Willis sparks Husson men’s basketball team to defeat Colby-Sawyer

Posted Feb. 08, 2013, at 6:57 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2013, at 7:13 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The first half was a struggle for Husson University on Friday evening.

The Eagles gave up too many open shots and had difficulty scoring consistently, which led to some transition baskets by Colby-Sawyer.

Coach Warren Caruso’s team turned the tables in the second half, feeding off their strong man-to-man defense to earn a 79-68 North Atlantic Conference victory at Newman Gym.

Sophomore point guard Aaron Willis helped the Eagles (14-7, 11-3 NAC) dictate a more assertive tempo with the ball, connecting for 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. He also had three assists and three steals.

“We were kind of sluggish in the first half. We were playing kind of slow,” Willis said. “We needed to create offense off our defense, so that’s what [coach] kept emphasizing.”

Husson, which allowed Colby-Sawyer (10-12, 10-5 NAC) to shoot 56 percent in the first 20 minutes, went 17-for-28 (61 percent) from the floor after the break.

The Eagles demonstrated good balance as Jacob Moore (3 assists) netted 13 points, Eric Modica (3 assists, 3 steals) posted 12 points and six rebounds and Wes Murphy contributed 10 points and six boards.

“I just thought we were a lot more aggressive than in the first half,” Caruso said.

“I thought in the second half Aaron [Willis] and Donte [Cottonham] kept the gas pedal down and pushing it up the floor, getting them on their heels, getting some easy buckets, getting into the paint,” he added.

The Chargers rode the 31-point performance of freshman Wol Majong, who hit seven of nine 3-pointers. Post standout Mike Dias (5 rebounds) tossed in 16 points and Jake Maynard finished with 10 points.

Colby-Sawyer held a 56-51 lead midway through the half when Husson turned up the intensity after the Chargers started playing zone defense. Murphy scored on a baseline drive, then Cottonham answered a Charger miss with a 3-pointer off a Moore assist to tie it up with 8:51 to play.

The deadlock didn’t last long, as Modica hit a layup off a Willis steal and feed. Then Willis knocked down a 3-pointer off a pass from Modica, who then hit a pull-up jumper from the baseline to give the Eagles a 67-60 edge with 6:18 to play.

“[Modica] was a big reason for how we responded in the second half,” Caruso said. “He really stepped up.

The Chargers cut it to four on another Majong 3-pointer, but Daniel Fleming scored from underneath off a loose ball, Willis raced in for a layup off his own steal, then Willis converted three of four free throws during a 7-0 burst that made it 74-63 with 3:49 left.

The Chargers couldn’t get closer than four after that as Husson led by as many as 11 down the stretch.

The Eagles endured a sluggish offensive start, but recovered well enough to stay within 38-31 at halftime.

The difference in the half for the Chargers was their gritty man-to-man defense, which kept the Eagles from getting clean post entries, and their quick-strike transition attack.

Majong went 5-for-5 from 3-point range on his way to 17 first-half points, while Dias scored eight with some polished low-post moves.

“I thought we survived it well,” Caruso said. “We didn’t do anything we talked about and we had three days to practice.”

However, Moore hit two 3’s among 11 points in the half and helped Husson regain some offensive confidence.

Colby-Sawyer led by as many as 12 points (38-26), but the Eagles then scored the last five points of the period.

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