BOSTON – You could see it coming for a lot of the second half. There were interruptions, as the upstarts always had an answer and at times the veteran team shot themselves in the foot. Still, the momentum was unmistakably with the veterans, and eventually they broke through and later took control.
Yes, it was a rivalry game, but in time the mature Northeastern team played like a veteran team and rode the performance of those steady veterans to a season-opening 71-65 victory over Boston University.
“This tremendous rivalry, I think, brings out the best in everybody,” said head coach Bill Coen. “We played a more energetic second half, we played much more like we’ve been practicing.”
It’s not hard to tell it was a season opener and a rivalry game. For a lot of the game, the much younger Terriers looked more like the experienced squad than the Huskies, moving the ball well to get good shots and playing good defense, while more importantly answering every charge by Northeastern. They even survived some early momentum in the second half by the Huskies and built the lead back to ten points.
But the Huskies persevered, hanging in there before they finally got enough momentum to take over. They have now won four of five and eight of 11, though there hasn’t been a double-digit margin since 2006.
Besides that, the Huskies showed how they could win in terms of what individuals did. David Walker has often deferred to teammates in his first two seasons, and while he always finds ways to be effective it’s rarely been with a big shooting game. On Sunday, it was his turn to impact the game that way, and he had career highs with 23 points and six three-pointers. He understood that’s what was there and what he had to do, and on this day, making the right decision meant putting up the shots he did.
“I like the new Dave,” quipped Quincy Ford, playing in his first game after redshirting last year due to back surgery. “The aggressiveness, the shots he takes, the stuff he’s done all summer working on his game, the one-on-one moves.”
Scott Eatherton, a CAA Player of the Year candidate, didn’t have a banner game. He scored just eight points on 4-10 shooting, and with BU playing an effective zone, scored just two points on 1-5 shooting in the first half. He remained effective, though, getting rebounds often and being in plays, and then he scored a big basket down the stretch to help the Huskies close it out.
“I thought he really gave us the backbone of our defense with his effort on the backboards,” Coen said. “He had ten rebounds and really solidified our defense and allowed us to get out and run.”
The most important Husky of all is probably T.J. Williams. The sophomore point guard played very well late last season, and he has a lot of options to get the ball to. He quietly had eight assists on Sunday against just two turnovers, and was a big part of the decisive rallies. If he plays like this often, the Huskies will have a good chance to win the CAA. With the scoring options he has, he has to manage the game for this team, and he did on Sunday.
Then there was Devon Begley, a freshman on this veteran team. He came into the game and injected some energy, attacking the basket and getting chances there. The time was right, and he gave them a spark they needed and perhaps a little bit of fearlessness. His numbers – seven points on 3-6 shooting, two assists – were relatively modest, but his impact on the game was not.
“I thought we played tentative in the first half,” said Coen. “Devon gives us that spark. He’s very, very quick, he’s crafty with the ball, and he’s able to get to the basket and get into the lane.”
You wouldn’t expect a freshman to be a difference-maker, and that might not happen often this season. The Huskies will be a team driven by their veterans, especially if Ford can return to pre-injury form. Physically, he looked good on Sunday, though there’s undeniably some rust there. That’s not a bad start, though, and in time the rust should wear off.
Last season, the Huskies lost a lot of tough games in non-conference play. They’re a little more experienced and mature now, so in theory they will turn some of those into wins this time around. They know how to play through adversity, they have a team full of guys who buy into the team concept, and on Sunday that and the growth they have had were all ingredients to a victory to start the season.