By Jake Sauberman, news staff
It was a rollercoaster week for the Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball team. The Huskies lost three contests in a five-game stretch, including competing in the Steve Wright Classic on Boston University’s campus. After laboring through two late-game collapses, the team rallied to back-to-back victories before dropping another close game.
Facing off against rival Boston University for the second time in three games, the Huskies lost a demoralizing, hard-fought match on Friday, Nov. 18. The game featured several ups and downs, with NU looking at a 33-39 deficit at the half. They stormed back in the second to take a commanding 57-45 lead with 8:43 to play.
But that’s when it all fell apart. Evaporating their 12 point lead, the Huskies couldn’t find the bottom of the basket, getting outscored 6-20 for the remainder of the game. The Terriers’ senior guard Cedric Hankerson hit the game-winning layup with four seconds on the clock, and NU’s T.J. Williams would have his game-tying shot blocked at the buzzer to seal the 63-65 loss.
Despite the losing effort, Williams put forth 24 points, four assists and two steals. This has been the trend thus far no matter how the rest of the team fares, Williams remains a constant bright spot as a source of scoring, passing – and defense. And the rest of the team fared poorly in this one, shooting 33 percent from the field and just 50 percent from the free throw line.
The Huskies were back at it again to take on Long Island University Brooklyn in neutral territory the next day, but lost their second game in as many nights.
Yet again, it was a case of a second half collapse, where Northeastern was outscored 34-48. With 2:46 left to play, the Huskies took a 71-65 lead on a clutch three by freshman Bolden Brace, but an 11-0 run secured the Blackbirds their victory. Despite shooting just 35.3 percent percent from the field in the second half, the game was truly lost at the free throw line. Missing 12 free throws will always come back to bite, especially in close games.
Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said he understands how crucial a couple of plays were in determining the team’s record. “We were a rebound and two foul shots away from being 5-0 over the weekend.”
The Huskies enjoyed a more even distribution of scoring in this one against Brooklyn, with four different players reaching double digits. Williams again led all NU scorers with 18 points (hitting 12 of his 14 free throw attempts), while freshman Shawn Occeus surprised with 14 of his own in a team-high 32 minutes. He knocked down three of his five shots from behind the arc and came up with two steals on defense.
It’s important for any team to not rely on a singular source for offensive production. Deeper teams with multiple threats are more dangerous, and that’s what Coen wants Northeastern to become.
“We have to do it by committee and everybody’s at the ready,” he said. “Any given night we can find it on our bench.”
The Huskies continued to show that depth, but this time they recouped to end the three game tournament with a win, taking down the University of Maine, 80-72. After back-to-back late game collapses, they finally showed the crucial ability to finish games.
Their first half lead of 37-36 was extended following a 43-36 second half that saw NU shoot a hot-handed 52.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on threes. Williams (26 points, 10 assists) and freshman Bolden Brace (10 points, 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles as the Huskies rolled back into the win column.
They would extend their winning streak after squaring off against Kent State on Nov. 27 – but for much of the game it didn’t look that way. In fact, Northeastern was staring at a potential drubbing after finishing the first half down by 17. But after being on the wrong end of two late-game comebacks, the Huskies would wind up on top this time.
“This team had a great week of practice. They’re getting better,” Coen said after the game. “I was really happy to their response to [the deficit] today in the second half.”
The furious comeback came from an unlikely source: junior Devon Begley. After playing largely as a role player thus far, the guard broke out for 18 points in 35 minutes off the bench, adding seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in an all-around performance. He was instrumental until the final buzzer, putting in the final five points that iced the victory for the Huskies.
“He’s a junior, he’s playing confidently,” Coen said. “That’s showing that he’s maturing, getting better, and it was a great sign. We needed every bit of him today.”
The winning formula of distributed scoring disappeared on Wednesday against Cornell University, resulting in a 77-80 loss. The Husky offense relied heavily on the combination of Williams and Alex Murphy to keep them in the game. The duo poured in 66 percent of the team’s points, tallied 68 percent of the team’s assists and corralled 36 percent of the team’s rebounding.
There were no answers for the Big Red’s sharpshooting. The three-point barrage featured guard Matt Morgan knocking down seven of his own – part of a team effort that saw 44 percent of deep balls find the bottom of the net.
The game came down to the final seconds, when Williams gave up a key turnover to put Cornell up by three before junior forward Jeremy Miller missed the game-tying three at the buzzer.
Despite the tough loss, Coen saw it as a learning opportunity.
“They play Princeton-style offense, and [that got] us ready for William & Mary in our league,” he said.
Currently sitting at 4-3, the Huskies rank fourth in the CAA conference. They take the court again on Dec. 3 at Stony Brook University, before returning to Massachusetts to take on Harvard University on Dec. 6.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics