NU keeps pace in CAA with win over Drexel


Charlie Wolfson

Northeastern coach Bill Coen told his team to attack the paint Thursday, and attack the paint they did. Eleven of their first 13 made field goals were layups, and their center tandem of Anthony Green and Tomas Murphy combined for 24 points and nine rebounds. NU (18-9, 11-4) topped seventh-place Drexel, 75-69, and kept pace in the CAA to remain a game out of first place.

“We knew what they were going to do, how they were going to play,” Green said. “We just had to come out with energy. Everyone had to play in their roles.”

Speaking of roles, this game went right on Northeastern’s usual 2017-18 script: Vasa Pusica scored 24 running the point; Bolden Brace gave nine points, seven rebounds and a lot of hustle off the bench; and Murphy spelled Green off the bench with active, aggressive minutes at the five.

“We wanted to be aggressive,” head coach Bill Coen said. “We made it a concerted effort to be more aggressive. It lets you get to the line a bit more, which settles you down and sets your defense. You get high percentage shots.”

NU was 12-14 from the free-throw line.

Pusica paced the Huskies on the scoresheet, as he has for much of the season, and his 24 points were enough to compliment an active NU frontcourt. Much of the attack was predicated on going inside with Green and Shawn Occeus — with the quick guard Brace darting down the lane sometimes, too — but Pusica was always ready to make a jumper when called upon.

“[Pusica] made a big shot, a couple big free throws to settle the game back down,” Coen said. “He’s a confident player.”

Tramaine Isabell did some damage for Drexel, pouring in 24 from the guard spot, and Sammy Mojica and Troy Harper combined for 30. Aside from that trio, though, no other Dragon scored more than three points — a stark contrast to Coen’s team, which has been unselfish and balanced all year.

“They’re a tough team to play against,” Coen said. “They’re scrappy, they’ll attack you off the dribble.”

NU led throughout the game, giving an illusion of a blowout, but Drexel hung around throughout the second half — the home team never could pull away decisively. They kept to their game plan of attacking the paint, though, and Green gave a needed momentum boost midway through the second: The third-year finished an alley oop with just over 12 minutes left and tipped in a put-back at the rim on the next possession. Minutes later, he leapt over a crowd and landed a fierce two-handed dunk to further cement Northeastern’s edge.

“Every team gets momentum, so you just have to stay calm,” Green said. “It’s just important to stick together and play the same way through it.”

The pairing of Green and Murphy has turned into a dynamic one, and the first-year Murphy seems to have learned quickly from his teammate at center.

“[Murphy] came in with a lot of energy,” Green said. “Just good, coming off the bench whenever I came out, just kept the motor going for us. He’s high energy.”

Coen has settled into a rotation of the two; Green starts and gets more minutes but the team now knows it can count on Murphy to spell him with active, dependable play inside. Murphy scored eight Thursday and grabbed six rebounds, as well as contesting numerous Drexel drives toward his rim.

“We try to keep guys fresh and make sure we can play at a high level,” Coen said. “It’s hard for the bigs, because in today’s college game, they have to guard the ball screen, make transition, rebound the ball. It’s a maximum effort position. When we can stay fresh at that position, I think it gives us an advantage.”

Pusica did it all, hitting some mid-range jumpers, a few of his high-speed layups, two triples and four free throws.

“You’ve got to always be on high alert with him,” Green said. “You never know when the ball’s going to come to you. Every time you set a screen you have to be looking for it. Or kick it out to him and he’s going to make a play off it.”

Fourth-year Devon Begley played more minutes than usual, 28, because Pusica was in foul trouble toward the end of the game. Begley scored nine and found seven rebounds.

A big game looms Saturday at Matthews; the College of William & Mary (tied for second place with NU) comes to Boston for a 4 p.m. tip. NU beat the Tribe, 90-70, on the road earlier this season. Charleston beat James Madison University in overtime Thursday to maintain their one-game lead in the CAA; Charleston beat Northeastern in both their matchups this year.