by Milton Posner

Northeastern’s non-conference schedule has tested the skill, cohesion and mettle of an overwhelming conference favorite. After toppling Alabama, it ran into a dual stone wall of Virginia Tech and Davidson. After winning back-to-back games against Bucknell and Eastern Michigan, Syracuse emphatically brought the Huskies back to earth.

So when Northeastern sprinted to a 48-32 halftime lead against the visiting Oakland University Golden Grizzlies on Saturday afternoon, it seemed a respite from a persistent pummeling by NCAA-Tournament-bound monsters.

But it took a quartet of strong performances for Northeastern to shut the door on a surging Oakland squad, 92-83, in Shawn Occeus’ first game back from an ankle injury.

Donnell Gresham Jr. led with a career-high 26 points (7-11 FG, 5-7 3FG, 7-10 FT), seven rebounds and three assists, sparkling in his newfound point guard role following Vasa Pusica’s injury. When he remarked after the game that running the offense wasn’t too tough, head coach Bill Coen interjected.

“He’s being a little modest,” Coen remarked, adding that Gresham played point guard in high school. “He’s the ultimate team player. He’s doing an outstanding job with the offense, getting our young kids where they need to be and exuding confidence to those guys.”

Of those young guys, Jason Strong shone brightest, logging 13 points (6-6 FG) and six boards. Jordan Roland recorded 20 points (6-11 FG, 3-6 3FG, 5-5 FT) and boosted the Huskies when they sagged in the second half. Anthony Green powered his way to 16 points (7-8 FG), none more emphatic than the monster dunk over Oakland star forward Xavier Hill-Mais that seemed ready to rip the basket from its foundations.

Green was a big part of Northeastern’s early attack, converting his first four attempts against shorter Oakland defenders.

“We just wanted to make their interior players play some defense and hopefully get a foul,” Coen said of the team inside emphasis. “In the early part of the game, it paid dividends.”

Oakland got excellent contributions from Hill-Mais (22 points), Jaevin Cumberland (21) and Kamari Newman (19), even shaving the Northeastern lead to one with 5:08 remaining. But the Huskies made their free throws down the stretch and the Golden Grizzlies couldn’t sustain a comeback.

Occeus, playing his first game of the season after suffering a sprained ankle, was the most welcome sight for the Huskies. Though he posted just one point in seventeen minutes, he made his presence felt, particularly with a clean pick of Oakland center Brad Brechting that reminded everyone why he’s the defending CAA Player of the Year.

“His numbers didn’t indicate the impact he had on the game,” Coen noted. “He gives us a defensive weapon we can move around. It really settles us down on that end of the floor. We didn’t want to put too much pressure on him today on his first day back.”

Northeastern will face Vermont and St. Bonaventure before their conference opener against Drexel Dec. 28. It remains to be seen how comfortable Occeus will be or whether Pusica will be healthy. But today’s win proves that Northeastern has plenty of firepower besides, and that taking down a healthy Husky squad will prove daunting for the rest of the conference.

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