Men’s Basketball Eclipses Elon

By Milton Posner

BOSTON — On December 31, 13 hours before the clock hit midnight and the year reset, Tyson Walker was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the third time this season; no other player has won it more than once. The main reason the league cited was his scoring; Walker notched a combined 32 points in the Huskies’ double-digit wins over Towson and James Madison on Saturday and Monday.

But apparently three awards weren’t enough. Tyson Walker wants a fourth.

Think 32 points in two games isn’t impressive? How about 32 in one game? Walker’s performance — remarkable for anyone but astonishing for a freshman — buoyed Northeastern throughout a 77–68 victory over the Phoenix. It was the fourth straight win for Northeastern (9–6) and their third straight to begin conference play.

“He’s got the ability to score the ball. He’s got the ability to distribute the ball,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “He’s got great feel, he’s got great confidence, and he’s got great presence.

“The hardest position in college basketball to transition into is the point guard position. You’re growing into your own game, trying to get a feel for how the coaches would like you to play, get a feel for how your teammates play. But Tyson has been unbelievable. It’s been a seamless transition to the position.”

Much of the offensive success that Walker and the Huskies found could be attributed to Elon’s strategy of — or, at the very least, resignation to — switching on Northeastern’s ball screens.

“When they kept switching,” Walker remarked, “and it was a mismatch where the big man’s guarding me, I recognize that I’m pretty fast and it’s hard to guard me.”

“It gets teams to slow down their pace,” Coen added. “Tyson’s a hard guy to switch on. A lot of teams have tried it, but he’s able — with his quickness — to get to the rim and use his shooting ability to create shots from the perimeter.”

In case his driving layups weren’t sufficient, Walker also splashed home four of his seven three-point attempts, raising his season three-point mark to a blazing 46 percent.

Walker was aided by Northeastern’s constant offensive activity. Players moved well without the ball, cutting to the basket and popping into open perimeter space. When a player completed an action, be it a dribble, pass, or screen, he immediately looked for the next one. Particularly essential was 6’5” Max Boursiquot, who started his fifth consecutive game as an undersized center. His effort has boosted the Huskies’ inside presence and floor balance in the absence of injured forward Tomas Murphy, who Coen confirmed has not been cleared to return to practice.

“When we gang-rebound it really helps our transition game,” Coen explained. “Max can really run the floor; he can rebound and run and push the ball. So it makes us a little bit more deadly in transition. Obviously we give away a little bit of size and girth down underneath, but Max is a tough, physical competitor and he’s battled through that.”

Elon jumped out to a 10–2 lead before Northeastern’s shooters found their rhythm. The teams traded buckets — yielding eight lead changes and four ties — until Walker got hot, with Elon’s last lead of the evening coming with 7:21 to play in the first half.

Walker had 14 points at halftime, then dropped another eight in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the second half. When Walker went to the bench and the Phoenix made a run, Jordan Roland was there to slow them down with a series of midrange jumpers. Roland finished with 17 points and four rebounds.

But when Elon closed the gap down the stretch, even trimming the lead to two points three separate times in the game’s waning minutes, it was Walker who held them at bay.

The Phoenix (4–11, 0–2 CAA), who have struggled all year after graduating or losing last year’s top five scorers, were led by freshman guard Hunter McIntosh and grad transfer guard Marcus Sheffield II. Both scored 17 points, though McIntosh was markedly more efficient, making six of his 11 shots and four of his six triples. Freshman guard Hunter Woods contributed 12 points and eight assists.

The Huskies were extremely disciplined, committing a season-low five turnovers and scoring 15 points off 11 Elon giveaways; nine of the 11 came off Northeastern steals. Though Walker’s superhuman scoring allowed the Huskies to weather it, they did lose the rebounding battle, 37–24, to a team that entered the game with the conference’s worst rebounding margin. The Phoenix pulled down nine offensive rebounds to the Huskies’ two and scored 14 second-chance points to the Huskies’ three. Things worked out against Elon, but such a deficit could prove more costly against a great rebounding team like William & Mary.

Northeastern closed the 2019 calendar year with a win on Monday at James Madison, then opened 2020 with a win at home. After a sporadic start to the season leading to a 6–6 record in non-conference play, the Huskies appear to have hit their stride.

“We’ve gained valuable experience,” Coen observed. “Tyson’s not the same player he was [in the season opener] at BU. He’s grown. Shaq had a whole year off; now he’s 15 games into it and getting a little bit of rhythm. Max was out with an injury for a year; he’s getting a rhythm. Greg was out for a whole year. It takes time to blend in those new pieces.”

The Huskies will remain in Boston awaiting the William & Mary Tribe, who will visit Matthews Arena on Saturday afternoon. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 EST. It will be the Huskies’ first major test in conference play, but the Huskies are up to the challenge, especially if Walker can carry Thursday night’s momentum into Saturday’s matchup.

“We’ve had a lot of really good point guards here,” Coen said. “I think Tyson, when everything’s said and done, will be one of the best ones we’ve had.”

Top 10: How CAA Teams Fared in Non-Conference Play

By Milton Posner

With the CAA’s conference slate beginning today, WRBB examined the non-conference performances of all 10 CAA teams and ranked them from worst to best. The rankings are based on each team’s record and strength of schedule, with occasional deviations if a deep dive into a team’s schedule, margins of victory, or statistics warranted one.

CAA teams played 125 non-conference games and won 68 for a winning percentage of .544. Their average opponent, as determined by KenPom’s strength of schedule metric, was very slightly below the Division I average.

They also spent a sizeable chunk of the last six weeks bludgeoning Division II and III squads. Eight CAA teams won a game by 40 or more points, with three teams winning by 60 or more. The largest margin of victory went to the Towson Tigers, who flattened Division III Bryn Athyn by 69 points. Only Northeastern’s biggest blowout — a 57-point laugher against Holy Cross — came against a Division I team.

Though a comment or prediction is given for each team’s upcoming schedule, the rankings reflect only how the teams performed in their completed non-conference games. Each section is prefaced with the team’s record, strength of schedule rank (compared to other CAA teams), head coach, and, just for kicks, the player with the best name along with an explanation for why.

With that said . . .

#10: Elon Phoenix

Non-Conference Record: 4–9

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fourth

Head Coach: Mike Schrage (first season)

Best Player Name: Federico Poser — fun to say whether you pronounce it correctly or not

This is not to say that Elon had no bright spots in the season’s first six weeks. Stanford grad transfer Marcus Sheffield emerged as a premier scorer, posting 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds and three assists.

Freshmen Hunter Woods and Hunter McIntosh were also pleasant surprises for a team that lost its top five scorers from last year. Both are averaging double figures in scoring and shooting more than 40 percent form downtown. Woods also leads the team in rebounding.

The Phoenix even managed to hang with No. 5 UNC for the first 20 minutes of their November 20 matchup, despite the Tar Heels entering as 30 ½-point favorites. Though UNC pulled away at the start of the second half, the Phoenix faithful could take some small comfort in Sheffield’s poster slam over former CAA standout Justin Pierce.

But the good news ends there for Elon. The UNC loss was one piece of a six-game losing streak. Of their four non-conference wins, two came against Division II teams, one against a Division III squad, and one against a Kennesaw State club ranked 342 out of 353 Division I teams.

The Phoenix are last in the CAA in offense and scoring margin, and are the only squad shooting below 40 percent from the floor. They are last in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin. Their sole saving grace is their three-point shooting; they are the only CAA club making more than 10 threes per game and are fourth in three-point percentage. But even then there is a downside; they are worst in the conference at defending the three.

The emergence of Woods and McIntosh as scoring threats is welcome news for first-year coach Mike Schrage. But Elon’s lack of depth and veteran talent is evident. Given that the team finished with the CAA’s worst non-conference record despite multiple players exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine they can pose a threat during conference play.

#9: UNCW Seahawks

Non-Conference Record: 5–8

Strength of Schedule Rank: Third

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Best Player Name: Brian Tolefree — you don’t have to pay for him

If the William & Mary Tribe were the CAA program most ravaged in the offseason — four of their top five scorers fled to other schools after the dismissal of longtime head coach Tony Shaver — then UNCW was the program most ravaged in non-conference play.

Though the Seahawks weren’t expected to shine much after the graduation of monster forward Devontae Cacok and the transfer of junior standout Jeantal Cylla, they at least had a few exciting pieces to fuel coach C.B. McGrath’s up-tempo offense.

The first domino to fall was sharpshooting junior guard and leading returning scorer Ty Gadsden, who began the season sidelined by injury, played December 7 against Charlotte, and hasn’t played since. The team confirmed he is out indefinitely, indicating that he may return sometime this season. The same cannot be said for fellow junior guard Jay Estimé, who injured his knee, went under the knife, and will miss the rest of the season. The injuries, when combined with the departure of grad transfer Carter Skaggs in November, gutted a Seahawks’ roster struggling for experience (the Seahawks are one of seven Division I teams without a senior).

But the last and largest domino fell after the team’s non-conference closer against Vanderbilt on December 21, when sophomore point guard Kai Toews informed McGrath and his staff that he is leaving the program. McGrath called the announcement a “total surprise.” The team said Toews planned to pursue a professional basketball career in his native Japan; Toews announced on Twitter that he was “thinking of going on a professional path or transferring.” Toews said previously that he would like to compete for the Japanese national team at the FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Though he was averaging just five points, four rebounds, and three assists this year, Toews was a crucial component of the team’s future. Although he wasn’t a major scoring threat, he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last year after breaking the conference record with 253 assists.

In their stead, sophomore guard Jaylen Sims has picked up some slack, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (6) per game while shooting a CAA-best 47 percent from behind the arc.

Sophomore forward Martin Linssen has also chipped in, logging 10 points and four rebounds per game in his first season with the Seahawks after transferring from Valparaiso. But the biggest surprise has been six-foot freshman guard Shykeim Phillips, who is averaging nine points per contest on 49 percent shooting. Though he isn’t scoring from the perimeter, he uses a smorgasbord of quick hesitations, jukes, and handles to dart to the basket for layups. Phillips began the season off the bench, but earned a starting spot several weeks in.

But, like Elon’s, most of UNCW’s five wins have come against Division III teams, with Campbell and FIU as the only DI victories. The four departures and injuries are reflected in the CAA-worst five-game losing streak they take into conference play. Their typically high-octane offense keeps their scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists in the CAA’s top five, but their field goal, three-point, and scoring defense all rank ninth.

Even if Ty Gadsden returns for a good chunk of conference play, enough damage has been done to put the Seahawks in contention with the Phoenix for the CAA’s bottom spot.

#8: Drexel Dragons

Non-Conference Record: 7–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Sixth

Head Coach: Zach Spiker (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Coletrane Washington — greatest jazz name of all time

Like Elon and UNCW, Drexel needed to replace a mix of graduates (Trevor John, Troy Harper) and transfers (Alihan Demir). The three combined to average more than half of the team’s points last season.

Unlike Elon and UNCW, Drexel has maintained enough healthy talent to post a winning record in non-conference play.

The biggest component behind the Dragons’ success has been the miraculous progression of senior guard/forward Zach Walton, who jumped to Drexel from Edmonds Community College (not in the NCAA) and played just seven games last year before an injury ended his season. Walton had a breakout night in the team’s third game against Abilene Christian, dropping 22 points and sinking the game-winning three after reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Camren Wynter was denied the ball.

Ten days later, he dropped a season-high 32 points in a win over Bryant. Though Walton’s 28 percent clip from downtown leaves much to be desired, his 13 points per game are keying a Drexel offense badly in need of scoring punch. His four boards per night and a steady series of highlights aren’t too shabby either.

Wynter and James Butler sit right behind Walton in the scoring column with 12 points per game. Both lead the CAA in a key category, Butler in rebounds (11.5 a game) and Wynter in assists (5.8). Butler’s inside presence is by far the biggest reason for Drexel’s strong rebounding margin, the third-best in the CAA.

But Drexel lacks both an elite scorer and a deep, balanced roster of offensive options, which will likely spell trouble in conference play. Their offense and defense both ranked eighth in non-conference play, and though their assist and three-point defense stats led the conference, they need to find another gear to exceed preseason expectations. They also need to figure out how to win away from home; they won five of their six contests in Philadelphia but lost all five road games.

#7: Northeastern Huskies

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Eighth

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

Best Player Name: Greg Eboigbodin — save for the word “boing,” there’s no better way to describe the motion and feel of a trampoline

It’s surprising to see the Huskies this far down on the list, especially given that their scoring margin ranked third in the conference. But a .500 record and the third-weakest strength of schedule leaves them here.

That said, their bright spot was brighter than anyone else’s. In the season’s first few games, senior guard Jordan Roland torched every defense he saw, leading the nation in scoring and forcing his name into national conversations, award watchlists, and ESPN segments. He infuriated defenses with a flurry of difficult lefty floaters and overwhelmed them with twisting, drifting, contested threes from distances where no one in their right mind would think to shoot a basketball.

Roland’s best game came in an 84–79 win against Harvard on November 8. He scored 11 points in the game’s first three minutes en route to a 42-point firestorm that shattered the single-game school record held by Husky legends J.J. Barea and Reggie Lewis.

Though he tailed off somewhat as the season progressed, his 22.4 points per game still lead the CAA and rank seventh in the nation. His marks of 51 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 93 percent from the foul line are all preposterous, and rank as the conference’s fourth-best, second-best, and best, respectively. He is also second in the conference in minutes per game (37.3) and has established himself as the clear favorite for CAA Player of the Year ahead of Delaware’s Nate Darling and Charleston’s Grant Riller.

Tyson Walker, Max Boursiquot, and Shaq Walters have stepped up at various times, giving hope that the Husky offense can become more balanced. Walker in particular has exceeded expectations, starting every game and taking the offensive keys from graduating guard Vasa Pusica.

But the consistency hasn’t been there. Senior guard/forward Bolden Brace, who was expected to be the team’s second scoring option behind Roland, has shot efficiently but hasn’t scored in volume, logging double figures in just four of the team’s 12 games. Without reliable scoring from him, Northeastern will be hard-pressed to remain a top-three CAA team.

The team also suffered from injuries to big men; 6’8” Tomas Murphy has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and 6’10” Greg Eboigbodin has missed the last two. Though there have been some fine performances in their stead — namely back-to-back double-doubles by 6’5” utility man Max Boursiquot — the lack of size has presented problems for the Huskies. Though their CAA-worst rebounding numbers are partially attributable to their having the slowest pace in the conference, their challenges in crashing the boards without Murphy and Eboigbodin have often hampered their ability to build and maintain momentum in games.

The Huskies excelled from the outside, nailing a CAA-best 41 percent of their three-pointers, with their three most frequent perimeter shooters all shooting between 42 and 44 percent. They also sank 82 percent of their free throws, easily the best mark in the conference. But they allow the CAA’s highest field goal percentage, in large part due to the shortcomings of their interior defense.

The Huskies’ non-conference slate left plenty for coach Bill Coen to be optimistic about. But offensive inconsistency, namely from players not named Jordan Roland, left the Huskies with a .500 record when they could have fared much better.

#6: Towson Tigers

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: Second

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)

Best Player Name: Demetrius Mims — m’s in all the right places

Last year, Towson struggled mightily, winning less than a third of their games while trying to incorporate 11 new players. This year, with 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year returning, the Tigers have a much better chance to develop.

Towson finished with the same 6–6 record as Northeastern, but Towson had a higher strength of schedule. Oddly enough, their most encouraging moment was a loss. Despite entering a mid-November game against the No. 15 Florida Gators as 18 ½-point underdogs, the Tigers kept the game close throughout. The clubs were tied with 80 seconds left before Florida salvaged a six-point win.

As expected, senior guard Brian Fobbs has keyed the Towson attack, averaging 17 points and five boards a night. However, his relatively low efficiency marks (41 percent from the field, 29 percent from three) will have to rise before he can join the elite tier of CAA scorers.

Sophomore guard Allen Betrand and senior forwards Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall have continued their solid offensive production from last year. But all three will need to up their production before Towson can take the next step.

The Tigers’ reliably scrappy, energetic defense has shown up this year; they allow a CAA-best 65.4 points per game and boast the second-best rebounding margin and third-best steal total. But they don’t rank near the top of the conference in any meaningful offensive category and only Fobbs qualifies as any sort of offensive standout.

Their excellent defense can only take them so far, and if Towson wishes to capitalize on the senior seasons of Fobbs, Tunstall, and Sanders, the entire team needs to boost its scoring.

#5: Charleston Cougars

Non-Conference Record: 6–6

Strength of Schedule Rank: First

Head Coach: Earl Grant (sixth season)

Best Player Name: Zep Jasper — plenty of powerful plosives

Charleston is a general consensus top-three CAA team that finished 6–6 in non-conference play. At first glance, this might lead to comparisons with Northeastern, but Charleston had a decidedly superior non-conference slate.

Though they suffered blowout defeats at the hands of Oklahoma State and Central Florida, their other four losses were by single-digit margins to good teams: Central Florida again, Wake Forest, Richmond, and VCU. The Cougars fought through the most difficult non-conference schedule of any CAA team and emerged with plenty to be happy about.

They are led by senior guard and CAA Preseason Player of the Year Grant Riller, who is logging 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists per night. His scoring mark is good for third in the CAA (20th in the nation) and his field goal and free throw percentages are both top five in the conference. His scoring is coming in the same way it did last year: subpar three-point shooting and a sky-high percentage around the rim.

On November 29, Riller keyed a win over Providence and passed former teammate Jarrell Brantley for third on the school’s all-time scoring list. Two weeks later, he notched his 2,000th collegiate point.

That said, there is room for Riller to improve, particularly regarding his 26 percent mark from three-point land. He’s had a strong season, but at his best he is the conference’s greatest scorer and arguably its top player overall. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

The Cougars lack a clear second scoring option behind Riller, but junior guard Brevin Galloway and senior forwards Jaylen McManus and Sam Miller have all assumed larger roles in the offense. Miller in particular has stood out, notching seven points and seven rebounds per contest thanks in part to moderately efficient perimeter shooting.

The Cougars boast a strong defense, led by a combined four steals per game from Riller and Galloway. Though their CAA-worst perimeter shooting badly warrants improvement, many of their other low ranks in team stats compared to other CAA squads can be explained away by their slow pace of play and the tough competition they’ve faced so far.

Their record isn’t fantastic, and there is room for improvement up and down the roster. But don’t be fooled; this Cougars team is still dangerous.

#4: James Madison Dukes

Non-Conference Record: 7–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Seventh

Head Coach: Louis Rowe (third season)

Best Player Name: Michael Christmas — because Christmas time is here

At the outset of the season, James Madison appeared poised to snap a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, and they haven’t disappointed so far.

Leading the way is junior guard Matt Lewis, who ranks fifth in the conference in points (18), rebounds (7), and minutes (35) per game, and adds a third-best five assists per game as well. He’s taken the lead on a team with no seniors in the regular rotation.

His backcourt partner and fellow junior Darius Banks is faring almost as well, averaging 14 points (on 41 percent from downtown) and five boards a night. He has also continued his thievery from last year, swiping the ball 1.6 times per contest.

And if that wasn’t enough junior talent, try 6’8”, 250-pound junior forward Dwight Wilson, who missed the first four games of the season but has averaged a double-double since. Or junior forward Zach Jacobs, who chips in eight points and six boards a game.

But the performance nobody saw coming, especially with so many returning offensive centerpieces, is freshman forward Michael Christmas, who is putting up nine points and six rebounds per game, shooting a comical 46 percent from three on decent volume, and has established himself as a one-man highlight reel.

The Dukes’ team stats require a bit of context to decipher. At first glance, their counting stats and percentage stats appear to tell opposing stories. This is explained by the team’s pace of play, easily the fastest in the conference. The Dukes have the 26th-fastest pace out of 353 Division I teams; the next closest CAA team is Hofstra, nearly 100 spots down the list.

More possessions mean that the Dukes score more and give up more points, skewing their counting stats. The percentage stats tell a more accurate story. James Madison is eighth in the CAA in field goal and three-point percentage; save for Banks and Christmas, the regular three-point shooters are converting less than a third of their tries. They also struggled from the charity stripe, making just 65 percent of their free throws.

The Dukes shone on defense, limiting opponents to the lowest field goal percentage and second-lowest three-point percentage of any CAA team. They also led the conference in blocks.

The Dukes’ offense has a high ceiling and is likely to improve as the season progresses. But it is their defense that has turned heads, going from a middle-of-the-pack unit last year to — along with Towson — the conference’s best so far this year. If they can overcome the offensive hole left by the graduation of Stuckey Mosley, the Dukes can join the CAA’s top tier.

#3: Hofstra Pride

Non-Conference Record: 9–4

Strength of Schedule Rank: Tenth

Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (seventh season)

Best Player Name: Stafford Trueheart — no idea why he’s playing basketball instead of commanding the English army in the 12th century

Hofstra begin their non-conference schedule with a mandate (a first-place finish in the CAA Preseason Poll) and the question of how to replace the offense of graduating guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year and arguably the best scorer the conference has seen in years?

But, as it turns out, you can lose Wright-Foreman and still have the best and deepest backcourt in the conference. It begins with a pair of seniors: Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie.

The pair have remarkably similar numbers. Pemberton averages 17.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference; Buie’s 16.6 points rank eighth. Pemberton is third in minutes per game with 35.6; Buie is right behind him at 35.5. Pemberton averages six rebounds per contest; Buie notches six assists, good for second in the conference. Buie has also retained the defensive brilliance that won him CAA Defensive Player of the Year last year; he leads the conference with 2.7 steals a night.

Junior guards Jalen Ray and Tareq Coburn round out the backcourt, averaging a combined 18 points and 11 rebounds. Coburn’s seven rebounds per contest lead the team, while Ray has been the most efficient scorer among the Hofstra guards, shooting 41 percent from downtown.

Sophomore forward/center Isaac Kante, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia, has established himself on a squad short on rebounding and defensive presence down low. He is averaging nine points on 61 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds.

The Pride also scored the biggest win of any CAA team so far this season. On November 21, they walked into Pauley Pavilion and toppled UCLA.

Keyed by 29 points from Buie and 27 from Ray, Hofstra came back from a 13-point first-half deficit to take the game 88–78. It was the Bruins’ first loss of the year and one of the biggest wins in program history for Hofstra.

The Pride are the best-scoring offense in the CAA so far, though their numbers are inflated by their relatively fast pace of play and their strength of schedule, which was the weakest of any CAA team. Their four main guards are all among the conference’s ten best free throw shooters, with Buie’s 91 percent second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland. The team as a whole knocks down 78 percent of their foul shots, second only to Northeastern’s 82 percent. The Pride have the most steals, most offensive rebounds, and best assist-to-turnover ratio of any CAA team.

Hofstra’s biggest causes for concern inside depth (as evidenced by their middle-of-the-pack rebounding numbers) and efficiency — they ranked seventh in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.

The Pride enter conference play riding a three-game winning streak. They have a quartet of guards that can outpace anyone. If they can find the efficiency and inside play buttons, they will be an imposing bunch.

#2: William & Mary Tribe

Non-Conference Record: 8–5

Strength of Schedule Rank: Fifth

Head Coach: Dane Fischer (first season)

Best Player Name: Thatcher Stone — if people were once again named after their professions, you’d hire him to build you a sturdy house

This one was a surprise.

A month after their CAA Tournament exit last season, the Tribe looked like a bomb had hit them. Tony Shaver, their coach of 16 years, had been fired. Justin Pierce, Matt Milon, Chase Audige, and LJ Owens — four of the team’s five leading scorers who had a combined eight years of eligibility remaining — had transferred. Leading scorer Nathan Knight was thinking about bailing on his senior season and declaring for the NBA draft.

New head coach Dane Fischer walked into this mess and pulled everything together. The Tribe posted the CAA’s fourth-best winning percentage in non-conference play; the three teams ahead of them had considerably weaker schedules.

It begins, as any William & Mary conversation inevitably does, with Knight. When he decided to return for his senior season, the Tribe retained the conference’s best big man and, along with Charleston’s Grant Riller, a solid candidate for Player of the Year. He hasn’t disappointed, posting nightly averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 56 percent mark from the field and 1.5 blocks per game leading the conference. Along with Northeastern’s Jordan Roland, Knight was named to the watchlist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, given annually to college basketball’s best player.

As spectacular as Knight has been, his elite play was expected. What wasn’t as expected was the establishment of senior center Andy Van Vliet as an elite two-way player. The seven-foot Wisconsin transfer is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a night, the latter tied with the 6’10” Knight for second-best in the conference. His is sixth in the conference in field goal percentage and blocks.

Good shooters are not hard to come by in the CAA; good shooters who are seven feet tall are rare. Both Knight and Van Vliet can space the floor, nailing 35 and 39 percent of their threes, respectively. This allows Fischer to play a twin towers lineup without sacrificing perimeter shooting, creating matchup and switching nightmares even for well-balanced defenses.

The Tribe also have benefitted from a pair of guards: grad transfer Bryce Barnes and junior Luke Loewe. Barnes is averaging eight points, three rebounds, and four assists a night in his first and only season for the Tribe after three years playing for Milwaukee. Loewe has taken a gigantic step forward, upping his production and efficiency across the board. He’s averaging 11 points a night on a hyper-efficient 53 percent shooting from the floor and 47 percent from downtown.

Sophomore guard Thornton Scott has missed nine straight games with a lower leg injury. In the four games he played — all of which the Tribe won — he showed tremendous progress from last year, averaging 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists with an absurd 52 percent clip from downtown. If he returns soon, it will add another weapon to an already well-stocked arsenal.

The Tribe won their first four games out of the gate, three of which came on the road. One of those wins came against Wofford, courtesy of a game-winning layup by Barnes. Before Barnes’s shot dropped, Wofford had won its last 17 home games in a row.

Fischer has picked up his predecessor’s tendency for a relatively even distribution of minutes. Van Vliet leads the team with just 30 per game, trailed closely by Knight and Loewe. It begs the question of what happens if Fischer decides to up their minutes, leaving opponents to face his twin towers for longer stretches.

William & Mary’s team stats reveal no obvious weaknesses so far. Their scoring, assist rate, points allowed, margin of victory, field goal percentage, field goal defense, and three-point percentage all fall between third and fifth. They rank second in defensive rebounds and blocks, and first in rebounding margin. Even their bottom-half offensive rebounding and three-point defense aren’t far off from respectable levels.

Entering the season, the Tribe were a question mark, with Knight projected to dominate but nothing else assured. With non-conference play complete, the Tribe have joined the CAA’s top tier and have as good a shot at the CAA title as anyone.

#1: Delaware Blue Hens

Non-Conference Record: 10–3

Strength of Schedule Rank: Ninth

Head Coach: Martin Inglesby (fourth season)

Best Player Name: Nate Darling — any Delaware fans who think he’s cute have an easy poster idea waiting for them

December 3, 2019. Hofstra, the winner of the CAA Preseason Poll, was 6–3. Northeastern, the defending conference champion, was 4–4.

The Delaware Blue Hens, who most preseason observers had placed outside the CAA’s top tier, were undefeated, winners of nine straight games. And though they fell to earth by losing three of their next four to close non-conference play, the statement had been made: Delaware is the team to beat in the CAA.

Although many had high expectations for junior guard and UAB transfer Nate Darling, he has outplayed those expectations and then some. His 21.4 points per game are second only to Northeastern’s Jordan Roland and rank 16th in the nation. He has played more minutes and made more threes than anyone in the CAA, and his stellar three-point percentage of 42 ranks third. Throw in his four rebounds and three assists per contest, and Delaware has the best CAA transfer since Northeastern nabbed Vasa Pusica from San Diego.

But because one excellent transfer isn’t enough, the Blue Hens have another: sophomore forward Justyn Mutts. In his first season with Delaware after leaving High Point, Mutts is logging 14 points per game on 53 percent shooting (second in the conference to Nathan Knight) and 9.6 rebounds (fourth in the conference). As if that weren’t enough, his highlights are electric.

Now, for the returning play . . . what? They have another transfer? He’s from Villanova? He’s 6’10”? He dropped 19 points in his Delaware debut? Sure, why not? This might as well happen.

Dylan Painter is a midseason transfer, so he only recently became eligible, playing in Delaware’s final two non-conference games. The Blue Hens won nine games in a row, then added a major piece to compliment Mutts down low.

And finally we turn our attention to returning junior guards Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson. Both have long been ticketed for CAA stardom but have seen serious injuries impede their progress. They’re healthy now, and at the perfect time. They have similar numbers: double-digit scoring, a field goal percentage in the high 40s, and a three-point percentage around 40 percent.

The Blue Hens are third in scoring, points allowed, field goal and three-point defense, and defensive rebounds. They lead the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. Though they ultimately fell 78–70 to No. 20 Villanova, they proved they could hang around against a superior team. In the season’s fourth game, Painter and Anderson combined by 69 points.

Last year, Delaware finished with a losing conference record and lost in the semifinal round of the CAA Tournament. Now they’re stacked, and the road to the conference’s March Madness bid goes through them.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Eastern Michigan

By Milton Posner

Photo by Sarah Olender

Anyone who glanced at a pre-game matchup sheet could hazard a guess at how Tuesday evening’s game would go. Northeastern, which entered the game fifth in the nation in three-point percentage, would rely on outside shooting. Eastern Michigan, which entered ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense, would use their height and length advantage to pressure the Huskies inside.

Those assumptions bore out on the court in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with Eastern Michigan (9–1) outlasting Northeastern (5–6) and escaping with a 60–55 victory. It was the Huskies’ second straight loss and the second time this season they’ve fallen below .500.

Though the Eagles were paced by double-digit scoring efforts from Noah Morgan (19), Yeikson Montero (10), and Ty Groce (10), their biggest advantage was seven-footer Boubacar Toure, whose seven-point, six-rebound, two-block stat line underscores his impact. He established himself defensively from the opening tip, pressuring Northeastern’s inside shots and forcing them to attempt more and more threes as the game progressed.

Northeastern’s ability to counter Toure was diminished, with big men Greg Eboigbodin (6’10”) and Tomas Murphy (6’8”) sitting out. Murphy, usually good for 10 points and versatile midrange play, injured his ankle and hasn’t played since November 16 against Old Dominion.

The task of guarding Toure fell to Max Boursiquot, who, despite his inarguable defensive strength and versatility, is seven inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than the Senegalese center. The disparity was never more apparent than when Toure snatched an offensive rebound and dunked, seemingly unbothered by three Huskies surrounding him with their arms raised.

This mismatch contributed to a noticeable disparity in play styles between the squads. Eastern Michigan pushed the ball inside and rebounded their misses, while Northeastern passed around the perimeter to earn open threes. The Eagles encouraged this by playing a 2–3 zone, shutting off interior passing lanes and keeping the Huskies out of the paint.

Eventually Northeastern started rebounding their own misses, earning a number of easy kickouts to the perimeter. Guilien Smith hit back-to-back threes, then Myles Franklin nailed another after Toure’s massive block on Roland sent the ball caroming off the glass and out to the three-point line.

Northeastern led 17–13 with 11:54 remaining. They wouldn’t score for almost eight minutes, as Eastern Michigan interior defense held strong and Northeastern went cold from downtown. Behind Montero’s multiple buckets, the Eagles scored ten unanswered points during that stretch to take a six-point lead. A steady Northeastern comeback briefly tied the game before an Eastern Michigan basket gave them a 31–29 halftime lead.

Northeastern was shooting 43 percent from outside the arc, but just 23 percent from inside it. They closed the rebounding gap against the larger Eagles, though their increased aggressiveness resulted in 10 fouls and 13 Eastern Michigan free throws in the first half.

Though the exact positioning of the defenders varied, Eastern Michigan continued their zone after the break, and Northeastern responded by relying even more heavily on outside shooting. They stuck to a similar game plan — get the defense scrambling, move the ball on the perimeter, and earn open shots. But after connecting on six of their 14 attempts from downtown in the first, Northeastern hit just five of 17 attempts in the second. Several times, the Huskies passed up a potential transition layup for a kickout to the three-point line.

Everything Northeastern did in the second half, Eastern Michigan had an answer. Northeastern regained the lead midway through the period on a Jordan Roland three; Eastern Michigan responded with a two-handed jam from Toure and a layup from Morgan. Franklin tied the game with a three; Montero finished a spinning layup under duress. Tyson Walker hit a corner three on a friendly bounce; Montero scored another spinning layup.

Northeastern found themselves trailing 58–55 with 30 seconds remaining. Whatever play head coach Bill Coen drew up during the timeout was quickly abandoned when the Eagles abandoned Max Boursiquot on the left side. Boursiquot retreated behind the three-point line, fired, and watched his game-tying attempt clank off the rim. After Walker’s putback dripped off the cylinder, Montero hit two free-throws to put the game out of reach.

Though Northeastern’s play was not without flaw, Boursiquot’s missed equalizer was a microcosm of their biggest difficulty in this game: missed threes. Many if not most of their tries were good looks, but not enough of them fell. Their total of 11 makes on 31 attempts is decent enough percentage-wise, but ultimately posed problems in a game where the Huskies tried more threes than twos.

Northeastern’s other problem was their two best players. Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace combined for just 18 points on five-for-23 shooting from the floor and four-for-16 from three.

Boursiquot had the best game of any Husky, finishing with an efficient double and strong defensive play given the height and length deficits he faced. Myles Franklin also had a solid game, finishing with six points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Northeastern’s 55 points marked their lowest total of the season, though unsurprising given that Eastern Michigan entered the contest holding opponents to 57.3 points per game. The Eagles’ size, length, and inside aggressiveness yielded a 30–12 advantage in points in the paint and an 11 percent advantage in field goal percentage.

A win in Thursday evening’s game against Detroit Mercy would finalize the Huskies’ non-conference record at .500. WRBB will not broadcast the game, but will publish a recap online.

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.