BANGOR — Mike Russell is often not the tallest guy on a college basketball court at 6-foot-4, but he more than makes up for it with pure strength.
The 215-pounder used every ounce of that frame Thursday night, leading four Colby College players in double figures with 23 points and 20 rebounds while Ben Foreman hit five free throws in the final minute to lead the visiting Mules from Waterville to a 75-70 victory over Husson University at Newman Gymnasium.
With the teams tied at 70 with 51.7 seconds remaining, Foreman was fouled on a drive to the hoop, and he sank the second of two free throws to give coach Dick Whitmore’s club a 71-70 lead.
Foreman, a native of Los Angeles, hit two more FTs with 28.4 remaining after making a steal, and Husson’s Daeshawn McMorrin’s 3-point attempt with five seconds left bounced off the back of the iron and hit the shot clock before going in, thus negating the basket.
The Mules, who improve to 6-6, shot 19-for-31 from the foul line, with Foreman leading that charge, going 7 of 8 en route to his 13 points.
“It’s remarkable for us because that’s been our Achillies heel up to this point,” said Whitmore. “We lost a tough game on Sunday because we didn’t make free throws. That’s why its great to see our guys come through at the end.”
Even though Russell drew 6-10 Husson sophomore Marc Zaharchuck, his physical play got Zaharchuck in some foul trouble — he was held to three points while picking up four fouls in 23 minutes — while Russell also grabbed eight offensive boards.
“Every guy I go up against is usually bigger than I am, so I just try to work as hard as I can, try to use my quickness,” said Russell.
Coach Warren Caruso’s Husson club, which dips to 7-4, fought back from an 11-point deficit early in the second half, with Josh Jones providing the bulk of the offense, scoring 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, which included an 8-of-10 effort from the foul line.
The Eagles were rewarded with their aggressive play with 40 trips to the foul line (33-40), which was vital given the fact Husson didn’t hit a field goal over the game’s final 4:20.
“That was part of what we wanted to do,” said Caruso. “We felt like we could take them off the dribble and get to the foul line and we did and got ourselves back in the game.”
But Colby’s defense did just enough to scratch out the victory, contesting every Husson shot with its quickness, while Russell was able to use his body down low to help the Mules generate a 36-25 edge on the glass.
“(Russell’s) just a wonderful Division III college post player, he just stepped his level up, I thought defensively tonight he was the best he’s ever been for us, and that’s what wins games,” Whitmore said.
The Mules’ guards also did a good job on the perimeter, while they held Jones and Jay Uhrin to a combined 8-of-20 shooting.
“We had a strategy all week, we took care of exactly what we needed to do, we were face-guarding (their) shooters,” said Foreman.
Colby also had solid depth offensively, with Falmouth native Christian Van Loenen providing 12 points and Gordon Fischer of Camden contributing 10 points, including two 3-pointers, off the bench.
As good as Husson’s free-throw shooting was, the Eagles were only 17-45 (37.8 percent) from the field.
“Right now we’re a little out of sync offensively, we’ve had two games in the last 48 hours, we’re just not in rhythm offensively,” Caruso said.
Luis Medina tallied 19 points for Husson while Uhrin finished with 11 in a physical contest that featured a whopping 71 foul shots and 51 fouls called.