By Milton Posner
Northeastern hasn’t always clicked this year. Three starters have missed significant time. The offense can stagnate. They’ve often struggled against CAA cellar-dwellers.
But when they click, they put on one of the best shows in mid-major Division I basketball. Their versatile pieces click into a smooth, balanced offense. Their perimeter defense hounds opposing guards and steers them into the waiting jaws of Anthony Green. They steamroll less talented teams.
The Huskies clicked Thursday night, besting James Madison, 76–60, and reasserting themselves after a tough loss to Charleston last Saturday. Save for an eight-minute mid-game JMU run, the Huskies overpowered, overmatched and outhustled the Dukes.
Northeastern has dealt with faltering health over the past week-and-a-half. Multiple players have dealt with illnesses, with head coach Bill Coen half-jokingly referring to his available players as “semi-healthy” after the game.
Eight Huskies saw the floor Thursday night. All of them converted a field goal. Six hit multiple shots and logged at least seven points. Vasa Pusica led the way with 19 points (7–13 FG), four rebounds and seven assists, while Anthony Green powered his way to 17 points (7–8 FG), and 11 rebounds.
Northeastern’s lead rose to 18 by the midpoint of the first half, largely due to a relentless stream of inside shots. Dwight Wilson, JMU’s 260-pound center, left the game with two fouls after two minutes. He wouldn’t return until the second half, and the Huskies, particularly Green and Pusica, took advantage in the meantime.
JMU cut the margin to seven by halftime and to one by the first timeout of the second half. Coen switched tactics.
“We went to a little bigger lineup because I thought they were hurting us on the backboard. They got some second-chance points,” Coen observed. “We went to both Anthony and Tomas [Murphy] up front and then came with Bo [Brace] at the three. That’s as big as we get. That settled us down on the defensive end.”
The Husky offense was a sight to behold for much of the second half. Green and Murphy — the tallest and slowest players on the floor — displayed adept ballhandling and passing. The Huskies made five of 10 three-pointers after halftime, keyed by frequent off-ball movement and Anthony Green’s pindown screens. They overcame what Coen described as JMU’s “really good size and length on the perimeter” by forcing switches, attacking the basket on the catch and not allowing the defense to set up.
The Huskies played without Shawn Occeus, who missed his sixth consecutive game with a leg injury, and Jeremy Miller, who injured his ankle against UNCW last Thursday. Coen didn’t give a timetable for Occeus’ return but said that he conditioned again today and that the workout went well.
“He’s getting close,” Coen said. “But we want to be extra careful with him and make sure he’s good to go when he’s in there, that he’s fully confident and trusts his body.”
The win gave second-place Northeastern (11–4) a 1.5 game lead over Charleston, which fell to William & Mary, 86–84, behind a combined 57 points from Nathan Knight and Matt Milon. Northeastern remains two games behind first-place Hofstra, which toppled Towson in double overtime, 91–82. CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman led the way with 28 points and, along with Eli Pemberton, played all 50 minutes.
If Northeastern wins two of their three remaining games, they will lock up the second seed. They will go for the first of those wins Saturday at 12:30 PM ET, when they face Towson. Matt MacCormack and Justin Littman will have the call beginning at 12:15.