Inside Look: Behind Northeastern’s upset of Georgetown

This is now a couple of news cycles behind, but it’s worth looking back at how Northeastern upset Georgetown in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday afternoon. At the 17:54 mark of the second half, Hoyas forward Josh Smith made two free throws, extending his team’s lead to 14 points. To that point, the Huskies had scored just 26 points in 22 minutes, and the Hoyas — who hadn’t lost to a mid-major in the regular season since falling at Temple in 2010 — seemed on their way to a comfortable victory.

But in that final 17:54, Northeastern outscored the Hoyas 37-16. One thing is clear from Thursday’s shot chart: despite playing a major-conference team with more size, the Huskies fed the ball inside whenever possible.

Locations of Northeastern's shots and drawn free throws over the final 18 minutes against Georgetown on Thursday. (Intentional end-game fouls not included.)

Locations of Northeastern’s shots and drawn free throws over the final 18 minutes against Georgetown on Thursday. (Intentional end-game fouls not included.)

This strategy was nothing new for the Huskies — 50 percent of their field goals for the season have been either dunks or layups, according to Hoop-Math.com, well above the national average of 34 percent. We discussed BU’s shot selection last week, highlighting the Terriers’ tendency to shoot layups and threes; Northeastern takes the same approach and discards the “threes” part. When distilled to a shot chart, the Huskies’ offensive philosophy is rather old-school: Get shots as close to the basket as possible — or, failing that, from the free-throw line.

That plan is easier to execute when built around a forward like Scott Eatherton, who scored 12 points on 5-7 shooting in a foul-limited 18 minutes. The 6’8” transfer from St. Francis (Pa.) came into the season with high expectations, and he has exceeded them so far. Through five games, Eatherton has been the Huskies’ highest-usage player on offense, using 27.5 of possessions when on the court with a 110.5 offensive rating.

Eatherton has also been a shot-blocking and rebounding force for the Huskies, a component last year’s squad lacked at times. He had nine defensive rebounds in 12 minutes in Thursday’s second half, leading Northeastern to a decided advantage on the glass during its comeback.

“We knew how big they were. We knew we had to use our quickness to get around them,” Eatherton said in the postgame press conference.

His partner in crime Thursday was Reggie Spencer, another prolific rebounder who scored a game-high 18 points. All of those points came from the free-throw line or at the rim, including a breakaway dunk in the final seconds that capped the Huskies’ upset.

Northeastern got no time to rest on its victory; after losing to Charlotte on Friday, the Huskies play Florida State in the Puerto Rico tournament’s third-place game Sunday afternoon, then face VCU, Harvard and UAB in the coming two weeks. The Huskies may not face another opponent quite as highly ranked as Georgetown, but their 14-game non-conference schedule includes nine teams currently in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100.

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Quick thoughts around Boston:

Boston College played probably its best game of the season on Thursday against Connecticut, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 72-70 defeat at Madison Square Garden. The following day, the Eagles took revenge against a different group of Huskies, downing Washington 89-78. Nearly 20 percent of the way through the season, it’s pretty clear what BC is: a terrific offensive team that can’t play defense. The Eagles have scored 1.17 points per possession against a tough schedule so far — but they’ve allowed 1.19, and even in both their wins have been above 1.20. Of particular concern is that an opposing guard has scored at least 20 points in all six BC games this season. It’s hard to see this approach taking the Eagles too far this year … but at least it’ll be fun to watch.

Boston University lost to Eastern Washington in its first game of the 2K Sports Classic sub-regional in California, a defeat that looked a lot better when the Eagles throttled Long Island University the next day. BU held off host UC-Irvine on Saturday thanks to a blistering 10-for-18 performance from three-point range and closes the road trip against LIU today.

Harvard gets its first major test of the season today, visiting Colorado at 4:30 ET. On paper, the Crimson and Buffaloes look like a pretty even match, but the combination of home-court advantage plus Harvard injuries swings the advantage somewhat toward Colorado. Still, it’s certainly not an unwinnable game for the Crimson, especially if Brandyn Curry is ready to return. Harvard’s schedule looked disappointing in the preseason due to a lack of marquee opponents, but the Crimson should play a long string of tricky Top 100-to-150 opponents in the next two weeks, including Northeastern, BU, Denver and possibly Indiana State.

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