By Matthew MacCormack, News Staff
Bill Coen stood in the post-game press conference, searching for the words to describe his team’s fourth consecutive defeat. His Northeastern (NU) team had just blown a 14-point second-half lead in Saturday night’s home loss to Elon University.
The coach harkened back to late November, when the Huskies scored an upset victory over then No.15 University of Miami.
“This is still a team that beat Miami,” Coen said, his voice raspy from an evening spent barking from the sidelines. “We know that we can play on that level. We haven’t done it consistently, and right now, we’re lacking consistency.”
Coen’s squad has struggled to establish a rhythm without redshirt senior Quincy Ford, the player who buried the game-winning buzzer beater to knock off the Miami Hurricanes. The forward has missed three straight games – all Husky losses – after suffering an injury in a triple overtime loss to Hofstra on Jan. 21.
Northeastern (12-11) surrendered a 20-point second half lead in a 68-61 overtime loss at the College of Charleston on Thursday night and followed that up with Saturday’s 71-67 loss to Elon. The back-to-back losses put the Huskies at 4-6 in conference play, with an eighth-place ranking in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
“We’ve just got to put 40 minutes together and finish games,” Coen said.
After last week’s upset loss to Towson University, the Huskies had a shot to get back on track at Charleston. The Cougars were without their top two scorers from last year in junior guards Joe Chealey and Canyon Barry, both out for the season with injuries.
For the game’s first 28 minutes, it looked like the Huskies would win. But after senior guard David Walker hit a three to give NU a 53-35 lead with 12:14 left in the period, the Huskies missed 10 consecutive shots, making way for a 19-0 Charleston run that flipped the game.
NU jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the opening minutes, spurred by freshman center Jeremy Miller (17 points, nine rebounds), who hit his first three shots and scored the Huskies’ first eight points. Miller and junior guard T.J. Williams (14 points, 7/10 FGs) combined to score 20 of NU’s 34 points in the first half, as the Huskies surged to a 34-22 advantage. The Cougars shot 10 of 30 in the opening frame.
Northeastern kept firing after the half. Walker’s three extended the lead to 18, but from there, NU couldn’t buy a bucket. Nearly 10 minutes passed before Williams ended the drought with a driving layup at the 2:18 mark, but the damage was already done.
“They played tremendous defense,” Coen said. “They played physical with us. We didn’t respond well to it. We really couldn’t get by guys off the dribble.”
Five different Charleston players scored during the run, which gave the Cougars a 54-53 advantage, eventually forcing overtime.
The Cougars scored the first eight points in the extra period led by sophomore guard Cam Johnson, who notched a game-high 21 points. Over 17 minutes of game action, a 20-point Husky lead transformed into a seven-point overtime loss.
History repeated itself two days later at Matthews Arena, giving Husky fans equal feelings of déjà vu and nausea. Walker (25 points) hit one of his six threes on the first possession of the second frame to give Northeastern a 43-29 lead, but another collapse ensued.
Elon entered the game as the CAA’s top three-point shooting side, with an average of more than 10 makes per game. NU held the Phoenix to three of 23 from beyond arc, but Elon dominated inside, scoring 42 points in the paint to Northeastern’s 20 points.
Phoenix sophomore guard Dmitri Thompson (19 points, 6-9 FG) was able to penetrate on the Huskies’ weak interior defense, keying a run for Elon. Senior guard Luke Eddy (six assists) scored two of his 13 points on a layup that cut the lead to one with 10:55 to play.
Three consecutive threes from sophomore Devon Begley, Walker and Williams helped the Huskies build another lead. Miller converted an and-1 layup off a pick-and-roll with Walker that established a 62-54 advantage at the 8:27 mark.
But once again, the Huskies began to crumble. As NU’s threes stopped falling, the Huskies were unable to get to the rim, and Charleston pieced together a 12-3 run. Without Ford, the offense looked panicked down the stretch.
“What we needed tonight was a ‘settle-me-down basket,’” Coen said post-game. “[Ford is] usually able to get himself to the line and stem the tide or get inside or make a big-time three. We’re clearly missing that in our lineup now.”
Freshman forward Tyler Seibring hit a layup to cut the deficit to 65-64 with 2:35 to go. The Huskies failed to answer, and a minute later, Seibring (11 points, 11 rebounds) drove to his left and lofted a floater over the Husky defense, giving the Phoenix a lead they would not relinquish.
Despite the tough week, Coen maintained that Ford should return to the lineup soon. Although his team has hit a rough patch, the head coach is optimistic that the squad can find form by March.
“We’ve got to keep improving right up until the [CAA] tournament in Baltimore,” Coen said. “If we do that, we’re going to be a team that’s got a chance.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics