BOSTON – Injuries are always a wild card in any team’s season. It doesn’t matter if a team appears to have the personnel to be contenders or in the process of a deep rebuild – injuries can have a big effect on a team’s season. Even one injury can change a team’s season, let alone a number of them.
For Northeastern, it hasn’t been the seriousness of injuries, but rather, the number and the timing of them. A season that looked more promising that perhaps first thought has instead turned into an up-and-down, frustrating season with a week to go before the CAA Tournament.
We can go right down a list of players who have had to miss games due to injury. Sophomore forward Jeremy Miller injured his right knee late in non-conference play and missed much of CAA play. He attempted to go on Saturday, his third game back, and appeared to re-injure the knee just a minute in and was in a bad state after the game. Donnell Gresham Jr. has been out since the fourth game of the season. Devon Begley has missed the last two games with an injury as well, and it’s anyone’s guess if he returns.
In fact, only five players have made it into all 28 games thus far this season. Miller could be done for the season, ending a tough campaign after a promising freshman season a year ago. Even T.J. Williams, who has done it all for them in his senior season, missed the game at James Madison, one where the Huskies suited up just seven players and still nearly pulled it out, losing by four. And the Huskies have had very few days all year where they could suit up their entire team for practice, let alone a game.
The Huskies had a tough start in non-conference with a road-heavy slate, at one point losing five of seven. But they closed out the slate with three straight wins on the road, including a win at Michigan State, and they opened CAA play with five straight wins, though four of those were at home. That’s when it all went downhill, starting with three straight road losses and a fourth when they came home. February has seen them lose five of six.
There is an upshot to all of this, though it doesn’t help in the present. The Huskies have seen a number of different players show themselves to be capable of having good games, or even stretches. Five different Huskies have earned CAA weekly honors over the course of the season, and five different Huskies have posted at least one double-double. Ten different Huskies have scored in double figures in at least one game this season. All of that, however, has come more out of necessity than anything else, as they have had different players out of action at different times save for the aforementioned James Madison game.
The healthiest players have been the freshmen, who have been thrown into the fire perhaps a little more than Bill Coen would have liked. That has pros and cons, naturally – they have shown promise and gained experience (Bolden Brace and Shawn Occeus have even combined to start 31 games), but they have also played like freshmen as well. That experience will eventually pay off, but that payoff will be limited this season.
This team has had plenty of fight. They have come to work every day and have been right there in a number of games. They pushed CAA leader UNCW to the limit in both meetings and won at College of Charleston, and on Saturday they battled gamely until the latter part of the second half, when they ran out of gas against a much deeper Cougar team. They had 13 offensive rebounds on Saturday, which gave them extra chances helping to translate into a 22-4 edge in second-chance points, and helped them go even on the glass with the Cougars. But the lack of depth hurt defensively, as College of Charleston shot a sizzling 62.7 percent from the field, including a 65.2 percent clip in the second half.
And just as the Huskies rallied to get within two with 11:37 left, the Cougars went on a 20-5 run that put the game out of reach.
A fully healthy Husky team could be formidable in the CAA Tournament, but that seems highly unlikely at this point. Instead, the short-handed Huskies will continue to fight and possibly knock off someone they shouldn’t along the way. For Northeastern, injuries have been the X-factor a very bad way.