BOSTON – Heading into the home stretch of non-conference play, Northeastern’s 71-62 loss to Princeton doesn’t portend good things. It’s not so much the loss as much as some of what could be seen in it, and given that this is college basketball, the backcourt questions that are raised are troublesome.
The Huskies only played two true guards on Sunday, and spent some time with just one on the floor. At times, the shooting guard spot was occupied by sophomore Alwayne Bigby or senior Kashief Edwards, neither of whom is a guard. While freshman Quincy Ford has some guard skills, he’s more like a big wing, with better ball skills than Kauri Black, who handled the ball a little too much on Sunday as he led the Huskies with five turnovers.
In light of that, it’s not much of a surprise that the Huskies had 20 turnovers in the game, with all five starters having at least two. But perhaps more important than the number is that many came at bad times. In the second half, the Huskies fell behind early as the Tigers began with a 15-2 run aided by three early turnovers. Several times, the Huskies tried to rally back, but invariably a turnover would keep them from getting or sustaining momentum. And on a day where Princeton shot 12-18 from the field in the second half, that wasn’t the recipe for success.
But the story doesn’t end there, unfortunately for the Huskies. It marked the fourth straight game where they gave the ball away 20 or more times, and each one has been a loss. The turnovers, along with allowing Princeton to shoot over 54 percent, helped the Huskies lose despite shooting 50 percent from the field.
“I think it’s decision-making,” head coach Bill Coen said. “We just have to make better decisions in those types of situations, particularly when you’re playing against Princeton, because if you give the ball back to them you have to sit down in a stance for 35 seconds and really have to guard their stuff, which is not easy to do as guys find out.”
Jonathan Lee, who has made admirable strides at the point even though he’s not the truest point guard, played 38 minutes on Sunday, while Joel Smith played 34. That meant eight minutes on the court were occupied by someone who is not a guard. It continues a trend in recent games, as in the prior game at Bradley, only two guards got off the bench for less than seven combined minutes.
This is a problem that may not get better soon. The only two guards who have seen minutes off the bench of late are freshmen Marco Banegas-Flores and Demetrius Pollard, and given the lineups that have been out there, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t comfortable having either out there for extended minutes right now. It’s also led to players like Black handling the ball more and trying to do too much, and putting more pressure on the forwards to take care of the ball when they get it.
At the beginning of the season, the experience of the starting guards looked to be a plus for this team. If you’re going to have one unit be experienced and the other to not be, it’s best to have experienced guards and inexperienced frontcourt players, which is largely how this Husky team appeared although Black and Ryan Pierson got a lot of minutes last year and Edwards is a senior transfer. But now, the backcourt isn’t looking like a source of strength, and that doesn’t bode well with CAA play not being far away.
Northeastern has two more games in short succession, heading to Louisiana Tech on Tuesday and North Carolina State on Thursday before Christmas. After that, only a trip to Vermont remains before CAA play begins in earnest at winless Towson. There’s not much time left, and the personnel isn’t going to change, so a solution has to emerge soon if their fortunes are to move in the right direction.