Huskies fight for top spot in conference

Huskies fight for top spot in conference

By Matthew MacCormack, news correspondent

Parity is king this season in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), and Northeastern men’s basketball (12-7) finds itself in an already heated race after a 1-1 week. The Huskies’ comeback effort fell short in a home tilt against James Madison University (JMU) on Thursday night, 75-63. On Saturday, the Huskies once again fell behind early, but rallied for a road win over the University of Delaware (UD), 69-60.

After six conference games, six teams – including Northeastern – are tied atop the CAA rankings with a 4-2 conference record.

The action began on Thursday when James Madison rolled into Matthews. JMU’s hot shooting kept the Huskies behind for most of the game; the Dukes connected on 10 of 19 three-point attempts (57 percent), including a seven-of-11 clip in the first half.

JMU’s Jackson Kent sparked a 10-2 run in the game’s final minutes to bury the Huskies.

Freshman center Jeremy Miller scored the game’s first five points, but the Husky lead was short-lived. JMU junior center Yohanny Dalembert took advantage of the Huskies’ slim interior defense, scoring an inside basket and hitting two free throws to key a 9-0 run in the early going. After the teams traded baskets, the Dukes mounted a 13-3 stretch just after the frame’s halfway point. Curry nailed a sensational off-balance triple to cap the run and give JMU a 26-15 advantage.

Miller’s 11 first-half points kept the Huskies in the game, but the home side went into the half trailing 42-27. It was the largest halftime deficit the Huskies have faced this season.

Coen’s squad seemed re-energized in the second half, as NU started attacking the rim. Northeastern opened the half with six straight free throws.

“I think we played with a little more sense of energy,” senior guard David Walker said post-game. “Coach challenged us in the locker room to just come out and play as hard as we can and chip at the lead.”

NU trailed by double digits for the frame’s first 10 minutes, but Walker (13 points) turned the tide with a thunderous baseline jam with 10:37 to play. After JMU’s Kent answered with a three, Miller and Williams combined to score eight straight over the next two minutes to cut the lead to 61-55.

Kent had other plans. The junior guard buried another corner triple, sparking the Dukes’ game-closing run.

“I thought that shot was a dagger,” said JMU head coach Mark Brady. “They had gotten it under single digits, and I think that Jackson’s shot was really one that gave us confidence.”

Northeastern struggled from the floor with a 36 percent shooting rate. NU hit just five of 27 three-point attempts.

“We’re a good shooting team,” Coen said. “We were running our offense and guys were getting shots, but we just didn’t make them.”

Although the comeback failed to materialize in Matthews, the Huskies pulled off a come-from-behind victory in Delaware two days later. The Blue Hens led, 41-36, after redshirt senior forward Marvin King-Davis (23 points, 15 rebounds) hit two free-throws at the 12:26 mark in the second half. From there, Walker channeled his stellar early-season form, scoring 11 points in three minutes as part of a 16-2 run that put the Huskies on top for good.

Northeastern jumped out to a 9-7 lead six minutes in after Walker (24 points) knocked down a jumper and converted a three 60 seconds later. But the senior guard’s triple would be the only basket of its kind for NU in the first half; the Huskies went just one for 15 on threes. Walker struggled for the rest of the half, hitting just three of 10 from the field.

King-Davis took advantage of the Husky’s shooting woes. The redshirt senior flirted with a first-half double-double, posting nine points and seven boards in the opening frame alone. The 6-foot-7-inch, 230-pound forward scored eight of the first nine for the Blue Hens.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Coen said of King-Davis in a Tuesday teleconference. “He’s got tremendous energy.”

Blue Hen junior guard Cazmon Hayes provided a spark off the bench, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the first half. After NU senior forward Zach Stahl cut the lead to two with a layup, Hayes came up with a steal and coast-to-coast layup to push the lead to four with five minutes to go in the first half. His pair of free-throws gave UD a seven-point lead with 10 seconds to play, but Williams ended the half with a bang, driving to the lane and hitting a last-second layup to push the halftime score to 28-23.

A layup and a three on consecutive possessions from redshirt junior Quincy Ford (18 points, eight rebounds) cut the lead to 34-33 with 15:51 to play, but UD scored seven of the next 10. Walker ignited his run with a three at the 11:13 mark, and Northeastern never looked back. Delaware missed three layups during the 16-2 stretch for NU.

“Shooting is contagious,” Coen said. “Once somebody makes a shot, it kind of opens the door…[Walker] answered that challenge very well.”

The Huskies knocked down eight of 15 from three in the frame, reversing their first-half shooting troubles.

Up next for Northeastern is a huge battle with Hofstra University (12-6), one of the six teams tied with NU atop the CAA. The game tip-offs at 8 p.m. in Matthews on Thursday and will be broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet.  

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.

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