by Matthew MacCormack
SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn’t the effort that Northeastern hoped for.
The Huskies’ men’s basketball team made for a trendy upset pick prior to Thursday’s tip-off of the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to their experience, depth, and blistering three-point shooting, the 13-seeded Huskies looked like they might be a handful for 4-seed Kansas, which failed to win the Big 12 regular season title for the first time in 14 years.
Sounds convincing on paper. On the court, the result couldn’t have been farther off.
The Jayhawks (26-9) throttled the Huskies, 87-53, at Vivint SmartHome Arena on Thursday afternoon, in a First Round matchup in the Midwest Region. It was the Huskies’ largest defeat of the year, and the Jayhawks held Northeastern to season-lows from the floor (28% FG) and from three (21% 3PT). Kansas’ All-Big 12 First Team forward Dedrick Lawson dominated play, as the redshirt junior notched a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes. The Jayhawks shot 56%.
“If you’re dialing up the blueprint for an upset, you need to have a great shooting night. Unfortunately it didn’t happen,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.
“They turned our team, which is typically a team philosophy, into a one-on-one game. That certainly favored Kansas.”
Redshirt junior guard Jordan Roland led Northeastern (23-11) with 12 points, and redshirt senior guard Vasa Pusica added 7 points (2-13 FG) in his final game for the Huskies. Junior forward Bo Brace had 7 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
“It’s so hard to get to this stage,” Coen said.
“Everybody, in some respect, just wanted it too badly to happen. Sometimes when you try too hard, you can not perform at a high level.”
Northeastern trailed, 37-25, at half. The Huskies scored the first five points of the second frame, thanks to a jumper from a Roland, and a free throw and dunk from senior center Anthony Green.
Kansas’ lead was down to 37-30 with 17:06 remaining. It looked as if the Huskies would keep it close.
Then Kansas clamped down.
— Northeastern Men’s Basketball (@GoNUmbasketball) March 21, 2019
The Jayhawks ripped off a 32-6 run over the next 11 minutes, putting the game out of reach. Lawson poured in 14 points during the stretch, splashing two triples and bullying his way to four layups inside. The Huskies had no answer, even with three defenders (Brace, Green and sophomore forward Tomas Murphy) each trying their hand at guarding Lawson.
Northeastern’s season-worst shooting percentage doomed them. The Kansas defense was locked in, but the Huskies missed some bunnies, and numerous threes rolled off the rim despite looking like makes.
“One thing about Northeastern is it’s so important to take away shots off the catch and make them try to score off the bounce,” said Kansas coach Bill Self.
“I didn’t feel like there was a lot of uncontested looks. Even when they made shots I felt like we had a hand in their face.”
Pusica had his second-lowest scoring output of the season. Self says the Jayhawks had a plan to suffocate the Huskies’ leading scorer (18 ppg).
“Our whole game plan was to hard hedge him, make him feel us, change directions and certainly go over every ball screen,” Self said.
“The switching helped us do that.”
Pusica, Green and forward Jeremy Miller played their final minutes for the Huskies on Thursday. Brace and Roland both had kind words for the trio of departing seniors.
“Being with them for the three years that I was was a very special opportunity,” Brace said.
“Despite the loss tonight, I’m really appreciative that I got the opportunity to play with those guys and be a part of this family group of guys. They really are special guys and I’m grateful for them.”