By Matthew MacCormack, news staff
It was a rare sight: Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball players smiling at the post-game press conference at Matthews Arena. Players rarely attend the presser if the Huskies lose, and NU hadn’t earned a home victory since early January.
But on Saturday afternoon, after the Huskies defeated Drexel University, seniors David Walker and Quincy Ford couldn’t contain their grins.
In addition to leading the Huskies to a second-straight win after a six-game losing streak, the respective senior guard and senior forward, found their way into the Northeastern record books. With a first-half three, Ford joined Walker as one of 11 players in the program’s history to reach 1,500 points. Walker, meanwhile, hit five triples to tie Joel Smith for the most threes in a single season (83).
Despite these individual accomplishments and the Huskies’ sometimes-underwhelming play this season, all the captains could think about was postseason success.
“We have one goal this year, and that’s to win a [Colonial Athletic Conference] (CAA) championship,” Walker said when asked about his record. “We’ll focus on that.”
Talk of a CAA championship may come as a surprise. Entering this week, the Huskies had lost seven of eight and were sitting in the bottom three in the conference.
But NU (14-13, 6-8 CAA) grinded out a 47-44 victory at Towson University on Thursday night thanks to the Tigers’ poor shooting. On Saturday, the Huskies hit 11 threes en route to a 70-60 victory over Drexel. Walker led the Huskies in scoring for both games, with 18 and 21 points, respectively.
“Obviously it’s a relief for all our guys to get the win, and it gives an opportunity for all our guys to believe again,” head coach Bill Coen said after the Towson victory. “Hopefully we can build on this and build some momentum heading into [the CAA tournament in] Baltimore.”
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Huskies did just enough Thursday night to escape Towson with a 47-44 win.
Northeastern led by 11 points with 11:40 remaining but once again stumbled down the stretch and allowed the Tigers to claw their way back in the game, thanks in part to the 20 offensive rebounds corralled by Towson’s bigs.
A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Mike Morsell put Towson (17-9, 8-5 CAA) within a point, 45-44, just under the three-minute mark. But the Tigers missed their final four shots and turned the ball over twice down the stretch, and two late free throws from sophomore guard Devon Begley sealed the deal.
Walker was the only Husky in double figures, and it was the senior guard’s three-point shooting – four of nine from deep – that gave NU the edge. After a Morsell free throw tied the game at 25 with 17:56 to play, the Huskies pieced together a 15-4 run. Walker canned three triples in that stretch, helping NU to a 40-29 lead with under 12 minutes to play.
True to their season form, the Huskies proceeded to hit just two of their final 12 shots.
Junior forward John Davis kept the Tigers in the game, scoring nine of his 18 points in the second half. Towson entered the game averaging the 13th-most offensive rebounds in the nation (14.0), and the Tigers continuously got second chances.
The Tigers shot 31 percent from the field and just 9 percent from three, and leading scorer William Adala Moto (14.6 ppg) scored four points on two of nine shooting.
Towson had taken the third-most free throws in the nation (27.5 per game) prior to tipoff but the Huskies limited them to 15 shots from the charity stripe.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country at getting fouled, so we deployed the 2-3 zone to start to try and stay out of foul trouble,” Coen said. “It did limit their shooting percentage, but they were able to get a ton of offensive rebounds.”
With the losing streak snapped, NU got off to a hot start against the Drexel Dragons. The Huskies never trailed, jumping out to a 21-12 lead thanks to starting five of six from three. They led by as many as 19 points early in the second half, and despite a late Drexel push, the second-half lead never fell below eight points.
Ford (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) opened the scoring with an early jumper. After missing four games with an injury, the forward looked back in form.
“I’m definitely getting back into a rhythm,” Ford said.
Walker drained three triples in the first five and a half minutes, and the Huskies hit nine of 15 threes in the first half. Seven of those were assisted, as NU thrived on drive-and-kicks.
Ford buried a three from the left corner with 45 seconds left in the first to give Northeastern a 39-24 lead entering the break.
“We played, I thought, a really clean first half of basketball, at least offensively,” Coen said. “We played really well, shared the basketball, got great looks.”
The Huskies hit their first four shots of the second-half, including two layups from senior guard Zach Stahl (nine points, six rebounds). A Kwesi Abakah free throw gave NU a 19-point advantage, their biggest lead of the game (49-30).
Five second-half turnovers and some missed layups allowed Drexel to come back. Another factor was the play of Drexel junior forward Rodney Williams, who scored 12 of his game-high 23 in the second frame. Williams put freshman center Jeremy Miller (10 points) and redshirt junior forward Abakah in tough positions. Each picked up four fouls in the game.
“He got our entire front line in foul trouble. We had our hands full trying to contain him,” Coen said.
The Dragons brought the game within eight points after sophomore guard Rashann London had his shot blocked by Stahl, recovered it and hit a floater off the glass. London made it 59-51 with 7:26 to play, but Northeastern made seven of their final eight free throws and escaped with a victory.
After the wins, NU stands in seventh place, two games behind the College of Charleston. Climbing to the sixth spot would allow the Huskies a first-round bye in March’s CAA Tournament. Just four games remain in the season.
“We still got some things to work on and clean up,” Coen said. “But I think when we’re at the top of our game and playing with confidence and energy and effort, we can play with just about anyone in this conference.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.