Men’s Basketball Falls to Delaware, 76–74

By Milton Posner

BOSTON — At the close of CAA action on Saturday, the Northeastern Huskies’ average margin of victory in conference play rested at 7.7 points, nearly three points better than the next-best team. And yet they sat tied for sixth, owners of a 5–4 conference record, an anomaly possible only because each one of their losses has been by two points.

Four losses. Three of them in front of their home crowd. Two of them on last-second game-winners. Eight combined points.

The Huskies appeared to be in the driver’s seat for most of Saturday’s tilt against the Delaware Blue Hens. They took a 13-point lead into halftime, buoyed by Jordan Roland’s 14 points. Max Boursiquot and Myles Franklin each contributed eight points without missing a shot.

Northeastern picked up where it left off Thursday night against Drexel. Players moved constantly and the ball didn’t sit in one person’s hands for too long. Boursiquot, Bolden Brace, and Greg Eboigbodin sprung ballhandlers loose on screens; if the screens didn’t force switches or create separation, they would spread out and re-screen the ball. Roland earned a number of open perimeter looks by dashing around staggered pindown screens. The offense was efficient, precise, and energetic.

On defense, Boursiquot once again held fast against larger matchups, in this case 6’10” Villanova transfer Dylan Painter and 6’7” standout Justyn Mutts. The Huskies fought through and around screens, rotated swiftly, and swiped errant or lazy passes. Transfer guard Nate Darling, who nearly kept pace with Jordan Roland’s scoring in non-conference play, registered just six points on eight shots.

The first half mirrored Thursday’s game against Drexel; the second mirrored last week’s game at UNCW. Once again, a 16-point second-half lead steadily evaporated. Once again, Northeastern allowed the opponents’ guards easy access to the lane. Once again, the game ended in a 76–74 Husky loss.

“We just couldn’t get a stop in the second half,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked. “We just came out really, really flat . . . They made a couple shots, got their energy up, and decided to play attack basketball.”

On one level it was a team problem. Northeastern’s rotations weren’t as crisp in the second half as they’d been in the first, and sometimes close contests didn’t happen even when the rotations did. Perimeter defenders had a harder time keeping their assignments in front of them. The Blue Hens tried 12 second-half two-pointers and nailed 11 of them.

But the biggest post-halftime change was Darling, who poured in 28 points and missed just three shots all half. He established his perimeter shooting and his assertive driving simultaneously, leaving the Huskies wondering which way to force him. He finished with a game-high 34 points — his best total since November 10 — and catalyzed the Blue Hens’ 47-point second half.

Just like the UNCW game, the meltdown didn’t happen all at once. In the absence of speedy transition basketball (the squads combined for just 13 fastbreak points) or numerous turnovers, the lead shifted gradually.

The Huskies also suffered from factors outside their control. Junior forward Shaq Walters was not present at Matthews Arena, which Coen attributed to a “violent stomach bug.”

“Just really, really bad timing for Shaq . . . it was a day that we could really use him,” Coen noted. “With his perimeter defense he would have been the perfect guy in this role.”

It was a significant loss for a Northeastern frontcourt already missing junior forward Tomas Murphy, who has been sidelined for more than two months with an ankle injury.

“Tomas hasn’t returned to practice yet,” Coen confirmed. “I’m not really sure where it’s gonna go but he hasn’t been healthy enough to get back and practice . . . The deeper it gets into the season I’m less hopeful.”

All the challenges aside, the Huskies had a chance to pull out a victory. Down two points with the shot clock turned off, they planned to feed Roland for their last shot, with an inside option for Boursiquot as well. But with 10 seconds left, Tyson Walker found himself with the ball out top, guarded by the larger, slower Jacob Cushing. Walker started his drive, but lost his balance on a crossover, fell, and couldn’t bet Cushing’s dive for the ball.

Roland finished with 27 points and is averaging 30 points per game across the team’s last five contests. Boursiquot chipped in a career-high 18 points, adding six rebounds and immeasurable defensive presence in the first half. Besides Darling, the only Blue Hen with a great stat line was junior guard Kevin Anderson, who notched an efficient 12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

The Huskies have shown brilliance at times in non-conference play, but the brilliance has been dulled by poor execution down the stretches of close games. They will try to get back on track Thursday night at William & Mary, the team that dealt them the first of their four two-point losses. Milton Posner and Adam Doucette will call the game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Succumbs to Streak-Snapping Seahawks

By Matt Neiser

WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Fresh off a 15-point comeback win over CAA heavyweight Charleston, the Northeastern men’s basketball team was riding high as it made its way to Wilmington for a Saturday night matchup against the winless-in-conference UNCW Seahawks. The Seahawks pulled the Huskies back down to earth in Trask Coliseum, however, rallying from a 16-point deficit to take down the defending conference champs in overtime, 76–74.

Saturday’s game capped off an eventful week for UNCW (6–15, 1–7 CAA), which started with the Seahawks relieving head coach C.B. McGrath of his duties on Monday. The team went on to lose by just two to heavyweight Hofstra on Thursday, and finished with the victory against Northeastern (10–9, 4–3 CAA), their first in almost two months.

The two sides battled throughout the first half, with neither team pulling away by a substantial margin. The Seahawks took a 20–18 lead at the 6:16 mark, but a 17–8 run gave the Huskies a 35-28 advantage heading into the locker room.

UNCW held the Huskies within range coming out of the break, but a 13-point unanswered run by the visitors partway through the second half brought the deficit to a game-high 16 points with 10 minutes remaining.

The Northeastern lead seemed insurmountable for the Seahawks, but slowly and surely they forced their way back into the game. Ten points from Brian Tolefree and a six-point burst from Ty Gadsden helped drag UNCW back from the depths as they took a two-point lead. Back-to-back jumpers from Jordan Roland with a Seahawk turnover sandwiched in between re-established the Husky lead, but a Mike Okauru dunk with 2.5 seconds left evened the game. Jordan Roland’s half-court effort came close but clanged off the rim, sending the game to overtime.

The Huskies jumped out to a quick four-point lead to start the extra frame, but missed free throws from Myles Franklin and Tyson Walker left the door open. UNCW burst through that door, scoring eight unanswered as Northeastern went on a three-and-a-half-minute drought. The Huskies were forced to play the foul game, and a pair of missed free throws from Jaylen Sims a few possessions later gave Northeastern a chance to respond, down two points, with 11 seconds remaining.

Roland stepped on the sideline with less than three ticks on the clock, but Franklin forced the ball off of Marten Linssen’s leg with .6 seconds left. The ensuing inbounds play found Roland in the corner with a chance to win, but he couldn’t get the shot off in time as the Seahawks came away with the victory.

“I thought UNCW played harder than we did tonight and they earned the victory,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “The team that plays harder usually wins. There isn’t that much talent separation in this league where if you come in and you’re playing at a six or a seven and the other team is playing at a nine or a ten that you can feel comfortable.”

Interim head coach Rob Burke took over head coaching duties from McGrath, injecting some much-needed energy into his squad. Burke was animated throughout the game, imploring the crowd to get loud and slamming his hand repeatedly on the floor as his team fought their way back. The Trask crowd responded in kind, giving the Seahawks the extra oomph needed to pull off the victory.

“It’s always a very supportive fan base,” Coen said. “They’re worth five points with the energy they bring to the building.”

Four players recorded double-digit scoring for the Seahawks, led by Tolefree’s 17 and Okauru’s 16. The latter recorded a double-double and even came close to a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and six assists.

Roland did everything he could to keep his team in the game, logging 38 points (the most in the 43-year history of Trask Coliseum) and a career-high seven rebounds.

Walker chipped in 17, and Max Boursiquot and Greg Eboigbodin pulled down nine and seven rebounds, respectively.

Northeastern will look to rebound on Thursday at home against Drexel. Mike Petillo and Adam Doucette will have coverage of that one starting at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Hofstra on Pemberton’s Game-Winner

By Milton Posner

Thursday night’s ending was a test of just how much déjà vu the college basketball gods can cram into one play.

Just like Saturday, Northeastern faced a top-tier CAA opponent at Matthews Arena. Once again, the Huskies overcame first-half struggles, closed the deficit with hot second-half shooting, and tied the score in the game’s waning minutes with a clutch three.

But, unbelievably, and again, their opponent’s elite senior scorer caught a pass above the arc, drove left, and hit an athletic lefty layup with tenths of a second left on the clock, leaving Northeastern to miss a halfcourt heave as the buzzer sounded.

The only difference: tonight’s victor was Hofstra, not William & Mary. The final assassin was Eli Pemberton, not Nathan Knight. But the result was the same: a two-point loss to a top-notch CAA foe in a game Northeastern arguably should have won. It was like finding out your friend has an identical twin they never mentioned.

The Huskies fell to the Pride, 74–72, losing their second straight game and dropping to 9–8 (3–2 CAA) and fourth place in the CAA. Hofstra (13–5, 4–1 CAA) is third.

After the 66–64 loss to William & Mary on Saturday, the Huskies were left wondering if a few things going right — namely Roland shooting better — would have yielded a victory. Tonight’s first-half culprit was . . . well, how much time do you have?

It began with turnovers. Northeastern surrendered the ball 11 times in the first half, seven of which were Hofstra steals. Forfeiting possession that many times will always hurt your prospects, but the harm is amplified when so many of the giveaways are live-ball turnovers. Though Hofstra didn’t eviscerate the Huskies on points off turnovers or the fastbreak, the Pride benefitted from the extra possessions, took more shots than Northeastern, and retained their momentum for most of the first half.

Northeastern also repeatedly missed uncontested layups. Besides the obvious loss of two points, each miss ended with the shooter underneath the Husky basket, allowing Hofstra to push the ball in transition and attack Northeastern’s defense before it was set.

Northeastern struggled in navigating Hofstra’s matchup zone, a defense that combines zone and man principles, prioritizes switching, and employs quick perimeter defenders. The Pride pressured Husky guards along both sidelines, and the Huskies struggled to circumvent the traps with quick passes. Even when the passes found their targets, their lack of accuracy and zip meant that Northeastern couldn’t make Hofstra pay for doubling.

“Their matchup zone is not the typical zone; it’s not like you run your zone offense and you get [shots],” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen explained. “You have to be able to move, manipulate the defense to be able to create some openings, and understand their slides and their movements. It gets you guarding yourself a little bit and you get timid.”

Coen also remarked that his team’s “ball screen coverage was very soft,” which allowed Hofstra to invade the lane and grab rebounds. The Pride also took advantage by screening to spring shooters loose on out-of-bounds plays, which netted several baskets.

Roland followed up his poor showing Saturday — seven points on woeful three-for-14 shooting — with just three points on five shots in the first half.

“I think I’m just gonna have to play better for us to be able to win games,” Roland said, one of several similar comments he made after the game. “If I played [well] for 40 minutes I feel like we win today.”

It was shocking to see Roland be so hard on himself. True, he was absent in the first half save for one made three, one of many reasons why the Huskies trailed by 16 at the break. But his second half was a fireworks display. Roland posted 25 second-half points, splashing home seven of his nine threes to key the Northeastern comeback. His final stat line — 28 points on 17 shots — was patently ridiculous, and his final three tied the game with 21 seconds left.

There’s no disputing that Roland’s play in the last six weeks has been inconsistent from game to game, and even within games. But when knocks down a few shots, when he finds his rhythm and finds his range, he has a gear most college players can’t reach with a stepladder. It almost doesn’t matter how far he is from the basket or how close the defender is to him; he will rain down three-point fire from above and make opposing guards look foolish for trying to defend him.

The other key Husky performer was Bolden Brace, whose 18-point, 10-rebound effort was easily one of his best games all year. In the first half, he became the 39th player in Northeastern history — and the second player this season — to reach the 1,000-point plateau. He was the only Husky who played well throughout the first half, repeatedly sliding into open space, making intelligent passes, and using his gravity to bend the Hofstra zone.

Tyson Walker, fresh off his second straight and fourth overall CAA Rookie of the Year win, scored 10 points but made just five of his 15 shots. He did notch a couple of gorgeous layups, though, showing impressive driving strength and body control for a six-foot, 162-pound player.

For Hofstra, it was Pemberton and Desure Buie, both senior guards, who led the way. The pair finished with similar stat lines — 20+ points, efficient shooting inside and out, and four rebounds — but Pemberton, courtesy of his game-winner, walked away the center of attention. He made the most of his time on national television, chatting with a CBS reporter as the Huskies trudged off the court. Isaac Kante also made his mark, logging 15 points, making all seven of his shots, and snagging 12 rebounds.

Buie’s efficiency has been remarkable this season, trailing only Roland in shooting efficiency among CAA guards. He has been on fire in conference play, and entered Thursday’s game fresh off a 44-point explosion against Elon. His performance was expected. Pemberton’s was much more in doubt, as his efficiency has been relatively low and his scoring inconsistent. But he showed the Huskies why preseason expectations pegged him as the best player on the conference’s best team.

“He just made a really, really athletic play to his left hand off the glass,” Coen said. “We had a little bit of a sloppy closeout, he’s a terrific athlete, and he’s been a very good player in this league for a long, long time.”

It’s hard to know where the Huskies stand after five conference games. They won their first three conference games by 16, 16, and nine points, then lost the next two on game-winners. They’ve seen stellar performances and season-lows from Roland. They’ve protected the ball brilliantly — just five turnovers against William & Mary — and tossed it around carelessly, committing 11 first-half turnovers tonight. They were outrebounded cleanly by bottom-dwelling Elon, then held their own down low against William & Mary’s twin tower lineup of Knight and Andy Van Vliet.

Sometimes they’ve looked like a first-place team.

And sometimes they’ve been overpowered.

“We got two losses in this league by a total of four points,” Coen lamented. “It’s not where we want to be, but we know we’re not that far away.

“What I do like about both these losses is the character of this team. We got down in both games, came back, and narrowly missed salvaging both games. It’s in these guys, they know it. The standard in this program has been pretty high, it’s a championship-level standard, and their efforts and expectations are the same.

“It’s all about where the teachable moments are . . . and getting to the point where these guys can learn from it and get better. I know the desire is there.”

After Thursday’s games, there are three teams ahead of Northeastern in the conference standings. They just lost to two of them in heartbreaking fashion, making next Thursday’s game against the undefeated Charleston Cougars all the more essential.

Losing will lower their overall and conference records to .500, likely move them to the middle of the standings, and cast serious doubts on the team’s ability to repeat as CAA champions. A win would prove their talent, their execution, and their resilience after a pair of tough losses.

Michael Petillo and Matt Neiser will call that game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Basketball Falls to Tribe on Knight’s Game-Winner

By Matt Neiser

BOSTON — Entering Saturday’s games, three CAA men’s basketball teams boasted undefeated records. Two of those teams, Northeastern and Charleston, were of no surprise to most CAA followers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted the third team would be where they are.

The William & Mary Tribe, with long-time head coach Tony Shaver freshly fired and four of five starters from last year transferring, were projected to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches and media poll. After an impressive non-conference run and a 2–0 start to the CAA slate — including a 27-point destruction of preseason-favorite Hofstra — no one is picking them that low anymore.

Northeastern looked to leave a black mark on that résumé while adding to their own as the two teams faced off in Matthews Arena Saturday evening. In a back-and-forth affair that came right down to the final possession, the Huskies — and Tyson Walker’s last-second half court heave — came up just short as the Tribe came away with their second-straight statement win over a conference heavyweight.

After a quick William & Mary (11–5, 3–0 CAA) burst to begin the game, Northeastern (9–7, 3–1 CAA) found their groove and evened the game at nine points apiece heading into the first media timeout. This theme would persist for most of the first half, with the two sides trading runs. Trailing 21–15 a little over halfway through the first frame, the Huskies went on a 12–0 scoring spree to take a six-point lead.

Not to be outdone, the Tribe answered with their own 12–0 burst to close the half, spurred by seven points from seven-foot Wisconsin transfer Andy Van Vliet. While Van Vliet scored 11 points in the first half, his partner-in-crime on the low block — reigning All-CAA First Teamer Nathan Knight — was relatively quiet, scoring just six points on two-for-five shooting.

Why did Knight struggle, you may ask? Two words: Max Boursiquot. The 6’5”, 210-pound redshirt junior gave up five inches and 25 pounds to Knight, but more than matched the star forward’s strength. Boursiquot battled on the block all half, keeping Knight in check and drawing a pair of fouls that kept Knight on the bench for the final 5:32 of the frame. He got it done offensively as well, pouring in a team-high eight points in the first half.

Husky head coach Bill Coen praised Boursiquot’s play, saying, “Max is a strong, aggressive kid. He’s got a low center of gravity and he’s a competitor. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, he’s not afraid of contact. I thought he did an admirable job on him. It’s a tall task; Nathan Knight could start for a lot of Power Five teams.”

The teams continued their tug-of-war in the second half, with William & Mary taking advantage of their slight head start to keep Northeastern at bay. A 14–2 Tribe run boosted their lead to 14 points, threatening to blow the game wide open as they did against Hofstra.

Jordan Roland was struggling from the field and had just seven points, and it looked like the Huskies were out of answers. Coen pulled Roland in favor of grad transfer Guilien Smith, who has played sparingly this season.

“Guilien is an outstanding teammate. He’s one of the most well-liked guys in our locker room, provides great energy every day in practice,” Coen said of his decision. “We were a little flat. Nothing against Jordan, but [Guilien plays] his position and I felt like we needed a spark, we needed to change the energy on the floor.”

The move paid off, and the Huskies went on a 21–7 run over the next eight minutes to tie the game at 64. The largest contributor was Shaquille Walters, who scored 12 of those 21 points, including an and-one layup with 13 seconds left to even the score and send Matthews Arena into a frenzy.

After running the clock down to five seconds and taking a timeout, William & Mary gave the ball to Nathan Knight looking for the game-winner. After losing the ball on a drive to the hoop, Knight regained control, rose up, and nailed a tough, contested layup to take the lead with just over a second left.

Northeastern had to inbound the ball from full court, and Walker’s 65-foot heave hit both the front and back of the rim, but wouldn’t fall as the Tribe escaped with the 66–64 victory.

Walters and Bolden Brace scored 15 points each to lead the Huskies, combining for 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Roland tied his season low with seven points (3–14 FG, 1–5 3FG) and, for the first time all season, ceded his position as the CAA’s top scorer. He now trails Charleston’s Grant Riller, who scored 31 points against James Madison on Saturday and is averaging 26 points across four conference games.

Knight recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double, finishing with 23 points and 11 boards to lead all players in both categories. Van Vliet chipped in 15 points and six rebounds of his own.

“It’s tough to say that you’re happy when they shoot 55 percent from the floor, but we generated 17 turnovers and we had to be in a scramble mode because they had such a size advantage on us,” Coen said. “We had to give help in the post, so we were constantly rotating. Those situations either generated turnovers and runouts for us or baskets for them. They shot the ball well from three, their high–low post attack is very effective, and Nathan Knight’s a special player. He’s without a doubt one of the top five players in our league.”

The Huskies will face more stiff competition when they play the Hofstra Pride on Thursday. WRBB will call the game, with coverage beginning at 7:45 PM EST.

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.”

Men’s Basketball Deposes the Dukes

By Milton Posner

For a few games, it appeared as though Jordan Roland had settled down. His scoring average dropped from the national top-five toward slightly more reasonable territory, and he was shooting just 30 percent in the team’s last three games.

But he couldn’t lie dormant forever, and on Monday evening he woke up, burying a James Madison lineup stocked with talented juniors. The Huskies ran past the Dukes, 88–72, in one of their best offensive showings of the year. The last Northeastern sporting event of the 2010s had a happy ending for the Huskies.

Roland wasted no time, putting himself on the board with an early lay-in.

He made it into double figures before the midway point of the second half, assailing the Dukes with his trademark blend of lefty floaters and three-point bombs. He was particularly zoned in on attacking late closes; if a defender didn’t get back to him in time, Roland would field the pass and take a quick, strong first step in the direction the defender was coming from. When his man couldn’t change direction in time, Roland drove to the basket and wreaked havoc.

When Roland’s white-hot shooting touch faded a bit, Tyson Walker picked up the torch.

By the end of the first half, Roland had amassed 21 points on 11 shots. Walker was somehow more efficient, collecting 15 points and making all six of his attempts, including three triples. Northeastern’s backcourt had outscored James Madison all by themselves.

But the Huskies’ first-half success also stemmed from their solid defense. Save for Deshon Parker and Matt Lewis, who both scored nine points, none of the Dukes really got going in the first 20 minutes. Just as they did against Towson on Saturday, Northeastern packed the lane, forcing difficult shots that frequently dripped off the rim.

Husky forward Max Boursiquot, starting his fourth consecutive game as a small-ball center, was once again tasked with guarding a larger player. Though James Madison forward Dwight Wilson was three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier, Boursiquot rose to the challenge with a deranged intensity, fighting for every rebound like his life depended on it. He routinely tipped balls away from Wilson’s reach, turning easy James Madison rebounds into scrambles for loose balls. Boursiquot also held firm on the low block, denying Wilson favorable position and limiting him to two points on one-of-four shooting in the first half.

The Huskies led by 12 at halftime. Four minutes into the second half, the lead had all but evaporated.

Lewis and Darius Banks drove in for layups. Wilson notched back-to-back buckets from point-blank range. Banks. Parker. Wilson. A 16–5 James Madison run shaved the Northeastern lead to one with 15:19 to play.

“They came out fired up and they were scoring — it felt like — in the first two seconds every time,” Roland remarked. “They played so fast that it catches you off guard. They’re laying the ball up before you’re even ready to play defense.”

But the first-half offensive floodgates were about to burst open once more. Roland got things back on track with a triple. Bolden Brace slid a slick bounce pass to a cutting Shaq Walters for an easy jam.

Roland drove to the basket for a layup, then notched another layup on a leakout. Brace nailed his first three-pointer of the evening.

Boursiquot scored off a nice dish from Walker. Walters nailed a pair of free throws. Three minutes after the Dukes cut the lead to one, Northeastern completed a 16–0 run and blew the game open. Though the lead oscillated for the rest of the game, the outcome was never really in doubt. Northeastern matched JMU bucket-for-bucket to keep the lead in double digits.

Roland finished with 33 points (12–18 FG, 4–9 3PT), three rebounds, and three assists in his best offensive game in more than a month. Oddly enough, he missed three of his eight free throws, the most he’s ever missed in a college game. His CAA-best mark of 93 percent and streak of 26 straight made free throws entering the game — along with the fact that he hadn’t missed multiple free throws in a game in nearly two years — shows his prodigious skill from the stripe.

Tyson Walker didn’t score in the second half, but added six assists to accompany his 15 points. Brace and Walters contributed superb all-around stat lines, with Walters notching 12 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists and Brace logging 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

James Madison’s junior quartet of Lewis, Parker, Banks, and Wilson paced the team; each finished in double figures. Parker played brilliantly, notching 19 points and six assists while cutting through the defense like a warm butter knife. He took note of how Husky defenders were playing him, then made split-second decisions regarding whether to take or reject his teammates’ screens.

Wilson turned on the jets in the second half to net another double-double, while Lewis made up for inefficient field goal shooting with eight free throws. Banks was the only one without a ton of upside, making just five of his 18 shots.

The result boosted Northeastern to 8–6 (2–0 CAA) and dropped James Madison to 7–6 (0–2 CAA). Both teams have a quicker turnaround than usual due to compact nature of the CAA’s opening week schedule. Northeastern will return to Boston for a Thursday matchup with the Elon Phoenix. Matt Neiser and Milton Posner will call that game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

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.

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 for 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 Falls to Davidson

By Milton Posner

Photo by Sarah Olender

Many of Northeastern’s wins this season have resulted from a wave of improbable Jordan Roland shots. The senior guard has shown out this season, his long-distance bombs guiding the Husky offense.

On Saturday afternoon, a squad hailing from Roland’s old conference arrived at Matthews Arena to battle the Huskies. Roland stood a good chance of winning the senior guard battle over Jon Axel Gudmundsson, whose sporadic play this season is a far cry from his dominance last year.

But Gudmundsson rediscovered the play that garnered him the 2018–19 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Award, dropping 28 points on just 12 shots and adding seven rebounds and four assists. He paced his Davidson Wildcats to a 70–63 win over the Huskies in Northeastern’s last big test before the start of conference play later this month.

Gudmundsson’s deadly onslaught and preposterous efficiency stemmed from his three-point shooting. His six makes on eight attempts were all the more remarkable considering many of them were shot from a no-rhythm standstill, under duress from Northeastern’s wing defenders, from several feet beyond the arc. After heavily riding Roland’s hot perimeter shooting hand early this season, the Huskies finally felt what it’s like to be on the other end.

“You never want to live with that,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said after the game. “We want to make him put it down [on the floor] a little better, our closeouts have to be better. But he was spaced pretty deep.

“Stretching your help into the post or way out to 30 feet — when you shoot with range like that it makes it tough on the defense . . . he didn’t miss; so he’s got to help you out a little bit.”

Photo by Sarah Olender

Compounding Northeastern’s defensive to-do list was Davidson big man Luka Brajkovic. The 6’10” sophomore stands five inches taller than Max Boursiquot, who guarded him for most of the game.

“You could let him go one-on-one in the post or you could try to bring somebody at him and hope that your rotation is better than his ability to pass out of it,” Coen explained. “We did both and he was elite at both things.

“In the first half I thought he did a great job getting the ball out of the post, out of the double team. We were a little slow on our rotation or closed out a little short and they didn’t miss any shots. We did a little better job playing them one-on-one and tried to beat them to the spot but he’s a good player and that’s what good players do.

“He plays with great poise and composure in the low post, which is unique. He’s got the ability to score the ball with both hands and he’s a very good passer. When you spread the floor with very good shooters and put them around that level of a post player it’s tough to guard.”

Brajkovic finished with 14 points (7–11 FG), pulled down four rebounds, and dished out three assists. Junior guard Kellan Grady, who entered the game averaging a team-leading 17 points, was quiet for most of the game. Though his seven rebounds tied Gudmundsson for the team lead, he never quite found his shot, missing nine of his 13 shots and finishing with just nine points. Some of the misses are a credit to Northeastern’s interior defense, others were makeable shots that caromed, slid, or dripped off the rim.

Photo by Sarah Olender

Despite the blend of rebounding, shooting, and time management errors that doomed Northeastern down the stretch, the Huskies played a solid game. Roland, who entered the contest as the nation’s second leader scorer behind Marquette guard Markus Howard, logged 24 points and five rebounds. Though his two-for-six effort from three-point range was pedestrian by his standards, his six-for-seven mark on two-pointers ensured a high offensive efficiency.

Senior forward Bolden Brace hit two clutch threes but missed the other five he took. Most of the shots were quality looks, and given that Brace has made about half of his threes this season, Coen was understandably unconcerned with the open misses.

“Bo’s going to end up top-five in three-pointers made,” Coen said, referring to Brace’s place on Northeastern’s all-time list. “It’s going to come and go. For whatever reason he missed his shots, but I’ll take Bolden Brace with his feet set from three any day of the week. I think most opposing coaches don’t feel too comfortable if he’s got his feet set.”

Shaq Walters and Tyson Walker joined Roland in double figures, with each netting 11 points. Walters added five rebounds and two assists, and — a couple of airballed jumpshots notwithstanding — played a productive, energetic game. He even showed off some new moves.

Walker tacked on five assists and tallied 36 minutes despite being sent to the bench twice after hard body-check fouls from Davidson big men. Two of his assists yielded dunks, including a gorgeous transition feed to Walters for a one-handed spike.

Despite entering the game shooting a substandard 33 percent from downtown, the Wildcats won the game on the perimeter, nailing two more threes than the Huskies despite taking four fewer shots. Northeastern’s season-low turnovers (none of which yielded fastbreak points for Davidson) helped them gain momentum after halftime and tie the game. But Gudmundsson found the range again, Brajkovic’s gravity re-opened the floor, and Northeastern had no answer.

Northeastern (5–5) has four remaining games in December, all road games. After a weeklong rest, they will fly to Michigan for tilts against Eastern Michigan (December 17) and Detroit Mercy (December 19). After another break, they begin conference play against Towson (December 28) and James Madison (December 30).

WRBB will not broadcast those games, but will upload game stories to the website. On December 27, the day before Northeastern opens CAA play, the site will feature a breakdown of the Huskies’ CAA opponents, including rankings and analysis of their non-conference performance and what to expect moving forward.