By Dan McLoone, columnist
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: I think I speak for everyone at Northeastern University when I say I am extremely proud of the men’s basketball team and the way it played against the University of Notre Dame last Thursday.
In a thrilling round-of-64 matchup, the No. 14 seed Huskies were outlasted by the No. 3 Fighting Irish, 69-65. Throughout the game, NU endured multiple knockout attempts by Notre Dame, constantly responding to Irish scoring runs with its own points to keep the game close. The Huskies fought back from multiple double-digit deficits and had a chance to tie or take the lead on the game’s last possession, but were ultimately unable to get a shot off.
I’ll be the first one to admit it: when the matchup against Notre Dame was announced on Selection Sunday, I was devastated. NU could not have gotten a worse draw. Notre Dame had just run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, becoming one of the first teams to ever win the tournament while defeating Duke University and the University of North Carolina back-to-back. They had the most efficient offense in the nation, scoring more points per 100 possessions than any other team in college basketball. They had a Player of the Year candidate in senior guard Jerian Grant and he had a sharp-shooting supporting cast.
I thought that all of those factors would get to NU. Notre Dame certainly had the ability to blow out the Huskies, but I was wrong. They hung with the Irish all game, never letting them gain a significant lead. Junior guard David Walker made it tough on Grant all day, and NU’s perimeter defense held the vaunted Irish shooters to six attempts from 3-point range, hitting just two. The Huskies outrebounded the Irish 33-17 including an astounding 13 offensive rebounds. If it wasn’t for Notre Dame’s junior forward Zach Auguste scoring 25 points, NU might have pulled off the upset.
In his last collegiate game, senior forward Scott Eatherton paced the Huskies, grabbing eight rebounds and scoring 18 points, including two on a layup to cut the deficit to two with less than a minute left. He played well throughout the game, using his size to corral big offensive rebounds and establish a dominant presence in the low post.
Fellow senior forward Reggie Spencer scored eight points in the low post, helping to kick-start a few NU runs. Walker spent most of his day chasing Grant, but was also able to contribute 15 points and seven assists. Junior forward Zach Stahl scored eight points and pulled down five gritty rebounds.
In the end, a late 10-2 run and a Notre Dame turnover on an inbounds pass gave the Huskies the ball 67-65 with half a minute left. After 39 minutes where NU took some bold shots and stepped up when it needed to, the offense stalled in the final seconds. With 30 seconds left, no one wanted to take the big shot. Walker passed up a few looks. Redshirt junior forward Quincy Ford didn’t put up a shot. The possession ended with a turnover and two Notre Dame free throws sealed the win.
No shots. All of the gritty effort that NU put forward was halted by that one possession. They had a chance to upset a giant power conference team and the moment got to the Huskies. You’ve got to get a shot up.
The final possession is beside the point. Head Coach Bill Coen is rightfully proud of his team, as it proved to a nation that it could hang with a team that, quite frankly, no one really gave it a chance against. It was a monstrous effort that almost kicked off March Madness with a huge upset.
The campus and the university really got behind the team. The viewing party in the Curry Student Center was filled with passionate fans. Throughout campus, professors postponed their lectures and threw the game up on the big screen for their classes. Every television was tuned in to CBS.
It was a magical run, and I am glad to have witnessed it. I want to thank the whole team for a great season. Especially Scott and Reggie, to whom I wish the best of luck as they end their NU careers. And to the rest of the team: 1991 was a long time ago. I don’t think anyone wants to wait another 24 years to go back to the tournament. With the return of Walker, Ford, Stahl and sophomore guard T.J.Williams, I think NU has a strong chance at contending again next season.
-Dan McLoone can be reached at Sports@HuntNewsNU.com.