin to Elon’s 2019 recruiting class. Ervin was awarded the 2018–19 Mountain 7 District Player of the Year after averaging 33 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. He was a three-time First-Team All-State selection.

The Phoenix graduated their top four scorers from last season, including Tyler Seibring, a perennial all-conference forward who led the team in points and minutes. The 6’9” forward was an efficient scorer and a deft passer, and his departure leaves a gaping hole in Elon’s offense. Sheldon Eberhardt snagged the CAA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last year and finished ninth in the CAA in assists. Steven Santa Ana, Elon’s second-leading scorer, won Player of the Week on March 4th after averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists that week. Elon was a bottom-tier team with them, and now they’re gone.

Guard Nathan Priddy (seven ppg last year) was expected to be the Phoenix’s top returning scorer. But Priddy has decided to leave school and work for his brother, per Brian Mull.

The only returning rotation players are sophomores Chuck Hannah and Kris Wooten. The 6’6”, 230-pound Hannah is a defensive asset and rebounds well, but lacks Ervin’s offensive upside. Guard Kris Wooten was fourth on the team last year with 43 three-pointers, though he shot just 34 percent from beyond the arc. Guard Marcus Sheffield II, a grad transfer who averaged six points per game in three years at Stanford, is perhaps their best hope for a consistent top scorer.

Bottom Line: Schrage’s hiring is a move in the right direction, and his recruiting skill means the program is primed for a speedy rebuild. But this year’s team is short on talent and experience. Anything besides a last-place finish would be a surprise.