Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A BIG win

So rarely in my time at Northeastern has any of my teams, collegiate or pro, won what I'd call a "big game." Sure, there are exceptions. You've got the OT 3-2 win at BC that kept home ice dreams alive for another night, and you've got the Patriots beating the Chargers in the AFC playoffs on a Kaeding missed field goal. But, as the athletic department says, now is the time, and the Huskies scored a big win last night.

The CAA is generally considered a top-tier mid major, and in an overall D-I conference ranking would typically make the top 10. This year has been something of a down year, with three notable exceptions: Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason, and Northeastern. After beating George Mason by one, those three teams stood tied atop the conference. Then, the Huskies watched VCU beat GMU as they rallied to beat Old Dominion to generate a two-way tie for first between the Rams and Northeastern. Naturally, the next game on the schedule was NU vs. VCU. You can't manufacture drama like this.

Northeastern has typically struggled when playing the Virginia and Georgia teams on the road. I don't remember their record of the top of my head, but it's bad. After the win at Matthews vs. GMU, they fell behind Old Dominion 21-7 and looked like they were in danger of folding under the pressure. They responded with a 51-20 run to close out the game, winning 58-42 behind Matt Janning. Janning scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half. ODU, as a team, scored 18 in the second half. You've gotta love defense.

I watched last night's game with a surprising crowd of NU students at the Pizzeria Uno on campus. As the Huskies built a 17 point lead in the first half, I braced myself for what was coming: a VCU run filled with ESPN top-10 highlights from Eric Maynor. Maynor, for the uninitiated, is VCU's point guard and a likely first round NBA draft pick. I haven't the slightest idea how he ended up a Ram, but he's been leading the team (and the conference) since his freshman year. He ended up with 30 points on the night. He's really good.

After watching their lead whittled to 4 to finish the half, the Huskies were on fire to start the second. Since the departure of Bobby Kelly, I've never really thought the Huskies had a legitimate three point threat outside Janning, but Matt Smith might just be the guy. When Smith and Spates are hitting open 3's consistently, it changes the game completely. And I can't say enough about Baptiste Bataille. Much as Jordan Farmar ups the ante when he comes in off the bench for Derek Fisher, Bataille really shines as a tempo-changer when he replaces Allen in the lineup. He's quick, a good defender desipite his size, and isn't afraid to take it to the hole and dish it out for easy baskets. He'll never be the defender nor the ball handler Allen is, but he's a very valuable guy coming off the bench.

Northeastern led by as much as 16 in the second before finding themselves clinging to a 2 point lead with a minute or so remaining. But they made their foul shots and got some excellent defense from Nkem Ojougboh and a huge offensive rebound from Chris Alavarez. Maynor heaved a loooong three with about 15 seconds remaining and missed, essentially icing the 68-63 Husky victory.

What a win. The Huskies now own tiebreakers over GMU and VCU and stand at first in the CAA. They play again Saturday at 1:00 at Matthews Arena vs. Delaware.

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