The nets weren’t cut down on Wednesday night, but the Northeastern students rushed the floor anyway, and the Huskies will be updating at least one of their men’s basketball banners hanging high above the Matthews Arena court.
David Walker only made one field goal in the second half against James Madison, but there was none bigger. His baseline jumper from 15 feet with 2.4 seconds left gave the Huskies a 66-64 win over the Dukes, clinching at least a share of the program’s first Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title.
After three timeouts — two by James Madison, one by NU — a desperation 3-pointer from 30 feet was caught by Dukes freshman Andre Nation, who grabbed the airball and laid it in. Referees immediately waived the basket off, then checked the video monitor. Replays confirmed that the ball left Nation’s hand a split-second after the horn sounded and the red light went off. No basket.
The Huskies, who last won a regular-season conference championship in 1993 while a member of the North Atlantic Conference (which became America East), could finally celebrate.
“We were very, very fortunate to get a victory over an experienced and talented James Madison team,” coach Bill Coen said. “We were fortunate to make enough plays down the stretch. They got a great look at the end of the game — probably too good of a look for my liking — but we were able to escape with a big victory for our program at this point in time.”
It certainly wasn’t easy. The Huskies (18-10, 13-3) led by 8 after a basket by Jonathan Lee on the first possession of the second half made it 34-26. But the Dukes (15-13, 9-6) used a 10-0 run to take the lead, and still led, 54-48, with 8:02 left before NU got back into the game by knocking down unguardable shots. James Madison put the Huskies on the free throw line three times in just over a minute, all six freebies were made to tie the game at 54, and neither team led by more than 3 the rest of the way.
James Madison tied the game at 64 with 18 seconds left on a deep 3-pointer by A.J. Davis (21 points). After a timeout, the Huskies brought the ball to the frontcourt, Lee penetrated toward the baseline and spotted Walker across the lane. Walker caught Lee’s pass and shot quickly, a smooth stroke that looked good all the way.
Pressure? The freshman guard from Stow, Ohio, claimed not to feel any, and was quick to share the credit for his winner.
“I guess it was another shot,” said Walker, who finished with 11 points and was one of three NU players in double figures. “Jon made the play, drew two guys, and made an incredible pass. I was just fortunate to be in the right spot and make the shot.”
Senior guard Joel Smith, the Huskies’ leading scorer who had been limited to 16 scoreless minutes in Saturday’s loss at North Carolina Wilmington after missing a game with an ankle injury, led NU’s long-range attack.
Smith, who started and played 27 minutes, scored his only points of the game in a 53-second span late in the first half, a pair of 3-pointers that were part of a 13-2 run, turning a 14-10 deficit into a 23-16 lead.
The Huskies — who were led by Quincy Ford’s 14 points — were better from behind the line (8 for 15) than inside the arc (12 for 26). Six NU players drained 3-pointers in the first half, including Reggie Spencer (13 points), who found himself alone with the ball, nobody to pass to, and the shot clock winding down. Spencer — who hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer on the season — beat the buzzer and calmly buried it.
It was that kind of history-making night for the Huskies. They haven’t clinched the No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament, but winning that title would bring an NCAA Tournament bid, something that hasn’t happened since 1991.
“This is another step in our journey,” Coen said. “We’re hoping there’s a couple more big steps, but we’re certainly grateful for what we’ve accomplished so far. We’re pleased, but we’re not satisfied. We want more.”