Northeastern and Hofstra lived up to their billing as CAA contenders in a delightful slugfest on Wednesday evening. Two nearly unstoppable offenses traded the lead back and forth until a late 11-0 run gave the Huskies a 91-83 victory, pulling Northeastern, Hofstra and William & Mary into a three-way tie atop the Colonial at 4-1.
The Huskies’ athletic department aggressively promoted Wednesday’s showdown to students, who filled the Matthews Arena floor for its best atmosphere of the season. The game deserved such a crowd, with lots of scoring, 15 lead changes, and a one-possession margin for 30 of the first 32 minutes.
“It was a terrific game to play. We just fed off the momentum of the fans, and off of each other,” said Northeastern point guard T.J. Williams.
The Huskies scored in a familiar way — by passing well and getting into the paint. Quick passes opened up driving lanes for Williams (16 points, six assists) and forward Zach Stahl (14 points), who scored with little resistance at the rim. With hand-checks and blocking fouls called tightly, Hofstra was unable to stop the hosts’ penetration. Meanwhile, star forward Scott Eatherton made smart cuts and was well-fed in the post, scoring 21 points on 8-11 shooting.
64% of Northeastern’s field goals have been assisted this season (among the top 20 nationally), and their ball movement led to the game’s turning point. With the Pride up by one point at the eight-minute mark, Williams caught a kick-out in the left corner and passed up a contested shot to feed Quincy Ford on the left wing. Ford looked at the rim with a few feet of space, then dished to a wide-open David Walker at the top of the key. Walker’s three-pointer hit nothing but net, sparking an 11-0 run that put the hosts ahead for good.
“Any of our guys could take that shot, but we talk about turning down good ones to get a great one. That was as good an example of that as you could get,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said.
The Huskies played against type in another dimension: One of the nation’s most patient offenses looked very comfortable in a 75-possession game. They surrendered a few transition points to the Pride, but the hosts avoided back-breaking runs and even pushed for their own buckets on the secondary break. For Northeastern, that marked a welcome change from other up-tempo games, including a blowout loss at UMass and last week’s defeat to UNC Wilmington.
“I know the guys like [the fast pace], right?” Coen said, turning to Williams with a laugh. “We wanted to be aggressive yet patient, because we don’t want to lose track of Scott. Sometimes in a track meet, the big guys get lost … We wanted to run when it presented itself, but not get caught in a hectic, up-and-down game, because that’s their game.”
Northeastern’s offense finished with 1.21 points per possession, but Hofstra matched it early on with its usual strength: outside shooting. The Pride went 6-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, making shots both open (two from Juan’ya Green off ballscreens) and contested (a 25-footer from Brian Bernardi). Green drove from the left wing and constantly found cutters for easy baskets in the paint, finishing with 21 points and 11 assists.
But the visitors went cold down the stretch, missing 10 of their final 11 three-pointers, including a few open looks from the corner that could have turned the tide. As the Huskies’ lead grew, Hofstra fell out of sync on offense, forcing bad shots and committing turnovers. Northeastern’s frontcourt — already down Reggie Spencer with a lower-body injury — battled foul trouble to Ford, Stahl and Eatherton, but the Pride (in foul trouble of its own) could not take advantage. “We had some good looks,” Hofstra coch Joe Mihalich said. “They made them, and we didn’t. Sometimes it’s that simple.”
Hofstra missed its chance to go two games up on Northeastern, the preseason CAA favorite. William & Mary joined the two squads at 4-1 with a win over UNC Wilmington (which fell to 3-2). The Pride may be in a slightly favorable position, having only played one home game so far, but the three leaders still have 13 more games to separate themselves.
“I guess it’s good that we’re upset,” Mihalich said. “Most people would look at 4-1, when four of them were on the road, and say, ‘Wow, we got through that, and we’ve only got one loss’. A lot of people would take that. I guess it’s good we’re frustrated.”