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.

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.