CAA Preview: William & Mary Tribe

Image result for william and mary logo

By: Michael Petillo

Coach: Tony Shaver (16th season)

Last Season: 19-12 (11-7), 4th place CAA

Newcomers:

  • G Chase Audige (Coram, N.Y./The Hill School Pa.)
  • G/F Quinn Blair (Livonia, Mich./Dearborn Divine Child)
  • F Mehkel Harvey (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View)
  • G L.J. Owens (Annapolis, Md/Severn School)
  • G Thornton Scott (Glen Cove, N.Y/Holy Trinity/Vermont Academy)

 

Departures:

  • G David Cohn (14.2 ppg, graduated)
  • G Connor Burchfield (12.6 ppg, graduated)
  • G Jamison Glover
  • G Tommy Papas
  • F Cole Harrison
  • G Oliver Tot
  • G Omar Mostafa
  • G/F Amir Shafi

Heading into last season there was a feeling around the CAA that William & Mary was headed for a rebuilding year.  The team had just graduated two all-conference wings in Daniel Dixon and Omar Prewitt, and as a result were projected to finish a lowly 8th in the conference’s preseason poll.  Despite that ranking, the Tribe managed to put together a solid season, finishing 4th in the CAA before falling in the semifinals of the conference tournament to the eventual champion Charleston.

As they prepare for the 2018-19 season, William & Mary will again have to replace two stellar perimeter players after guards David Cohn and Connor Burchfield graduated, but they remain in contention atop the CAA thanks primarily to three all-conference caliber players and coach Tony Shaver’s run and gun system.

Coming off a freshman year in which he flashed as a role player off the bench, forward Nathan Knight burst onto the scene last year as a sophomore.  He stepped into a starting role and emerged as one of the best bigs in the CAA, posting 18.5 points ands 7.7 rebounds per game.  Knight also began expanding his range out to the three point line, where he connected on 30% of his shots.  That marked a major improvement from his freshman year in which he shot just 17% from beyond the arc.  Knight was a force on defense as well, swatting away almost two shots per game.  As he enters his junior year, look for Knight to continue to improve his jumper and his handle while becoming the unquestioned best player for the Tribe.

The other two returning starters for William & Mary will also likely be in the all-conference discussion by seasons end.  Forward Justin Pierce is coming off a year in which he averaged 14.7 ppg en route to a 3rd team all-CAA finish.  The 6’7 junior swingman also knocked down almost 42% of his threes and paced the Tribe with 8.6 rpg.  Redshirt junior Matt Milon is the third starter returning for Coach Shaver.  The sharpshooting southpaw transferred to William & Mary from Boston College and turned in a quietly productive season in his first year in the CAA, scoring 13 ppg while connecting on 43% of his triples and 92% of his free throws.

The man running the ship will once again be Tony Shaver, who is entering his 16th year at the helm for William & Mary.  His run and gun offense emphasizes ball movement, off-ball action, and a lot of three point shooting.  Last year the Tribe shot a whopping 43.4% from three, good enough to lead all of division one.

Outside of Knight, Pierce, and Milon, redshirt senior Paul Rowley is the only other returning player who saw significant minutes last season.  It will be on Shaver and his staff to identify which of the incoming freshman will be able to step into the William & Mary system and contribute right away.  If one or more of the freshman are able to provide Shaver with some much needed depth, William & Mary will once again be primed to compete for the conference title.

Bottom Line:  Nathan Knight is a beast and will be in the CAA Player of the Year discussion.  Pierce and Milon join him to form a legit big three, but the concern here is depth with only six returning players.  Finding reinforcements will be key towards the Tribe competing with teams like Northeastern and Charleston for an NCAA tournament bid.

CAA Preview: Hofstra Pride

Image result for hofstra pride

CAA Preview: Hofstra Pride

Head Coach: Joe Mihalich (6th season)

Last Season: 19-12 (12-6, 3rd in CAA); lost to UNCW in CAA quarterfinals

Projected Finish: 3rd

Key Departures: C Rokas Gustys

Key Returnees: G Justin Wright-Foreman, G Eli Pemberton

by Justin Littman

After a single-season rebuild, the Hofstra Pride returned to CAA relevance last year. The Pride finished third in the CAA regular season standings, but once again faltered in the conference tournament. After a first round bye, Hofstra fell 93-88 to UNCW in the quarterfinals, bringing their season to an abrupt finish.

Though the season may not have ended how they wanted it, Hofstra returns star power from last year. Justin Wright-Foreman, a 6’2” guard who led the CAA in scoring last year (24.4 ppg), enters his senior season as the preseason nominee for CAA Player of the Year. Wright-Foreman topped 30 points in seven games last season, and any success with this team starts with his ability to perform.

Adding to the offensive firepower is 6’5” junior guard Eli Pemberton, who averaged nearly 16 points per game last season, and shot over 40% from three. The Pride will need to see consistency out of Pemberton, as he faltered when it mattered most last season. In Hofstra’s quarterfinal loss, Pemberton shot just 1-9, and finished with four points; his lowest scoring output of the season. With an additional year of experience, Pemberton and Wright-Foreman should become one of the most reliable duos in the CAA.

While there is no denying the top-level talent of the Pride, there are serious question marks surrounding the rest of the roster. Rokas Gustys was the only other player to average double-figures in scoring last season (10.5 ppg), and he was lost to graduation. What Hofstra will miss most about Gustys is his rebounding ability. He averaged at least 12 rebounds per game over each of the last three seasons.

There is not a clear solution on Hofstra’s roster from last season that will step in and fill that role. The Pride have two players joining the program as graduate transfers this season, who will likely have big roles from the outset. Jacquil Taylor is a 6’10” forward from Purdue, who played in 19 games last season. Dan Dwyer is the other transfer, a 6’8” forward from the University of Pennsylvania. They will be leaned on heavily to pull in rebounds and provide a presence in the paint.

The Pride have a few other players to keep an eye on this year, as they look for a third reliable option to lean on. Guards Jalen Ray and Desure Buie came on strong towards the end of last season, each scoring double digits in each of their last three games. They will look to maintain the momentum into this season. Also look for sharpshooting forward Matija Radovic, who played a limited role as a freshman last season, to be more involved in the offense this season.

Bottom Line: The pair of Justin Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton is as talented as any duo in the league, but the Pride still lack depth. Jalen Ray and Desure Buie have shown flashes, but have not been able to put it together for an entire season to this point. The loss of Gustys is painful, and it is unlikely that anyone on the roster will be able to replace that production. The Pride will still score, but they may struggle on the defensive end. Hofstra has the top-level talent to compete in the CAA, but they will need some serious growth if they want to compete among the best in the league this season.

CAA Preview: Northeastern Huskies

huskiesHead Coach: Bill Coen (13th season)

Last Season: 23-10 (14-4, 2nd in CAA); lost to Charleston in CAA Finals

Projected Finish: 1st

Key Departures: G Devon Begley

Key Returnees: G Vasa Pusica, G Shawn Occeus, F Bolden Brace

 

by Matthew MacCormack

Northeastern was 20 minutes away from a trip to the Big Dance. Then everything came crashing down.

In last year’s CAA Tournament final in the North Charleston Coliseum, the second-seeded Huskies led No. 1 seed Charleston by 17 points early in the second half. Slowly but surely, an experienced Charleston team chipped away at the young Huskies’ lead, and the Cougars came away with an 83-78 OT victory — clinching a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The pain of being so close to a March Madness berth would sting a bit more if the Huskies prospects for 2018-19 weren’t so bright. Northeastern returns as the favorite to win the conference, garnering 35 of 40 first place votes in the preseason media poll. Despite Devon Begley’s (6.3 ppg) graduation, the Huskies return their top seven leading scorers and 90.4% of their scoring overall — the 13th highest mark in the nation.

The conversation about Northeastern starts and ends with redshirt senior point guard Vasa Pusica, the runner up for CAA Player of the Year and a Preseason All-First Team selection.  The Serbian-born University of San Diego transfer burst on to the scene last year, averaging 17.9 points per and 5.1 assists per game with a 50/43/81 shooting line. He’s a 6’5 floor general that makes everyone around him better.

Flanking Pusica will be a pair of award-winning junior swingmen in the 6’4 Shawn Occeus (Defensive Player of the Year) and 6’6 Bolden Brace (Sixth Man of the Year). Occeus (10.8 ppg) is capable of locking down a team’s best perimeter scorer or ball handler. Brace (7.9 ppg) is a versatile chess piece who can slide across three positions, shoot the three ball (39.6%) and crash the boards (a team-leading 4.7 rpg). Redshirt junior Donnell Gresham is a steadying presence at the two-guard position, and a smooth shooting stroke (43.1% from deep) helped him flirt with a double-digit scoring average last season (9.1 ppg).

The big man trio of senior Anthony Green, junior Max Boursiquot and sophomore Tomas Murphy is intriguing, especially because their skill sets are so diverse. The 6’10, 250 pound Green is a presence down low. Boursiquot stands at just 6’5, but does all the little things and unlocks versatile lineups with his defensive ability. The young gun of the group, Murphy, has the highest offensive upside of all three, but was sometimes unplayable defensively down the stretch last season. It remains to be seen if 6’11 senior big man Jeremy Miller — a highly touted recruit — will reemerge after falling out of the rotation at the end of last year.

If the Huskies have a weakness, it’s their lack of a second go-to scorer after Pusica. It’s possible that redshirt junior guard Jordan Roland, a transfer by way of George Washington, could fill that role. Roland averaged 6.7 points per game on 41% shooting from three in 2016-17. It’s possible that Occeus or Brace increase their scoring load, but Roland looks like a prime candidate to play off Pusica.

Holding down the fort is reigning CAA Coach of the Year Bill Coen, who helped the Huskies outperform their 6th place prediction in the 2017 preseason media poll. Coen knows how to pull the strings, and his résumé proves he should be trusted.

Bottom Line: The expectation is clear; it’s NCAA Tournament bid or bust for the Huskies. Pusica is the best point guard in the conference — and maybe one of the best floor generals in all of mid-major basketball. Coen is an experienced coach, and he has the luxury of a slew of versatile players — Occeus, Brace, Boursiquot and more — and a deep bench to tinker with. If someone like Roland can step up as a secondary scorer, look out; the Huskies just might make 2018-19 a redemption tour.

“I can’t think of a tougher one.”: Northeastern falls to Charleston in CAA Championship

(Image Credit: GoNU)
(Image Credit: GoNU)

by Matthew MacCormack

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The emotion in Bill Coen’s voice was evident.

Coen — the 2017-18 CAA Coach of the Year — is usually a stoic soul, but something extra seeped into his voice as he sat at the podium in the North Charleston Coliseum after Northeastern’s 83-76 overtime loss to Charleston in the CAA Championship.

“I can’t think of a tougher one,” Coen said of the loss.

“I thought we had our chances. Just lost our composure a little bit in a couple of key moments, had some inopportune turnovers and missed free throws that kept the door open just long enough for Charleston to make a run.”

The Huskies led by as many as 17 points in the second half, but Charleston stormed back — led by senior guard Joe Chealey’s 32 points and his perfect 16-16 clip from the charity stripe — to secure the win and earn their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1999. Redshirt junior Vasa Pusica tallied a team-high 30 points on 6-10 shooting from three, but the Huskies made too many mistakes down the stretch, including coughing up 20 turnovers.

Chealey missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer, with the sides tied at 65. The Cougars outscored NU 18-11 in the extra frame, spurred by two huge threes from junior Marquise Pointer (9 points) who had hit just one field goal in regulation.

Charleston (26-7) receives the Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic bid to the Big Dance with the victory.

Northeastern (23-10) was denied a bid after reaching the tournament back in 2014. The Huskies are a strong candidate to receive a bid to a postseason invitational tournament, such as the NIT or CBI.

Northeastern led, 65-60, with 40 seconds left in regulation after a block from sophomore Shawn Occeus and an ensuing pair of free throws from redshirt sophomore Donnell Gresham. On the next possession, Chealey drew a foul on a three-point attempt, and hit all three free throws to pull the Cougars within two points.

Pusica was called for a travel on the next play, giving Charleston the ball with 18 seconds left in regulation. It only took Chealey eight seconds to tie the game, 65-65, with a layup in the lane.

Northeastern had a chance to take a lead with 10 seconds left, but Gresham dribbled the ball out of bounds on the ensuing possession. Chealey’s buzzer-beater rimmed out, forcing overtime.

The Cougars took the lead right away in overtime on a bucket from sophomore Jarrell Brantley (18 points, 11 rebounds). Pointer’s two threes and a jumper from senior Cam Johnson put Charleston up 75-69. Northeastern got it to within three on a triple from sophomore Bo Brace, but the Cougars scored the last four points of the half on free throws to seal the deal.

Sophomore Grant Riller added 20 points for C of C. Occeus (18 pts), Boursiquot (12 pts, 5 rebs) and Gresham (8 pts, 12 rebs) all made contributions for NU.

Coen had high praise for his team, which was projected by the media to finish 6th in the CAA Preseason Media Poll.

“This group is such a likable group,” Coen lamented after the game.

“A couple times during the game I thought we had it pretty well in hand and were playing good basketball. It’s not like you came to a championship game and didn’t play your best. Charleston just played a little better.”

Huskies Take Care of Business, Advance with a 74-50 Victory over Delaware

(Image Credit: GoNU)(Image Credit: GoNU)

by Justin Littman

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Northeastern Huskies entered North Charleston with lofty goals of a CAA Championship. They took the first step in accomplishing that goal tonight. The Huskies led almost the entire game, and burst onto the scene in the second half to coast to a 74-50 win over 7th seeded Delaware. The Blue Hens, who defeated Elon in the first round 86-79, struggled to shoot throughout the game, shooting just 36% from the field. The Huskies continued to show off their world class perimeter defense, and only allowed Delaware to make one three pointer on the night.

The Huskies started the game with a bang. An alley-oop from Green to Pusica, and a Boursiquot rim-rattler on the next possession put the Huskies up 4-2. Though Delaware didn’t go away easily, the Huskies never looked back. Boursiquot’s high energy rallied Northeastern early, and he scored 13 points in the first half to tie a season high. He finished the game with 17.

“[Max] came out and set the tone early, Anthony Green gave us a great effort and Vasa does what he does — he drives the bus”, remarked Coach Bill Coen after the game. For Coen, it was the 200th victory of his career.

He was also tasked with guarding Delaware’s leading scorer Ryan Daly. Daly was a tough cover throughout the night, and finished the game with 23 points. Northeastern accepted that Daly would get his points, and instead focused on shutting down the rest of Delaware’s offense. Eric Carter was the only other Delaware player to reach double figures. Second-leading scorer Ryan Allen was held in check, and finished with only five points. It was the first game without a three pointer in Allen’s career.

Though Northeastern was in control, their lead was only five at the half. The bench, which didn’t score in the first half, provided the Huskies with a 24 point punch in the second. Bolden Brace led the charge, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half. He came off the bench and scored five straight to put the Huskies up 17, with under 14 minutes remaining.

“He’s 6th Man of the year for a reason…At halftime I told him to just keep shooting, and that’s what he does. He made some shots”, remarked teammate Vasa Pusica after the game.

Pusica continued to set the tone for this team. He ended a four minute scoring drought in the first half, and seemingly provided Northeastern with exactly what they needed throughout the game. In his first CAA Tournament appearance, he nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with 15 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds.

Up next for the Huskies will be a semifinal matchup at 8:30pm against either #3 Hofstra or #6 UNCW. The Huskies split the season series with Hofstra, and won both games in overtime against UNCW.

Huskies seek ticket to Big Dance at CAA Tournament

The Northeastern Huskies, who finished the season as co-CAA champs, are set to do battle in the CAA Tournament in North Charleston, South Carolina this week.
(Image Credit: GoNU)

Two-seeded Northeastern will battle No. 7 Delaware in the quarterfinal of the CAA Tournament championship at 6:00 p.m on Sunday in the North Charleston Coliseum. Listen to WRBB’s coverage here.

by Matthew MacCormack

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. –

“I think it says we’re a championship team.”

There was no hesitation – not even a hedging quiver – in Vasa Pusica’s voice. Northeastern’s All-CAA First Team point guard was calm, moments after sinking a buzzer-beating layup to lift the Huskies to a 69-67 victory over conference foe William & Mary in mid-February.

“We’ve won way too many close games like this,” Pusica continued.

“I think that’s a good characteristic of a championship team.”

Championship.

The word seemed to hang in the air of the Matthews Arena media room.

Well, “media room” is a generous term; a black curtain is pulled over a backdrop of bench presses and dumbells – a tiny fitness center tucked away somewhere in the maze-like hallways of 100-year-old Matthews Arena.

It isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. And in a way, that’s how you could describe this version of the Northeastern Huskies.

The Huskies finished the season 21-9 overall, notching the highest winning percentage in the 12-year tenure of head coach Bill Coen. NU’s 14-4 record in the Colonial Athletic Association earned the Huskies a share of their third CAA regular season title in the past six years. The Huskies claimed a No. 2 seed, and are set to battle No. 7 Delaware– which defeated No. 10 Elon in a play-in game on Saturday – in Sunday’s quarterfinal of the CAA Championship tournament.

All this for a team picked to finish 6th in the conference in the preseason media poll.

The preliminary CAA bracket. (Image Credit: CAA)
The preliminary CAA bracket. (Image Credit: CAA)

It’s no wonder Coen was crowned with his first ever Coach of the Year designation on Friday afternoon. He took a roster of question marks and turned it into a team that played relentless defense and unselfish offense. Coen deserves plenty of credit for the team’s success, but it wouldn’t be crazy to say that there’s been a little magic at play for the 2017-18 Husky hoopers.

No one can blame the preseason pollsters for their pessimism. Reigning CAA Player of the Year T.J. Williams graduated alongside second-leading scorer Alex Murphy. Towson clobbered NU, 82-54, in the quartefinals of last March’s CAA Tournament to end a sub-.500 campaign. An unproven roster featuring just one senior – guard Devon Begley – and eight underclassmen was left to pick up the pieces.

And pick up the pieces they did.

The magic starts and ends with Pusica – a redshirt junior transfer from University of San Diego by way of Serbia. He’s a heady, clutch floor general whose per-game averages of 17.6 points and 5.0 assists with a 51/42/81 slash line hardly tell the story of his impact. The Huskies needed a playmaker with Williams’ graduation, and they got Vasa: a catalyst that makes his teammates better every time he touches the floor.

Next comes defense, led by sophomore wing Shawn Occeus, the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Occues is the team’s second-leading scorer with 10.4 points per game, but his impact is most felt on the other side of the floor.

The Boyton Beach, Florida native spearheads a feisty perimeter defense that limited opponents to 30.1% from three – seventh best in the nation. At 6’4, he led the CAA in steals per game (2.0) and notched six conference games with four thefts or more. Occeus locks up the primary option in a switch-heavy defensive scheme.

The Huskies’ depth is unmatched in the CAA. Redshirt sophomore guard Donnell Gresham (9.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) started most of his freshman year before missing almost all of his second season with a hand injury. His shooting – 45.3% from three – spaces the floor.

Sophomore forward Max Boursiquot is an undersized four at 6’5, but he’s a versatile defender who plays the role of garbage collector – and that’s meant in a positive way. He’s joined in the big man rotation with 6’10, 250 pound junior center Anthony Green and All-CAA Rookie Team selection Tomas Murphy (the brother of Alex).

The bigs have diverse skillsets. Boursiquot can defend wings or bigs, allowing the Huskies to play smaller lineups. Green’s numbers (6.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg) aren’t gaudy, but he’s a presence down low. The 6’8 Murphy battles freshman inconsistency, but his 38 combined points in two overtime victories over UNCW show his offensive firepower.

Murphy is one segment of a three-headed bench mob that features Begley and sophomore forward Bo Brace, who took home the conference’s first-ever Sixth Man of the Year Award on Friday.

Coen lauds both players – who entered the year as starters – for their commitment to their bench roles. After a 2-4 start that featured four consecutive losses in the PK80 Invitational in November, Coen plugged Occeus and Gresham into the starting lineup.

Some players would have pouted, but Brace and Begley performed. Begley (6.8 ppg) – a CAA All-Defensive selection in 2017 – provides leadership and a defensive spark.

Brace (8 ppg) was most known for his scoring after dropping 40 points in last year’s win at Elon. This year, he’s transformed into a 6’6 utility knife, pacing the team with 4.9 rebounds for contest while shooting 40% from three and sliding up to guard power forwards and centers in smaller lineups.

Nearly every Husky has sacrificed this year. Three freshmen – Derrick Cook, Myles Franklin and Jason Strong – have barely seen the floor. Junior forward Jeremy Miller – who started for most of his freshman and sophomore seasons – is the Huskies’ most enthusiastic bench hype-man despite falling out of the rotation mid-season.

Miller’s bench energy will be needed this week, as the Huskies look to win three games in three days in the CAA tournament.

The conference is rich on parity but low on clarity. Top-seeded Charleston sports three players – guards Joe Chealey and Grant Riller and forward Jarrell Brantley – on either the All-CAA First or Second teams. No. 3 Hofstra has the conference Player of the Year in Justin Wright-Foreman. Fourth-seeded William & Mary sports one of the nation’s top offenses, and last year’s assassin Towson still lurks in the bracket.

But while the other CAA squads have talent, the Huskies have the best TEAM.

Players win games in November, but teams win championships in March. If the Huskies cut down the nets in the North Charleston Coliseum on Tuesday night, claiming an automatic bid to their second NCAA tournament appearance in four years, it’ll be a testament to their starters, to their bench and their coach.

Championship.

It takes a team, and the Huskies are just three games away.

Coen, Occeus and Brace win CAA Awards; Pusica named First Team All-Conference

 

CAA Champs

by Justin Littman and Michael Petillo

Oh, what a difference five months makes!

When the Colonial Athletic Association released it’s preseason primer in mid-October, hardly any media voters showed love to the Huskies, who were coming off an underwhelming 15-16 record and facing the reality off a life after T.J. Williams — the NU point guard who took home CAA Player of the Year honors in 2017. The Huskies were voted as the 6th best team in the conference, and no Husky made the preseason all-conference squads. Senior guard Devon Begley and junior forward Jeremy Miller received Honorable Mentions, the CAA equivalent of a good ‘ol pat on the back.

Fast forward to March, and the Huskies (21-9, 14-4 CAA) nearly swept the pre-conference tournament awards party all together. When the conference announced its awards via Twitter on Friday afternoon, Northeastern was well-represented.

Head Coach Bill Coen took home his first Coach of the Year award after leading the Huskies to a share of CAA title with College of Charleston. Although he was (possibly) snubbed of a CAA Player of the Year award — that honor went to Hofstra’s Justin-Wright Forman — star redshirt junior point guard Vasa Pusica was named to the All-CAA First Team in his first year on Huntington Ave.

Sophomore wing Shawn Occeus was named CAA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in steals. Sophomore forward Bo Brace was the conference’s inaugural Sixth Man of the Year, in a testament to the Huskies’ staunch eight-man rotation. And finally, freshman forward Tomas Murphy was named to the All-CAA Rookie Team.

Clearly, Northeastern is a team that will be a handful once the elimination games begin. The Huskies’ first game of the CAA tournament will be this Sunday evening at 6 p.m. as they await then winner of the Delaware-Elon game on Saturday.

Bill Coen, Coach of the Year

Coen was a no-brainer for Coach of the Year. The Hamilton grad led NU to its third regular season title in the last six years, and the team’s 14-4 record in conference play ties the 2009-10 and 2012-13 Huskies for the best CAA record in school history. The Huskies enter conference tournament with an overall record of 21-9, and the best single-season winning percentage in Coen’s tenure.

After losing Williams to graduation last season, a return to league excellence was anything but guaranteed. Coen mixed and matched lineups early in the season as the Huskies struggled, but eventually settled on a group that worked. The offense thrived under newcomer Pusica, and Northeastern had one of the best three-point defenses in the nation.

Coen is just the fourth Northeastern coach to receive Coach of the Year honors, and the first since Ron Everhart in the 2004-05 season. Coen now has 199 career wins, and has the opportunity on Sunday to become just the third Northeastern coach to reach 200 wins. He would join some impressive company, as Jim Calhoun and Dick Dukeshire are the only other coaches to reach this mark in their time at Northeastern.

Vasa Pusica, All-CAA First Team

Pusica had a strong case for Player of the Year, so the First-Team nod comes as no surprise. The Serbian-born floor general ranked 9th in the conference in scoring (17.6 ppg) and 3rd in assists (5.0 apg).

The redshirt junior began the season as a bit of wild card after sitting out a season as a transfer from the University of San Diego, but quickly established himself as the vocal leader of a young Husky squad and their go-to scorer in crunch time.  His emergence was the biggest key in Northeastern’s surprising rise to the top of the CAA.

On top of his superb per-game numbers, the Huskies star point guard scored at an incredibly efficient rate at all levels, posting a 49/42/79 slash line in CAA play.  

Shawn Occues, Defensive Player of the Year

The 6’4” sophomore from Boynton Beach, Florida led the CAA in steals, averaging 2.03 steals per game.

Occeus, who came off the bench to start the season, moved into a starting role after the Huskies got off to a slow start to the season. Tasked with defending the best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis, Occeus embraced the role and played a significant part in helping the Huskies boast a top 10 three-point defense in the nation. The Huskies are 19-6 since Occeus was inserted into the starting lineup.

This season, Occeus played six conference games where he recorded at least four steals, and he tied his career high with six steals in Saturday’s season finale at Elon. That performance moved Occeus into a tie for seventh place in the Northeastern single-season record books, and he needs just two more steals to move up to sixth. Occeus becomes the third Northeastern player ever to win this award, and the most recent since Scott Eatherton won it in 2013-14.

Bo Brace, Sixth Man of the Year

Brace, a sophomore, wins the CAA’s first ever Sixth Man award in a season which saw him begin in the starting lineup before relinquishing that role to fellow sophomore Shawn Occeus before the start of conference play due to a slow start by both himself and his team.  The change was one that Brace took in stride and proved to be vital in helping get Northeastern’s season back on track.

Upon moving to the bench, the offense that so many were expecting from Brace entering the season began to emerge and his three-point shot started falling.  He knocked down 42.9% of his triples in conference play, a ten percent increase from a year ago and good for top ten overall in the conference.

Brace’s impact on NU, however stretched far beyond his scoring.  He paced the team with 4.9 rebounds and was second with 2.3 assists per game.

Defensively, head coach Bill Coen was able to utilize a variety of different lineups as Brace’s 6’6” 230 pound frame allowed him the defend both bigs and perimeter players.  

Tomas Murphy, All-CAA Rookie Team

Murphy was the only one of Coen’s four freshman to earn much burn this season, but he certainly took advantage of the opportunity.

Murphy — the brother of former Husky Alex Murphy and former NBA baller Erik Murphy — came off the bench to average 6.7 points and 2.4 rebounds on 57% shooting. He teamed with junior big man Anthony Green to form a versatile 1-2 punch in the post.

Murphy combined a soft shooting touch with an ability to run the floor, and his chemistry with Pusica was apparent, especially in the Huskies’ two overtime wins over UNCW (38 points combined).

CHAMPS: Huskies clinch share of CAA regular season crown with 81-59 win at Elon

by Matthew MacCormack

ELON, N.C — Defying expectations is becoming a theme of the Northeastern men’s basketball team’s 2017-18 campaign.

The media projected the Huskies to finish 6th in the Colonial Athletic Association poll in the preseason. But with Saturday’s 81-59 win over Elon in Alumni Gym, the Huskies (21-9, 14-4 CAA) clinched a share of the conference’s regular season title for the first time since 2014-15.

It was Northeastern’s seventh straight win.

“It feels great,” said redshirt junior Vasa Pusica, who shook off an 0-6 start to tie his season-high with 31 points.

“We probably had a few losses earlier in the year that we should have had, but it is what it is. We finished first, it’s a great feeling.

Things looked grim in late November after the Huskies suffered four straight losses, including two ugly slip-ups to Utah State and Furman in Nashville as part of the PK80 Invitational. But the Huskies rallied in the conference slate, posting their highest conference win total since the last time they won the CAA tournament three years ago.

“Every team goes through adversity,” said Northeastern coach Bill Coen as he stood outside the locker room after the victory.

“They grew week-by-week, month-by-month. It wasn’t always perfect but they stuck together.”

It was fitting that the Huskies were led by redshirt junior point guard Pusica — the team’s leading scorer and best player. He set the tone on Saturday night, and for the whole season.

“He’s a good player,” Coen said with a laugh.

“I thought he was a little anxious to start…He settled down nicely.” 

Northeastern led for all but 44 seconds in the season finale. Elon cut the Husky lead to 50-47 with 12:06 remaining on a three from Tyler Seibring (12 points), but the Huskies ended the game on a 31-12 run.

Sophomore guard Shawn Occeus (13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals) was a menace on the defensive end all evening long. Sophomore forward Bo Brace and redshirt sophomore Donnell Gresham each chipped in 11 points.

Senior forward Brian Dawkins led the way for the Phoenix with 13 points and seven rebounds, and senior guard Dmitri Thompson added 11 points and eight boards.

The No. 2 seed Huskies were subdued in their celebration after the game. They’ll have a first-round matchup with an opponent to be determined on Sunday, March 4 at 6 p.m. at the CAA Tournament in North Charleston.

“Of course we have bigger eyes and we want more,” Coen said.

“But for today, we’re going to celebrate being champions.”

Pusica at the buzzer: Vasa propels NU over W&M, 69-67

by Matthew MacCormack

BOSTON — Who else but Vasa Pusica?

In a tightly-contested, back-and-forth affair, Northeastern’s redshirt junior point guard hit a contested layup as the clock expired to lift the Huskies over William & Mary, 69-67, on Saturday afternoon at Matthews Arena.

Pusica battled through foul trouble to finish with a team-high 19 points on 7-10 shooting, and also chipped in five rebounds and four assists. Max Boursiquot tied a season-high with 13 points, and was the only other Husky in double figures. With the win, the Huskies (19-9, 12-4 CAA) clinched a top-three seed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Pusica caught an inbounds pass with 5.3 seconds remaining with the game knotted at 67. He exploded towards the basket, squeezing through three Tribe defenders to kiss a layup off the glass as the final buzzer sounded.

“I wanted to get to the rim,” Pusica said.

“I had a good defender on me [Justin Pierce] but I went by him. Coach wrote a great play and the lane was wide open. I saw the help side was a little late, but that’s what we wanted.”

Redshirt-sophomore guard Matt Millon had a game-high 21 points for the Tribe. Millon missed an open three on the Tribe’s final possession before Pusica’s late heroics. The Huskies swept William & Mary (16-11, 9-7 CAA) in the season series.

“Just another boring CAA finish,” Northeastern head coach Bill Coen joked after the game.

Coen lauded Pusica for his performance, and also shouted out Boursiquot and Anthony Green (8 pts, 3-3 FGs) for helping keep the offense going on a night when the Huskies struggled with turnovers.

Coen said Pusica’s execution on the final play was important.

It’s a designed play. We put two guys at the free throw line,” Coen added.

“What we’re trying to do is cause a little bit of diversion with the guys along the baseline and get [Pusica] some space to operate. He made a great read, great play, and that’s what really good players do. He’s not afraid of the moment at all.” 

When asked about the Huskies’ ability to close it out in tight games, Pusica wasn’t bashful.

“I think that says that we are a championship team,” said the star point guard.

“We’ve won way too many close games like this. I think that’s a good characteristic of a championship team.”

The Huskies’ next game comes on Thursday night against Towson at Matthews Arena.

Northeastern Outlasts Drexel, 75-69

By: Milton Posner

BOSTON – The last time Northeastern men’s basketball faced off against Drexel, a late run by the latter and missed free throws by the former allowed Drexel to escape with a one-point win.

On Thursday night, the Dragons arrived at Matthews Arena hungry for seconds. The Huskies would have none of it.

Strong inside play and timely shooting secured the Huskies (18-9, 11-4 conference) some payback, as they defeated the Dragons (11-17, 5-10 conference), 75-69.

Northeastern, which typically relies heavily on perimeter shooting, spent much of the game driving the lane and earning shots inside, a strategy reflected in the strong game recorded by junior center Anthony Green (16 points, 8-10 FG, 3 rebounds).

“We came out with a lot more energy,” Green said. “Every team gets momentum. You got to stay calm, stick together, and play through it.”

The other star performer for Northeastern was redshirt junior Vasa Pusica, who used frequent drives to the basket to log 24 points. Pusica struggled with foul trouble throughout the contest, which head coach Bill Coen attributed to limited practice time for Pusica during the week.

“You could tell his timing was off,” Coen said. “But he made a big shot and a couple of big free throws right when we needed it. He’s a confident player, he’s an experienced player, and we need him to play at a high level to be a good team.”

The efficiency of the Huskies’ offense peaked when Pusica and Green played well together. One of the team’s most common offensive actions is when Green sets a ball screen for Pusica out top, and the play worked often Thursday night.

“It’s really helpful,” Green said of playing with Pusica. “You can always be on high alert with him. You never know when the ball’s gonna come to you. He’s a really unique point guard to play with.”

Despite a subpar effort from three-point range (5-20), the Huskies’ aggressive approach allowed every player who entered the game to score at least one field goal. Six players connected multiple times from the field, allowing Northeastern to withstand excellent scoring performances from Drexel’s Tramaine Isabell and Troy Harper.

“You get to the foul line, which settles you down, helps you set your defense,” Coen said of the team’s emphasis on scoring in the paint. “You get high-percentage shots. Inside-out threes are better than most any other threes. It just shows an aggressive nature around the rim.”

With three regular-season games left before the CAA tournament, Northeastern holds sole possession of second place, trailing Charleston by a single game and leading Hofstra by two games. Their next contest is on Saturday at 4 PM against William and Mary at Matthews Arena.