— Northeastern Men’s Basketball (@GoNUmbasketball) February 15, 2019
by Milton Posner
WILMINGTON, N.C — When Northeastern and UNCW face off, it always seems like the basketball gods are leaning on the fast-forward button.
Teams mount frantic runs and transition basketball becomes the norm.
Amid the scramble and hustle, the Huskies pulled out a win over the Seahawks, 81–77, Thursday night at Trask Coliseum. It was Northeastern’s fifth consecutive win and their ninth in 10 games.
The Huskies were without CAA Player of the Year runner-up Vasa Pusica (illness) and Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Occeus (leg).
“Couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Coen said after the final buzzer. “They’ve dealt with adversity all year long — injuries, illnesses and so on. Tonight was another example of that.”
The Huskies’ box score reveals a stark reversal from their last time out against Elon. While that game saw three Huskies score 64 of the team’s 72 points, tonight’s contest yielded six Huskies scoring at least eight. Particularly notable were Jordan Roland (19 points), Donnell Gresham (17 points, four rebounds, four assists), Bo Brace (16 points, six rebounds, three assists) and Anthony Green (12 points, 11 rebounds).
The Seahawk stat lines were similarly even, with Jeantal Cylla (19 points, six rebounds), Kai Toews (17 points, 10 assists) and Ty Gadsden (14 points) taking charge. All-CAA First Teamer Devontae Cacok went to the bench midway through the first half with two fouls and never got his footing. He finished with six points on just seven attempts, something UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath attributed to the Husky defense in general and Green in particular.
“We wanted to get the ball to Devontae because we were hoping that they would go down and double team,” McGrath explained. “They did sometimes; then he had to find the open man. They did a nice job of rotating over to the open man, and so we didn’t get the normal looks that we usually do when they double team.”
The teams fought to a draw for much of the first half. But shortly after Cacok headed to the bench, the Seahawks took off. Led by Cylla, they closed the half on an 18–5 burst.
“We made some mental errors in the first half,” Coen remarked. “We didn’t really get in and around the basket, just kind stayed out of the perimeter. We weren’t sharing the ball at a high rate.”
But Northeastern emerged from the locker room with newfound focus. They forced the Seahawks to abandon their usual up-tempo offense in favor of a more deliberate pace. An 11-point halftime margin was trimmed to a one-possession lead within a few minutes, and Northeastern reclaimed the lead for good with just over six minutes to play.
“The second half was about as gritty as we’ve played all year long,” Coen said. “We got back to playing the type of basketball we like to, with good ball movement and good player movement. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought our guys hung together and hung tough.”
The Huskies’ victory also extended a remarkable run of symmetry. The Huskies won their two previous games — against William & Mary and Elon — by a 72–60 margin. As if that weren’t enough, tonight’s game marked the second consecutive 81–77 win over UNCW in Wilmington.
The Huskies will head to Charleston for a Saturday afternoon showdown with the Cougars. Charleston had an equally eventful Thursday night, losing a 99–95 slugfest to the Hofstra Pride. CAA Player of the Year Justin-Wright Foreman (30 points), Eli Pemberton (25 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Jacquil Taylor (12 points, eight rebounds) topped Grant Riller’s 43-point (17–25 FG), four-rebound, six-assist gem and Jarrell Brantley’s 25-point, nine-rebound display.
Hofstra (12–1 CAA) leads Northeastern (10–3 CAA) by two games, while Northeastern leads Charleston (9–5 CAA) by a game-and-a-half.
Northeastern will look to increase that gap on Saturday. Milton Posner and Matt Neiser will be on the call starting at 3:45 ET.