Bangor, ME – The regular season has come to a close, and it’s time for the Husson University men’s basketball team to start defending their North Atlantic Conference championship in earnest.
The Eagles (23-2 overall, 17-1 NAC) have won nine straight contests, and have clinched the top-seed and home-court advantage for the entire NAC tournament. They will host the eight-seed Johnson State College Badgers (6-19, 3-15 NAC) for a quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday night at 7:30 at the Newman Gymnasium.
Husson took both games from Johnson State during the regular season, albeit neither was a runaway victory.
They first met at Johnson back on January 24. Husson won a close one, 86-78, behind 22 points and 13 rebounds from Trevon Butler (Waterbury, CT). Dan Fleming (Fairfield, ME) also had a strong outing for the winners, posting 16 points and nine rebounds. Johnson State out-shot the Eagles in the game, 47.3% to 40.6%, but Husson out-rebounded the Badgers 45-30, including grabbing 19 offensive boards that proved to be the difference in the game.
The second time around on February 15, Husson took a 21-point lead into halftime before holding on for an 86-69 victory. The Eagles had five players post double-digit scoring performances in the game, led by Butler again with 16 points and eight rebounds. Phil Leighton (Naples, ME) added 12, Aaron Willis (New York, NY) and Donte Cottonham (Silver Spring, MD) each had 11, and Mike Gonzales (Fort Washington, MD) posted 10. Fleming had another strong game in the post for Husson, putting up nine points and eight rebounds in the win. The Eagles out-rebounded the Badgers 49-26, including a 19-5 difference on offensive boards.
Junior guard Ron Adrian has been the best performer for the Badgers against Husson this season, scoring 19 points in the first game and 14 in the second. Each of those outputs is higher than his season average of 13.0 points per game. Senior forward Bryan Hickey also had two strong outings for Johnson against the Eagles, posting 10 points and 13 rebounds the first time around, followed by eight points and seven boards in the second meeting. Hickey is the leading rebounder in the NAC this year, averaging 11.1 per game.
For the season, Butler has been the go-to player for Husson since leading scorer Raheem Anderson went down with an ankle injury in December. Butler has averaged a team-high 13.3 points per game, while also being the leading rebounder at 6.5 per contest. Leighton has been consistent all the way through, averaging 11.2 points and 4.4 boards per game. Leighton is currently second in the NAC in three-point percentage, having made 45-of-90 attempts this year (50.0%).
Asim Khan is the leading point-scorer for the Badgers this season, averaging 15.6 per game. Khan, a sophomore guard, scored 15 in the first meeting with Husson, but was held in check for just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting the second time around. Senior guard Lester Alexander boasts the best three-point percentage in the NAC (50.7%) and also averages 10.0 points per night for Johnson. Hickey adds in 15.0 points per outing to go along with his NAC-leading rebounding numbers.
Husson holds the second-best scoring margin in all of NCAA-DIII men’s basketball at +18.6 points per game. The Eagles are also 11th in the nation in terms of points per game as a team (85.3), and are 11th in three-point shooting percentage as well (40.8%). They are 16th in the country in steals per game (10.3), and 20th in turnover margin (4.3). Their 23-2 record gives them the fifth-best win-loss percentage in all of D-III basketball at 92%.
The Eagles have won nine straight games against the Badgers, including an 81-69 triumph in last year’s NAC quarterfinals. The last victory for Johnson against Husson came on February 13, 2010, in a 66-64 nail-biter. That was actually the only win for the Badgers against the Eagles, as Husson has a 28-1 stranglehold on the all-time series.