BANGOR, Maine — The first half came easy for the Husson University men’s basketball team Tuesday night.
But while the second half of the Eagles’ North Atlantic Conference game against Thomas College of Waterville wasn’t nearly as crisp, coach Warren Caruso’s club will gladly take the 79-67 victory as the next step in its developmental process.
Husson, 7-4 overall and 5-1 in conference play, used a 23-2 run midway through the opening half to take control, though after leading by as many as 25 midway through the second half, the Eagles had to withstand a spirited Thomas rally.
The Terriers closed to within eight points with two minutes left before Husson junior guard Raheem Anderson made a free throw and a three-point play — bringing his career scoring total to 1,400 points — to close out the victory.
“We played a very good first half,” said Caruso. “It’s the first time we’ve been up like that all year, and probably in the second half we weren’t quite sure what to do. You say that, but you’ve got to play games, you’ve got to be in situations to understand the flow of the game.”
Anderson finished with a team-high 22 points and four assists, and senior forward Zach Curran and junior guard Mitch Worcester came off the bench to add 12 and 10 points, respectively, for Husson.
Sophomore forward Justin Martin grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds for the Eagles.
Junior center Carlos Gonzalez led Thomas (6-8, 4-3 in NAC play) with 24 points and eight rebounds, and senior guard Tyheem Simon had 23 points, 16 during the second half.
Senior guard Ian King had 10 rebounds and six assists for the Terriers, and sophomore forward Willie Grant also grabbed 10 boards.
“I give [Husson] credit, they’ve got a great team, and we just weren’t very focused or as active as we needed to be defensively,” said Thomas coach Geoff Hensley.
Caruso has turned to a younger lineup since Husson returned from a recent trip to California that produced back-to-back losses to Chapman and Pomona-Pitzer, with freshmen Bruce St. Peter of Ellsworth, Jake Black of Hampden and Justin Smith joining a starting five that also includes Anderson and Martin.
The changes worked during last Saturday’s 83-70 win over Maine Maritime Academy and again early on against Thomas, though it was the Eagles’ bench that proved pivotal after Black left with an injury less than three minutes into the contest and St. Peter picked up two early fouls.
“We’re still learning about ourselves and managing our strengths and weaknesses,” said Caruso, “and I think we’re getting to a point where we’re understanding our individual roles and who we can be as a team.”
Thomas was within 12-10 6½ minutes into the contest thanks to six early points by Gonzalez, but Worcester came off the bench with eight quick points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that stretched Husson’s lead to 20-10.
Curran scored on a post-up move before Thomas’ Zach Mackinnon finally answered with a jumper to make it a 22-12 game.
Husson reserve guard Alonzo McCain then hit a 15-footer to ignite a run of 13 more unanswered points, the final two coming on a reverse layup by Martin that gave the Eagles a 35-12 lead with 6:29 left before intermission.
Husson’s lead was 48-24 at the break and ballooned to as much as 66-41 when McCain fed reserve forward Eli Itkin for a layup with 9:46 remaining.
But Thomas outscored the Eagles 19-4 over the next five minutes with Gonzalez and Simon doing most of the damage, and a free throw by Tailour Hall cut the gap to 73-60 before Itkin hit a 3-pointer to end a four-minute Husson scoreless drought.
A 3-pointer by Simon and an inside basket by Gonzalez narrowed the Thomas deficit to 75-67 with 2:01 left, but the Terriers were unable to score again.
“I liked our hustle, I liked our heart in the second half,” said Hensley. “The second-half Thomas team was a much better team and a much [more fun] team to coach.”