by JOSHUA KUMMINS
BOSTON — The playoff atmosphere was alive and well on Wednesday night at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena as the Huskies welcomed the James Madison Dukes to the old barn for the first and only head-to-head contest between the teams this year.
In front of a season-high 3,463 fans and the highest NU home game total in exactly three years, freshman David Walker took a feed from senior captain Jonathan Lee for a 15-foot jump shot on the baseline with two seconds remaining to lift the Hounds to their 13th win of the season in Colonial Athletic Association play – a 66-64 decision.
“We were very, very fortunate to get a victory over an experienced and talented James Madison team,” said Huskies head coach Bill Coen in the post-game press conference. “We were fortunate to make enough plays down the stretch… [and] able to escape with a big victory for our program at this point in time.”
With the victory, the Huskies clinched at least a share of their first CAA title since joining the league in 2005 and their first in any conference since sharing the America East crown in 1993.
The Huskies came into the game as losers of two consecutive contests for the first time in over two months and got off to quite a start as sophomore Quincy Ford drilled a three-pointer on the very first field-goal attempt of the game.
NU hit its first three shots of the contest for a six-point edge, extending the lead to as many as nine (with 2:15 to play in the half), before entering the halftime break with a 32-26 lead on an impressive 12-for-25 shooting.
That statistic has certainly been a good omen for the Huskies’ recent successes as they have combined for a 22-4 record when leading after 20 minutes over the last two seasons. Lee started the second half off on the same note for the Huskies as he hit a jumper in the paint 32 seconds into the proceedings.
The Purple and Gold held a 38-34 scoring advantage in the second half, with much thanks to a strong stretch to about the 12:00 mark that put them up by a five-point margin.
After Lee’s shot fell, the Dukes ran off for ten consecutive points, capped off by a pair of free throws by redshirt senior A.J. Davis, who handily led the Duke attack with 21 total points.
The sides played to an even minute before the Dukes scored five straight points and then allowed six in a row to the Huskies as they took a 48-47 lead on a turnaround jump from Reggie Spencer. Once again, the visitors changed things right up as they bounced back for a 7-0 stretch that saw a three-pointer from Davis and consecutive foul shots from Davis and rookie Ron Curry with 8:00 remaining.
NU tied the game at 54 in less than two minutes as it made six consecutive foul shots, including two from Ford, who ended the night with half (seven) of his 14 points from the charity stripe to extend his streak of 31 consecutive shots made.
With the game tied, neither team broke to further than a one-possession lead as they traded basket for basket until the waning moments. Davis sent the visiting bench and traveling crowd into a frenzy as he hit an open, straightaway three-pointer with 19 seconds to play, knotting the count at 64.
The Huskies would not say die on this night as they drove down the floor for the final time with the ball in the hands of Lee, who found Walker for the sealer.
“I guess it was another shot,” Walker, a Stow, Ohio native said if he could recall another play of such importance in a game in his career, before handing off praise to his teammates. “Jon [Lee]…made an incredible pass. I was just fortunate to be in the right spot and make the shot.”
Davis looked to re-square the score with a second remaining, but his three-pointer fell short into the hands of freshman Andre Nation for the putback just too late as the Huskies survived for the heroic finish.
“They got a great look at the end of the game — probably too good of a look for my liking — but we [did it],” Coen said.
16 of NU’s 28 contests this year have been decided by five points or less and has achieved a strong record of 12-4 in those “close” contests.
NU will have a week without action of its own before returning to the floor for a contest next Wednesday night against Georgia State in Atlanta.
“This is another step in our journey,” Coen added. “We’re hoping there’s a couple more big steps…We knew something special was going to happen [this season]…We’re pleased, but we’re not satisfied. We want more.”
James Madison returns to Harrisonburg to host the same Panthers on Saturday in the final Duke home game of the season.