June 23, 2018
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Unselfishness, depth propel Husson men’s basketball team to top of NAC standings

By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The North Atlantic Conference statistics tell an interesting story as the teams reach the midpoint of the season.

Conspicuous by their absence among the league’s individual leaders are members of the Husson University men’s basketball team.

Where the Eagles appear most prominently is atop the NAC standings. Coach Warren Caruso’s ballclub takes a 9-4 record, including a 7-1 conference mark, into Thursday’s key matchup at second-place University of Maine-Farmington (10-3, 6-2 NAC).

“We’ve got a positive vibe about us,” Caruso said. “There’s a lot of work yet to do and hopefully we can maintain the level of progress that we’re making.”

Husson of Bangor has won five in a row and eight of its last nine games. Rather than featuring one or two stars, this squad has built its success around its overall talent, depth and versatility.

The Eagles are spearheaded by a group of five seniors, but they also have integrated several newcomers and younger players into the rotation.

Husson featured a consistent starting lineup, but it has been able to utilize 11 players in 10 of its 13 games. The Eagles have nine players who are averaging 18 minutes or more.

“We’ve just got a tremendous amount of balance,” said Caruso, who is in his 19th season as Husson’s head coach. “We’re real comfortable going 9, 10, 11 deep, depending on what a game dictates.”

Senior guard Eric Modica of Kittery has set the tone, averaging a team-leading 11.4 points and 30.9 minutes per game. No other player has logged more than 22 minutes per contest.

“Eric’s been a mainstay in the lineup,” Caruso said. “He’s kind of the glue out there for us. He’s the steady defender, rebounder; he can score in a few different ways.”

Mark Zaharchuk, a 6-foot-10 senior center from Richmond, has been productive coming off the bench. He is averaging 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in only 14.1 minutes per game.

He is among the players who have sacrificed playing time for the good of the team.

“He’s done a nice job and he’s had some big games for us,” Caruso said. “He’s certainly a great weapon to have.”

Brooks Spaulding of Fairfield, a senior forward, has provided a strong frontcourt presence with 9.5 points and a team-best 6.0 rebounds per game in a starting role. Other veterans include senior forward Wes Murphy (7.7 ppg), junior guard Phil Leighton of Naples (7.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and senior forward Jon Klages of Freeport (2.6 ppg).

A critical dynamic of Husson’s success has been its ability to integrate a handful of newcomers into the rotation. Sophomore guard Aaron Willis (8.8 ppg, 2.2 assists per game) has produced while sharing point-guard duties with junior transfer Corey Wood (4.2 ppg, 3.5 apg), who is a starter.

That duo has come on strong after senior Daeshawn McMorrin was lost for the season with a knee injury.

“They’re both extremely quick,” Caruso said. “At the point guard spot, they allow us to play fast and pressure the ball. They’ve been working together well.”

The Eagles also welcomed in two other junior transfers who have claimed starting spots, forward Jacob Moore of Hampden (8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and guard Eric Cottonham (7.5 ppg).

With eight players averaging at least seven points per contest and none scoring more than 11.4, it appears the Eagles have demonstrated a commitment to balance and depth.

“It’s a credit to them to make the sacrifice and understand that people are playing less minutes, but hopefully we’re having more success as a team,” said Caruso, who admitted it took the Eagles some time to find the best combinations.

“I give my student-athletes a lot of credit for recognizing the situation and the value of sacrificing for the program as a whole, for the greater good, versus me as an individual,” he added.

Husson’s other roster members include Daniel Fleming of Fairfield, Jason Burgo, Trevon Butler and Matt Dube of Kennebunk.

Caruso explained part of Husson’s recent success has been its patience on the offensive end in working for better quality shots. The Eagles also have established effective defensive combinations as the players have learned the system.

“We’ve been fortunate to play well and put ourselves at the top of the conference at this time,” Caruso said. “We realize that we have a lot of work to do and there’s a lot of challenges ahead.”

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