There are few things in the world of college hoops greater than the excitement of seeing a marquee matchup late in the conference schedule. In fact, the only thing better might be when that marquee matchup ends up being a legendary bout.
Northeastern and James Madison both entered the showdown with just three games remaining on their respective schedules, sitting in the first two slots in the conference standings.
The Huskies semi-stumbled into the game, just 2-2 in their last four games, and the Dukes hadn't fared too much better, going 3-2 in their past five. Still, these are the two best, deepest teams in the conference. If ever there were a time for an exhilarating night in the Colonial, it was Wednesday.
CAA fans were granted exactly that on Wednesday night, yet only Northeastern fans went home happy when the Huskies were able to fend off the Dukes, 66-64, snagging at least a share of their first ever CAA regular season title.
It was an impressive demonstration of the depth from both sides, outlining exactly why these two are the cream of the crop. Each team had at least three scorers in double-digits, with the Dukes putting up four.
JMU's A.J. Davis had one of his best games of the season at a crucial time in the season, hitting four of his nine three-point attempts, including a game-tying three with 18 seconds remaining in the game. His game-leading 21 points often came in dramatic fashion, with 15 of the 21 coming in the final 14:11 of the game.
His play even prompted a minor Twitter fad: we've become convinced that the "A" in A.J. stands for Allthebuckets. Because every time Northeastern tried to pull away, A.J. would come back with a run of his own. He wanted all the buckets.
In fact, it was a game of runs. Beginning in the first half, the Huskies started hot, but the gap never grew past six points as Alioune Diouf kept the Dukes in the game with a stupendous first half. He would always fuel a Dukes stretch if the gap threatened to turn massive.
Diouf, who only averages 4.7 ppg, went 4-for-4 from the field in the first half and had 11 of his team's 26 points, but in the first five minutes of the second half he picked up three quick fouls and was placed on the bench, only to be used judiciously in the waning minutes of the game.
In the end, the big difference makers ended up being the ones you wouldn't expect from the Huskies. Freshman wonder duo David Walker and Zach Stahl have had great years in supporting roles, but you wouldn't expect them to contribute defining plays, much less the game winner.
And yet, with 2.4 seconds remaining on the clock, Walker had made the most recent bucket in the game for his tenth and eleventh points of the night. So crown the freshman king.
On what was a decently ugly final possession from the Huskies, the ball bounced and tumbled from anxious hand to anxious hand before Jonathan Lee made a cool-headed pass from beneath the basket to the unassuming Walker. He was stationed about ten feet from the hoop, absolutely wide open. Of course he was wide open. Jon Lee doesn't give the ball up in crucial situations! This was for the regular season title in his senior year. The ball was going to Lee.
But, as it has all year long, depth reigned supreme in the final seconds. This time, it reared its short, fresh-faced head, and granted the Huskies a regular season title.