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The odd couple of Northeastern men’s basketball

Northeastern senior guard Jordan Roland led the nation in scoring after six games this season. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

Jordan Roland couldn’t believe he was leading the nation in scoring in the opening weeks of the season. 

“It’s still very early,” says Roland, the Northeastern shooting guard who averaged a surprising 26.8 points after a half-dozen games. “I’ll definitely have some fun with that down the road. But right now I’m focused on trying to win games and playing the right way.”

Northeastern (5-4) has been off to a competitive start in spite of losing four major contributors from last year’s Colonial Athletic Association champions—including point guard Vasa Pusica, the team’s leading scorer and playmaker who was all-CAA each of the past two years. The Huskies have given themselves a chance in every game because of their old-and-young backcourt of Roland, a prolific fifth-year graduate student, and freshman point guard Tyson Walker, who has been named CAA Rookie of the Week twice already.

Roland generated career-bests of 39 and 42 points in season-opening wins against Boston University and Harvard, respectively. Though recent opponents have limited his opportunities by denying him the ball, coach Bill Coen insists that the exaggerated attention opponents pay to Roland will create opportunities for his teammates as the season progresses.

“He’s our best weapon,” Coen says of Roland, who has slipped slightly to 25.1 points per game, which ranks him second in NCAA Division 1 scoring. “But he’s not our only weapon.”

Tyson Walker, the Huskies’ explosive freshman point guard, has been named CAA Rookie of the Week twice in the young season. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

The Huskies are converting an efficient 51.2 percent of their shots overall, including 44.2 percent from the 3-point line. Their experienced trio of Tomas Murphy (9.3 points), Bolden Brace (8.9 points and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds), and Maxime Boursiquot (6.7 points) has been providing the expected support.

But no one was predicting that Walker would emerge as an early-season leader with 10.3 points per game to go with a team-best 3.4 assists. The undersized backcourt of 6-foot-1-inch Roland and 6-foot Walker is generating close to half of Northeastern’s points and steals—the latter creating easy baskets while enabling Walker to play to his uptempo strength.

Much like Pusica, Walker has the vision to locate all of his teammates on the floor. He generated 15 points and a season-best six assists in a 78-63 win over Maine at Matthews Arena on Wednesday.

“Typically, we look for a bigger point guard,” Coen said. “But Tyson’s feel and vision trump that preference. He can give you a little bit more ball speed, he can get into the lane, and he’s a crafty finisher because of his quickness. He can make all the passes that need to be made in our offense.”

Roland complements his 3-point shooting with the ability to drive to the basket or pull up from mid-range. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

Walker, a natural leader with an outgoing personality, has been focused on establishing the offense around Roland, who welcomes the responsibility.

“I wanted to have a really, really big year—with all that we lost, I felt like I was going to have to be one of the guys that to carry the load,” says Roland, who surpassed 1,000 points in his career while scoring 28 Wednesday. “I didn’t expect to get off to this good of a start. But one of the things I wanted was to be more of a leader. I haven’t really been in a leadership role since I’ve been in college.”

Roland led his teams to state basketball championships in his final two years at Westhill High School in Syracuse, New York. He didn’t fulfill his potential at George Washington, however, and moved to Northeastern in 2017. After sitting out his transfer year, Roland set a Northeastern season record with 99 3-pointers in a complementary role.

Coen’s ball-screen offense has helped Roland explore his versatility. He can drive inside and pull up from mid-range when he isn’t scoring from the 3-point line. His stroke is unique: Jordan leaps high and releases the ball well above his head while kicking his legs forward, like a long-jumper seeking extra distance in the air. 

“The difference this year is he knows he has to be more aggressive,” Coen says. “He has to probe a little bit more to see if he can score off the first or second bounce; where last year he would he would be a ball-mover if he didn’t have a catch-and-shoot shot. We’ve had conversations on how it would actually be selfish if he turns down a shot, because it’s in the best interest of the team that he be aggressive.”

A different cast of actors is performing a script that has grown familiar among Coen’s teams. The Huskies are using a difficult preseason schedule to come together, with the goal of peaking for the conference tournament in March. By then, they hope, Roland and Walker will be ready to lead them back to the NCAA Tournament. Seamlessly.

This story was updated December 5.

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