NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — For the seventh time under coach Bill Coen, Northeastern is bound for the semifinal round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the Huskies defeating 10th-seeded UNC Wilmington, 80-59, in Sunday’s quarterfinal round.
The Huskies (21-10) advanced to Monday’s semifinal round to take on the hometown College of Charleston Cougars (23-8).
Northeastern’s physicality and experience proved to be too much for the Seahawks, who upset Elon in Saturday’s opening round. Eight Huskies scored in the game, led by Jordan Roland, who notched 21.
UNC Wilmington star freshman point guard Kai Toews recorded four assists to set the CAA single-season assist record with 253 in his first collegiate season. Despite eclipsing the record, Toews was on the wrong side of the evening’s point guard duel, with Roland holding him to just 8 points. And while Toews’s four assists secured the record, the number was far below his per-game average of 7.8.
“It starts with the guy who is guarding him, and Jordan got that assignment early on,” Coen said after the game. “We wanted to make sure we picked him up and corralled him, because what he has accomplished as a freshman is really remarkable.”
Senior Vasa Pusica, who notched 16 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds, said the number of upperclassmen on this season’s team is something the Huskies will continue to rely on as the postseason rolls on.
“I think it plays a huge role, especially being here last year and going to the championship game,” he said. “We experienced so much, and we know how to play against teams like this, especially in a quarterfinal game, which are never the easiest games.
“We’re always calm. Even when they cut it to 6, we knew we just had to do the stuff we do every day and eventually we are going to come up.”
The 6-point margin came when UNC Wilmington mounted a brief charge in the first half. But the surge did not last long as Northeastern took a 39-28 advantage into the break and used a 12-1 run in the first 4:32 of the second half to put the Seahawks away.
Bolden Brace had a solid all-around performance for the Huskies with 17 points, a team-high 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He connected on 4 of 5 3-point attempts and catalyzed several fast breaks with his defensive rebounding.
Coen was quick to praise the performance of his junior forward.
“He’s an underrated guy in this league,” Coen said. “He does so much for us. He’s a tremendous defensive rebounder for us.”
“He is doing a good job getting his matchup defensively, and when he grabs a defensive rebound for us, it really ignites our fast break. He can bust out dribble, he’s got really good vision, and pushes the tempo. You get a lot of guys like Jordan out running the floor, and it gets our offense into high gear, and when he is knocking down shots like that as well as leading the break, then he becomes dynamic.”
Northeastern withstood another impressive performance from UNC Wilmington’s Devontae Cacok, who leads the CAA in rebounding. The 6-foot-7-inch senior recorded his NCAA Division 1-leading 24th double-double of the season with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
“For four years we’ve competed against him, and he is as fierce a competitor as there is in this league,” Coen said. “He brought it tonight. You saw that senior urgency in a guy who didn’t really want his career to end.”
“He played with the heart of champion, so I just want to tip our hat from our program to him and let him know how much respect we have for him.”
The quarterfinal win was Coen’s 150th career victory over a CAA opponent and sixth consecutive win against UNC Wilmington. Of his 150 conference wins, 16 have come against the Seahawks.