W&M, Northeastern to Tango

It took 90 conference games to set the table for Baltimore, and eight fallen chefs to prepare the feast.

Tonight, Northeastern and William & Mary get to eat the entrée. We know only one of them will be invited for dessert.

In the clashes that determined who would cook and who would dine, we saw a paradigm of the passion that goes into the prep work, and the validation of our adoration for college basketball.

The Tribe’s last two quests for an NCAA Tournament berth ended when Marcus Thornton’s 3-pointers rimmed out. On Sunday afternoon, it was the three-point shot he didn’t take that allowed William & Mary to give it another go.

Thornton passed up a well-contested jumper and kicked the ball to Daniel Dixon. The sophomore guard with the gimpy hamstring coolly knocked down a corner 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left to complete William & Mary’s electrifying 92-91 double overtime victory.

We hear coaches say it all the time, but these close games always comes down to someone making a winning play. For a contest with two overtimes, nine ties, and 12 lead changes, that certainly held true.

On Sunday afternoon, Dixon hit the biggest shot of his life to do just that.

The nonpartisan can’t help but lament for the Pride, just as they would’ve felt for the Tribe had Dixon’s shot missed the mark.

We feel for Juan’ya Green and Brian Bernardi, who were largely magnificent in their abilities to quell the pro-Tribe crowd with big shot after big shot.

We feel for seniors Moussa Kone and Dion Nesmith, just as we feel for Freddie Jackson, Adjehi Baru, and every other player whose NCAA Tournament dreams perished in Baltimore.

And tonight, we’ll be feeling for Thornton or Scott Eatherton, just how we felt for Britt, Beasthoven, Boatner, and Gaillard 364 days ago.

It’s difficult to crystallize such an exhilarating event with words. There’s a reason why guys like Dave Fairbank get paid to do it.

As for me, I’ll let the video and this graph speak for itself.


Northeastern’s 78-71 win against UNCW didn’t come down to last-second heroics, but the game wasn’t lacking in star performances.

Craig Ponder made several big plays throughout the game, and Jordon Talley still got the rim at will. Bill Coen will have summer nightmares when he realizes he’s got to face that kid for three more seasons.

But the Huskies didn’t let Addison Spruill and Freddie Jackson get anything easy, and Scott Eatherton and David Walker spearheaded a Husky offense that scored 1.2 points per possession while committing just two turnovers in the second half.

Again and again, NU role players Devon Begley, Caleb Donnelly, and Reggie Spencer interjected with timely buckets to spur the squad along. The Husky bench tallied 33 points, and helped alleviate Quincy Ford and Zach Stahl’s struggles.

The tumultuous weekend left us with a Monday might rubber match between Northeastern and William & Mary. The cool thing about the new-look CAA is that most of these schools haven’t danced for many years. Northeastern hasn’t boogied since 1991. None of the players on the team were alive then.

And you know William & Mary’s been taking dancing lessons for the past decade in preparation.

Hope everyone left room for dessert.

Northeastern-UNCW Halftime

Devon Begley and David Walker hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 8-0 run that allowed Northeastern to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.

Northeastern shot 52% (13-of-25) in the first half, but UNCW hung tough by pairing defensive turnovers with timely three-point shooting from Freddie Jackson and Dylan Sherwood. UNCW shot 31.6% on two-point attempts, as Addison Spruill’s mid-range game wasn’t quite there.

Scott Eatherton began to assert himself as the game wore on, and posted a game-high 11 points in the first half. Northeastern held a 14-point advantage for points in the paint. UNCW hasn’t had much success getting good drives toward the hoop.

We’re about an hour from finding out who will battle William & Mary for a chance to dance.

W&M-Hofstra Halftime

William & Mary got off to an auspicious start, as Marcus Thornton and Omar Prewitt used a series of cuts and three-point bombs to build a 21-11 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.

At that point, the W&M offense got sloppy, leading to several runouts for Hofstra. Juan’ya Green (11 points) and Rokas Gustys led Hofstra on a 15-1 run that turned the 10-point deficit into a four-point advantage.

The last five minutes of the half was The Marcus Thornton Show. The CAA Player of the Year banged home a trio of treys to put William & Mary back on top.

Thornton and Prewitt combined for 27 points, and helped the Tribe build its 35-32 halftime lead.

For Hofstra to keep this one close, it needs to recommit to getting the ball inside. The Tribe had no answer for Moussa Kone in the early going. Kone played just six minutes due to foul trouble, but kept the Pride in the game when nothing else was working.

William & Mary shot 50% from the field, and 41.7% from three. Hofstra was just 3-of-13 from downtown in the first half, and has to avoid trying to match the Tribe shot for shot.

Northeastern 67, Delaware 64

Eight and a half hours after the first game got going, Northeastern and Delaware gave the crowd the competitive game it so desperately sought.

The Huskies prevailed in the 67-64 tug of war. Monté Ross said it had the atmosphere of a championship game — a sentiment that’s confirmed by this graph.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 10.35.24 PM

We know that basketball is a game of runs, and what made this one fun was that individual players took their turns dominating for two and three minutes at a time.

It started with Northeastern swingman Quincy Ford, who scored nine of Northeastern’s first 14 points. Then teammate Zach Stahl got rolling, battling for position and converting several looks within five feet of the bucket. The two Huskies were tied for the team-high 11 points at halftime.

For the Blue Hens, the first half of the game was The Kory Holden Show. Perhaps he went extra hard to prove himself as CAA ROY Elijah Bryant’s equal. Holden knocked down a bevy of runners and 3-pointers en route to 16 first-half points.

Both teams shot 54.5% in the first half, and a late David Walker 3-pointer gave Northeastern a 35-31 lead at the intermission.

After Ford hit a 3-pointer on Northeastern’s first possession of the second half, Northeastern had it’s biggest lead of the game. Then, it was Cazmon Hayes’ turn to make a personal run as the Delaware sophomore, who committed two fouls and three turnovers in six first-half minutes, scored nine consecutive points in a 9-2 run that knotted the game at 40.

From there, it was more of the same. Northeastern ended a five-minute scoreless drought with seven points in 57 seconds. That gave the Huskies their largest lead (52-44), but Delaware’s Maurice Jeffers and Marvin King-Davis provided the counterpunch. Northeastern rallied to within one with 2:52 to play.

Delaware had a chance to take the lead, but a question five-second call on Holden gave the ball back to Northeastern. Holden kept Delaware within one possession, but Walker hit four free throws in the final 14 seconds.

Chivarsky Corbett’s potential game-tying 3-pointer was no good, and Northeastern got revenge against the team that knocked it out of last year’s CAA Tournament.

Northeastern shot 54.8% on the game, with Walker (17), Ford (16), and Stahl (13) scoring in double figures.

Holden finished with 20 points, which was the highest individual mark of Saturday’s CAA quarterfinals. Kyle Anderson (11) and Jeffers (10) also finished in double figures.

Northeastern will hope the third time’s the charm when it matches up with UNCW tomorrow at 5:00.

UNCW 79, CofC 53

In an utterly dominant second-half performance, UNCW shot 65.4% (17-of-26) from the field en route to a 79-53 slaughter.

UNCW’s seniors led the way, just as they have all season. Cedrick Williams posted a 19-13 double-double, tying teammate Freddie Jackson for the game-high 19 points. Charleston had no answer for UNCW’s precise cuts to the hoop.

Charleston shot 32.8% on the game. Joe Chealey led CofC with 12 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Freshman Cameron Johnson hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second half.

There’s not much to say about this one. UNCW made it look easy. The Seahawks come to play every time they take the floor. We can’t expect them to shoot 53.4% each game, but when their defense is up to its usual standard, they can beat a lot of teams when they’re hitting in the low-40s.

UNCW will face the winner of Northeastern-Delaware in Sunday’s 5:00 game.

UNCW-CofC Halftime

UNCW used a balanced attack to build a 36-25 halftime lead. The Seahawks shot 43.8% from the field, including 3-of-5 from downtown. Freddie Jackson, Addison Spruill, Cedrick Williams, and Dylan Sherwood accounted for 32 of Wilmington’s points.

UNCW’s on-ball pressure led to eight CofC turnovers. UNCW turned those turnovers into eight points and a 10-2 advantage on the break.

Charleston struggled with UNCW’s from baseline-to-baseline game from the get go. When the Cougars managed to get the ball over halfcourt, they actually created a decent number of second chances at the rim. They failed to convert most, and shot just 33.3% on the half.

Joe Chealey led all scorers with 11 points. No other player from Charleston had more than three in the first half.

Hofstra 74, JMU 57

In Hofstra’s loss at JMU last Saturday, Ameen Tanksley and Juan’ya Green combined to shoot 8-of-22 from the field. Coming into this game, it was apparent that the pair of Niagara transfers would need to play better. The redshirt juniors did just that, and their supporting cast stepped up to ensure that the stars wouldn’t have to do too much.

Hofstra played with an energy from the opening tip. It was consistent ball pressure and Tanksley attacking with vigor. It was Moussa Kone and Rokas Gustys planting themselves by the hoop, and gathering any loose carom that came their way. It was Green dishing the rock and Malik Nichols and Brian Bernardi frustrating JMU guards Ron Curry and Joey McLean into multiple turnovers.

Put it all together, and Hofstra’s 74-57 win over JMU was utter domination.

Joe Mihalich said that the battlecry all week was to be a better defensive team. After allowing JMU to shoot 62.8% from the floor a week ago, the Pride limited the Dukes to 37% shooting today. The Pride dominated the paint (46-28) and held a 23-9 advantage for points off turnovers.

Kone posted 18 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. Tanksley finished with 16 points. Juan’ya Green had 10 points and eight assists, and Rokas Gustys scored 11 points.

Curry tallied 18 points for JMU. Dimitrije Cabarkapa scored 12 points in 18 minutes, but was relegated to the bench for most of the second half with what hockey writers refer to as a lower body injury.

It was night to forget for a trio of JMU starters. After scoring a career-high 20 points last week versus Hofstra, Jackson Kent scored just seven on 3-of-10 from the field. Joey McLean committed four turnovers, and didn’t play much in the second half. Yohanny Dalembert was hampered by foul trouble all afternoon.

Matt Brady knew his team didn’t play as well as it could have, but gave Hofstra all the credit in the world. Brady also mentioned that JMU would explore postseason options such as the CBI and CIT.

Hofstra knew it had to play defense. I reference this stat almost daily, but it’s important to note that Hofstra is 17-1 when holding opponents below 70 points.

It’ll be tough to hold William & Mary below that mark, but if the Pride commits to getting the ball inside and defends like it did today, tomorrow’s semifinal game is going to be hella good.