BANGOR, Maine — It has been a frustrating start to the season for the Husson University men’s basketball team.
Little came easy for the Eagles in Tuesday night’s game against Thomas College of Waterville, but Husson overcame 26 turnovers, lackluster second-half defense and foul difficulties to grind out a 77-70 North Atlantic Conference victory over Thomas College at Newman Gymnasium.
“Our games with Thomas are always so intense,” said senior Brad Libby of Brewer, who rejoined the team for the second semester after doing a physical therapy clinical in Boston last fall.
“I think it’s a huge confidence-builder for us, knowing that we’re fighting the whole time,” he added. “Some things went against us during the game and we came out on top in the end.”
The contest was plagued by whistles — there were 44 fouls called — but coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles (3-9 overall, 3-3 NAC) executed well enough to earn an important win.
Husson outscored Thomas (7-5, 4-3 NAC) 13-7 in the last six minutes and fended off repeated challenges by the Terriers to outlast their league rivals.
Caruso, whose team had not been able to pull out some close games of late, was encouraged by the performance.
“We’re a work in progress and this was a big step for us,” he said.
“This group maybe came of age a little bit because we haven’t played like this,” Caruso added. “We responded. That’s something we hadn’t done in our previous games.”
Husson finally was able to gain the upper hand down the stretch.
Franklin Salvador’s conventional three-point play had pulled Thomas within 64-63 with 6:09 left, but Husson freshman point guard Mike Gonzales answered with a twisting heave from the lane.
That basket opened a critical 6-0 run for the Eagles, who got a 15-foot turnaround from Marc Zaharchuk and C.J. Hodges’ baseline runner — both off Gonzales assists — to take a 70-63 lead with 3:44 remaining.
The Terriers committed three turnovers, two coming on player-control fouls, during that stretch and never got closer than five points after that.
“We definitely needed a win tonight,” said Husson junior Daeshawn McMorrin, who poured in 19 of his team-high 22 points in the second half. “We’ve got a talented team, we just haven’t been able to get it together for the last five or 10 minutes of the half.”
McMorrin went 7-for-9 from the floor and contributed nine rebounds for the Eagles, who received 16 points and nine rebounds from Richmond’s Zaharchuk. Gonzales contributed 11 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, while Phil Leighton of Naples added 10 first-half points, five rebounds and three blocked shots.
Husson outrebounded Thomas 56-38.
Jarrad DeVaughn led coach T.J. Maines’ Terriers with 17 points and eight rebounds. Salvador netted 15 points, Stanley Greene posted 13 points and Martin Cleveland chipped in with 11 points and three steals.
Thomas had only 12 turnovers.
McMorrin had made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Husson a 53-43 lead with 12:21 to play, but Thomas did not fold. Cleveland scored five straight points and Ryan Newton buried a 3 to cut the deficit to two points.
The Terriers eventually tied the game at 57 on two Taurean Easter free throws at the 8:26 mark, but two Zaharchuk foul shots put Husson back on top for good.
The Eagles built a 28-20 halftime lead, overcoming a sluggish start at the offensive end.
The Terriers had broken the scoring doldrums about eight minutes into the game when Salvador knocked down three long 3-pointers to spearhead an 11-0 burst that gave Thomas an 18-6 cushion with 10:35 to play in the half.
Husson, which had committed eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, finally found a rhythm. Hodges and Gonzales scored four points each during a 9-0 flurry that cut the deficit to 18-15 at the 7:43 mark.
Two minutes later, the Eagles opened a 13-0 burst that put them on top 28-18 with 1:39 left in the half.
Thomas shot a dismal 18 percent (6-for-34) in the half.
“Chemistry’s not an issue, but certainly trust and understanding and who we play in certain situations is still developing,” Caruso said.
“We’re learning and what we need to do is take that knowledge forward and make sure we’re a better team for it,” he added.