NU gets crucial CAA win over Charleston

Huskies defeat the team that knocked them out of last year’s championship


Albert Tamura

Vasa Pusica lays it in for two of his team-high 21 points.

Seamus McAvoy, news staff

In a rematch of last season’s conference championship game in which Northeastern came up short, the Huskies got revenge Thursday with a 69-60 victory over the College of Charleston.

The first half was nothing short of a nightmare for the best 3-point-shooting team in the conference entering the night’s action, as the Huskies (10-8, 4-2 CAA) failed to connect on a single shot from deep in the opening period despite attempting 14. Neither team found its mark in the first half as Charleston (14-5, 3-3 CAA) only shot 3-12 from beyond the arc in the half.

“I think we were a little anxious to play tonight and it kind of showed in our rhythm,” said head coach Bill Coen after the game. “We had good shots, so I wasn’t concerned about it.”

Though the shots didn’t fall early on for the Huskies, their defensive intensity allowed them to keep things close — an imperative for any team hoping to contain a duo as explosive as Charleston’s Grant Riller (2

1.9 ppg) and Jarrell Brantley (19.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg). Junior guard and reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Occeus started the game matched up with Riller, but head coach Bill Coen called on numerous players to try to contain the dynamic guard.

“It was a team effort,”  Occeus said after the game. “It wasn’t really just me that was guarding him … everybody helping off of him, it was all the team.”

Northeastern had a chance to establish a comfortable lead at around the 10-minute mark, as its suffocating defense forced a remarkable five straight turnovers. A putback by senior forward Jeremy Miller gave the Huskies the lead at 16-15, but missed opportunities on their following two fastbreaks prevented them from extending the lead further. Occeus got his first field goal of the game on the team’s penultimate possession of the half and they entered the break even with Charleston at 23-23.

Occeus, who recently returned from an injury, said after the game that he felt “

100 percent,” and in the second half, it certainly looked like it. He started the half aggressi

vely on the offensive end, drawing a shooting foul on the opening possession and converting a dunk on the next, all while maintaining his trademarked defensive intensity.

The proverbial lid over the basket was blown off by the Huskies in the second half as they jumped from an abysmal 37 percent field goal clip in the opening period to an astonishing 68.2 percent in the second. Junior guard Bolden Brace got the team’s first 3-pointer to go with 16:44 remaining, and a pair of free throws from senior center Anthony Green gave Northeastern a double-digit lead at 39-29 with 14:41 left.

The Huskies led by as many as 16 thanks to a 3-pointer from senior guard Vasa Pusica with 11:16 remaining — a remarkable lead, especially considering Northeastern only put up 23 in the entire first half. However, a series of fouls on the defensive end quickly put Charleston into the bonus and allowed them to cut the lead back down to single-digits.

Just as Charleston appeared to be defeated, Riller showed his class and connected on a huge 3-pointer to make it 63-56 in favor of Northeastern. A sloppy turnover by Pusica let the Cougars cut the lead to five, and a giveaway from Green shortly after put Brantley in perfect position under the rim to make it a one-possession game. Instead, Brantley missed the shot, as he appeared to be looking to draw contact, and the Huskies benefited from good free-throw shooting down the stretch to walk away with a 69-60 victory.

Northeastern moved up to third place in the CAA, a game ahead of Charleston. Their next game is this Saturday at home against UNCW (7-12, 3-3 CAA).