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Chris Doherty and young Northeastern men’s basketball team look for a bounce-back year

The Huskies are counting on Chris Doherty to lead by example under the boards. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern senior Chris Doherty believes the best way to rebound from last year’s disappointing season is to … rebound.

At 6 feet, 7 inches, he is the right man for that job. Doherty is relentless on the boards, driven by a need to fight for every possession at either end of the court, and the Huskies are counting on his tireless approach to renew their winning ways after going 9-22 last year.

The Huskies open their 17th season under Bill Coen, the winningest coach in Northeastern men’s basketball history, at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Boston University. It’s part of a rivalry doubleheader that begins at 4 p.m. when the Northeastern women also take on BU.  

“He just refuses to be outworked on the glass—sometimes it’s two or three guys trying to keep him off—and I think it inspires everybody,” Coen says of Doherty, who averaged 11.8 points while leading the Colonial Athletic Association with 8.9 rebounds per game last season. “His competitiveness is off the charts, and I’m hoping it pays big dividends this year.”

In this year of men’s basketball renewal at Northeastern, Doherty is the leader of a young team featuring a half-dozen freshmen led by Chase Cormier, who is expected to share leadership at point guard with junior Glen McClintock. Their game management will be crucial as the Huskies seek a return to CAA contention. A preseason poll of CAA coaches ranked Northeastern No. 6 in the conference. 

“All you have to do is look to the past at the successful teams,” Coen says. “Prior to last year, we had six straight first-team all-conference guards.”

After ranking among the CAA top four (in either the regular season or conference tournament) for eight of nine seasons, Coen was stunned by the Huskies’ surprising dropoff last year. A deep review of what had gone wrong and how to make it right convinced him to focus on recruiting high school players—as opposed to competing for experienced collegians in the transfer portal, which has become a priority for many schools.

“We felt it was a better value to stick with the high school kids,” Coen says. “The nature of college basketball now is that most of the high majors are recruiting out of the transfer portal. There were high school kids that were getting, in our estimation, overlooked and undervalued, and Chase was one of those kids.”

Assistant coach Manny Adako, a former Northeastern star, went home to his native Georgia to recruit the 6-foot-2 Cormier and 6-6 guard Rashad King. Coen hopes the energy and focus of the large freshman class will complicate his decision-making as he susses out a rotation during the Huskies’ typically difficult pre-conference schedule that includes games at Providence, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Davidson—in addition to a Thanksgiving trip to the U.K. for the four-team London Basketball Classic. 

“Most years you’re trying to get to your eight-player rotation,” Coen says. “This year I don’t want to do that prematurely, because guys are going to be getting better week by week and day by day. As always, we’ll use the non-conference schedule to get us ready for conference play—but even more so this year, while we’re developing players to figure out who the top guys are going to be once we come to 2023.”

While fans may be focused on Cormier, the Huskies will also be counting on steady point-guard play from McClintock, who made 40% of his 3-pointers last season after transferring from the Air Force Academy. 

“Glen has played really well in our scrimmages,” Coen says. “Glen’s got a little bit more experience and Chase has a little bit more quickness. They’ve taken a lot of pride in helping one another every day in practice and making sure that we’re ready to go.”

The Huskies will be counting on perimeter leadership from 6-7 junior guard Jahmyl Telfort, the team scoring leader last year (12.6 points per game) after being awarded as CAA sixth man of the year as a freshman. Telfort, picked to the All-CAA Preseason Second Team by the conference coaches, will be helping across the board as the freshmen and redshirt junior guard Joe Pridgen—who missed last season after transferring from North Carolina-Wilmington—earn their roles. 

“Jah does it all,” Doherty says of the Huskies’ leading mismatch-maker. “He’s definitely bringing more of a leadership role to the table.

“We’re definitely locked in more and paying attention to the little things in practice,” Doherty adds. “It was a blessing in disguise, maybe, that we had a down year last year, and I think we can take some benefits from that.”

Doherty has made a college career of bouncing back. After struggling for playing time as a freshman at Notre Dame, he transferred back home—he was born and raised in the Boston area—to Northeastern, which had ranked among his final options coming out of high school. 

“I’m definitely a homebody,” he says.

Injuries and COVID-19 restrictions limited his initial 2020-21 season with the Huskies. Last year, he carried them through their biggest win of the season with 26 points (10 of 10 from the field) in the CAA’s opening round against William & Mary. Expect him to extend his shooting to the 3-point line this season.

Doherty is on the verge of graduating in criminal justice and may pursue a career in law enforcement someday—which would ensure that he will continue to be an intimidating presence in uniform, even after he’s done with basketball.

“The difference from last year is the compete level,” Doherty says. “You’ve really got to bring it every day in practice because the freshmen are trying to prove that they belong here. And then the guys that were here last year, we want to prove we’re skilled players, even though our team didn’t finish with the best record.” 

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