By Matthew MacCormack, news staff
After squeaking past two conference opponents, the Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball team will roll into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament as winners of five of their last six contests. The Huskies (17-14, 9-9 CAA) earned the 6 seed and a first-round bye, setting up a matchup with No. 3 Towson University on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
NU will look to repeat as conference champions and earn their second-consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Everybody has hopes and dreams of cutting down the nets,” Coen said after last Saturday’s 61-59 victory over Drexel University. “It’s the team that stays together and believes and plays hardest that will ultimately do that.”
Thursday evening’s win over the College of Charleston (16-13, 8-10 CAA) was crucial in terms of conference seeding. The 58-57 victory helped NU to pull into a tie with the Cougars for the 6 seed.
The victory came on senior night at Matthews Arena, with Caleb Donnelly, Quincy Ford, Zach Stahl and David Walker playing the final home games of their Husky careers.
“Senior Day is always a special day for me. I get almost like a proud father,” Coen said. “It’s the relationship that I’ll have with these guys for a lifetime that will really make it special.”
The evening was particularly special for Stahl, as the senior forward joined Ford and Walker in the 1,000-point club with a pair of second-half free throws.
“It’s a good feeling,” Stahl said as he sat next to his three senior classmates at the postgame presser. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without these guys passing me the ball.”
The Cougars nearly spoiled the festivities, however.
Charleston used a 6-0 run, capped by a jumper from sophomore guard Cam Johnson (13 points), to take a 56-55 lead with 23 seconds to play. During the stretch, Charleston freshman forward Jarrell Brantley hit two free throws, and Johnson connected on two mid-range jumpers.
Trailing by a point, Coen called a timeout. On the ensuing play, the ball came to Ford at the right wing. The redshirt senior forward drove to the lane, drawing a blocking foul from Charleston sophomore forward Evan Bailey at the right block with four seconds to play.
Ford strode to the line and calmly knocked down two free throws, giving NU the lead.
“I’m so glad they went in,” Ford said with a smile post-game.
Johnson got a good look at a pull-up three, but it missed wide left as the buzzer sounded and the Huskies escaped with the win.
Stahl led the way with 15 points, and Ford contributed nine points and nine rebounds.
Donnelly chipped in 12 points, including a huge four-point play that helped the Huskies take a 23-19 lead into the locker room at half.
Walker (eight points, 2-9 shooting) struggled from the field on Thursday, but came up big down the stretch on Saturday in Philadelphia. In another tight contest, NU clawed its way back from a late deficit to top Drexel.
A three from sophomore guard Rashann London (13 points) gave Drexel a 49-38 lead with 9:19 to play.
Over the next seven minutes, Walker connected on four threes, part of a 15-0 Husky run that gave NU a 56-51 advantage. Drexel senior guard Tavon Allen (27 points) answered the Husky run, hitting a three and two free throws to help the Dragons reclaim a 59-58 lead with 41 seconds to play.
But once again, the seniors came through for NU. Donnelly found a cutting Stahl for an easy layup on the next possession, and Drexel missed a couple of jumpers on their next trip down.
Ford hit one of two free throws with six seconds remaining to clinch it.
“I thought Drexel, for probably about 35 minutes, played harder than us and better than us,” Coen said. “We just had a stretch there where we seemed to catch a little bit of a rhythm.”
Walker scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half. Stahl posted a stellar all-around effort with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
For the second consecutive game, junior guard T.J. Williams (six points, six rebounds) helped flip the game with his driving ability. Williams had four points and five assists in the second half against Charleston.
“He’s the one guy on our roster that can consistently [get to the rim],” Coen said. “And we need that from him.”
In the end, it was NU’s elder statesmen that tipped the scales.
“Down the stretch you’re subbing a bit on strategy but also on emotions,” Coen said post-game. “It means a lot to everybody but it means the most to your senior class, and I thought that senior class played really well today.”
Charleston lost to Hofstra University, 72-63, on Saturday, helping NU claim sole possession of sixth place. The Huskies will be allowed to rest on Friday before battling with Towson on Saturday in Baltimore.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.