Men’s basketball seniors get well-deserved send-off in win over Towson

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Men’s basketball seniors get well-deserved send-off in win over Towson

Senior guard Vasa Pusica looks for a way past a Towson defender Saturday.

Senior guard Vasa Pusica looks for a way past a Towson defender Saturday.

Muhammad Elarbi

Senior guard Vasa Pusica looks for a way past a Towson defender Saturday.

Muhammad Elarbi

Muhammad Elarbi

Senior guard Vasa Pusica looks for a way past a Towson defender Saturday.

Seamus McAvoy, news staff

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Northeastern once again appeared prone to giving up large runs, but a strong second half fended off Towson as the Huskies earned a 73-58 victory on senior day.

Towson (10-19, 6-10 CAA) entered the afternoon just seventh in the CAA, but they’ve proven that they can give the top of the conference some trouble. The Tigers managed to take down Northeastern (18-10, 12-4 CAA) 75-72 earlier this season in Towson, and they took conference-leading Hofstra to double overtime before falling in the end 91-82 Thursday night. Their game-to-game competitiveness is largely thanks to their stout defense and rebounding — the Tigers rank first in the CAA in opponent field goal percentage (.428) as well as rebounding (37.5 per game).

The Huskies once again got a taste of that grittiness. Sophomore forward Tomas Murphy, starting in place of junior guard Jordan Roland after a nice performance Thursday against James Madison, got things going with a contested 3 to give Northeastern an early lead that would last nearly nine minutes. Murphy continued to show off his range with a buzzer-beating three after the first media timeout, but it took some time for either team’s offense to get going.

With junior guard Shawn Occeus still sidelined with a leg injury, junior guard Donnell Gresham Jr. once again drew the task of slowing down the opponent’s best player. This time it was guard Brian Fobbs, who is fifth in the conference in scoring with 17.9 points per game. He was held to just five points on 2-7 shooting in the first half.

Northeastern jumped out to a 26-17 advantage with under four minutes remaining after Murphy finished off an and-1 layup set up by junior guard Bolden Brace on the fastbreak, but the Tigers were anything but dismayed. Towson answered with a 10-0 run to end the half and stunned the Huskies as they took a 29-28 lead into the break despite only holding the lead for 1:16.

“We didn’t have great offense in the first half, but we still had the lead until about four minutes left, and they came back,” Pusica said after the game. “We knew we had to bring more energy and keep guarding them, and eventually we were going to score, and that’s what happened.”

Towson opened the second half with another layup to give them their largest lead of the game and the Huskies were clearly searching for answers. It was two steps backward for every step forward early on, as senior center Anthony Green was called for a technical after throwing down a ferocious dunk. The teams traded baskets before a 3-pointer from Gresham reclaimed the lead for Northeastern at 39-37.

The Huskies broke off a 14-2 run capped off by a Pusica 3-pointer to take a 51-41 lead, their largest of the game to that point. Pusica knocked down another massive 3 with 2:15 remaining, giving the Huskies a 64-52 lead and sealing the victory, as Northeastern went on to get a 73-58 win.

“I was really excited the way we played today,” head coach Bill Coen said after the game. “Obviously the outcome we were pleased with as well … the style of play that they play is very difficult to compete against.”

In his final game at Matthews Arena, Pusica bounced back after a quiet first half to finish with 19 points on 7-13 shooting, five steals and four assists. With two more conference games and a conference tournament still ahead, the Serb knows there’s still work to be done, but took a moment to reflect on his time as a Husky.

“My redshirt year was the hardest year, not being able to play,” said Pusica, who transferred to Northeastern after two years at the University of San Diego. “But all these guys and the guys before that were here, they helped me, they welcomed me, and it’s really felt like home these last three years.”

Gresham and Murphy were also crucial to the second-half effort. After tallying just three points on 1-3 shooting in the first half, Gresham went on to score 16 on 6-9 shooting, including 4-7 from deep. Murphy backed up his impressive first half with an equally strong effort in the second. He tied career highs in both points and rebounds with 21 and 12 respectively, and did so with a mix of 3s, free throws, putbacks and post moves.

Joining Pusica among those set to graduate this spring are Green and forward Jeremy Miller. Among them, the trio have played in 324 collegiate games and combined for 2,487 career points, collecting 74 victories together.

“This group of seniors is really really special,” Coen said. “Obviously the championship year last year … but each guy has made contributions to the program. They’re all going to graduate, they’re highly respected kids on campus, and represent the program the right way.”

With the win, Northeastern improves to 18-10 (12-4 CAA) on the season and sits at second in the conference. Towson falls to 10-19 (6-10 CAA) with the loss. The Huskies will travel to Delaware (16-12, 8-7 CAA) for their penultimate conference game.