By Matthew MacCormack, News Correspondent
Much has been ado since the Huskies raised their first CAA Championship banner at halftime of a win over Harvard on Dec.2. Michigan State University, at the time the No.1 team in the country, became the first top-ranked team to grace the halls of Matthews Arena. A resurgent Quincy Ford snatched up back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Player of the Week honors, launching himself into the conversation for conference player of the year. Off the court, sophomore guard Devon Begley traded in his signature blonde-trimmed Mohawk for a conventional, unexciting buzzcut.
Hairdos aside, Northeastern went 5-5 in a ten-game stretch from early December into the New Year. There have been moments of triumph – three consecutive victories to start the conference slate – as well as head-scratching inconsistency – 24 turnovers in a loss to pedestrian University of Detroit Mercy. But as the CAA schedule kicks into gear, the Huskies (11-6) look like they’ll have a solid chance to win the conference and make a second consecutive trip to the Big Dance.
The Huskies’ slate of games began with a two-game trip to Michigan in early December. The Great Lakes State was not a hospitable host. The Huskies caught the turnover bug and fell to the University of Detroit, 76-73, before following up with an 87-86 overtime loss to Western Michigan University. Senior guard David Walker was dominant in both games, dropping 29 and 31 points, respectively.
The Huskies found redemption five days later with a 75-62 home win over Stony Brook University. The victory gave the Huntington faithful a jolt of momentum before the biggest regular season game in program history. On Dec. 19, the mighty Michigan State Spartans, led by senior guard Denzel Valentine, a Naismith Award candidate, and legendary coach Tom Izzo, made their way to Beantown. A sold-out Matthews provided the perfect backdrop for the historic clash.
As expected, the Spartans were too much for the Huskies to handle, and MSU pulled away in the end, 78-58.
Despite the lopsided score, the Huskies were the first team all year to out-rebound the dominant Spartans, and NU stayed competitive for most of the first half. After the game, Izzo, whose voice was hoarse from yelling over 5,288 strong at Matthews, declared his respect for the home team.
“Northeastern’s got a good basketball team,” Izzo said. “They’re going to be a team that’s going to get in [the NCAA] tournament in my humble opinion.”
Getting the co-sign from Izzo, who has led the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances, may have given the Huskies a boost moving into their next contest. NU easily dispatched the University of Vermont, 77-65. A 23-point, eight-rebound performance from Ford kicked off a hot stretch for the redshirt senior.
Despite 15 points and eight boards from Ford, the Huskies couldn’t pull off an upset in their Dec. 29 matchup at North Carolina State University. The Wolfpack was the second Atlantic Coast Conference opponent for NU this season; Ford hit a buzzer-beater to sink the No. 8 University of Miami Hurricanes in late November.
An 8-0 run late in the second half kept the Huskies close, and Ford and freshman guard Donnell Gresham each hit clutch triples to tie the game at 57 with four minutes to play. Gresham had missed most of the early season to injury, but stepped up admirably with 9 points in his collegiate debut.
But in front of a home crowd, the Wolfpack closed it out and avoided an upset. Junior guard Cat Barber 29 points proved too much to handle, and the Huskies dropped their final non-conference game before the CAA schedule commenced.
Northeastern put its best foot forward, winning their first trio of conference games this year.
At Elon University, Ford (30 points, eight rebounds and six assists) andWalker (26 points and 12 rebounds) powered their squad to an 86-79 victory.
Things were much tighter in the next game at University of North Carolina at Wilmington.The Huskies needed a last-second tip-in from freshman center Jeremy Miller (15 points, eight rebounds) to escape the Seahawks. Ford notched his fourth double-double with an 18 point, 14 board effort.
The Huskies’ most recent pair of games highlighted the inconsistency that has plagued Northeastern all year, an issue that will take center stage in the coming weeks as the Huskies face the meat of the conference schedule.
After starting off the season on fire, David Walker has faded into a secondary role in the past few games. Quincy Ford has emerged, but it remains to be seen if he can keep up his torrid pace.
Uncertainty lingers in the air for the final two month of the season, but players like Ford and Walker and senior Zach Stahl know what it takes to win the CAA. Head coach Bill Coen thinks his squad has the right mentality.
“They know what time it is,” Coen said after the win over Delaware. “They know it’s conference time and each and every game can make a difference in the league race, so they wanted to take care of business.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.