By Jake Sauberman, news staff
Coming into opening night of the Northeastern men’s basketball season, all eyes were on seniors T.J. Williams and Alex Murphy. After losing seniors Zach Stahl, Quincy Ford and David Walker, who combined for about 70 percent of Northeastern’s scoring last season, Williams and Murphy looked to be the two to fill in that gap in production.
“There’s no question we lost a lot of experience over the last two years,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “We have a steady enforcer in our seniors and they help bridge that gap.”
The loss of those players didn’t slow down the Huskies a bit, as they took down rival Boston University (BU) 87-77 to start the campaign. Three days later, they shocked the usually-prestigious University of Connecticut in enemy territory, 64-61, handing UConn its first 0-2 start since the 1968-69 season.
The senior duo did not disappoint on opening night, shooting a combined 16-25 en route to 50 of the Huskies’ eventual 87 points. Taking the ball into the paint at will, the Terriers defense had no answer for the relentless attack. As a team, Northeastern shot 51.6 percent in the first half, and then raised that to an even more impressive 61.1 percent in the second half.
“Offensively, they got whatever they wanted,” Boston University head coach Joe Jones said after the game. “Williams was absolutely terrific the whole game, we couldn’t stop him, couldn’t control him.”
After averaging just 6.8 points and 2.7 assists per game last season, Williams’ spike in usage has led him to take a prominent role in the Northeastern offense. Logging 37 minutes in game one and 39 minutes in game two, he was a constant presence running the point. His performances justified the minutes, as 30 points and eight assists followed by 20 points and 6 assists places him as Northeastern’s most lethal offensive weapon.
Murphy was equally impressive, making his Northeastern debut after spending time at Duke University and the University of Florida. He finished with an impressive 20 points, four rebounds and four assists against BU. His shooting range was a pleasant surprise for a Northeastern team lacking in deadly outside shooters, knocking down three of four attempts from behind the arc.
Murphy said he loved being on the court in red and black.
“[It was] great, just to be back out there with these guys,” he said. “There was a little nervous energy at first but after the first couple minutes that goes away.”
It was in Murphy’s second game, however, that he showed signs of unfamiliarity with the system. Against UConn, Murphy could only muster nine points on 3-11 shooting, missing all five of his three-point attempts and collecting six turnovers in the process.
One of those turnovers gave Northeastern fans a scare at the end, when Murphy lobbed a pass right into enemy arms with 11 seconds left. UConn’s Alterique Gilbert had enough time to hoist up a potentially game-tying three pointer that mercifully clanked off the rim. There were silver linings in the performance, however, as Murphy was an active rebounder to the tune of 15 boards, and swiped the ball thrice from the UConn offense.
“Overall I think we played well, but we had some lapses,” Coen said. “We left some points at the free throw line.”
Coen was referring to the Huskies’ 23-37 shooting night from the free throw line against BU, a percentage of 62.2 percent that could come back to haunt them in a close game. By the time they were playing UConn, they had already showed marked improvement (albeit on a small sample size), converting on seven of their nine free throw attempts.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the Huskies was the contributions from the trio of freshmen. Bolden Brace, Max Boursiquot and Shawn Occeus combined for 52 minutes and managed to contribute 16 points on opening night. The amount of playing time they received is a vote of confidence from Coen.
“They’re good players, good teammates, good kids,” Coen said. “Each one brings a different style to the court.”
The respect for the freshmen can be traced back to the senior leaders on the team as well.
“I feel like they keep us grounded and we keep each other grounded,” Williams said. “We hold each other to high standards because we’re on a mission.”
Northeastern clearly has a tight-knit group with the perfect amount of youthful energy and veteran leadership that makes them hard to take lightly.
The Huskies look to continue their hot start as they head to BU on Nov. 18 for a trio of games in the Steve Wright Classic.
Photos courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics