Ahead of Tuesday’s Colonial Athletic Association final matchup, Northeastern head coach Bill Coen flatteringly referred to top-seeded Hofstra’s season as “storybook.”
The Pride came into the CAA tournament as the No. 1 seed after a record-setting regular season, but it was the second-seeded Huskies who were able to prevail when it mattered most.
Northeastern defeated Hofstra, 82-74, on Tuesday night in North Charleston, S.C., to win the CAA championship and earn an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Northeastern (23-10) took a 42-26 advantage into halftime but Hofstra (27-7) clawed back to tie the score with nine minutes to go. Thanks in large part to clutch shooting by Vasa Pusica, Northeastern bounced out ahead again in the final minutes and was able to hold on to secure the championship.
All of Pusica’s 21 points came on threes, including five from deep in the second half, and he was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I just try to play my game and I think I can do different things on the court,” said Pusica of his big second half. “Today I had no assists, I had turnovers, no rebounds, but my shot was falling.”
It is the program’s second CAA tournament title under Coen. Northeastern last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2015, when the Huskies nearly upset No. 3 seed Notre Dame, falling to the Irish, 69-65.
Northeastern has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1984.
“This group has that natural competitiveness and a natural confidence level,” Coen said of his team’s outlook. “They are ready to compete. When you get into the tournament you’ll see a lot of big-name teams from power-five conferences and so on, but when you go out there it is still a basketball game and it comes down to fundamentals and teamwork and it’s still a team game.
“One of the things I’m most proud about this team is they are, in every sense of the word, a team. They work together to get something accomplished and good teams can win games.”
It took several minutes for both teams to get settled in. Northeastern struggled initially in cracking Hofstra’s matchup 2-3 zone defense, while two-time CAA Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman was only able to score 2 points in the game’s opening 13 minutes for the Pride.
Wright-Foreman, who came into the matchup averaging 27 points per game, ultimately found his groove and finished the night with 29, but is wasn’t enough.
“He is obviously a terrific player and a terrific scorer,” Coen said of Wright-Foreman after the game. “He’s hard to manage on the defensive end. He’s got great ball-handling skills. He’s got the ability to create fouls and angle his body and finish tough shots in the lane. You have to push up on him.
“Shawn [Occeus] had him most of the night and did an outstanding job on him. Donnell Gresham had him some, too. You have to have a team effort against him, and we’ve got so much respect for him after competing with him the last four years.”
The Huskies’ Bolden Brace nearly missed a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists, and Tomas Murphy came off the bench to score 11 points in 19 minutes.
Jordan Roland’s three 3-pointers moved him into a tie for first place atop the NU record book for made threes in a season. Roland is now tied with David Walker (2015-16) with 97 made threes on the year.
Vermont 84, Binghamton 51 — Stef Smith had a career-high 28 points, hitting 8 of 10 3-pointers, as the host Catamounts (26-6) romped past the Bearcats (10-23) in the semifinals of the America East tourney.
Vermont will play UMBC in the championship game on Saturday at Vermont’s Patrick Gym at 11 a.m.
Caleb Stewart had 16 points for the Bearcats.
Sam Sessoms, who led the Bearcats in scoring coming into the contest with 18 points per game, failed to make a shot (0 of 6).
UMBC 90, Hartford 85 (2 OTs) — KJ Jackson had 21 points as Maryland-Baltimore County held on to beat the Hawks in double overtime in the America East semifinals in Baltimore.
Jackson made 8 of 10 from the free throw line. He added eight rebounds.
R.J. Eytle-Rock had 16 points and eight rebounds for UMBC (21-12).
Brandon Horvath added 14 points and seven rebounds. Joe Sherburne had 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists for the hosts.
Travis Weatherington scored a season-high 25 points and had six rebounds for the Hawks (18-15).
J.R. Lynch added 22 points. George Blagojevic had 18 points.
Saint Mary's 60, Gonzaga 47 —The Gaels ended the nation’s longest winning streak and Gonzaga’s six-year reign as West Coast Conference tourney champs, grinding out a victory in the title game in Las Vegas.
‘‘We were told to pull off a miracle by people who don’t know us,’’ said Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Hunter, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds. ‘‘We didn’t need a miracle. We knew we could beat them.’’
Saint Mary’s (22-11) all but shut down the nation’s highest-scoring team by slowing the game and forcing Gonzaga (30-3) to grind out possessions and end the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 games.
Gonzaga’s 18-game WCC tournament winning streak, dating to the 2012 title game, also came to an end, and so too could its bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead of waiting for Selection Sunday, Saint Mary’s left no doubt, getting back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence with its first WCC title in nine years.
Jordan Ford had 17 points and Tanner Krebs scored 13 for the Gaels.
‘‘The way we did it, from where we were at the beginning of the year until now, I get a lot of satisfaction out of that,’’ Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said.
Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.