By Matthew MacCormack, news staff
The Husky fans that came out to Matthews Arena on Saturday night didn’t have much to smile about. Northeastern (NU) men’s basketball trailed the University of Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) by 17 points with two minutes remaining, well on its way to a sixth-straight defeat.
UNCW guard Craig Ponder drove to the left block and fired a jumper. As Ponder released his shot, senior Quincy Ford, who had missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, leapt up and swatted it away.
The crowd roared, but the jubilance was short-lived. The block ricocheted to Seahawks guard Trey Grundy, who grabbed the ball and sank a corner jumper, pushing the lead to 19.
It was a sequence that defined the week for Northeastern. In losses to the College of William & Mary and UNCW, the Huskies showed glimpses of the squad that many thought would cruise to a conference title. But true to this season’s form, NU sputtered down the stretch in both contests.
Both losses came at Matthews Arena: an 86-77 defeat at the hands of the Tribe on Thursday and a 90-73 blowout by the Seahawks on Saturday.
“We’re not playing with confidence, and that’s kind of what losing does to you: challenges you mentally more than physically,” said head coach Bill Coen, who has watched his team drop seven of their last eight and fall below .500 for the first time this season.
“I think this team has a lot of basketball life left in them,” he said. “We just need to get a win, and once we see that happen, we can get our feet again.”
NU (12-13) looked good early in the William & Mary loss. Behind a 13-point, five-assist first-half effort from David Walker, the Huskies jumped out to a 37-31 halftime lead and led by as many as 10 points early in the second half.
But for the third time in as many outings, Walker and the Husky offense struggled late in the game. NU succumbed to a 22-8 William & Mary run that started with a slashing layup from junior forward Omar Prewitt with 17 minutes to play – two of the 56 points the Tribe accrued in the paint.
From there, a 43-36 NU advantage morphed into a 58-51 Tribe lead with nine minutes left, and the Huskies never managed to overcome that deficit. During the stretch, Northeastern went just two of 12 from the field.
“We had some really critical turnovers in the second half that led to easy baskets,” Coen said. “You just can’t leave the door with a crack open with an experienced team like this.”
Although Walker can’t take all the blame for the second-half offensive woes, he certainly contributed. The senior guard chipped in greatly (19 points, eight assists), but was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes of the second half until nailing a triple to bring the deficit down to 72-65.
“I think he scored enough tonight for us to win. I don’t want him to take bad shots,” Coen said. “He’s creating a lot of offense for us.”
With Ford out, Coen played Ford’s brother, freshman Sajon Ford, and fellow freshman Brandon Kamga for a combined 29 minutes.
“Taking [Ford] off the floor and inserting some freshman: you’re going to have some two for 12 [shooting] moments,” Coen said.
Prewitt was sensational, abusing Northeastern in the paint to the tune of a season-high 28 points and five rebounds.
Jeremy Miller proved once again to be a legit scoring option for the Huskies, as the freshman tallied 23 points (4-6 3pt FG) in just 19 minutes of play. Miller missed a lot of time due to foul trouble, as the center struggled with the more experienced Tribe big men.
When the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) leaders, UNCW, came into town on Saturday, the result was eerily similar. Northeastern kept pace with the up-tempo Seahawk attack in the first half but couldn’t last much longer.
After a three from David Walker knotted the score at 42 early in the second half, the Seahawks pieced together a 20-4 run, keyed by junior guard Chris Flemmings, who dropped 23 of his 25 points in the second half and went a perfect 10 of 10 from the field. The run gave UNCW a 62-46 lead with under 13 minutes to play, and the deficit proved insurmountable. NU turned the ball over four times in the six-minute stretch.
“Their pressure was very effective against us in the second half,” Coen said. “They play a small-ball lineup and once you get behind, you really can’t play much zone, and they took advantage of some matchups.”
Ford finally returned to the starting lineup, chipping in 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes.
“He was a little tentative, as to be expected. But I‘m glad he got out there,” Coen said post-game.
One positive was that the Huskies seemed keen on attacking the rim. Northeastern entered the game shooting just 20.8 free throws a game, but shot 21 in the first half alone against the Seahawks. After settling for jump shots and threes in previous games, Coen’s squad actually outscored UNCW in the paint in the first half, 22-10.
“They guard 94 feet so if you can get the ball over [halfcourt] you’re going to have a chance to attack the rim,” Coen said.
Up next for the Huskies is a battle at Towson University on Thursday night, followed by a matchup with Drexel University on Saturday at home.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.