By Matthew MacCormack, news staff
For the first time in 24 years, men’s basketball fans can click Northeastern when filling out a March Madness bracket.
By capturing the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament title on March 9, NU men’s basketball is in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament. The Huskies last appearance was in 1991.
Redshirt junior forward Quincy Ford led the way for the Huskies in the tournament, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Ford totaled 22 points in the 72-61 victory over William & Mary on March 9 to give Bill Coen his first CAA tournament title as head coach.
“It was a huge accomplishment, truly an honor and a blessing. But it was really all my teammates,” Ford said. “I really can’t take too much credit.”
An energetic crowd of alumni, students and fans filled Cabot Gymnasium to the brim on March 15 to await NU’s seed and first-round opponent. A giant projector presented the audience with this year’s CBS Selection Sunday show, a program that hasn’t been directly significant to the Husky faithful for over two decades.
The Cabot crowd erupted on Sunday after learning that their Huskies garnered the No. 14 seed in the Midwest region and will compete against the region’s No. 3 seed, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round. The Irish (29-5) won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament last Friday to earn the automatic bid.
The Huskies and Fighting Irish have faced each other only once: in a 1997 game in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won the contest 72-45 and the two teams haven’t played since.
Notre Dame has won eight of its last nine 2015 contests, including wins over Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) in the ACC tournament. The aforementioned teams earned No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, in the NCAA.
Coen said his team is aware it is about to face a powerhouse.
“They’ve already beaten people this week that could vie for a national championship,” Coen said, speaking of Duke and UNC. “We’re gonna have our hands full.”
The Fighting Irish averaged 78.8 points per game, ranking them as the 11th most-scoring offense in Division I Men’s Basketball by the NCAA. Senior guard Jerian Grant, who was named as a First Team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association, is the bearer of Notre Dame’s offensive keys.
Head Coach Mike Brey’s squad ranks 11th in the nation in scoring and second in field goal percentage. The Irish have a bevy of scoring threats to flank Grant, including Massachusetts natives senior guard Pat Connaughton and junior forward Zach Auguste.
“They’re very explosive, maybe the best offensive team in the country,” Coen said. “It’s a game of matchups and this one’s going to be a very difficult one for us.”
NU will face the Irish at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The road to the Big Dance began with three Husky victories in three days in Baltimore.
Teamwork was a major factor in the Husky’s CAA success. In the conference championship game on March 9, No. 3-seed NU held off a late comeback to topple the top-seed William & Mary and earn a 72-61 victory. Ford’s 22 points, four rebounds and three blocks helped NU capture its first-ever CAA title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies jumped out to an early 10-0 lead after two 3-pointers from Ford and didn’t look back. NU was able to hold the lead thanks to strong shooting from both inside and beyond the arc; the team shot 59 percent from the field and 60 percent on 3-pointers in the victory.
After going into halftime with a 36-26 lead, the Huskies grew the margin to as many as 22 when the game reached a 62-40 score line with six minutes to play. Redshirt junior guard Caleb Donnelly (13 points) hit three of his four 3-point attempts in the second half. Sophomore guard T.J. Williams and junior forward Zach Stahl combined for 29 points and eight rebounds.
William & Mary senior guard Marcus Thornton (20 points) helped spark an incredible 16-0 Tribe run in a three-minute stretch towards game’s end, but the comeback effort fell short. The lead shrunk to 67-61 with 36 seconds to play, but NU hit five of six free throws and iced the game.
“For about 37 minutes, we played about well as we could play,” Coen said. “[We] made shots, shared the basketball and just played Northeastern Husky basketball.”
Ford said that defeating rival William & Mary, with whom the Huskies split the season series, made the moment that much more special.
“Beating them for that last time felt so great,” Ford said.
The first two rounds of the CAA tournament were a little more contested than the relative handling of William & Mary.
In the opening game on March 7, NU slid past No. 6 University of Delaware in a 67-64 thriller. NU’s largest lead was eight points, as the game proved to be a back-and-forth affair. The Blue Hens had a chance to take the lead, but freshman guard Chivarsky Corbett missed a potential game-winner with 14 seconds to go. Husky junior guard David Walker (17 points, four rebounds) hit two free throws directly after to seal the deal.
The next day’s semifinal matchup proved to be equally tough. NU took down the No. 2-seeded University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) in an intense 78-71 contest. Senior forward Scott Eatherton led the way with 21 points and five rebounds, and Walker chipped in 11 points, eight boards and five assists.
It was NU’s bench that made the real difference. Donnelly, senior forward Reggie Spencer and freshman guard Devon Begley each tallied 11 points in the game.
The matchup produced five ties and nine lead changes, but NU was able to best a UNCW team that had defeated the Huskies twice during the regular season. NU pulled away for good in the game’s final minute, when Donnelly nailed a triple and then buried a pair of free throws to increase the Husky lead to eight.
“We did a good job of really handling the ball in the second half and were able to get past them,” Coen said.
After an exciting stretch of games, the Huskies headed down to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night to prepare for the bout with Notre Dame. For those not traveling, the game will be aired live on CBS on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. A viewing party for the Northeastern community will be held in the Curry Student Center indoor quad.
Photo courtesy Colonial Athletic Association