In 2013-14, Northeastern’s offense was heavily dependent on scoring in the paint. Led by second-team All-CAA forward Scott Eatherton, 48% of the Huskies’ shots were taken at the rim — ninth-highest in the nation — and just 22% of their scoring came from three-pointers. So entering Sunday’s cross-town rivalry game, Boston University coach Joe Jones sensibly schemed to pack the paint and force outside shots.
The Terriers’ tactics were largely successful: With a heavy dose of zone defense, they held Eatherton to eight points and nearly matched Northeastern in paint scoring. But the Huskies’ long-range shooting flourished, as their nine three-pointers keyed a 71-65 win. Afterward, Jones could only credit his opponents for forcing tough choices. “You’re going to give up something,” he said. “If we don’t do a good job on Eatherton, he could’ve went for 25 points […] We felt like the heart of their team is that they can go inside.”
One hot-shooting game could have been dismissed as a fluke — until the Huskies backed it up with an even better performance on Tuesday night. Playing at Florida State, Northeastern made five of its first seven three-pointers and finished the night 9-15 from long range. Despite some defensive challenges, the visitors scored 1.10 points per possession to pull off a 76-73 upset, avenging a final-second loss in last November’s Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
The Huskies’ offensive surge has been led by junior guard David Walker, who scored a career-high 23 points against BU and followed with 22 in Tallahassee, playing a combined 79 of 80 minutes. Though he made some big long-range buckets, Walker finished his sophomore season shooting a pedestrian 32% on three-pointers, making his red-hot 10-14 start to this year’s season all the more surprising.
Walker’s more than a pure shooter — with 3:15 remaining at Florida State, he jammed a dunk on 7’3″ center Boris Bojanovsky and drew a foul, putting the Huskies ahead for good. “I like the new Dave — the aggressiveness, the shots he takes,” teammate Quincy Ford said Sunday. “This is the stuff he’s done in all summer, working on his game, his 1-on-1 moves, so I’m truly proud of him.”
Still, if Walker was Northeastern’s only outside threat, opposing defenses could limit the damage. (“Going into the game … I felt like if Walker scored 20, we still would have a chance to win,” Jones said.) The Huskies have become truly dangerous with the presence of a second shooter: forward Quincy Ford. Like Walker, Ford didn’t have an outstanding track record, shooting a career 33% from distance entering the season, but he went 3-8 against BU and 4-7 at Florida State.
Perhaps most importantly, Ford’s shots have come at key times: All 11 of his points against the Terriers came after halftime, including a dagger three-pointer in the final minutes, and another trey tied the game late against Florida State. After back surgery cost Ford nearly all of the 2013-14 season, his opportunity to shine in big moments has been heartwarming. “I’m just honored and blessed to be back with my teammates. I sat out last year, so it was an unbelievable feeling to step out there,” Ford said Sunday. “I had a little bit of nerves going … but I got in a rhythm at the end, thanks to my teammates.”
Last season’s Northeastern offense often featured five players within 18 feet of the basket, clogging the paint for its talented forwards. If Walker and Ford remain threats from the outside, they will stretch opposing defenses further — as they did Tuesday, opening up passing lanes and space for Eatherton to score 16 points.
Northeastern entered the season as the CAA favorite, ranked ahead of William & Mary and Hofstra. With an added dimension to their offense — and with a road win over a power-conference school — the Huskies have only solidified that title so far.