Northeastern Torches James Madison, Takes Sole CAA Lead

Northeastern fans dressed in a "white-out" for Wednesday's 82-59 win over James Madison.
Northeastern fans dressed in a “white-out” for Wednesday’s 82-59 win over James Madison.

Northeastern marketed Wednesday night’s game as a “white-out” for fans, and Huskies players got in on that theme with white-hot offense. Behind a blistering 1.34 points per possession, the hosts routed James Madison 82-59, taking the solo CAA lead at 6-1.

“When you’re shooting the ball well, everything looks good,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We shot the ball well to start the game, but sustained a level of teamwork and intensity throughout the game, which was probably our best overall effort so far this season.”

After missing its first two shots, Northeastern reeled off an eight-minute, 25-6 explosion that featured 10 baskets from eight different Huskies. By the time reserve center Kwesi Abakha capped the run with a layup and one, the hosts held a commanding lead that never dipped below double digits.

Though it entered Wednesday with the best per-possession defense in CAA play, James Madison was helpless to stop Northeastern in the first half. The Huskies hit eight of 13 three-pointers, committed only two turnovers, and scored 49 points on 31 possessions before halftime. Point guard T.J. Williams finished with a team-high 17 points, while David Walker added 15.

As is their custom, the Huskies picked James Madison apart with crisp ball movement. They tossed skip passes through the Dukes’ zone to cutters and spot-up shooters, assisting on 14 of their 18 baskets in the first half. Northeastern’s offense often ran through star forward Scott Eatherton on the left block or baseline; though he finished with six points, tying a season low, the senior dished out a career-best seven assists.

“What makes this team really solid and difficult to beat is their passing ability, especially from their forwards,” JMU coach Matt Brady said. “Their fours and fives are outstanding passers.”

Ron Curry gave the visitors 21 points on 12 shots, hitting all five three-point attempts (including a heat-check bomb from 26 feet). But his teammates combined to shoot 32 percent, and James Madison was 8-15 from the line. In their third game without dismissed guard Andre Nation, the Dukes still scored about a point per possession — not far off their season mark — but they were failed by their defense.

Three other thoughts from Matthews Arena:

1. Are the Dukes for real? A James Madison win would have forced a five-way tie atop the CAA at 5-2; instead, the visitors sit in fifth place, two games behind Northeastern. They are 4-0 against the bottom half of the league, but 0-3 against the top tier. While each of the top four (Northeastern, Hofstra, William & Mary, UNC Wilmington) has beaten a fellow member, the Dukes haven’t yet proven they are at the same level. They’ll get two more chances soon, facing the Pride and the Tribe before month’s end.

2. Reggie Spencer is back. After missing the last three games with a lower-body injury, Spencer returned with a vengeance Thursday. The 6-7 forward showed his usual touch with a pair of mid-range jumpers, but he also attacked the rim. On his first touch of the game, Spencer caught a pass in the middle of James Madison’s zone, took a hard dribble through the lane and made an easy layup.

Spencer finished with 13 points on 5-6 shooting. “After the injury, I learned you never know when it’s going to end, so have fun and take advantage every time you step on the court. That’s what I tried to do,” the senior said, adding that he felt close to 100%.

3. The CAA picture will clear up this week. William & Mary is in the mix at 5-2, but the Tribe have played just one other top-four team and own puzzling losses at Elon and Delaware. They can cement their status as a top Colonial contender this week, with home games against Northeastern Saturday and Hofstra Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Huskies will face four straight bottom-division teams after visiting William & Mary this weekend. If they escape Williamsburg with a win, they could hold first place for a long time — at least until a brutal seven-day stretch of Hofstra-UNCW-William & Mary, the former two on the road.