Men’s basketball holds on to beat UMass in wild finish

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Sarah Olender

Freshman forward Jahmyl Telfort (11 points) helped the Huskies beat UMass on Sunday in their 2020-21 home opener.

Eamonn Ryan, deputy sports editor

The Huskies finished the first half of Sunday’s game with a one-point lead and extended that throughout the second half, leading by nine points with a minute to go. UMass, however, was not finished, and they cut the lead by six in the final minute with an and-1 layup. However, the Minutemen could not get a shot off in the closing seconds and the Huskies held on to win 78-75 in their home opener at the Cabot Center.

Leading the Huskies today were standout sophomore guard Tyson Walker, who finished with 20 points, 6 assists and 2 steals, and veteran redshirt junior Jason Strong, who scored 16 points and secured 5 rebounds for NU. 

“[Walker’s] got elite quickness and he’s so shifty with the ball,” said head coach Bill Coen. “We try to give him some space and try to run a little bit of a ball screen motion offense where he can get downhill and use his natural abilities…he’s our centerpiece. We need him to play at a high level, but when he’s sharing the ball like he was today he makes every one of us better.”

Team play was as important as individual performances today, as five players scored in double figures and the team racked up 19 assists.

“Throughout the years, that’s how we play,” said Coen. “Today we got more back to sharing the ball. We’re going to need to do that throughout the season in order to try and compete for a championship.”

The team also wore social justice messages on the back of their home white jerseys today. Strong’s jersey read “equality.”

“Before the season we talked about it as a team that we all have on the back of our jerseys [a phrase] that means something of importance to us,” Strong said. “I put equality because I believe everyone, not just in America but in the world, should have equality and the same freedoms.”

A key difference between this game and the Huskies’ previous loss was the lack of scoring from UMass sophomore forward Tre Mitchell. After scoring 31 points on Friday against NU, he was held to just 10 points today on 3-10 shooting. UMass head coach Matt McCall attributed the difference to the Huskies’ post defense.

“Any time he was on his way to the basket, he felt a presence, he felt a body, if not touching him…hitting him,” said McCall. “That can wear you down throughout the course of the game when teams are being that physical with him…their physicality up front was a lot more present than it was on Friday.”

For UMass, freshman guard Javohn Garcia was a bright spot, finishing with 18 points, but the team had trouble sharing the basketball and creating movement within their offense, leading to inconsistency and inefficiency on offense.

“I felt like we couldn’t put together consistent possessions. It was almost as if we were forgetting what we were supposed to be doing, we were forgetting our job,” McCall said. 

The beginning of the game was a close, gritty and defensive affair with teams trading baskets until halftime, when the Huskies led 31-30. In the second half, NU had a run that allowed them to pull away, and they were up by 14 with 9:42 to play, but the Minutemen stayed within reach until they made a run in the final two minutes.

Along with Walker and Strong, redshirt sophomore forward Shaquille Walters made an impact. He played 37 minutes out of 40 and was a workhorse, grabbing nine rebounds to go along with his 12 points.

“We need [Walters] on the floor,” Coen said. “He’s an excellent defender, he’s a really good secondary ball handler, he’s an experienced guy who’s got confidence and ability, but he’s a tremendous rebounder at his position. That makes us a little bit more dynamic…Having him available today and having him play at a high level helped us earn the victory.”

Among other contributors were freshman forward Jahmyl Telfort, who finished with 11 points, three rebounds and five assists, redshirt junior forward Greg Eboigbodin, who had 10 points and six rebounds, freshman forward Coleman Stucke, who stuck a corner three in the first half and had five points and redshirt sophomore Chris Doherty who had four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.

The Huskies played with an intensity that was not present in Friday’s loss. They were more aggressive driving to the rim, shooting 30 free throws compared to UMass’s 21, and were much closer in terms of turnovers than last game. The Huskies turned it over 14 times while the Minutemen coughed up the ball 15 times. 

“[Northeastern’s] bench had unbelievable energy,” said McCall. “You could just see they were providing great energy there throughout the whole game.”

Strong, who recorded a block and a steal in his 34 minutes, backed that statement up.

“The energy was just great,” he said. “There was a time when I was sitting on the bench, and someone made a great play, and everyone just started standing up and cheering. It was just great energy on the bench throughout the whole game, and it definitely helped us pull out that win.”

With this win, the Huskies improve to 1-1 on the season. They have a weeklong break before their next non-conference game at Old Dominion Sunday, Dec. 20.

Game Notes

Greg Eboigbodin had a huge offensive and defensive sequence in the second half, first with this alley-oop slam on a perfect pass from Tyson Walker:

Then on the next play Eboigbodin blocked UMass guard Carl Pierre:

And he took a charge from Tre Mitchell on the next defensive possession. 

Jason Strong was able to stretch the floor and get inside today: “I’m hoping to do a little bit of both, but definitely stretching the floor, I work on that everyday and it’s something that the coaching staff and my teammates trust me to do.”

He made three three-pointers but also had this beautiful drive, bullying Mitchell on an and-1 layup: