Men’s Basketball Trounces Towson to Open Conference Play

By Milton Posner

For years now, anyone who has strolled into SECU Arena to face Pat Skerry’s Towson Tigers has known exactly what they’re up against. The Tigers are tough, scrappy, and energetic on defense, and every point scored against them is a point well-earned. They lived up to that reputation in non-conference play this year, riding their CAA-best scoring defense to a winning record.

So when the Northeastern Huskies — who made their non-conference living by sinking a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers — squared off with the Tigers on Saturday afternoon, the billing was straightforward: Northeastern’s high-powered offense against Towson’s relentless defense.

The billing was wrong. Northeastern out-Towsoned Towson, stifling the Tigers’ attack all game en route to a 61–45 win. It was the Huskies’ eighth straight victory in a conference opener, their best defensive showing since crushing Holy Cross into the ground on November 19, and their best defensive showing in conference play since they topped Towson 47–44 almost four years ago.

Brian Fobbs is Towson’s only elite offensive threat, and Northeastern suffocated him the entire game. Shaq Walters and Quirin Emanga, both long-limbed guard/forwards, stayed attached to Fobbs whether he had the ball or not, and left him precious little breathing room to get comfortable. It took Fobbs completely out of any kind of offensive rhythm; he missed the first shot of the game, didn’t shoot for about 12 minutes, then was stifled by Emanga into a bad airball from close range. Fobbs finished with nine points on eight shots — a far cry from his averages of 17 points on 13 shots — and committed three turnovers.

But Fobbs wasn’t the only one struggling. Save for sophomore guard Allen Betrand — who notched 16 points on 15 shots — and Nicolas Timberlake and Jason Gibson (six points apiece), the Towson box score is a zero-laden wasteland. Even Betrand, the best-performing Tiger by any standard, committed three turnovers.

The Huskies took advantage of spotty Tiger spacing to clog the middle, denying the Tigers easy looks at the rim. They shut off driving and passing lanes. Towson, deprived of any consistent offensive rhythm, stopped setting hard screens, allowing Husky defenders to remain attached to ballhandlers and cutters.

Greg Eboigbodin was central to limiting the Tigers in the paint, returning after missing both games on the Huskies’ Michigan trip. The team said that fellow big man Tomas Murphy’s ankle — which had sidelined him for seven games — was good to go, but he was ultimately a game-time scratch due to flu symptoms. He is questionable for Monday’s game.

The Huskies’ defensive effort was never more apparent than it was four minutes from the end of the first half. Freshman Tiger Charles Thompson snagged a rebound and, with just himself and fellow freshman Jason Gibson in the backcourt, fired a pass ahead of Gibson out of bounds. As the whistle blew and the other eight players returned to the Husky frontcourt, Thompson and Gibson stood facing each other, hands raised in exasperation, trying to figure out who had messed up. The Husky defense was so successful in denying the Tigers any offensive momentum that they were making unforced errors.

The Huskies’ 61-point offensive effort was among their lowest-scoring of the season, but was sufficient in a game where the defense led the way. Junior Max Boursiquot scored eight quick points in the first half, starting as a small-ball center for the third straight game despite the return of Eboigbodin. He finished with 12 points on seven shots to go along with five rebounds.

Jordan Roland finished with 14 points and six rebounds, and though he was active on both sides of the ball throughout the game, he never quite got a rhythm going on offense, missing two-thirds of his shots and all five of his threes. Many of the misses were quality looks that simply didn’t fall.

But Roland wasn’t exactly unique in this regard. At the end of the first half, the teams combined for one made three-pointer in 15 tries. Given the strength of Towson’s defense and Northeastern’s reliance on perimeter shooting this season, one would expect the Huskies to be trailing.

They were up 12. And while Towson nearly abandoned the three altogether in the second half, the Huskies found their shooting touch and blew the game open. Bolden Brace got things going with a swish from the wing a minute into the half.

After Tyson Walker threw the ball away, then recovered to pressure Towson’s Nakye Sanders into a missed layup, Northeastern had a five-on-four the other way. Brace swished another three.

Then Walker took the baton. He would finish with a game-high 17 points, 12 of which came after the intermission. He began with a pull-up three in semi-transition.

Then he popped the balloon of a brilliant Towson defensive effort by draining a rainbow three over a close contest by Sanders as the shot clock expired.

By this point, Walker was feeling himself. So when Towson big man Dennis Tunstall switched onto him, Walker deployed a blistering series of crossovers to set up a slick reverse layup.

Walker capped off his electric second half by throwing another few crossovers, pulling up for three, and splashing it through. Walker also added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line, emerging as the game’s best performer despite playing just 23 minutes.

Amid Walker’s brilliance came a play that won’t be credited to him on a stat sheet, but is the sort that makes coaches proud. Greg Eboigbodin slid over to help on a drive, swatting the ball out of the air and sending it bouncing toward the corner by the Towson bench. Walker leaped from the edge of the court and, while in midair behind the baseline, caught the ball, turned, and threw an accurate pass to Emanga. Emanga found Roland leaking the other way, and Roland had just one man to beat as he earned himself an easy layup. Northeastern led by 20 and the game was effectively over.

Northeastern didn’t just outshoot Towson; they outrebounded them on the offensive and defensive glass. Besides Walker, Boursiquot, and Roland, who all scored in double figures and pulled down five or more boards, the rebounding catalyst was Brace, who secured eight. Many of his boards came in the second half, which ensured the Huskies could burn clock and preserve their lead. Though the turnover counts eventually evened out, Northeastern’s 13–0 first-half advantage in points off turnovers gave them a double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Huskies will travel south to Harrisonburg, Virginia for a Monday evening matchup with the up-and-coming James Madison Dukes. WRBB will not broadcast the game — the last Northeastern sporting event of the 2010s — but will upload written coverage to the website.

Men’s Basketball Claims Largest Win in Program History

By Milton Posner

WORCESTER, MA — From 1096 to 1271, the Roman Catholic Church waged a series of wars against Muslim powers in the eastern Mediterranean. Though the Crusades arguably increased Christianity’s reach, the Church’s wealth, and the Pope’s power, the Crusaders repeatedly failed in their main goal of retaking the Holy Land.

On Tuesday night, in a conflict with far lesser stakes, the Northeastern Huskies rode into Worcester to battle the Holy Cross Crusaders on the basketball court. The modern Crusaders fared even worse than their namesake.

In 100 years of men’s basketball, Northeastern has never dominated like they did Tuesday night. It was overwhelming. It was absurd. It was borderline unfair. They eviscerated Holy Cross 101–44.

The 57-point margin of victory eclipsed the previous record of 56 set against Connecticut in 1946 and equaled against Suffolk in 1984. It is the second school scoring record the Huskies have broken in their last four games, with Jordan Roland’s 42-point masterpiece against Harvard on November 8 setting a new individual record.

Holy Cross got the scoring going with a free throw two minutes in. It was their only lead of the night, and it lasted for 15 seconds.

Their first field goal was a three-pointer five minutes in. It would be their last bucket from downtown for 35 minutes.

Northeastern turned the first half into an unmitigated farce. They clogged the passing lanes, poked the ball away from incautious ballhandlers, and reaped the benefits with easy transition buckets down the other end. They pushed the pace on almost every possession whether they had stolen the ball or not, as they recognized early that the Crusaders couldn’t keep pace.

Jordan Roland, the nation’s leading scorer entering the game, played perhaps his best basketball of the season in the first half. He dropped 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting and made all five of his threes. Almost every perimeter shot he took was tightly contested, fading away, or both. He was in such a rhythm that he almost shot from 30 feet while bringing the ball up. When a hard close forced him to shovel the ball to a teammate, his wide grin matched the feeling he and every fan in the arena had: it probably would have gone in.

Though Roland didn’t have as dominant a second half — he played just 27 minutes all game in light of the Huskies’ enormous lead — he did hit the most unbelievable shot in a game full of them. After a hesitation move forced his defender to run into him near the foul line, Roland chucked the ball up. He was nearly parallel to the floor, shooting with an awkward flailing motion, only because he thought a foul would be called.

It wasn’t, but Roland made it anyway. He finished with 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting, including 6-of-7 from downtown. When he left the game for good with 12 minutes remaining in the second half, he was one point shy of outscoring the Crusaders by himself.

“Jordan is the centerpiece,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “I’m actually shocked when he misses.”

When Roland wasn’t dominating, Jason Strong was. The seldom-used forward contributed 17 minutes on a night when regular starting big man Tomas Murphy sat with an ankle injury (Coen doesn’t expect the injury will sideline Murphy for long). Strong nailed seven of his eight shots — including all four threes — and finished with a career-high 18 points and six rebounds. His textbook, upright shooting form was on full display.

“I think he’s been a little bit frustrated at times early on,” Coen said of Strong. “But he attacked practice this week. That’s the type of player he can be. He might be our second-best shooter [after Roland].”

By halftime, Northeastern had opened up a 63–23 lead. Coen typically waits to empty his bench until the closing minutes of a blowout, when his lead is secure beyond any reasonable doubt. By the end of the first half, all 11 Huskies that dressed to play had seen the court. Strong, Quirin Emanga, Vito Cubrilo, and Guilien Smith — who entered tonight’s contest with a combined 13 minutes of playing time this season — played 53 combined minutes tonight.

“It was an opportunity for us to go deeper in the bench,” Coen observed. “We’re going to need that later on in the season, certainly in the tournament down in Florida.”

Northeastern shot a ludicrous 71 percent from the floor — and 75 percent from three — in the first half. Some of the threes were difficult, contested shots that went in anyway, but many of them were open shots earned through crisp passing, strong ball screens, movement off the ball, and a nearly constant transition pace.

“When you’re catching the ball in rhythm, [you get] much better shots,” Coen said. “We shared the ball at a high level tonight, and I think that set the tone. That type of passing got contagious, and then the basket got real big for us.”

Northeastern’s 42–24 rebounding edge makes sense in light of Holy Cross’s abysmal shooting (17–57 FG, 2–27 3FG). It’s easier to get rebounds when the other team is bricking most of their shots. But Northeastern’s 11–9 offensive rebounding edge is nothing short of remarkable considering they had so few opportunities to get them. Greg Eboigbodin led the rebounding with eight, followed by Strong’s six. Emanga and Shaq Walters both registered five-point, five-rebound games.

Eboigbodin scored six efficient points, but his biggest contribution was his defense. He played a season-high 25 minutes and committed one foul, a season low. His coverage on Holy Cross’s ball screens — stepping up on good shooters, dropping back to contain drivers, and hedging when appropriate — defended Northeastern’s interior territory against the Crusaders and helped the Huskies build and sustain momentum.

Tyson Walker, Myles Franklin, and Max Boursiqout all finished in double figures. Walker stood out, earning 15 points with a series of drives.

Besides shooting and rebounding, Northeastern won the battle of assists (23–7), steals (13–7), fastbreak points (21–6), points in the paint (38–22), and points off turnovers (24–6), among others. There were no individual bright spots for the Crusaders; their four leading scorers combined for just 32 points and all of them missed more shots than they made. Leading scorer Drew Lowder missed all six of his three-point attempts in Holy Cross’s biggest home loss since they started playing at the Hart Center in 1975.

The win bumped Northeastern to 3–2 on the year; the Crusaders are winless in four games. Northeastern will fly to Fort Myers, Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase, where they begin play against South Alabama Monday at 11 AM ET.

Even though Northeastern entered the game on a two-game skid, and even without the hot-handed Tomas Murphy, the Huskies were expected to handle Holy Cross. They were not expected to bludgeon them to this degree, in this manner.

The first half was a wonder, when any Northeastern player could cast up a contested three with everyone in the building assuming it would fall. The hot shooting, mixed with the volume of turnovers the Husky defense forced, made it seem as though Northeastern was making more shots than Holy Cross was taking. The game was a fastbreak and the Huskies were running it.

It wasn’t suspenseful. It wasn’t competitive. It bordered on being a joke. But, especially for the first 20 minutes, it was a sight to behold.

CAA Preview: Northeastern Huskies

Last season: 23–11 (14–4 CAA, second place), won CAA Tournament, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Third

Losses

  • G Vasa Pusica
  • G Donnell Gresham Jr.
  • G/F Shawn Occeus
  • F/C Jeremy Miller
  • C Anthony Green

Additions

  • G Vito Cubrilo
  • G Tyson Walker
  • G Guilien Smith
  • G Quirin Emanga
  • G/F Shaquille Walters
  • F Greg Eboigbodin
  • F Connor Braun

By Milton Posner

Notwithstanding the clobbering from Kansas that sent the Huskies home, Northeastern had an superb 2018–19 season. They overcame injuries to key players as they battled through a challenging non-conference slate, then finished second in the conference standings behind a balanced offense and crippling perimeter defense.

In the CAA Tournament, they dismissed UNCW, exacted revenge on Charleston for the previous year’s tournament final defeat, then knocked off the Hofstra Pride and its unanimous Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman to capture the conference crown. The March Madness berth was Northeastern’s first since 2015.

Two-time CAA first-teamer Vasa Pusica graduated, as did bruising center Anthony Green and backup big man Jeremy Miller. Northeastern also lost two juniors. Savvy combo guard Donnell Gresham Jr. joined the Georgia Bulldogs for his final college season. Lockdown perimeter defender Shawn Occeus turned pro and was drafted 35th in the NBA G League Draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, the G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz. He joins Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman, both CAA first teamers, in the organization.

Sweet-shooting senior guard Jordan Roland figures to be the Huskies’ biggest offensive threat. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season behind Pusica, with his school-record 99 three-pointers accounting for 60 percent of his points. He did most of his damage as a spot-up shooter, letting Pusica and Gresham create in the pick-and-roll and benefitting from the open looks their gravity created. Without them, Roland may have to create more opportunities for himself through drives, floaters, and off-the-dribble jumpers.

After two productive years coming off the bench — the second one worthy of the CAA Sixth Man of the Year Award — Bolden Brace made the starting lineup last year. He didn’t disappoint, starting all 34 games — the only Husky to do so — and averaging ten points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. His six rebounds per contest led the team, and his 6’6”, 225-pound frame let him slow speedy guards and hold firm against bruising forwards. The Huskies will need every ounce of his versatility this season.

Redshirt junior Max Boursiquot can provide solid offensive contributions and defensive flexibility, though the hip injury that sidelined him last season may affect his mobility. Jason Strong, Myles Franklin, and Shaquille Walters saw limited minutes off the bench last year, but will likely be called on to score a bit and prop up the Huskies’ formidable three-point defense. Redshirt sophomore Greg Eboigbodin, who practiced with the team last season, will try to fill the hole the graduating Green left in the middle.

Quirin Emanga stands out among the new recruits. He’s an athletic 6’5’ guard/forward with a seven-foot wingspan and a burgeoning skill set. For a more detailed player profile of Emanga, click here.

Connor Braun is a mobile 6’8” forward with solid handles and driving ability. Vito Cubrilo’s speed and quickness earn him buckets on drives, he’s got a sweet-looking perimeter stroke, and, like Emanga, has played high-level European youth ball. Guilien Smith averaged 12 points per game his sophomore year at Dartmouth but missed almost all of the next season due to injury and saw his minutes — and numbers — drop when he returned. If he returns to form, he can mitigate the loss of Pusica at point guard. Tyson Walker, at just six feet and 162 pounds, will look to stand tall with his flashy drives and transition speed. Bill Coen, now the CAA’s longest-tenured coach after the firing of William & Mary’s Tony Shaver, is tasked with blending the new talent.

Bottom Line: This will likely be the first time in six seasons Northeastern doesn’t have an All-CAA first team player. This makes their balanced approach even more important. Unlike last year, they have a slew of new players whose production will prove necessary. How well Bill Coen incorporates the new players, and how well they perform, will determine whether Northeastern contends for a second straight CAA title or falls to the middle of the pack.