Men’s Basketball Loses First of Season

Image credit: nuhuskies.com

By Milton Posner

For the first time this season, Jordan Roland — whose 81 points through two games had garnered himself and his team national recognition — did not log an otherworldly performance.

For the first time this season, Northeastern played the balanced offensive game last year’s team did so well.

And for the first time this season, they lost, succumbing to the UMass Minutemen, 80–71, under a torrent of second-half three-pointers. The loss — Northeastern’s fifth straight against UMass — dropped the Huskies to 2–1 and boosted the Minutemen to 3–0.

The first few minutes of the game featured a duel between big men: UMass freshman Tre Mitchell and Northeastern junior Tomas Murphy. Murphy, who had been quiet in the season’s first two games, struck first with a putback layup. Mitchell responded with his own layup.

Murphy notched another layup when Northeastern broke UMass’ full-court press. Mitchell countered with a three.

Murphy converted a two-handed jam off a nifty hook pass from Tyson Walker. Mitchell splashed another three.

Murphy laid home another easy one on an up-and-under pass from Bolden Brace, at which point both teams decided they should probably defend these guys a little better. Improved ball denial slowed both players, though consecutive threes and a transition finger roll from Brace kept the Husky offense from stagnating. Northeastern hit six of their first eight shots as both teams pushed the ball in transition.

Roland didn’t take a shot for the game’s first five minutes and didn’t score until a lefty floater nine minutes in. Despite a full-court dash for an and-one layup a few minutes later, he struggled to find the red-hot touch he showed in the previous two games. He may have been impacted by a hard fall he took after being undercut on a drive, which forced him to brace his fall with his hands.

The Minutemen took their first lead of the contest about 10 minutes in, when their press finally forced a turnover and they converted an open layup. That play notwithstanding, Northeastern’s spacing and crisp passing overcame the press almost every time.

With about seven minutes remaining, Murphy notched consecutive buckets with a breakaway dunk and a reverse layup, the latter courtesy of the fine interior passing that netted the Huskies a 24–14 first-half advantage in paint scoring. Northeastern’s defense dropped back and hedged on ball screens as appropriate, denying access to the middle of the court and limiting the number of easy shots at the rim.

With five minutes to play, Mitchell broke a 1-for-8 UMass stretch with a gorgeous spin into an and-one layup. As the clock wound down in the first half, Northeastern held a one-point lead. After Jordan Roland’s three-point attempt hit the shot clock — he flailed trying unsuccessfully to draw a foul — freshman UMass guard Sean East II notched the highlight of the night for college basketball, and perhaps for all of sports.

With 0.6 seconds on the clock, teammate Samba Diallo inbounded the ball from under Northeastern’s basket. He dropped the ball in nonchalantly, as if to concede the last bits of clock. He didn’t think it was worth flinging the ball toward the basket from the opposite side of the court.

East did. He fielded the ball and chucked it skyward from just behind Northeastern’s free-throw line. The ball sailed 80 feet, then hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

Diallo kept strolling calmly downcourt, his posture and demeanor unchanged. The rest of the team sprinted straight into the locker room.

Though Northeastern had dominated UMass down low for much of the half, nine Husky turnovers had allowed the Minutemen more chances at the basket. Roland, the nation’s top scorer entering the game, took just six shots. Despite a dozen points apiece from Brace and Murphy — and the turnover-forcing help defense slowing Mitchell in the post — Northeastern trailed, 36–34.

Brace opened the half by matching East’s impossible three with a difficult one of his own. With his dribble exhausted and the shot clock ticking down, he swished a fadeaway drifter to retake the lead.

But East’s shot marked a turning point in the Minutemen’s three-point fortunes. After hitting just five of their 13 attempts from downtown in the first half, UMass went 8-for-14 in the second. Mitchell, East, and Carl Pierre finished with multiple makes from distance.

Djery Baptiste came off the bench and clogged the middle, denying the Huskies the inside touches that powered their offense in the first half. Though the UMass press continued to fail at forcing turnovers, it made Northeastern begin many possessions with five or six fewer seconds on the shot clock than they would ordinarily have.

Roland saw excellent defense every time he touched the ball, and the contested shots he hit against BU and Harvard didn’t fall tonight. He did log a solid 14 points on 11 shots, but the play from the other Northeastern guards was lacking. Tyson Walker and Myles Franklin made just one shot each, their combined seven assists soured by a combined six turnovers.

Brace put up 20 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists; he’s averaging a team-high nine rebounds through three games. Murphy sank nine of his 12 shots en route to 18 points. Shaquille Walters notched nine points — his best in a Husky uniform — and five boards. For UMass it was Mitchell, Pierre, and East, who combined for 55 points and all made more shots than they missed.

Max Boursiquot, who took a hard fall after a rebound in the second half against BU, has not played in the two games since.

The question of where Northeastern’s offense would come from after the departures of Pusica, Occeus, Gresham, and Green were deferred in the first two games by Roland’s superhuman efforts. But if Roland is returning to earth, the question becomes more pertinent. Brace and Murphy provided excellent play inside, leaving the non-Roland members of the backcourt as tonight’s culprits. Northeastern next takes the court Saturday at home against Old Dominion.

Michael Petillo and Adam Doucette will have the call, with coverage beginning at 12:45 PM ET.

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.