Sunday’s semifinals showed us why having senior guards is so important in college basketball.
Tomorrow’s CAA Championship will feature two of the best.
Jon Lee and Devon Moore both scored the go-ahead points in the last four seconds of regulation to lead their teams to victory.
Northeastern and James Madison will square off Monday night for an opportunity to advance to The Big Dance.
We’ll touch on that later today in the forthcoming preview.
Nine minutes and 26 seconds into the game, and Northeastern was still scoreless. The Huskies were down 13 before scoring their first bucket. The Huskies trailed by 24 on multiple occasions.
Bill Coen‘s Northeastern Huskies were down, but never out.
“As long as there’s time on the clock, they’re going to compete and battle.”
In the end, the early deficit was moot. Northeastern head coach Coen, flanked by veteran guards Jon Lee and Joel Smith, described his teams improbably come from behind victory:
“Somewhere along the way, these two guys up here found the will to win.”
Lee’s driving layup with three seconds left proved to be the game-winner, and the Huskies downed the George Mason Patriots 69-67. Lee and Smith finished with 14 points each.
The Huskies, sparked by sophomore guard Demetrius Pollard (13 points), made a mini-run to get back within striking distance before halftime.
The Patriots led 31-19 at the half.
Northeastern scored nine points in the first 95 seconds of the second half to pull within three points. Smith, a first team All-CAA selection, hit back-to-back trifectas to bring the Huskies within three.
Fittingly, it was Smith who pulled them even at 33-all, and eventually gave them their first lead at 52-51 with another 3-pointer.
That was the first of seven lead changes. Every time Northeastern hit a big shot, Bryon Allen and Marko Gujanicic hit the reciprocal bucket.
Those two attacked the rim and finished inside time and time again. When George Mason was successful breaking the Husky press, the Patriots converted easy looks inside the lane.
Little fouls started to pile up for the Patriots, as both Vertrail Vaughns (10 points) and Jon Arledge (10 points) fouled out.
Mason held a 67-61 lead after Arledge’s layup with 2:50 left. The Patriots did not attempt another shot until Gujanicic’s final halfcourt heave.
The Huskies rallied to tie the game at 67. George Mason used its final timeout with 50 seconds left.
George Mason lost possession right underneath the basket, and Northeastern came up with the loose ball.
Jon Lee scanned the floor, but saw that all of his teammates were covered. With the clock winding down, Lee drove the right side of the lane, and finished off the glass with three seconds on the clock.
Lee described his thought process during the final play after the game.
“With that time winding down, put your head down and go to the basket. It was a wide-open layup because they were pressuring everybody else.”
Gujanicic had a last-second heave, but it was a little too strong. He finished with 12 points, and played well in the second half.
Asked how his team’s lead dissipated so quickly, George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt mentioned turnovers, which may have came from fatigue.
“We had five live-ball turnovers. You can’t defend a turnover that happens between the keys.”
The shooting efficiency in the second half was absolutely ridiculous.
The Patriots shot 15-of-19 from the field (78.9%). Five Patriots scored in double figures, led by Allen, who scored a game-high 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Northeastern scored 50 points in the second half. The Huskies shot 7-of-11 from downtown after the intermission, and 14-of-23 from the field. They overcame early free throw woes to make 15-of-19 from the line in the second half.
Northeastern forced 20 George Mason turnovers, and held a 27-19 advantage in points off turnovers.
That’s been the story all season.
The Huskies will play in their first CAA Championship, but that’s not enough for Coen’s club.
“We’re very happy and pleased, but we’re not satisfied.”
Lee, Smith and redshirt junior Dinko Marshavelski are the only Huskies who were alive the last time Northeastern made the NCAA Tournament — way back in 1991.
Devon Moore drove the lane and was fouled with 3.7 seconds left. Moore calmly tied the game before hitting the go-ahead free throw. Devon Saddler’s potential game-winning 3-pointer was a bit long.
James Madison secured the 58-57 win against Delaware, and earned the right to play Northeastern for the CAA Championship.
For JMU head coach Matt Brady, Moore was the only viable option in the clutch situation.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I know you’re going to keep the ball in Devon’s hands. We’re going to let him make the play.”
Brady was elated for the university.
“Obviously it’s a dramatic win for our team and our program. It’s a huge step forward. I don’t know how cleanly the game was played. There was a lot of defense…at the end of the day, our kids kept fighting.”
Moore finished with 14 points, and classmate AJ Davis scored a game-high 16. Freshman Andre Nation scored 12 points, and brought magnificent defensive intensity throughout the game. Nation finished with a career-high five blocks.
Delaware was on the wrong side of two controversial calls in the final 15 seconds.
Carl Baptiste, who had a huge nine-point, nine-rebound game, had just thwarted Nation’s attempt to give JMU the lead. Jarvis Threatt secured the ball and was fouled.
Delaware’s Kyle Anderson inbounded the ball to Threatt, who raced down the left side of the court. Before JMU had a chance to foul him, Threatt appeared to dribble the ball on the sideline.
Someone much smarter than I am could probably do some equation of a sphere or maybe some vector notation physics to prove whether or not the ball actually touched the line (tennis technology, how we envy thee).
The Twittersphere believes it was a questionable call, and since most of you non-biased readers have watched basketball longer than we have, we believe you.
Bad calls (and no-calls) happen all the time. It’s the human element of the game. It’s heartwrenching this Delaware squad had to bow out of the tournament in such a controversial manner.
Furthermore, the game was refereed by a top-notch crew. That’s why they officiated an oh-so-esteemed North Carolina-Duke game last night (which is also part of the bigger problem plaguing college basketball – quick turnarounds for referees).
As with every basketball game, there were questionable calls throughout, but I think most would agree the officiating was consistent.
Delaware head coach Monte Ross knew there was significantly more to the game than the final few seconds.
“I don’t think it was something we did or did not do. It’s the ebb and flow of the game. I don’t think it’s necessarily something I can put my finger on, as to why it went the way it went.”
Remember how we said Delaware couldn’t get away with turning the ball over 16 times again? Well, that was the exact number of turnovers the Blue Hens committed, which was also exactly twice as many as the Dukes committed.
I think we’ve made it clear that we think the YoUDees are an incredibly talented bunch. They have a postseason future, if they elect to participate. Ross mentioned that it’s an honor to play in the postseason.
We hope that was not the last we see of Jamelle Hagins in a Delaware uniform. The CAA Defensive Player of the Year went out with a bang, finishing with 12 points, 12 boards, four assists and four blocks.
“A walking double-double”, and so much more.
It’s tough to see seniors like Hagins and Josh Brinkley miss out on a chance to play in the Big Dance. Monte Ross has a lot of admiration for his group.
“The biggest thing about college athletics is you ask these guys to give you their blood, heart, soul and guts, and I’m so appreciative because they gave me that. I really enjoy coaching these guys. They give you everything they have on any given night.”
The game was a back and forth battle. Delaware’s frontcourt was absolutely dominant. The Blue Hens held a 45-27 advantage on the glass and a 23-8 advantage in second-chance points.
“To me, rebounding is an effort thing. I like the effort our guys put forth. I was really happy about that effort,” remarked Monte Ross after the game.
But Saddler, Threatt and Anderson combined to shoot just 9-of-37 from the field. Threatt did most his damage in a run that gave Delaware the lead in the final few minutes of the second half.
Saddler and Threatt average a total of 12.9 free throw attempts per game, but combined to take just two free throws on the night.
The Fightin’ Blues also shot just 3-of-17 (17.6%) from downtown.
JMU didn’t set the world on fire. At 37.7% shooting, the Dukes offense was just passable. JMU and Delaware had the exact same amount of field goals and free throws.
Ultimately, you could point to the fact that the Dukes made one extra 3-pointer.
Brady noted that this is a giant win for his program.
“We’re doing this for a lot of people that have been waiting for this game for a long time.”
The Dukes will play in their first CAA Championship since 1997, with a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.
“It would be huge for JMU. These kids, I’ve told them all week long, we’re doing this for more than the 13 kids in the locker room.”