In front of a raucous crowd, the Friars looked to start off the Keno Davis era with a bang.
Instead, they looked lost at times, and due to inconsistent play and turnovers lost to the Northeastern Huskies 70-66 on Saturday night.
Northeastern played well throughout the game, taking the lead midway through the first half and holding off the Friars down the stretch to earn the upset victory. The Friars were able to tie the game late in the second half but could not get the defensive stops they needed to shut down the persistent Huskies.
Matt Janning had a game-high 24 points and forward Eugene Spates added 17, each making big shots in the second half to stop the Friars from coming back.
The newly renovated Dunkin' Donuts Center was electric to start the game, as the expanded student section was excited to welcome new coach Keno Davis, giving him the classic, Ke-no Da-vis clap clap clapclapclap chant before the game started. Davis was fired up on the sideline, and with good reason.
The Friars started the game well and probably played well enough to win if it wasn't for all their turnovers. Possessions were cut short time and time again as errant passes down low bounced out of bounds. The Friars looked sloppy at times while handling the ball, dribbling the ball off their feet and turning the ball over needlessly. The 21 turnovers as a team did not help their chances of winning.
Also, they had mediocre foul shooting down the stretch, going 8-16 from the line in the second half. The Friars were also victimized by questionable calls from the officials, killing all kinds of momentum late in the game.
The Friars were able to overcome these obstacles and tied the game at 57 on a Geoff McDermott three-pointer with 4:32 to play. However, a quick three by Northeastern gave them the lead once again. The Friars tied it again at 63 on a three-point play by Weyinmi Efejuku with 2:13 to play, but once again it was a Northeastern three-pointer that shifted the momentum back to the visiting Huskies.
The Friars simply could not defend the Huskies' best players, something that frustrated Coach Davis and the fans in attendance. Their inconsistent performance was telling of this team's inability to master the offense at this stage of the season.
Consider these numbers.
Point guard Sharaud Curry, who is coming back from a foot injury, had just two points on 1-8 shooting. The enigmatic Weyinmi Efejuku led the Friars with 16 points but turned the ball over six times. Jon Kale, the Friars' emotional leader, had 15 points but went 3-7 from the line, missing free throws in key spots. Sharpshooter Jeff Xavier had only three points on 1-5 shooting.
If these numbers tell us anything, it is that the Friars are not getting their best players the ball enough times in a possession. Too many times, a player would try to drive through multiple defenders, only to lose control of the ball.
On a lighter note, Marshawn Brooks played well, using his intensity to grab several key rebounds and forcing several turnovers. I would say that he and Kale were the team's top two performers Saturday night, along with Brian McKenzie who made some big shots late in the game, keeping the Friars close.
This team is clearly at their best when they have intensity on their side, and lackadaisical play by Efejuku and Curry will do nothing but bring this team down.
The Friars' defense looked better than it did in the preseason, but if they want to get back on track, they have to beat Dartmouth tonight at the Dunk. If the Friars want a shot at the big dance in March, they have to beat teams that they are supposed to beat. Although they looked average against Northeastern, I expect them to fully recover this week.