WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Huskies recognized the depths of euphoria that were erupting from the other end of the court. They empathized with the feelings of relief and fulfillment and delirium. It was heartbreaking.
Northeastern lost the Colonial Athletic Association final on Tuesday to top-seeded Hofstra, 70-61. It was a reversal of their meeting one year ago, when the Pride’s loss sent the Huskies onto the NCAA Tournament.
Having devoted this season to making up for last year’s defeat, Hofstra (26-8) advanced to March Madness for the first time since 2001. The Pride owe their breakthrough to sure-headed leader Desure Buie (20 points and 5 assists), who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for singlehandedly maintaining his team’s relevance in the first half when his teammates appeared to be frazzled.
The sixth-seeded Huskies (17-16), who had overcome a disappointing regular season to reach the conference title game for a third straight year, were leading by a slim 48-44 with 7:40 remaining.
But there was too much to overcome. Freshman point guard Tyson Walker suffered a recurrence of a left shoulder injury that limited him to four points in 19 minutes. Jordan Roland (11 points on 11 shots) was stifled by Hofstra’s matchup zone. Foul trouble forced Jordan and Max Boursiquot (who earned a place on the All-Tournament Team while leading the Huskies with 15 points) to the bench down the stretch as Hofstra was pulling away.
Extraordinarily, the Huskies were outscored 16-1 from the free throw line.
Roland and Bolden Brace (13 points and four assists) ended their careers at Northeastern by joining Boursiquot on the All-Tournament Team. Guilien Smith, a graduate-student transfer from Dartmouth who was among the most popular players on the team, also played his final game for the Huskies.
“I’m proud of our guys—their effort, their resiliency, and their perseverance through what overall was a bit of a frustrating year for us,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “Unfortunately, we came up about 20 minutes short.”
Northeastern controlled the first half, as the Pride’s best intentions appeared to work against them. Hofstra was hyped up, over-shooting for airballs, and appearing to move altogether too fast. Buie, the senior point guard, was trying to provide leadership with one big shot after another, but his teammates weren’t following his example. “Think!” he yelled at his fellow star, senior guard Eli Pemberton, who was contorting for high-difficulty drives and errant three-pointers. Pemberton and Jalen Ray were a combined 4 of 18 at halftime, when Northeastern held a scant 30-28 advantage.
But they came around in the second half. Pemberton (19 points overall) and Ray (17) made the All-Tournament Team, and big man Isaac Kante collected 15 rebounds to go with his nine points as Hofstra outscored the undersized Huskies 14-2 on second-chance opportunities.
With its victory in this game one year ago, Northeastern had contributed to Hofstra’s stubborn drive to triumph this time. The Huskies knew all about this dynamic: Their 2018 loss in the CAA final had propelled them to the championship last year at Hofstra’s expense.
“They played with an edge and desire,” Brace said. “That feeling of losing, and coming back next year and having another opportunity, is special. You don’t get that unless you lose.”
Will Boursiquot, Walker, and Shaquille Walters (11 points and three assists) be energized next season? They helped the Huskies recover from an extended run of painful conference losses—Northeastern went 1-6 in single-possession games this season—to beat No. 3 Towson and No. 7 Elon over the preceding two nights of the tournament.
With 18.7 seconds remaining, Coen subbed out his regulars, hugging each one as they came to the bench. It was an especially difficult moment for Roland and Brace, who have scored more than 1,000 points each for Northeastern.
“It is awfully sweet, because they’re such a good team and such a good program,” said Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich of his team’s payback win over the Huskies. “If it is sweet, it’s because of how much respect we have for Northeastern, and for everybody in this league.”
The final moments dragged on until the buzzer sounded like an unwelcome alarm clock. As the Pride momentarily paused their celebration to line up and shake hands, the Huskies felt very much as though they were experiencing mirror images of their own memorable joy, before the roles were reversed.
Next year can’t come soon enough.