Picked fifth in the preseason Colonial Athletic Association coaches/media poll, no one expected Northeastern to be the top dog after eight conference games. But that’s precisely where the Huskies find themselves after defeating the league’s preseason favorites: No. 1 Drexel, No. 2 Delaware, and No. 3 George Mason, all on the road.
Sunday night, before a boisterous Matthews Arena crowd of 1,971, NU (13-7, 8-0) extended its conference winning streak with a 71-51 victory over George Mason, sweeping the Patriots (12-8, 5-3) in the regular season for the second time in eight CAA seasons.
“Adversity makes you better,’’ said NU coach Bill Coen, who was without senior guard Jonathan Lee for the first nine games because of a fractured foot. “We had a terrific summer tour up in Canada, and I thought the team played really, really well. Then we hit some injuries in the early part of the year.
“We had to make some adjustments and guys had to step up.’’
Among them were senior guard Joel Smith and sophomore forward Quincy Ford, who led NU Sunday night with 15 points apiece. Smith and Ford combined to shoot 9 for 18 from the field and 5 of 10 from the 3-point arc, and totaled 13 rebounds and 9 assists.
They knocked down back-to-back treys to give NU a 17-13 lead with 6:51 to go in the first half.
“We certainly weren’t the best team we could possibly be without Jon, but the silver lining was that guys had to shoulder more of the load,’’ Coen said.
With Lee out of the lineup, Coen said at the beginning of the season a new face would have to step up on a nightly basis and help carry the team.
“I said it at shootaround today, ‘Somebody is going to come into the game tonight and really help us win,’ ’’ Coen said. “I didn’t know who it was going to be, but somebody was going to be a difference-maker tonight.’’
It turned out to be Dinko Marshavelski, a 6-foot-11-inch, 240-pound junior center from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, who gave the Huskies a huge lift off the bench with a season-high 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
After Marshavelski helped the Huskies control a 29-21 halftime lead, Reggie Spencer (14 points, six rebounds) threw down a resounding dunk to cap an 8-2 run that gave NU a 37-27 lead.
After George Mason pulled to within 49-45, NU’s David Walker answered with a 3-pointer. Ford followed with a pair of foul shots and a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 12-point lead, and they pulled away for their largest margin of victory this season.