BANGOR — Emotions and intensity ran high during Saturday’s North Atlantic Conference men’s basketball championship game.
Despite the heat of the moment, it was Husson University’s poise under pressure that enabled it to prevail.
The top-seeded Eagles built a 10-point lead early in the second half, then patiently played its way through the final 14 minutes while earning an 84-73 victory over No. 2 Lyndon State at Newman Gymnasium.
Coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles (21-6) earned their second title in three years and earned the NAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship. The pairings will be announced Monday.
“I thought we played with championship poise in the last 20 minutes and that’s what it takes to win,” Caruso said.
Senior forward Josh Jones of Jefferson, the NAC Player of the Year, scored 10 of Husson’s last 15 points, including 6-for-6 free throw shooting, on his way to a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. He also was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Teammate Eric Modica of Kittery also earned all-tourney recognition along with Phil Warrick and Antonio Mena of Lyndon State, Mike Knight of Castleton State and Andrew Duncanson of Thomas College in Waterville.
Husson received contributions from several sources. Senior Jay Uhrin of Winterport tossed in 20 points, Daeshawn McMorrin contributed 12 points, Luis Medina posted 10 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals and Modica wound up with seven points and six rebounds.
“It starts with trust in our teammates and I think that was the No. 1 reason we won today,” Jones said. “We were able to trust whoever came on the floor.”
Warrick tallied a game-high 26 points for 12-15 Lyndon State. Mena contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Jose Fortunato added 14 points and eight boards.
Husson handled pressure on different fronts. First, the Eagles were able to negotiate Lyndon’s relentless full-court pressure.
“We wanted to control the tempo,” Uhrin said. “They like to score in the 90s, 100s; we wanted to keep it in the 70s, 80s. We tried to break the press and, if we didn’t have a 2-on-1, we’d pull it back out and set up.”
The key figure in that effort was freshman point guard Medina, who calmly made sure Husson remained under control and ran its sets once in the frontcourt.
“The control that Medina played with for us was critical, because he controlled the game,” Caruso said.
Husson also withstood the Hornets’ repeated challenges as they tried to make a comeback.
Husson took the upper hand with a 12-2 second-half run. Jones got the surge going with two foul shots, then drove in for a layup.
McMorrin converted in the lane off a steal and feed from Medina before Warrick answered for the Hornets with a 19-footer. However, Jones conversted a putback, Uhrin scored off a loose ball underneath and Jones fed McMorrin for a close-range hoop that put the Eagles in front 53-43 with 14:16 to play.
The Hornets didn’t get closer than nine points in the last 10 minutes.
“They have seniors. They’ve played in these games before and we really haven’t,” said Lyndon coach Joe Krupinski. “I think their experience was the difference.”