By Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
The roster turnover from last season led many to expect this season to act as a rebuilding year for Northeastern’s men’s basketball program. However, the 2016-17 season has been anything but, with an 11-5 record (4-0 in conference play) and the team riding the wave of a seven-game winning streak, the Huskies have made themselves known as one of the Colonial Athletic Association’s (CAA) top threats.
That streak started on Dec. 10 when Northeastern edged University of Vermont (59-57) before upsetting Michigan State University (81-73), sinking Oakland University on senior guard T.J. Williams’ buzzer beater (61-59) and dismantling the College of William & Mary back at friendly Matthews Arena (84-64).
The Huskies then strode into Drexel University on Jan. 2, coming away with a 75-70 victory in an overtime thriller. Williams led the way in scoring, putting in 24 points on 17 shots. Senior forward Alex Murphy was right behind him with 20 points of his own to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks.
However, it was freshman guard Bolden Brace who came through in the clutch for the Huskies, sinking four free throws in overtime that put the game out of reach. After a preseason where he led the team in three-point shooting, Brace’s shooting touch went cold to start the year—at one point he was shooting under 20 percent from within and behind the arc. But the opportunities never wavered for the freshman, and he’s rewarding head coach Bill Coen’s confidence by becoming a staple shooting threat for the Husky offense.
“He’s made some big, big shots for us,” Coen said. “He’s a really good shooter, and I think he’s going to get even better as time goes on.”
It’s not just Brace—fellow freshmen Shawn Occeus and Max Boursiquot have also taken on a production level that is rare for first-time collegiate players.
“They are very serious-minded, very hard-working, and when you have that type of attitude at the bottom of the team and combine that with some opportunities, I think you get the positive results that they’ve been experiencing,” Coen said.
They certainly proved Coen correct when Northeastern hosted Delaware on Jan. 5. It was a no-contest from the start, as the Huskies got off to an otherworldly 27-2 lead, and took a 58-18 advantage into halftime.
As Coen gave his seniors some well-deserved rest in the drubbing, the freshman trio rose up. They scored a combined 37 points on 13-18 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and nine assists, taking on the brunt of the offensive normally executed by Williams and Murphy. It was an exceptional sign of depth, one that could perhaps make Northeastern one of the teams to fear within the CAA.
“We haven’t competed against many in the division yet, but I like the fact that we’re getting better,” Coen said. “Our confidence level is high, our execution is getting better, our defensive awareness is improving, we’ve been solid on the backboards.”
It was more of the same against James Madison University on Saturday, riding a strong defensive effort to a 64-54 victory. The Huskies shot just 37.3 percent from the field, but they managed to force a whopping 19 turnovers from the Dukes that led to several easy opportunities on the fast break.
On a seven-game winning streak, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a mounting pressure on the players to keep it going, but Coen dismissed this notion.
“We emphasize game-to-game, and I know a lot of people talk about it. But for us, that’s not going to mean anything when they tip the ball up on Thursday night,” Coen said. “We have to be in the moment, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Coen explained the team’s mentality as crisp as the team’s recent play.
“We’re playing fundamental basketball, and we have a group of competitive guys who want to compete night-in and night-out,” he said.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics