BANGOR, Maine — The atmosphere was electric on Friday night at Newman Gymnasium.
Husson University fed off the energy of a capacity crowd of 1,200 and rewarded the hometown fans for their support by posting a 91-76 victory over Thomas College of Waterville in a North Atlantic Conference men’s basketball semifinal.
“Our crowd stays hyped, and we feed off their energy a lot,” said junior guard Raheem Anderson, who tossed in 22 points. “That really helps us throughout the game.”
Coach Warren Caruso’s top-seeded Eagles (20-6) take on defending champion and No. 2 Colby-Sawyer, a 99-95 overtime winner over No. 3 Johnson State, in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.
Husson held the No. 4 Terriers (14-13) in check with its aggressive man-to-man defense and wore them down with a multifaceted offense spearheaded by NAC Player of the Year Trevon Butler (22 points, six steals, three assists) and first-team pick Anderson.
“I told the guys after the game, it was our best defensive execution all year,” Caruso said. “We took away some things that they had got [in the past], and I thought we made Levi [Barnes] work for a lot, going in a direction he’s not comfortable with.”
Darryl Wood (16 points, five rebounds) and Justin Martin of Winslow (nine points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) provided an inside presence at both ends as the Eagles outrebounded Thomas 43-34. Mitch Worcester of Washburn chipped in with seven points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Skowhegan’s Barnes, an All-NAC first-teamer, and Mike Akanji (seven rebounds) led the Terriers with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Caribou’s Dayne Savage netted 11 points.
Thomas espoused coach Geoff Hensley’s repeated urging to “keep fighting,” but couldn’t overcome the Eagles.
The difference was Husson’s half-court, man-to-man defense, which effectively limited the Terriers’ ability to get shots close to the basket.
“Coach, all week he’s been putting a lot of emphasis on defense, and I feel like we came out and executed defensively really well,” Anderson said.
Husson hit seven 3-pointers and shot 45 percent to forge a 45-28 halftime lead behind a 22-9 run over the last 7:07. Butler knocked down three 3-pointers to spearhead that surge.
Undaunted, Thomas opened the second half with a 14-3 run. Back-to-back baskets by Tyheem Simon got the Terriers within 50-42 with 15:25 to play.
Husson responded by initiating inside-out action, feeding Wood in the post. The 6-foot-5 converted guard, who was headed to Eastern Maine Community College before it dropped its athletic programs last spring, responded.
Wood accounted for five of the Eagles’ points during a 7-0 spurt that restored the lead to 14 points with 11:08 left.
“I’ve never played at a level this high, so I get to go out, play in front of a bunch of fans every day,” Wood said. “It’s real exciting to play here.”
With the win, Husson swept the season series with Thomas.
“We played very well,” Caruso said. “That was a [Thomas] team that was very hungry. They’ve got four seniors, they didn’t want their season to end.”