by Milton Posner

CHARLESTON, S.C — TD Arena, when full, seats 5,100 fans. Saturday night’s game fell a few hundred fans shy of that figure.

But as the second-place Northeastern Huskies and third-place Charleston Cougars fought through the home stretch, you’d be forgiven for thinking the arena could seat 15,000.

Those fans left with exactly what they came for, as the Cougars bested the Huskies, 88–79, behind All-CAA First Teamers Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley. Charleston avenged a 69–60 loss to the Huskies last month by snapping a five-game Husky winning streak. Despite the loss, Northeastern has won nine of its last 11 contests.

The win brought Charleston (21-7, 10–5) to within a half-game of Northeastern (16-10, 10–4 CAA) in the CAA standings. Northeastern has four regular-season conference games remaining; Charleston has three.

Riller, fresh off a 43-point explosion against Hofstra on Thursday, conjured up 33 points and six rebounds. He hit all eight of his free throws, including four in overtime that iced the game. Much of his damage came via a torrent of drives to the basket mixed with the occasional fadeaway jumper.

“Without a doubt, he’s a first-team all-conference player,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen remarked after the game. “He’s gonna compete with [Hofstra guard] Justin Wright-Foreman for Player of the Year.

Brantley, outshone by Riller for the second straight game, nonetheless turned in a gem, racking up 27 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes. When the Cougars came to Boston in January, Bolden Brace and the swarming Husky defense held Brantley to 13 points and forced him into six turnovers. He was ready this time.

“I stayed away from the post touches so they couldn’t double,” he explained. “When they did, I knew how they were going to double this time.”

Husky guard Vasa Pusica, who missed Thursday’s win over UNCW due to illness, tallied an efficient 25 points in 39 minutes, though he did commit six turnovers. Brace (13 points, 11 rebounds), Donnell Gresham Jr., (12 points, six rebounds), Anthony Green (10 points) and Tomas Murphy (nine points) also made significant contributions.

The Cougars built an 11-point lead in the first half, but the Huskies closed the gap after Riller exited with two fouls. The half concluded with an electrifying exchange, as Pusica hit an awkward, twisting three with four seconds left.

Cougar guard Marquese Pointer, not to be outdone, took the inbounds pass and buried one from the halfcourt line to beat the halftime buzzer. The Husky lead was two entering the break.

Northeastern increased its inside touches during the second half in response to faltering three-point shooting (10–17 from deep in the first half, 3–13 in the second). Pusica went back and forth with Riller and Brantley over the final five minutes of regulation, hitting difficult shots to match the Charleston tandem.

But ultimately Charleston’s offensive rebounding (15 second-chance points to Northeastern’s six) and free-throw shooting (20 makes to Northeastern’s six) wore the Huskies down.

Northeastern’s next contest comes at home against James Madison on Thursday. Matt MacCormack and Milton Posner will be live with the call at 6:45 PM ET.

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