Three Thoughts: Northeastern 79, Hofstra 68

Hofstra suffered a major setback in their hopes for a CAA regular season title with a 79-68 loss at home to Northeastern. Twenty-four points from senior Scott Eatherton helped the Huskies take down the Pride for the eighth time in a row.

Joe Mihalich speaks with his staff during the game against JMU

Joe Mihalich and his staff suffered a setback in Thursday’s 79-68 loss to Northeastern.

The magic number on Thursday was 70. Hofstra entered the game 14-1 this season when holding opponents below 70 points. In contrast, Northeastern was a perfect 8-0 when scoring 70 points or more. Given those trends, when Eatherton put the Huskies up 71-63 with 90 second left, you could feel safe calling for the sharpie. Here are three thoughts from Thursday’s showdown:

Northeastern came into this season favorites to take the CAA crown and they have put themselves back in position to earn the top spot. Picked #1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Huskies start five players who average at least eight points per game. Led by Eatherton with 14.4 ppg, four of the starting five average double figures.

The next week will go a long way toward determining whether or not Northeastern will take that top spot in the league. With the win at Hofstra, the Huskies moved into a tie for second place in the conference with UNCW, just a game behind frontrunner William & Mary.

Thanks to the prescience of the schedule makers, Northeastern’s next two games happen to come against those two squads. Depth will continue to be an issue for head coach Bill Coen’s group, as production drops off sharply after the starting five, but the Huskies have put themselves in a position to avenge earlier losses to the Seahawks and Tribe and make a run at the regular season title.

Hofstra has been reliant on its guards for success this season, but the forwards came through in a big way Thursday. Rokas Gustys and Malik Nichols finished in double figures together for the first time this season and each had their moments to shine, despite the loss.

Gustys made a number of standout plays early in the game, standing up attackers at the rim. He finished the first half with eight points on 4-4 shooting including a layup at the buzzer that cut Northeastern’s lead to four at the break.

When Hofstra started the game with a lack of energy, Nichols provided a burst off the bench. Early in the second half with his team mounting a comeback, Nichols nearly came up with a steal at mid-court. After Northeastern got the ball back, Nichols stayed aggressive and ended up kicking the ball across the court like a soccer player to disrupt a pass.

“They both played with energy,” head coach Joe Mihalich said of his frontcourt duo. “The two of them had what I thought was missing from most of the other guys. They had the energy, they were excited to be out there, and they got it going. Everybody needs to be that way. If everybody would be that way then I think that we’d be a lot happier right now.”

Nichols finished with 12 points on the evening while Gustys had one of the best stat lines of his young career. The freshman set a new career high with 13 points and added five rebounds, four steals, and a pair of blocked shots.

Northeastern has Hofstra’s number. It seems to be as simple as that. The Huskies have won eight straight over the Pride and completed the season sweep with Thursday’s victory.

Four of Hofstra’s worst defensive halves this season have come against Northeastern. In the first meeting at Matthews Arena on Jan. 14, which the Huskies won in a 91-83 shootout, Northeastern shot 66.7% in the first half and 60.9% in the second half. In the second meeting on Thursday, the Huskies shot 50% in the first half and 65% in the second.

For a team that doesn’t rely on the 3-point shot, Northeastern even made those look easy this season against Hofstra. The Huskies took only 16 3-pointers combined in the two meetings with the Pride and made nine of them.

“I try to forget those games when someone plays that good against you,” was the only response Mihalich could muster up.

Barring a meeting in the CAA tournament, Northeastern has proven that they are the superior squad, beating the Pride both in a shootout at home and in a more deliberate battle on the road.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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