by Milton Posner
CHARLESTON, S.C — Donnell Gresham Jr. ran the offense. Jason Strong recorded a better stat line than Vasa Pusica. The game’s most efficient player played 10 minutes fewer than he typically does.
The Northeastern Huskies fell to the Davidson Wildcats, 71-59, in a game that defied logical expectations and gave the Huskies a fourth-place finish in the eight-team Charleston Classic. Virginia Tech won the tournament later in the evening, defeating Purdue 89-83 at TD Arena.
The Huskies’ next game, on Nov. 24 at 1 PM ET, is also against Davidson, an odd occurrence considering that Sunday’s game marked the teams’ first ever meeting. The big question, however, will be whether star point guard Vasa Pusica will play and, if so, how much.
Pusica played just 22 minutes Sunday night, a far cry from the 35 he averaged in the team’s first four games. He played only six minutes in the second half. Initially, it seemed that his three fouls were to blame. Turns out it had to do with the brace he’d worn on his left hand and wrist for several games.
“Vasa’s hand was bothering him. He couldn’t really handle the ball and that kinda led to his turnovers in the second half,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said. “He gave it a try, but just wasn’t able to go. He can’t really hold the ball right now.”
The injury explains a subpar line. Pusica tallied two points on 1-6 FG, two rebounds, three assists and five turnovers.
Picking up the slack was Gresham Jr., who atoned for a 2-9 shooting effort with six assists and stoic offensive leadership. He also grabbed 10 rebounds (at 6’1, he’s the team’s smallest player) in 39 minutes (he averaged 28 last year).
“He’s very unselfish and the quiet leader on the team,” Coen said of the redshirt junior guard. “He’s willing to play any position and do any job. When we’re down a couple of guys, I thought he kept the young guys organized and got us into offense and gave us a chance.”
Bolden Brace’s 12 points (nine in the first half) were a big reason why the game was tied 28-28 at halftime. Strong, who has played the fewest minutes on the team this year and last year, cashed in on his 11 minutes by hoisting five threes and connecting on three. Anthony Green, despite a 4-5 FG effort that included three rim-shaking, earth-quaking dunks, logged just 11 minutes. Myles Franklin played stellar defense on Davidson’s star backcourt (Jón Axel Guðmundsson and Kellan Grady) in his first Northeastern start.
Guðmundsson and Grady combined for 19 points (7-18 FG), though Guðmundsson did record eight assists and Grady six rebounds. The Wildcats’ top performer was freshman forward Luka Brajkovic, who posted 17 points (6-9 FG) and 11 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
Northeastern’s three Charleston Classic opponents are arguably more talented than any CAA squad. The Alabama victory showed why the Huskies are CAA Championship favorites. The Virginia Tech loss showed their flaws, including occasional offensive indecisiveness and struggles with intense ball pressure. The Davidson loss shows that, while they may rely too heavily on Pusica’s offense, they have plenty of untapped talent.
Davidson could make the NCAA Tournament in March. Alabama and Virginia Tech almost certainly will. Northeastern has every intention of joining them.