by Milton Posner

Towards the end of the first half at Charleston’s TD Arena, Vasa Pusica stood at the foul line, flicked his wrist and sent the ball neatly through the rim.

Big deal. He made a free throw. He did it 138 times last year. He did it 18 times in Northeastern’s first three games this year.

But this free throw was different. It came after 18 minutes and 48 seconds of play in which all of Northeastern’s points came by way of the three-pointer.

It also ended a 17-0 Virginia Tech run, one that handed the No. 16 Hokies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. They defeated the Huskies 88-60 and advanced to the Charleston Classic final. Northeastern (2-2) will round out the tournament with a third-place game Sunday at 6:00 PM ET against the loser of the Purdue-Davidson game.

Virginia Tech’s momentum stemmed from its intense defense, which featured energetic double-teams, active hands and efficient rotations. The Hokies (3-0) scored 26 points off 18 Husky turnovers.

“They were very disruptive to our offensive flow,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen observed. “We couldn’t get to the spots on the floor that we normally get to. Our spacing was distorted.”

The blowout loss comes a day after Northeastern’s dominating 68-52 over Alabama.

“We handled the ball pressure a lot better yesterday. We could control the tempo of the game,” Coen remarked. “Today Virginia Tech didn’t allow us to do that. We got deep into shot clocks and didn’t get quality shots. We moved the ball … but we didn’t get penetration into the paint.”

Sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the Hokies with 20 points (his third consecutive 20-point effort), four rebounds and seven assists. Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Ahmed Hill combined for 46 points on 20-29 FG.

“He’s the most conscientious worker I’ve ever been around,” Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams said of Alexander-Walker. “Not just on the court, but how he treats his body, his diet, how he trains. He’s a very intelligent person. He’s got the same software stuff on his computer that I have on mine; he’s probably watching just as much tape or more.”

Northeastern’s Tomas Murphy logged 11 points on six attempts and Jordan Roland recorded 10 on five. But that, plus solid all-around efforts from Bolden Brace and Donnell Gresham Jr., couldn’t overcome Vasa Pusica’s 2-10 shooting or the turnovers.

Northeastern’s sparkling start from three-point range (8-13) initially mitigated their turnovers, even handing them a 24-23 lead with 6:12 remaining in the first half.

The lead lasted 16 seconds. When the turnovers increased and the perimeter shooting stalled, the Hokies ran away with the game. Northeastern was not only outshot 58 percent to 43, they were out-attempted 62 to 46. By the time Anthony Green threw down a dunk two minutes into the second half for Northeastern’s first two-pointer, the outcome was no longer in doubt.
But the lopsided game didn’t change Buzz Williams’s opinion of Northeastern. Echoing the CAA’s preseason poll, Williams said, “I think Northeastern will win their side of the league.”

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