By Aren LeBrun, News Correspondent
Despite having three players score in double figures, the Northeastern Huskies (17-12, 10-8 CAA) fell to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks on Saturday (4-25, 3-15 CAA) in a 68-64 thriller in this season’s final game on Solomon Court.
In the last home game of her career, senior captain Deanna Kerkhof scored a team-high 18 points. Kashaia Cannon and Amencie Mercier chipped in 12 points apiece, and sophomore guard A’lece Mark grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. The Seahawks were led by Tawanna Lee and Jessica Freeman, who put up 23 points and 18 points, respectively.
Northeastern opened the game on a 12-3 run, with five different players recording buckets in the opening minutes. Freeman answered with a three-pointer, but the Huskies then exploded on a 10-0 run, with baskets from Mark, Kerkhof, Cannon and junior center Jewel Tunstull.
After a Mercier three pushed the lead to 32-18, Freeman knocked down a pair of her own three-pointers to help UNCW go on a 10-2 run.
Cannon nailed a three with 39.3 seconds remaining to push the lead to 41-32. That shot tied Cannon for first all-time in program history for three-pointers in a season at 76. The record was set by former Husky Melissa Kowalski (2000-04).
Brown buried a three for the Seahawks to cut the first half margin to six points. Both teams entered their locker rooms with the first half score at 41-35.
The Seahawks remained sharp from the perimeter in the second half. Lee hit a shot from beyond the arc to make it a one possession game. After a made hook shot from Tunstull, UNCW splashed in three consecutive three-pointers and took a 50-44 lead.
The UNCW lead grew to seven down the stretch as they hit their free throws, but a Cannon three with 24.2 cut it to four. This three, the 77th of her career, broke the single season record.
A three-pointer from Deanna Kerkhof made it a 67-64 contest, but a free throw from Freeman sealed the game for the Seahawks.
Although it is never ideal to end the regular season on a loss, head coach Daynia La-Force said she feels that her team can learn from the experience and be ready to compete.
“Sometimes a loss before a conference tournament can actually be a good thing,” she said. “When we lose, we tend to come back really strong against our next opponent.”
Despite the loss, the Huskies remain the fourth seed in the Colonial Athletic Association, and will play Hofstra University in the first round of the conference tournament on Friday. Northeastern won both contests against the Pride this season.
“I’m confident in our ability to compete with Hofstra,” Kerkhof said. “I feel like we’re better prepared this time than we were the last two times. We’ve gone back, we’ve watched film from our previous games and learned from our mistakes.”
Kerkhof, who missed several games due to injury, has returned with strong play of late, scoring at a higher clip than before getting hurt. Since coming back from injury, Kerkhof has averaged 21 points per game, compared to 15.5 per game prior to going down. This week she was awarded CAA Player of the Week honors, the third Husky to win that award this season, joining teammates Cannon and Mark.
“I just have to continue to attack and be aggressive,” she said. “I think sometimes I’m more looking to reverse the ball and get it moving but I think it’s important for me to attack and find open teammates and knock down shots.”
The Huskies close out the season with an 11-3 home record, second best in the CAA and the best ever in program history. At this point last season, Northeastern held an 8-22 record, going 6-12 in the CAA. The last time the Huskies had a winning record in conference was when they were a member of the America East.
On Wednesday night, head coach La-Force and three players were honored at the year-end CAA banquet. La-Force took home Coach of the Year honors while Kerkhof was named All-CAA second team and All-Academic first team, and Cannon and Tunstull each received All-CAA third team laurels.
Northeastern will face Hofstra on Friday, March 15 in the first round of the conference tournament in Upper Marlboro, Md. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.