By Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
The Northeastern University (NU) men’s basketball team saw their season expire with the clock on Saturday, March 4, suffering an 82-54 loss to Towson University in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament. It was a shooting versus defense matchup, and physicality came out on top.
“We came to a basketball game, and a football game broke out and we didn’t bring our helmets and pads,” said head coach Bill Coen after the game.
Despite only holding the three seed, Towson represented, quite literally, the biggest challenge for Northeastern of any CAA team. Armed with rebounding machines such as forwards John Davis and William Adala Moto, the Tigers’ relentless pursuit on the glass gave them a plus-15 rebounding advantage.
The physical play had an evident effect on the Huskies’ shooting; the team mustered up a 27.5 percent clip from the field and shot 20 percent from three. For a team that relies on high-percentage shooting to cover up defensive and rebounding woes, the Towson defense spelled immediate trouble.
NU took on Towson twice previously in the 2016-17 season, splitting the season series in two close matches.
“We had two terrific games with them this year and played them much more physically and matched that physicality,” Coen said. “But tonight it was all about them exerting their will pretty much everywhere on the floor.”
Senior guard T.J. Williams, normally lethally efficient, shot 3-16 from the field – an uncharacteristic end to the star’s collegiate career. But the sadness from the loss gave way to a celebration of Williams’ season, as he was given the CAA Player of the Year award after the game. Averaging 21.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists over 38.2 minutes per game, the senior put together a year for the Husky history books.
“It was an honor. I’m truly blessed,” Williams said. “I knew I was going to have to step up and be that leader and be that guy. And it’s not easy […] Just to be able to win that award, it’s a dream come true.”
Looking back on the season for the Huskies, it was a year marked by ups and downs.
“We started out a little bit slow, and then we had a really, really great portion of the season I think when we were at our healthiest,” Coen said. “We got nicked up on the Michigan trip, and it just seemed like guys were in and out of the lineup, in and out of practice. We just couldn’t catch our rhythm […] We just never got back to that level.”
Tabbed with the challenge of overcoming the graduation of the 2015-16 team’s three best players, it would have been reasonable to assume that this would be a rebuilding year. But the emergence of Williams as the CAA’s leading scorer and the addition of senior forward Alex Murphy helped the often-beleaguered Huskies to a 15-16 overall record and the sixth seed in the CAA tournament.