By Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball wrapped up its regular season this week, splitting the final two games to secure the sixth seed in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament.
Thursday’s game was one for the record books, and arguably the biggest win of the season for NU. Outlasting Elon University in double overtime, 105-104, multiple Huskies etched their name among all-time performances.
Freshman guard Bolden Brace sunk a school record 10 three-pointers en route to 40 points. It was just the third 40-point game in school history; the other two were accomplished by NBA veterans Jose Juan Barea in 2005 and Reggie Lewis in 1986. The record-setting performance helped earn the freshman CAA Rookie of the Week.
“I can’t even think what to say,” Brace said after the game. “All I can say is that was probably one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in my life.”
Brace was particularly unstoppable in the first half, scoring 28 points on 10-13 shooting, including 7-10 from deep.
“Once you get going and get stops on the defense, and when I get the ball, it’s just free flow,” Brace said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. When you see the ball go through the basket that many times in one game, there’s no feeling like it.”
He had help from senior guard T.J. Williams, who recorded the first Northeastern triple-double (26 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) since Shawn James in 2006.
“When you get a performance today like Bolden [Brace] gave us today, and T.J. [Williams], and quite honestly all of our guys, you’re very fortunate to earn a hard-fought win against an excellent basketball team on the road,” head coach Bill Coen said.
Twice the Huskies had the lead on what would have been the final possession of the game, but Elon refused to go down easy, sinking two shots at the buzzer to send the game into its second overtime period. But the Phoenix’s Tyler Seibring was unable to hit a second fadeaway three-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining, giving the Huskies the thrilling one-point victory.
Northeastern came into the game shorthanded, as only seven suited up in the red and black uniform. Nonetheless, the heavy minutes allowed for the starters to ride the hot hands and gain a feel for each other on the court.
“Getting to play that many minutes as a freshman this season is a great feeling,” Brace said. “It’s tiring, but it’s what I love to do.”
The win was instrumental in locking up the sixth seed for the Huskies, guaranteeing a bye for the first round of the CAA tournament.
But the season wasn’t yet over, as Northeastern took on top-seeded University of Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) on Saturday, dropping the game 74-65. The game was reminiscent of their previous match on Feb. 16. Down 20 at the half, the Huskies managed to climb out the hole and turn the rout into a contest.
This time, NU found themselves in a similarly bleak 40-17 deficit coming out of the halftime locker room. They shot an abysmal 19.2 percent clip from the field and 10 percent from deep. The energy and efficiency was sloppy from the start, as UNCW started the game on a 15-0 run.
“We had a very flat and uninspired first half,” Coen said. “Part of the reason [was] maybe caused by playing double overtime the other night and being short-handed […] We rely a lot on the three point shot, and when you have tired legs, that’s not a good recipe.”
However, the Huskies flipped the script in the second half once again, outscoring the Seahawks by a 14-point margin. NU was able to bring the score to a five point differential, thanks to a 21-2 run spurred by nine points from freshman guard Shawn Occeus.
“I thought we caught our second wind in the second half,” Coen said. “We dug down; we have a lot of kids with a lot of pride in that locker room and we made a good second half run.”
Williams led the way in scoring for the Huskies with 24 points despite relatively inefficient 8-20 shooting. Brace’s shooting streak cooled significantly in the days in between games, as he managed 4-15 shooting and 2-12 from three.
The most encouraging individual performance came from Occeus who, along with providing an instrumental nine points in the comeback attempt, chipped in 13 points overall with four rebounds and two steals. It was his first game shooting over 50 percent from the field with at least six attempts since Jan. 12.
“I thought [Occeus] really gave us a spark in the second half,” Coen said. “It was great for him to get out there and experience some success, and hopefully that’ll carry over to next weekend, both for Shawn [Occeus] and for us.”
The Huskies will start their road to the CAA Championships on Saturday against third-seeded Towson University in a rematch of last season’s tournament opener. Towson’s tireless defense and rebounding prowess prevailed in 2016, but Northeastern will look to counter with their shooting-heavy style.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics