Northeastern coach Bill Coen won't soon forget the first time his team reached the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. And the memory won't be at all pleasant.
One day after his team fell behind by 24 points and staged the biggest comeback in school history, the Huskies trailed by 22 and fell short of duplicating the comeback, losing 70-57 to James Madison on Monday night at Richmond Coliseum.
"They had the urgency of seniors. They knew what time it was tonight," Coen said of the Dukes, whose six seniors played big roles in an early 23-1 run that changed the complexion of the game right away. "A.J. Davis and (Rayshawn) Goins played a terrific basketball game."
Davis scored 26 points and Goins had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Dukes, who still had to hold off a furious rally to win their first CAA title and NCAA tournament berth in 19 years, since 1994.
Jonathan Lee led the regular-season champion Huskies (20-12) with 14 points, all in the second half, when he said the big deficit forced him to get away from the Huskies' typical reliance on 3-pointers.
"It was just the mindset that we had to get something going," he said of his sudden attacking style that fueled a 25-11 run to open the half. "We had to get something going to the rim."
The Huskies, who haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, closed to within 51-43 with 8:23 to go before losing scoring leader Joel Smith to fouls, and giving James Madison a chance to regroup.
The disqualifying foul came as Andre Nation was attempting a 3-pointer, and after a timeout, Nation made all three shots, sparking a 10-3 run for the Dukes that allowed a heavily partisan crowd to relax.
"We tried to make our run, tried to make our push, but we just fell short," Lee said.
The Huskies, who had played one fewer game in the tournament because of a first-round bye, closed to 61-50 on a 3-pointer by David Walker with 4 minutes left but got no closer.
Northeastern's comeback against George Mason had been the largest in the 93-year history of the program, so the start to Monday's game seemed a bit shocking and proved decisive.
After Smith opened the game with a 3-pointer for the Huskies, Davis answered for the Dukes and an inside basket by Reggie Spencer gave Northeastern a 5-3 lead. By the time the Huskies got their next field goal, nearly 13 minutes had elapsed and they trailed 28-11. Two more baskets by Goins made it 32-11 and a 3-pointer by Davis a short time later made it 35-13.
The Dukes led 40-18 at halftime — and then it just seemed a matter of hanging on.
The Huskies' 25-11 run to start the second half, which featured all of Lee's points, made it interesting, but the foul on Nation, the timeout and his three free throws settled the Dukes again.
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