Create a free account to unlock this article!
Already a subscriber? Log In
It didn’t take long for Northeastern to get the green light for the sequel to its adventure in time travel.
Call this upcoming weekend “Back to the Future II” for the Huskies, who set up another potential battle for first place with a fellow recent title game foe by sweeping Hofstra last Thursday and Saturday, when Northeastern earned an 81-78 overtime win on Long Island and a 67-56 victory in Boston, respectively.
Northeastern, the youngest team in the CAA per the experience rankings at KenPom.com, improved to 4-0 with the wins over the Pride in the rematch of the last two CAA title games.
The Huskies won’t have to wait long to defend their spot atop the standings against the team closest to them in the standings — Charleston, which continued penning its early-season surprise story with a home sweep of Drexel. The Cougars edged the Dragons edged 61-60 on Saturday and 73-68 on Sunday to improve to 3-1 in CAA play.
Coronavirus-permitting, Northeastern and Charleston are scheduled to oppose each other this weekend, when the Huskies hope to embark upon their first full CAA weekend away from campus by visiting South Carolina for rematches of the 2018 title game won in overtime by Charleston.
Last weekend’s only other series ended after just one game, but not for coronavirus-related reasons. Following William & Mary’s 67-62 win over Delaware on Saturday, the teams agreed to postpone their Sunday finale because Delaware was down to five scholarship players.
UNC Wilmington, Towson, and Elon all remained paused due to positive coronavirus cases. James Madison, whose last two weekends of CAA play have been postponed because of the cases at Towson and Elon, played its third straight non-conference game and beat Division II Chowan, 100-76.
Here’s a look back at the weekend that was in the CAA.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Per KenPom.com, only 23 Division I teams are younger than Northeastern, whose roster averages 1.12 years of experience. Only three others are unbeaten in conference play thus far. Two of them are Duke and Kentucky and the third is UC Irvine, which is 2-0 in the Big West.
In other words: Bill Coen is doing it again.
The Huskies established themselves as the team to beat in the CAA by taking a figurative series of body blows from Hofstra and returning the favor. Northeastern trailed by 19 points in the second half Thursday and withstood a 20-2 run Saturday that turned a 12-point lead into an eight-point deficit.
Northeastern got an enticing mix of contributions from its veterans and relative newcomers. Junior Shaquille Walters, one of two returning starters from last year’s team, hit three 3-pointers in overtime Thursday, one more than he’d drained in any of his first 69 career games. Sophomore Tyson Walker, the other incumbent starter locked up CAA Player of the Week honors by scoring 27 points and going 7-for-13 from 3-point land Saturday, when he drilled five 3-pointers in a nine-possession span to turn the eight-point deficit into a one-point lead.
“I was really proud of our guys, being able to recalibrate in the heat of the moment,” Coen said following Saturday’s win. “Just felt like there was a lid on the basket for the first eight minutes (of the second half). Then all of a sudden Tyson just kind of willed us back into the game and then everybody else kind of joined the party and settled down.”
Sophomore Quirin Emanga made his first career start Saturday and played 73 minutes in the two games while junior Jason Strong went 7-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“Really proud of the group and obviously pleased with the weekend,” Coen said.
Northeastern’s fast CAA start marks the third time in the last eight seasons they’ve surged out of the gate despite possessing one of the youngest rosters in the league. In 2012-13, with the CAA’s fourth-youngest roster (1.41 years of experience), the Huskies opened 8-0 and won the regular-season crown with a 14-4 record before falling to James Madison in the title game. In 2016-17, with the conference’s third-youngest roster (1.59 years of experience) they started 4-0 before finishing 8-10.
Precedent doesn’t mean much in the midst of a season being played in a pandemic, and this year’s roster is far younger than the ’12-13 and ’16-17 editions. But the Huskies’ challenging non-league schedule and ability to get into the rhythm of conference play while other teams are enduring multi-week shutdowns would seem to bode well for their chances of finishing first or second for the third time in the last four years and the fifth time in the last 10 seasons.
Coen at least knew the depth of his reloading/rebuilding challenge back in the spring. The task for Charleston head coach Earl Grant, already faced with the challenge of having to replace the graduated Grant Riller, grew more arduous Dec. 11, when senior Brevin Galloway, a preseason All-CAA second-teamer, suffered a torn ACL.
But after losing their first three games without Galloway, Charleston has won three in a row by a combined 13 points. The Cougars overcame a pair of double-digit deficits to beat Drexel and won in dramatic fashion on Saturday, when Zep Jasper hit three free throws with under a second left, before potentially finding their newest star Sunday, when sophomore Brenden Tucker poured in a career-high 35 points while going 5-of-7 from 3-point land.
The 35 points are a single-game high this season by a CAA player. Tucker entered Sunday with 116 points and nine 3-pointers in his first 33 career games.
“I thought our players showed great fortitude and toughness today,” Grant said Sunday. “I give our players a lot of credit. I thought two months ago that it would take this team some time to mature. We’re still in that process of maturing every day.”
Any sweep is going to leave a head coach unhappy, but acting Hofstra head coach Mike Farrelly seemed particularly frustrated with how the Pride struggled to match the intensity and physicality of inexperienced and undermanned Northeastern.
It didn’t take Farrelly long to be heartened by the Pride’s reaction, though. Farrelly said the postgame locker room scene and reaction was the second-best of the season, behind only the aftermath of the upset win over nationally-ranked Richmond on Dec. 22.
“This was the second-best because you saw how much it hurt and you saw the pain in their eyes and the disappointment,” Farrelly said. “And that’s based on the culture that we have built here and why we’ve won championships. It’s not a game where they’re just we lost, who do we play next week or what do I get for post-game meal. That really hurts. It really hurt. And that’s maybe the most encouraging thing I saw all day.”
Hofstra was able to use at least two losses as motivation during its run to the CAA title last year. The Pride dropped the season opener to visiting San Jose State, which was ranked 290th at KenPom.com, 79-71 and later looked at its final loss of the season, a 76-65 defeat at the hands of Towson on Feb. 27, as the wakeup call it needed heading into the conference tournament.
OH NO, ON THE ROAD AGAIN?
Forgive Drexel head coach Zack Spiker if he doesn’t load Willie Nelson on to his phone whenever he gets ready for a road trip.
A split at Charleston was probably the best-case scenario for Drexel given it was the Dragons’ first game since Dec. 19. CAA teams are 3-9 this season when coming off a break of more than one week, and one of those wins was Delaware beating the Cougars on Jan. 2 in the first game for both teams since Dec. 21.
But the sweep at the hands of Charleston dropped the Dragons to 6-40 in road or neutral site CAA games since Spiker arrived in 2016-17. Drexel hasn’t fared much better away from home in non-conference play (13-24), though it did go 3-1 in road/neutral site games in the abbreviated non-conference schedule this season.
The road woes will have to be repaired if the Dragons, who were picked third in the CAA preseason poll, are going to meet expectations. Drexel is scheduled to hit the road next against Elon Jan. 23-24.
BEAT UP BLUE HENS
It’s 2021, so a team postponing a game because it has too many injured players, and not because it’s in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, counts as something far short of the worst-case scenario.
An already lean Delaware roster absorbed two more hits in Saturday’s loss to William & Mary, which led the teams to agree to postpone the finale. The Blue Hens arrived in Virginia with seven scholarship players and two walk-ons, but starters Andrew Car (sprained MCL) and Ryan Allen (ankle) were injured Saturday. Allen was able to return Saturday, though he limped through the final few minutes.
“We couldn’t afford to play Sunday and I would have felt the same way if we won the game on Saturday,” Delaware head coach Martin Ingelsby told The News-Journal Monday.
Ingelsby was hopeful but not certain Carr and Allen could return in time for this weekend’s scheduled series against Hofstra. He said assistant coaches are participating in practice so the Blue Hens have enough bodies for 5-on-5 scrimmaging.
“It’ll be all hands on deck and see where we are and see how many guys we can have ready to go Saturday,” Ingelsby said.
JMU STAYS BUSY
File this in the “only in 2020-21” folder: James Madison freshman Justin Amadi earned Rookie of the Week honors after Christmas despite not playing a conference game. Amadi collected the award after scoring 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the Dukes’ non-league wins over Florida Atlantic last Tuesday and Division II Chowan on Sunday.
James Madison, which has played three league games since New Year’s Day, is scheduled to begin CAA play against Towson on Saturday before facing Northeastern in a road series Jan 23-24.
Maybe, hopefully, a full long weekend(-ish) of CAA action. A trio of series — William & Mary-Drexel, Hofstra-Delaware, and Northeastern-Charleston — are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. James Madison and Towson are scheduled to open their league schedules on Saturday before Towson is slated to host UNC Wilmington in the latter’s league openers Monday and Tuesday. Elon remains sidelined until at least Jan. 23.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The winning team in all three games Saturday scored fewer than 70 points — the first time at least three CAA games have ended with the winner scoring fewer than 70 points since Jan. 27, 2018, when Charleston beat James Madison 66-59, Hofstra edged Delaware 64-59 and Drexel nipped Northeastern 68-67.
Jerry Beach has covered Hofstra sports since arriving on campus in the fall of 1993, when Wayne Chrebet was a junior wide receiver wearing No. 3, Butch van Breda Kolff was the men’s basketball coach for the East Coast Conference champions and Jay Wright was a little-known yet surely well-dressed UNLV assistant coach. Check out Jerry’s book about the 2000 World Series here and follow him on Twitter at @JerryBeach73.