BOSTON — All it took to snap the longest winning streak in college basketball was another quality team, a home court, and one star who could outshine another.
Vasa Pusica had 24 points, all seemingly coming at big moments, as Northeastern beat Hofstra, 75-61, on Saturday, ending the Pride’s 16-game winning streak dating back to Feast Week.
From a CAA standings perspective, Hofstra is still in control with a two-game lead over the Huskies and eight to play. Nationally, however, it’s a huge missed opportunity at a Quadrant 2 win, keeping Hofstra’s resume as thin as it was before. A CAA Tournament title was already its only realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament — and now it is even more so.
Here’s how Northeastern ruined the Pride’s afternoon:
Bill Coen made the right gamble
Pusica committed his second foul with 8:13 to go in the first half and the Huskies leading by two. As Northeastern’s star headed to the bench, one could have reasonably expected the Pride to take over. Except that Hofstra all-world guard Justin Wright-Foreman committed his second just over a minute later.
Pusica re-entered the game at the next dead ball.
“He’s an experienced player,” head coach Bill Coen said. “If you let a player like that, who had a pretty good game going, sit and marinate on the bench, sometimes they don’t get it going again. You want to make sure they stay in touch with the game and I know Vasa can count to five.”
Coen did what he could to help, subbing Pusica out on defensive possessions when he was able, but mostly, he just trusted his star, and it paid off. Pusica scored seven points in that stretch and Northeastern went into the locker room up by eight.
Joe Mihalich made the wrong gamble
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich did the sensible thing at the time, protecting Wright-Foreman from committing another foul by taking him out at the under-eight media timeout. But by keeping him on the bench, Northeastern was able to stretch its lead. Desure Buie did his part to make sure the game didn’t get out of hand, draining a couple threes immediately after Wright-Foreman sat down. But when Wright-Foreman re-entered to start the second half, it seemed like he was still not completely in the game. The effort wasn’t in question — it never is with him — but he was conspicuously absent in Hofstra’s first few possessions of the second half, rarely touching the ball and not aggressively penetrating the Northeastern defense like he showed he was able to at the start.
A player of his caliber is still good enough to put up numbers, which he did to the tune of 15 points. But that came on 5-14 shooting and a 2-8 performance from three to go with five turnovers. He also finished with zero assists for the first time this season.
“Tonight when I’m looking at the ceiling at 3 in the morning I’ll wonder if we shouldn’t have let Justin play with two fouls in the first half,” Mihalich said.
Northeastern defended like hell
The Huskies did more than just limit Wright-Foreman. Mihalich noted that with Northeastern getting a week off prior to this game, he expected the team to be sharp and execute its game plan.
After the game, both Coen and Pusica lauded Northeastern’s team defense, which needed to be especially sharp with the team’s best individual defender Shawn Occeus sitting out with an injury.
Coen explained the team’s approach:
“[Hofstra runs] a lot of ball screen action, so the two guys in the ball screen have to do a great job, and I thought our bigs, from Anthony Green, Thomas Murphy, and Jeremy Miller, did a good job of getting us into coverage, and I thought Donnell was really good on the ball and getting physical with him. And the three guys on the ball picked up the pieces.”
As a result, Northeastern limited Hofstra to 0.87 points per possession and 5-22 from three. Wright-Foreman’s 15 points came with his lowest offensive rating of the season, per KenPom (73).
An untimely flagrant
Though Northeastern led the entire second half, it couldn’t quite pull away — a dangerous position when facing a player as explosive as Wright-Foreman, even when he’s off his game. That is until Eli Pemberton was called for a personal foul and then a technical foul with 6:42 left. Northeastern led by 12 at the time, but that ballooned to 16 after four straight free throws. That sequence brought the crowd into it and ensured that momentum stayed on the Huskies’ side. The Pride did not get any closer than 14 the rest of the way.
“The right thing happened,” Mihalich said. “They deserved to win, we deserved to lose. The really good teams respond after a game like this.”
Hofstra has two straight home game coming up, starting with Elon on Thursday. On Saturday, the Pride face NMTC darling William & Mary in a game that is already sold out, according to the athletic department.