BANGOR, Maine — The Husson University men’s basketball program is steeped in tradition.
The players on this season’s team have continued the Eagles’ winning ways, posting Husson’s 42nd consecutive winning season.
Coach Warren Caruso’s squad, coming off Saturday’s victory over Castleton State in the North Atlantic title game, is headed to the postseason once again.
Husson of Bangor is gearing up for Saturday’s 7 p.m. NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship first-round game at Plattsburgh State (N.Y.). It is the Eagles’ third NCAA appearance and the program’s 16th trip to a national tournament.
“As a program, it’s time that we go to the national tournament and get a win,” said Husson’s 19th-year coach. “I think this group is focused on that task.”
The Eagles spent most of the regular-season near the top of the NAC standings, but the University of Maine-Farmington shouldered the burden of being No. 1.
In the meantime, Husson continued to work toward peaking in the postseason. Ultimately, Caruso credits his group of six seniors with helping the Eagles put it all together.
“Over the last three or four weeks of the season, when we moved our seniors into the starting lineup, every day that went by things started clicking a little bit more,” Caruso said. “It seems as though nothing was going to get in their way.”
The seniors are led by Eric Modica of Kittery and Marc Zaharchuk of Richmond, each of whom averaged 11.6 points per game. Zaharchuk also paced the team with 6.4 rebounds per game.
Modica, a co-captain, was the NAC Defensive Player of the Year and joined Zaharchuk, the MVP of the league tournament, as a second-team, all-conference selection.
Brooks Spaulding of Fairfield (9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) started most of the season, while co-captain Wes Murphy (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) became a late-season starter along with Zaharchuk, joining Modica and junior transfer Corey Wood.
After the lineup switch, the Eagles won six of their last seven games. The chemistry improved and the leadership shone through.
“I just sat back and watched,” Caruso said. “They did some things on the basketball floor, you could really see how it came together for them; not just the basketball play, but the mental aspect as well.”
Senior Jon Klages of Freeport (3.1 ppg), provided minutes off the bench, while injured classmate Daeshawn McMorrin (knee) provided moral support.
Husson received key contributions from sophomore guard Aaron Willis (8.8 ppg, 2.4 assists per game), junior guard Phil Leighton of Naples (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), junior transfer Jacob Moore of Hampden (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and junior guard Donte Cottonham (6.6 ppg).
Junior center Dan Fleming of Fairfield (2.2 ppg), freshman Trevon Butler and sophomores Jason Burgo and Matt Dube of Kennebunk also chipped in.
“There’s certain common elements to a championship team,” Caruso said. “One of them is that the team has ownership of the program’s identity. That really happened to us.”
Caruso believes this team is seasoned enough to take the next step. The Eagles are banking on their prior experience, including ECAC playoff games.
“That’s been critical in getting to that national tournament level and understanding how the game’s played and the intensity,” Caruso said.
Husson also boasts a rigorous nonconference schedule that this season included the likes of No. 4 Worcester Polytechnic Institute and No. 9 Catholic University. The Eagles also faced New England Small College Athletic Conference teams Bates and Colby.
“We had seven nonconference games and three of those teams are going to the national tournament,” Caruso said. “It has always been our strategy to play as competitive a schedule as possible so we prepare ourselves for the end of the season.”