BANGOR — In conference play, the importance of every game is magnified.
Husson University’s basketball teams made an early-season statement Friday night about their readiness to contend for North Athletic Conference championships this winter.
The Eagle men ground out a 77-63 victory over Castleton State, while the Husson women rolled to an 87-57 win over the Spartans in a league doubleheader in front of an estimated 300 fans at Newman Gymnasium.
In the men’s game, Husson (10-4, 3-0 NAC) gained control of first place in the conference standings by holding off a deep and scrappy Castleton State squad (6-7, 2-1 NAC).
Seniors Josh Jones of Jefferson and Jay Uhrin of Winterport each scored 14 second-half points to help the Eagles repel a late charge by the Spartans.
“Conference games are tough,” said Husson men’s coach Warren Caruso. “Every night’s going to be a dogfight.”
Jones finished with a team-high 21 points, including two highlight-reel dunks — one a behind-the-back two-hander — and grabbed nine rebounds. Uhrin tossed in 20 points and handed out five assists.
Sophomore Marc Zaharchuk of Richmond contributed 10 points and Luis Medina added seven points, six rebounds and six assists.
Husson shot 51 percent from the field despite a 2-for-13 effort from 3-point distance. The Eagles outrebounded the visitors 34-24 and came away with a 21-9 advantage at the foul line.
Mark Comstock led a balanced effort for Castleton State with 12 points. The Spartans utilized 13 players, 10 of whom logged at least 11 minutes.
Castleton shot 46 percent from the floor and 43 percent on 3-pointers, but was hampered by 20 turnovers, including 13 in the first half.
The Eagles led by as many as 16 points (45-29) in the second half, but ultimately needed to fend off the late rally by the Spartans.
After David Cochrane’s 19-foot jumper trimmed Husson’s edge to 57-50 with 6:52 left, the Eagles answered. The hosts scored 14 unanswered points, 10 of them from the foul line, to push the margin back to 21 and give themselves an adequate cushion.
“We were fortunate to keep them at arm’s length, not letting it get below seven, and doing enough on the defensive end of the floor,” Caruso said.
Eric Modica opened the surge with two free throws, then Jones added one before he hit a 15-foot turnaround off a feed from Luis Medina after a Castleton turnover. Modica added two more foul shots, then Uhrin followed with a steal and driving layup to start a three-point play.
Two Jones free throws and a pair by Zaharchuk gave the Eagles a 71-50 lead with 3:12 to play.
“We really had to recognize what defenses they were in,” Uhrin explained. “They switch it up pretty well — 1-3-1, man, 2-3, 3-2 — we need to keep the floor balance, kind of get behind them so we can attack the gaps and have open shots to drive or pass or shoot.”
In the women’s game, senior Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan poured in a game-high 28 points, including five 3-pointers, to propel Husson to a surprisingly lopsided victory over Castleton State.
Coach Kissy Walker’s Eagles (5-9, 3-0 NAC) were in control from start to finish against the Spartans (7-7, 1-2 NAC) and assumed sole possession of first place in the league.
Sevey and classmate Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont combined for 46 points on 9-for-17 accuracy from the 3-point arc. Sevey scored 18 of her points in the first half, while Lincoln netted 11 of her 18 after intermission.
“We came out and we really wanted to beat them,” Lincoln said. “We told ourselves that we wanted to come out intense and really play hard.”
Sophomore Kelli Murray of Shawmut came off the bench to contribute a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and added five assists. Freshman Stephanie Comstock of Bangor added nine points and six rebounds.
The Eagles lost junior forward Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag to a knee injury early in the first half. She reportedly suffered a hyperextended left knee.
Castleton State was paced by 10 points each from Vanessa Powers and Alyssa Leonard. The Spartans were plagued by 25 turnovers, which came against Husson’s man-to-man defense.
“Last year when we played them in the championship, I thought we got out and really pressured the ball on the wings and they had a lot of bad passes into the post,” Walker said. “So we had talked about really pressuring them out on the perimeter.”
The Eagles stormed to a 42-25 halftime advantage with solid defense and an effective offensive mix.
Sevey connected for 18 points, including four 3-pointers, to spearhead the charge for the hosts, who used a 10-2 run during a 3 1/2-minute span to help turn an 11-point edge into a 33-16 bulge with 4:23 remaining in the half.
“Everyone, no matter who went in, rebounded, had assists, scored,” Sevey said. “It’s not always the stuff in the stats that people do right to help us win the games. That’s really important.”
Castleton got as close as 12 points in the second half, but Husson put it away with a 29-14 run to end the contest.