— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) March 13, 2019
by Matthew MacCormack
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — All season long, the Northeastern men’s basketball team relied on three-point proficiency, a deep roster and a veteran point guard that made it all go.
All three of those keys were on display Tuesday night in the North Charleston Coliseum, as the Huskies (23-10) knocked off Hofstra, 82-74, in the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Redshirt senior point guard Vasa Pusica scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half to earn the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
“This means the world to everybody,” said junior guard Shawn Occeus.
“We’re just happy and ecstatic that we were able to pull it off, and hopefully do some more things in the [NCAA] tournament.”
Seven Huskies tallied nine points or more, including junior forward Bolden Brace (10 pts, 10 rebs, 9 assts), who narrowly missed a triple-double. The two-seeded Huskies shot 50% from the floor and 45%(14-31) from three, while holding top-seeded Hofstra to 39% from the field and 30% (6-20) beyond the arc.
The Huskies will find out their seed, foe and tournament site for the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, March 17.
“My sense of pride for this group of young men, all they’ve been through and all they’ve accomplished, [is huge],” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.
“You grow up as a little kid playing a little boys game, and you’ve got a dream to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Hofstra senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman — the CAA’s two-time reigning Player of the Year — led the Pride (27-7) with 29 points. Only junior guard Eli Pemberton (15 pts, 7 rebs) joined Wright-Foreman in double figures for Hofstra.
The Huskies led, 15-8, when Pusica fouled Hofstra senior guard Desure Buie (8 pts) on a made three-point attempt to pick up his second foul with 10:15 to go in the first half. The point guard had six of the Huskies 15 points, but was sent to the bench, and Buie’s four-point pay closed the gap to 15-12.
NU’s other players picked up the slack, finishing the half on a 27-14 run without Pusica on the floor. Redshirt junior guard Jordan Roland (11 points) hit three triples during the stretch, and Brace, Occeus (11 points), and senior center Anthony Green (9 points, 7 rebs) each contributed 4+ points in the stretch. The Huskies led, 42-26, at halftime.
Hofstra scored the first eight points of the second half to bring the deficit to eight, on a run capped by a triple from junior forward Tareq Coburn (9 points, 4 rebs).
The Pride made a second run midway through the second half, erasing a 54-44 deficit with a 10-run from the 12:29 mark to the 9:13 mark of the second half.
With the score knotted a 54-54, Pusica stepped up. The senior buried a triple to end the Hofstra run and regain the lead, and then buried a dagger three with 3:58 remaining to cap a 17-6 run that put the Huskies up, 71-60.
“I knew that I hadn’t played a good game to that point, so I just wanted to pick it up,” Pusica said.
“I didn’t want to go out with a bad performance and a loss. I just started shooting and some threes started falling.”