Huskies punch NCAA ticket with win over Hofstra

Vasa Pusica led Northeastern over the Pride with 21 points


File photo by Muhammad Elarbi

Senior guard Vasa Pusica brings the ball up the court in the Feb. 2 game against Hofstra.

Mike Puzzanghera, sports editor

The Huskies are going dancing for the first time since 2015 after they beat Hofstra 82-74 in the CAA championship game Tuesday to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Vasa Pusica, their standout senior guard and the driving force of the team, scored a team-high 21 points, went 7-12 from 3-point range and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

NU (23-10) and Hofstra (27-7) battled for the third time this year Tuesday night in Charleston, S.C. The previous two games were split, with both teams winning at home. The first game saw Hofstra win it at the buzzer, 75-72, while the second game in Boston was a comfortable 75-61 win for the Huskies.

The marquee matchup of the night was Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman against NU’s Shawn Occeus. Wright-Foreman was named the CAA Player of the Year last week, and came into the game as the second leading scorer in the nation. Occeus was the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, and he came back from injury at the start of the tournament to give NU two great performances in the earlier rounds.

With Vasa Pusica picking up two early fouls, other Huskies had to step up — and Occeus did just that, sparking a few big runs that saw NU’s lead go as high as 18 with just over a minute remaining in the half.

They ended the half on a 13-6 run, and held a 16-point lead going into the break. Jordan Roland led the Huskies with nine points in the frame on 3-6 shooting, all from deep. Occeus added seven of his own to go with three steals and strong defense on Wright-Foreman, who shot 3-12 from the field and only managed eight points at the break.

Wright-Foreman flipped the switch as Hofstra came out of the locker room hot with a 10-2 run, cutting the NU lead down to six before a timeout from NU head coach Bill Coen. Another 10-0 run later in the period allowed Hofstra to tie the game at 54.

The Huskies put together a good spell to break the tie, with Pusica hitting three big 3s. At the under-four media break, Pusica had 18 points on six 3-pointers, including a crucial one from NBA distance.

Down the stretch the Huskies needed clutch free-throw shooting to put the game away, and Bolden Brace supplied it, hitting four straight with a minute to go. He finished the night with 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in 40 minutes of play, a single assist shy of a triple-double after Occeus dribbled out the clock after taking a pass from Brace near the hoop.

Pusica finished with 21 points on a career-high seven threes. Tomas Murphy and Roland added 11, with Murphy scoring nine of his 11 in the second half. Wright-Foreman finished the night with 29 for Hofstra, putting up 21 in the second half to spark the comeback.

Northeastern shot 50 percent from the field while holding Hofstra to just 39 percent shooting and 30 percent from deep. The Huskies made 14 threes on 31 attempts.

The Huskies registered assists on 19 of 26 made field goals, while Hofstra only managed eight assists all game. NU’s quick ball movement allowed them to break down Hofstra’s tough zone defense enough for the win.

After a phenomenal season and tournament run, the Huskies will be in the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament, with the bracket to be revealed Sunday. Their tournament journey could start Tuesday or Wednesday if they’re in one of the “First Four” play-in games, or Thursday or Friday if they’re seeded in the first round.