Men’s basketball looks to advance to CAA Championship with semifinal matchup against Drexel

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Jordan Baron

The Huskies will once again play an opponent they have not seen all season long in their CAA semifinal matchup with Drexel.

Eamonn Ryan, deputy sports editor

After taking down the William & Mary Tribe (7-10, 4-6 CAA) in their quarterfinal matchup Sunday night, the Northeastern men’s basketball team (10-8, 8-2 CAA) now have a chance to move on to the championship game if they can overcome Drexel (10-7, 4-5 CAA) Monday night.

The No. 2 seed Huskies were able to knock off No. 7 seed William & Mary thanks to the combined efforts of multiple scorers, including superstar sophomore point guard Tyson Walker, who had 19 points in the win and was recently named to the All-CAA First Team. He was helped by freshman forwards Jahmyl Telfort and Coleman Stucke, each of whom finished with 13 points and five rebounds, as well as redshirt sophomore Chris Doherty, who had a career-high 18 rebounds and nine points in the win.

“You just really can’t say enough about Chris Doherty and what he brings to the table,” NU head coach Bill Coen said after Sunday’s win. “We lost two games in conference this year and the only two games we lost, we didn’t have Chris and you can see what kind of difference he makes in our club.”

Rebounding was a huge key to the Huskies’ win, especially on the offensive side of the court. They outrebounded William & Mary 40-30 and secured 11 offensive boards leading to 12 second-chance points. In order to replicate the dominance in the paint against Drexel, Doherty and the Huskies will have to work even harder, as the Dragons currently hold the best rebounding margin in the conference at +3.8 per game. 

Drexel’s best rebounder, graduate student James Butler, is currently third in the conference with 9.0 rebounds per game. He’ll present a much bigger challenge to Doherty than the Tribe did. With NU’s leading rebounder, redshirt junior guard Shaquille Walters, confirmed to be out for the entirety of the tournament, it will fall on the shoulders of the other forwards to support the Huskies on the interior.

As for scoring, Drexel is one of the better offensive teams in the league, averaging 71.8 points a game — fourth in the conference in that category. Their win over No. 3 seed College of Charleston in their quarterfinal matchup Sunday night was a product of a balanced offensive attack. Graduate student guard Zach Walton had 17 points to lead the way, but junior guard Camren Wynter, sophomore forward T.J. Bickerstaff and Butler all chipped in and finished in double digits. 

Wynter, who was named to the All-CAA First Team this season, leads the Dragons with 17.5 points per game and 5.5 assists per game, which is second in the CAA. He and Walker will go toe-to-toe Monday night, much like Walker did with William & Mary senior guard Luke Loewe Sunday evening. 

Butler will also prove to be a tough guard, as he was recently named to the All-CAA Third Team and averages 13.4 points per game. The Dragons have four players in total who average more than 10 points per game, as Bickerstaff and Walton add 11.4 and 10.5 each night, respectively.

The Huskies will certainly be looking to start strong Monday evening, as they had a tough first half Sunday night against the Tribe, sleepwalking into a 28-25 deficit at the half before waking up in the second and shredding the defense en route to their 16-point victory. This slow start could be attributed to a lack of practice and game time over the past two weeks, as the team was forced to stop playing due to positive tests within the program

“They know they had an uphill climb. We’ve played three games in about forty days and really not [had] that many practices,” Coen said. 

Because of cancellations and COVID-19 protocols, this will be the first meeting between the two teams all year despite being originally scheduled to play a back-to-back series Jan. 30 and 31. 

As has been proven all year long, the CAA can produce some wild finishes and interesting results. The tournament has never been more wide open and unpredictable. No. 1 seed James Madison proved that with their loss to No. 8 seed Elon Sunday afternoon, which cemented the highest-seed Huskies as the favorite to win the tournament, despite the volatility of the conference.

Drexel will certainly be looking to rain on NU’s parade and continue marching on in pursuit of a Cinderella story akin to the Huskies’ run to the championship game last season

NU, of course, has other plans for Monday night’s 9:30 p.m. contest. They want to find a way back to their fourth straight CAA Championship game, with their ultimate goal to clinch the title and secure a ticket to the Big Dance, their goal from the start of the season.