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Huskies’ season ends after upset by Drexel in CAA semifinal

The Huskies lost despite a career-best 30 points from freshman Jahmyl Telfort. Photo by Rafael Suanes via CAA Sports

No. 2 Northeastern was knocked out of the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship Monday in a 74-67 loss to No. 6 Drexel.

The season ended earlier than expected for the Huskies (10-9), who were upset by the superior rebounding and balanced scoring of the Dragons (11-7). The disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the dismissal of the Huskies, who had played three games in 40 days before arriving in Harrisonburg, Va., for the conference tournament.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our group,” said Bill Coen, who on Sunday became the winningest coach in the 101-year history of the men’s basketball program at Northeastern. “We just really had some bad timing. … We had guys who were coming to the tournament without having practiced, and we were just trying to cobble it together with different guys in different lineups.”

The Huskies were unable to develop scoring from anyone apart from their young backcourt of freshman Jahmyl Telfort (a career-best 30 points on 21 shots) and sophomore Tyson Walker (23 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals). By contrast, four Dragons scored 11 points or more while big men James Butler (12 rebounds to go with 12 points) and T.J. Bickerstaff combined for 23 rebounds. Northeastern was outrebounded 38-26 overall.

“We were missing guys,” Telfort said. “It was tough on the offensive end because we haven’t been practicing a lot, so I was just trying to stay aggressive.”

The Huskies had been favored to reach the CAA championship game for a fourth straight year. Instead, the automatic NCAA Tournament bid will be contested Monday night by finalists Drexel and No. 8 Elon in a sign of how the pandemic has contributed to unexpected outcomes. Drexel will be seeking its first trip to March Madness since 1996; Elon has never appeared in the NCAA Tournament.

This was Northeastern’s first meeting with Drexel this season.

“That’s a program that we emulate and look at for how we want to build our basketball program,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said of the Huskies. “That makes this win much more meaningful.”

An 8-0 Huskies run—concluded by Telfort’s self-created 3-pointer—brought them within a point entering the final six minutes. But the Dragons responded with a trio of 3-pointers to stretch their advantage to 62-54 with less than four minutes to go.

The underdog Dragons had taken a five-point lead into the intermission before jumping ahead with a 12-2 run early in the second half. 

The Huskies hadn’t played a game—and had rarely practiced—in the 17 days before their quarterfinal on Sunday, a 63-47 win over No. 7 William & Mary. The absences of Jason Strong (who missed all but one minute of the CAA tournament ) and Shaquille Walters added to Northeastern’s frustrations. Coen was forced to go deeper into his bench than he had during most of the regular season.

The young Huskies have high hopes for next season. Having lost most of their offense from last season and having no seniors, they were picked to finish seventh in the 10-team CAA. Instead, Walker emerged as arguably the top player in the conference and Telfort was honored as the best sixth man in the CAA as they earned a fourth regular-season title for Coen.

“It’s the beginning, not the end,” Coen said of his young players. “Even though it was a young group, we were able to do a lot of great things. … The way they competed, I truly felt those guys were winners tonight.”

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