For about 50 seconds during the Tribe’s 53-52 win Saturday night, Kendrix Brown was feeling pretty awful. The sophomore guard had just committed a pair of cardinal sins that allowed visiting Northeastern to turn a 16-point Tribe lead to into a one-point Husky advantage in the final minute. But shortly after his dual mistakes — turning the ball over on a five-second violation and fouling Baptiste Bataille on a three-point attempt — he got a chance to redeem himself.
With the College trailing for the first time all night, Brown corralled a missed shot by senior guard David Schneider, calmly collected himself, and banked home a game-winning fadeaway jumper with 3.8 seconds left. Afterward, the visitors missed a final valuable upset over the CAA’s first-place team.
“I would have felt horrible if we had lost,” Brown said. “But we have a very resilient team, and we always pull through in the clutch.”
The Tribe needed every ounce of that resilience Saturday. The squad dominated Northeastern for the first 37 minutes of action, maintaining a sizeable lead for much of the contest. But a furious 15-4 Husky run in the final three minutes erased the Tribe’s advantage, leading to the dramatic ending.
“I think it was just our effort,” Brown said. “We came out with a lot of energy and we lagged off in the second half. We didn’t contest every shot; we weren’t communicating as much. We let them back in the game when we should have been able to put it away.”
Until that point, it looked as if the College would emerge with a relatively comfortable home victory. Schneider and senior forward Danny Sumner each drained long three-pointers in the opening minutes as the Tribe quickly opened up a 10-4 lead that would grow to 12 points by halftime. Head Coach Tony Shaver devised a defensive gameplan that stifled Northeastern’s guard-oriented offense, thwarting the attempts of guards Matt Janning and Chaisson Allen to get open for outside shots.
“We came in knowing that they were basically the engine that made the team go,” Brown said. “If we made their other players take shots, we knew we’d have a good chance of winning.”
That strategy contained the Huskies to just 16 first-half points on six of 23 shooting. Meanwhile, the Tribe controlled the boards, limiting the second-chance points that had plagued them in recent games. Junior center Marcus Kitts racked up 10 rebounds, while helping his squad to a 38-28 advantage on the night.
Coupled with steady scoring from Schneider (10 points) and Sumner (12), the College opened up a 40-24 lead with 9:16 remaining in the second half.
But then the visitors came roaring back.
“It wasn’t our defense, we were okay there,” Shaver said. “But we got a little passive on the offensive end. Instead of playing to win, we played a little fearful of losing at that point.”
Janning and Allen got hot despite the Tribe’s defensive pressure, supplying 13 points over the final nine minutes. The College still maintained a six point lead in the final minute, but several ill-timed fouls and Brown’s struggles allowed the Huskies to take their first and only lead of the night with 23 seconds left.
Twenty seconds later, Brown’s jumper dropped through the iron, sending a raucous home crowd into hysterics and delivering the Tribe a crucial win in a tightly-contested CAA race.
James Madison’s home win over Virginia Commonwealth moved the College a game clear of the Rams and tied with Drexel for fourth place. Due to CAA tiebreaking rules, the Tribe now controls its own destiny towards maintaining that position and earning one of the conference’s four first-round tournament byes.
The win was also the College’s third straight, and fourth in five games after dropping four of five last month.
“It’s huge,” Shaver said. “When we lost two or three to some good teams in our league, people wanted to know what’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. We’ve had some bumps in the road and we’ve responded to them. It was a tremendous win for us.”
The squad now prepares to face third-place George Mason Tuesday in Fairfax, Va. With Drexel and VCU facing each other and a weak schedule remaining for the Tribe, a win could go a long way toward clinching a top-four finish.
“It’s a quick turnaround, but handling this turnaround will be a lot easier with a win,” Shaver said. “We’re a hard team to prepare for, so it may hurt [George Mason].”
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