by Milton Posner
Northeastern men’s basketball is having a thoroughly weird season.
They blew Alabama off the floor, 68-52, in the first game of the Charleston Classic, then lost their next three games by a combined 49 points.
On Wednesday night, the Huskies (3-4) dismantled Bucknell 96-78, besting their season scoring average by 27 points and their previous season best by 15. Sophomore forward Jason Strong–who didn’t even record a point last season –, contributed 15 points (7-9 FG) and five rebounds in his second consecutive start.
But Northeastern wasn’t done surprising. A slew of injuries to key contributors has given Head Coach Bill Coen’s rotation an extreme makeover — and shed some doubt on the Huskies’ status as the clear-cut favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Now it’s up to other players — both proven and unproven — to carry the load until some key cogs return.
ICYMI: Northeastern basketball injury news in this week's notebook:
* Vasa Pusica out 4-6 weeks with a wrist injury
* Shawn Occeus expected to return in the next two weeks
* Max Boursiquot remains out indefinitelyhttps://t.co/phOtPpew00
— Steve Hewitt (@steve_hewitt) November 27, 2018
Before Wednesday’s game, star redshirt-senior point guard Vasa Pusica was ruled out for four to six weeks after a slight left wrist fracture suffered in a first-half fall against Alabama, per Steve Hewitt of the Boston Herald. He played the next two games but clearly wasn’t himself, posting just 10 points (3-16 FG) and eight turnovers in 50 minutes.
Back in Boston, X-rays revealed the fracture, a serious blow to the CAA Championship favorites who returned most of last year’s expectations-exceeding, major-injury-free squad. Pusica started all 33 games, averaging 17.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists while logging a 50/43/80 slash line and earning CAA Player of the Year runner-up honors.
Pusica isn’t the only returning starter sidelined. Versatile junior guard/forward Max Boursiquot is out indefinitely with a hip injury and hasn’t seen the court this year. Neither has junior guard Shawn Occeus (ankle sprain), though Coen expects Occeus to return within two weeks, possibly Dec. 4 at Syracuse. Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and averaged just under 11 points per game last year — second best on the team
In the meantime, expect redshirt junior guards Donnell Gresham Jr. and Jordan Roland, junior swingman Bolden Brace and sophomore forward Tomas Murphy to pick up the slack. Coen also cited the injuries as an opportunity for younger, less-experienced players to play against elite competition.
The injuries, combined with Northeastern’s difficult non-conference schedule — including seven games against last year’s NCAA Tournament teams — could result in a losing record heading into CAA play. Given that the Pusica-Occeus one-two punch won’t play together until mid-December or later, the team’s roster consistency from last year to this year will certainly prove useful. They won’t have to build chemistry from scratch.
Last month, Northeastern was easily named the odds-on CAA Championship favorite. Three injuries and a whole lot of weird later, the season is more in doubt than anyone expected.