Wikipedia defines a husky as "a type of dog used to pull sleds in northern regions." Maybe Bill Coen should use this as his excuse when he talks about his team's slow start in today's post game conference, because Northeastern came out freezing cold from the field in Sunday's semifinal game.
Yet even an outrageous 31-7 deficit wasn't enough to deter the Huskies as they rallied behind a fantastic second-half effort and somehow found a way to beat George Mason, 69-67, on Jonathan Lee's layup with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Through the first 16:30, though, Northeastern fans couldn't do anything but shake their heads or bury them in their hands. They missed their first nine attempts from the field as the Patriots built a 13-0 lead in the early going. Lee finally put the Huskies on the board with a layup 9:34 into the game, but it seemed to be too little, too late as Mason marched on. They continued to stretch the lead to 24 points on two separate occasions, with scores of 28-4 and 31-7.
And then, finally, Northeastern felt the touch of the basketball gods. The official TV timeout with 3:36 remaining in the first half proved to be a source of traction for the Huskies.
From that point, they began to mount their comeback with a combination of lockdown defense and a barrage of three-pointers to start the second half.
A huge player in Northeastern's comeback effort was Joel Smith who, after being held scoreless in the first half, hit two threes in the first 1:28, forcing George Mason to call a timeout. That 31-7 gap had suddenly turned into a tight, 31-28 contest.
Smith ended up scoring all 14 of his points in the second half, and key players like Reggie Spencer and Quincy Ford began to wake up for the Huskies in the second half. Spencer and Ford, who combined for just 2 points in the first twenty minutes, ended up with 18 between the two of them.
Mason's Bryon Allen did his best to try and keep the Patriots ahead of the Huskies as the rally continued, but his fantastic 20-point effort wasn't enough. Not even personally shooting 75 percent from the field could keep this voracious Northeastern team at bay, and with 8:29 remaining in the game, Joel Smith nailed a three-pointer to give the Huskies their first lead of the entire game.
Of course, a lead with 8:29 remaining in the game means a lot more than a lead with 28:29 remaining in the game. Luckily for Northeastern, they were able to grab the former in lieu of the latter.
And yet Allen did his best to manage the fight when he returned the lead to Mason with 5:28 in the game, and the Patriots pushed the gap to six points with under three minutes remaining.
That's when Jonathan Lee emerged.
Lee knocked down two free throws to make it a four point game, and after Quincy Ford knocked down two of his own and then hit a layup, the game was even at 67 with 57 second left.
A minute-long game to see who could score more clutch points. It was streetball-esque.
Mason had a turn first, but Northeastern's defense tightened up and pressured the Patriots into a sloppy turnover under the basket with 31 seconds remaining, giving the Huskies the final possession of regulation.
So Jonathan Lee, a fighter all season long after missing a few games in the beginning of the year with an injury, took advantage. In a startling (and refreshing) breath of intelligent decision making in the clutch, Lee drove to the hoop.
George Mason seemed befuddled, as they almost should be. He didn't take a three? But this is college basketball!
No, he drove, and he made a simple, flash-free layup. In the minds of Northeastern fans and the Richmond crowd, it might as well have been a windmill dunk. They both count for two.
This one counted for the win.
Northeastern now moves on to play the winner of the Delaware-James Madison matchup, which will be broadcast on NBCSN this afternoon at 4:30.