By Matthew McCormack, news staff
Back on Feb. 6, the Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball team dropped its sixth-straight game, a 90-73 home drubbing at the hands of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. NU fell below .500, and any hopes of hoisting a second-straight conference championship banner seemed to vanish.
Nineteen days later, the Huskies (15-14, 7-9 CAA) have won three of their past four games. This week, NU split a pair of games against two of the elite sides in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
The Huskies toppled James Madison University (JMU) in an triple overtime thriller in Harrisonburg, Va. on Thursday night. Three days later, the Huskies nearly upset Hofstra University before falling 65-60.
Thursday’s 55-minute marathon was highlighted by senior forward Quincy Ford’s heroics; the redshirt senior racked up a career-high 36 points to go along with five boards and five assists. Ford scored 19 of NU’s 36 overtime points.
The 6-foot-8 forward sat out four games earlier in the season, which accounted for a quartet of Husky losses during a mid-season skid.
“You can imagine our team if we didn’t have Quincy tonight. That’s where we were during that [losing] streak,” head coach Bill Coen said after the game. “We’re just a completely different basketball team when we don’t have him. He does so much for us.”
Winston Grays III buried a three at the final buzzer for JMU, but it was irrelevant, as the Huskies had built a four-point advantage with a pair of free throws from senior forward David Walker seconds earlier. NU scored all 13 of their points from the free throw line in the third overtime period.
Ford tallied seven points in the period, all from the charity stripe, to ice the game. The redshirt senior began the third extra frame by drawing a foul on a three-point attempt and sinking a trio of freebies.
JMU led by as many as eight in the first half, but a buzzer-beating three from Ford cut the advantage to 26-24 at the break.
NU used a 14-5 run in the first five minutes of the second half to take a 38-31 lead, their largest of the game.
JMU clawed back. Senior guard Ron Curry, who played through a left knee injury, spurred the comeback with 11 of his 21 points in the second frame.
Curry sank two free throws to give JMU a 58-55 lead with 26 seconds to go. Coen called a timeout and drew up a stellar play to free up frehman forwardJeremy Miller for an open three. Ford drove to the lane and kicked the ball out to the freshman center, who buried a corner triple to knot the game at 58.
Curry missed a potential game-winning three at the regulation buzzer.
Sophomore guard Joey McLean (15 points) scored the first four points of the first overtime. After a Ford layup cut the JMU lead to 69-67 with 23 seconds remaining, Miller blocked Curry on a baseline drive, giving NU a chance to tie.
Miller once again came up big, taking advantage of a defensive breakdown to score an easy reverse layup off a feed from fellow frosh guard Donnell Gresham (eight points, 10 rebounds) on the other end. Another Curry miss at the buzzer allowed for the third overtime.
NU couldn’t roll the momentum into Hofstra Sunday afternoon, but the loss left some encouraging signs.
The Huskies clawed back from a 13-point second-half deficit to bring the game within two points in the final minute. After an anemic offensive performance in the first half, Walker and Ford combined for 22 second-half points, and the Husky defense held Hofstra’s dynamic offense to its second lowest scoring mark in conference play.
“I thought we had multiple chances to win the game,” Coen said. “We just had to take care of the ball a little bit better, and just come up with one more play.”
Sophomore center Rokas Gustys (17 points, 16 rebounds) sank two free throws to put the Pride up 62-54 with less than a minute to play. However, the Huskies stormed back in an improbable fashion.
Senior guard Caleb Donnelly (12 points) buried one of his four triples on the ensuing Husky possession, cutting the lead to five. The Pride turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds, and a pull up triple from Walker (15 points) trimmed it to 62-60 with 33 seconds remaining.
Freshman guard Donnell Gresham took advantage of a panicky Hofstra inbound, grabbing a steal near half court. But Ford lost control of the rock a moment later, and the ball went back into the hands of Hofstra. The Pride buried three of four free throws down the stretch.
“Guys weren’t 100 percent, but what was 100 percent was their effort. Guys really, really played hard,” Coen said post-game. “I was proud of the effort, but obviously disappointed in the result.”
NU jumped out to an 11-5 lead but turned the ball over nine times and shot just 31 percent in the first 20 minutes. Walker and Ford combined to go two of 13 from the field, and the Huskies went into halftime facing a 33-22 deficit.
The Pride pieced together an 11-0 run midway through the first frame, punctuated by a driving layup from senior guard Juan’ya Green to make it 20-13 with 6:08 left in the half. The preseason Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) Player of the Year flirted with a triple double and consistently made plays all afternoon, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
The 6-foot-9 Gustys canned a jumper on the Pride’s first possession of the second half, giving them their biggest advantage of the game (13 points).
Ford (15 points, 14 rebounds) took over midway through the second half to keep NU in the game. The senior forward scored six straight points, bringing the score to 40-37 after a layup with 12:47 to play.
Ford utilized the empty space in Hofstra’s 2-3 zone defense.
“We made a little bit of an adjustment in how we were attacking their zone,” Coen said. “We put Quincy in the middle of it because he could make some shots from there and make plays. It kind of ignited us a bit. We started getting some easy buckets.”
Koon hit a jumper to bring the lead back to eight with 10:04 to go and buried a dagger three moments after Donnelly connected from deep to bring the lead to 57-54 with 1:12 remaining.
The Huskies next game is a bout with the College of Charleston at Matthews at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25. A win would go a long way in helping the Huskies leapfrog the Cougars (16-11, 8-8 CAA) and earn a bye in the opening round of the CAA Tournament.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.