by Michael Petillo
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC — After their first two meetings of the year needed overtime to decide a winner, many expected a close contest when Northeastern and UNCW met for a third time in the semi-finals of the CAA tournament on Saturday night in the North Charleston Coliseum.
This time around, however, it was a different story as the Huskies used a pair of huge runs to down UNCW 79-52 and extend their winning streak to nine while taking the next step towards a potential NCAA tournament bid.
They’ll face Charleston tomorrow night at 7 p.m. with the CAA tournament title and a trip to the big dance on the line. Coverage begins at 6:30.
“We’ve been talking about defense and rebounding in our meetings and our preparation a lot,” said Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen.
“I thought tonight we answered the bell.”
First team all-CAA point guard Vasa Pusica turned in yet another stellar performance with 20 points and 6 rebounds to lead NU, but it was the contributions from the supporting cast that allowed Northeastern to run away with the game in the second half.
Sophomore Shawn Occeus made several big plays on offense in the second half to finish with 18 points in addition to showcasing his trademark defense with a block and a pair of steals. He was also integral in slowing down Seahawks’ guard Jordon Talley who scored only 6 points after hanging 37 on Hofstra in their quarterfinal game last night.
“People are starting see why [Occeus] was the Defensive Player of the Year,” Coen said.
“We need that type of effort and I think it sets the tone for us. Everything just fell into place in the second half.”
— CAA Basketball (@CAABasketball) March 6, 2018
Occeus said that Talley’s record-tying game the night before — his 37 tied the record for most points in a CAA tournament game — gave him added motivation.
“Anytime you see a person you’re gonna match up against the night before go off, it juices you up a little bit,” Occeus said.
On the interior, big men Anthony Green and Tomas Murphy did well to limit UNCW forward Devontae Cacok and the team as a whole did an excellent job on the glass. The Seahawks finished the season as the best rebounding team in the CAA, mainly thanks to Cacok, and Northeastern managed to out-rebound them 44-41.
The Huskies are now just one game away from claiming an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. All that stands in their way is No. 1 seed Charleston.
“Coach talks about staying in the moment,” Occeus said after the win.
“We know tomorrow’s a big game but right now we just want to focus on the bad things we did tonight and the good things we did tonight to improve, and go into tomorrow night and have the best game of our season.”