By Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball started off the week silencing a stadium.
Down 72-71 to the College of Charleston (10-4 in conference play), the Huskies were left with the ball on the final possession of the game. Eight seconds left – score or go home. The weight of finishing a 16 point comeback was resting on one last play.
Freshman guard Bolden Brace had the responsibility of inbounding the ball, giving it up to senior guard T.J. Williams, who notably bested Oakland University on a buzzer beater in December. As Williams danced with the ball, trying an assortment of dribble moves to lose his defender, Brace waited on the perimeter. Perhaps he would have the chance to do what he does best and nail a three for the win.
As Williams made his move to the rim, Brace followed. It was clear that Williams was taking this one himself; it was going to be all-hands-on-deck to fight for the rebound if he missed. But Williams couldn’t shake the Cougar defender, and with just three seconds on the clock he was forced to pull up for a fadeaway jumper.
Nine players on the court watched the trajectory of the shot, while one made his move. Brace spotted it perfectly; he caught the errant shot beneath the rim. Two seconds. He had to get a shot off, it didn’t have to be pretty. One second. Falling away, practically behind the backboard, Brace flicked it up with one hand.
The overwhelming sound of the Huskies’ celebration masking the stunned Charleston crowd was enough evidence of the result.
It was a dominating effort by NU’s starting five, who played 173 of the distributed 200 minutes and scored all 73 points in the win. They were led by senior forward Alex Murphy, who scored 19 and corralled eight rebounds. Sophomore center Anthony Green had a big game as well, recording his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Saturday was a sobering outcome for the Huskies as they returned back to Matthews Arena to face Hofstra University (5-9 in conference play). They had previously dropped a 78-73 contest to the Pride on Jan. 21 and were tormented by the same Hofstra guards in their 74-64 loss: Justin Wright-Foreman, Brian Bernardi and Eli Pemberton.
“They don’t need a ball-screen to create their own shot, but when they have a ball-screen, you almost have to dedicate two guys on them,” head coach Bill Coen said.
The trio of guards combined for 55 of Hofstra’s eventual 74 points and remained a constant source of frustration for the Husky defense.
NU kept it close for much of the match, taking a two point lead into halftime. But it was once the buzzer rang for the start of the second half that things fell apart.
The Huskies’ reliance on the deep ball can either be their greatest asset or their greatest downfall. On Saturday, it was the latter, as they fired 27 shots from beyond the arc and connected on just six. In the second half alone, they were shooting a miserable 13.3 percent clip from three.
“We didn’t get great looks,” Coen said. “For us, we really need to make threes, and we just didn’t make enough of them tonight.”
The Huskies were also plagued by the referee’s whistle: They allowed their opponent to get 35 trips to the free throw line.
“Usually, we’re pretty disciplined. We’re usually one of the best teams in the conference in playing defense without fouling,” Coen said. “They were more aggressive all night long, and usually when you do that, you get to the foul line.”
There was a silver lining in the Huskies’ disappointing loss: It saw the return of sophomore forward Jeremy Miller. Sidelined since December after suffering a knee injury, the 6’10” big man should provide NU with much-needed frontcourt depth and rim protection. Though Miller showed signs of rust, collecting two early fouls, he was able to get on the scoreboard within his first two shots.
“Any time he comes back, it’s going to be his first time back,” Coen said. “No matter how you prepare yourself mentally, […] it’s still a confidence and rhythm game and I don’t think he had that tonight.”
The split week brought the Huskies to a 7-7 conference record and 14-12 overall. Northeastern will look to regain the euphoric feeling of an upset when they take on the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) on Thursday at Matthews Arena. UNCW currently leads the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with an 11-3 conference record, despite coming off a loss to Elon University.
The road ahead won’t get any easier for the Huskies, as the College of Charleston will search for revenge on Saturday as CAA play begins to wrap up.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics