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Northeastern to face Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

Caleb Donnelly, Kwesi Abakah, Jimmy Marshall, and T.J. Williams celebrated Northestern’s victory over William and Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association final.AP

The wait is officially over for Northeastern. The Huskies are back in the NCAA Tournament.

What took 24 years to achieve required less than five minutes to confirm during Sunday’s selection show. Students gathering in the Cabot Center for the school’s watch party barely had time to put their backpacks down before seeing the Northeastern name and the Huskies’ 23-11 record flash on the screen.

When the first of the four regions was unveiled, Northeastern was given a No. 14 seed, and placed in the Midwest. The Huskies will face No. 3 seed Notre Dame (29-5) on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Irish, winners of five straight games and ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll released March 9, knocked off Duke and North Carolina on consecutive nights to win the ACC tournament Saturday.

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Top-ranked Kentucky is the top seed in the Midwest; if Northeastern can beat Notre Dame, the Huskies will get the Butler-Texas winner on Saturday.

It’s the first NCAA Tournament appearance by Northeastern since 1991, and eighth in school history. The Huskies played their way into the field by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final on March 9 in Baltimore. The 72-61 victory over William & Mary was the third in three days for Northeastern, which will take a four-game win streak into the NCAA opener.

“I was just excited to see our name up there for the first time in 24 years,” said junior guard David Walker. “We’re excited to play Notre Dame, a great team. I know they can shoot the ball. They have [Jerian] Grant, he’s a great player. We’re obviously the underdog. We really have nothing to lose.”

Notre Dame knocked off Boston College twice this season, and has three players from Massachusetts in its rotation: Senior guard Pat Connaughton, junior forward Zach Auguste, and freshman forward Bonzie Colson, whose father, also named Bonzie, was on the same staff at Boston College with current Northeastern coach Bill Coen.

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Northeastern and Notre Dame had two common opponents this season: Each beat Navy (Northeastern by 24, Notre Dame by 39), and each beat Florida State (Northeastern on the road by 3, Notre Dame at home by 20). The teams have met just once before, on Nov. 25, 1997, a 72-45 Notre Dame win in South Bend, Ind. More recently, Notre Dame and Northeastern were part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the start of this season, but weren’t paired against each other.

In seven previous trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies have a combined record of 3-7. They’ve lost their opening game the last four appearances (1985, 1986, 1987, and 1991), after going 1-1 in 1981, 1982, and 1984.

These Huskies finished in a four-way tie for first place in the CAA, and earned the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament. They defeated Delaware, North Carolina Wilmington, and William & Mary on consecutive nights to earn the league’s automatic NCAA bid. They scored the first 10 points against the Tribe in the championship game and never trailed, with Quincy Ford scoring 22 points on his way to being named the conference tournament’s most outstanding player.

Ford, a junior forward, is one of three players averaging in double figures for Northeastern, at 10.4. The others are senior forward Scott Eatherton (14.6 points per game) and Walker (13.4). They were also named to the CAA all-tournament team.

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Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby was a member of the 10-person selection committee that picked the 36 at-large teams, and seeded the 68 squads that will compete for the national championship. Roby, based on committee rules, was not permitted to take part in discussions about what kind of seed the Huskies should and would receive. He also couldn’t pass along any information to the team prior to the televised announcement, so even though Roby knew the Huskies’ seed and opponent when he addressed the crowd in a video message before the selection show, he couldn’t divulge the information.

Roby missed quite a party.

“It was awesome, just seeing all our guys, the excitement on their faces, to see the reaction by the fans, to see it all come together like that was just really, really special for me,” said Coen, who had been part of NCAA Tournament teams as an assistant coach at Rhode Island and Boston College, and now takes his first team to the Dance as a head coach. “I’m proud of this group to make this a reality. Couldn’t be sweeter.”