BANGOR, Maine — North Atlantic Conference men’s basketball rivals can only envy the depth sent out to the court on a nightly basis by league-leading Husson University.
Sure, the Eagles feature a singular All-American candidate in redshirt senior guard Raheem Anderson, the reigning NAC and New England Division II-III player of the year who is averaging a team-leading 21.6 points this winter.
But beyond Anderson’s starring status, seven other Husson players average between 5.3 and 12.7 points while nine Eagles play at least 16.8 minutes per game.
It’s a balanced approach that’s been working for 15-4 Husson, which has a chance to put a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed for the conference playoffs when the Eagles travel to New Hampshire to face New England College on Friday night and Colby-Sawyer on Saturday afternoon.
“With the eight or nine guys we’re playing, everyone has the capability of putting the ball in the basket one way or another,” said Husson coach Warren Caruso. “It’s a matter of finding the right opportunity. We spend a lot of time talking to our guys about how one night it might be your night and another night you might be the one to get the No. 2 defender on you — Raheem usually gets the No. 1 defender.
“Teams trying to decide who and how to guard us has allowed the group to have some success.”
Take last weekend, when two of the three freshmen starting for the Eagles, Cole Thomas and Justin Thompson, came up big as Husson swept Castleton University and Green Mountain College at Newman Gymnasium. Thomas scored a career-high 16 points in Friday’s 90-69 victory over Castleton and Thompson came back the next day with a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds in a 95-73 win over GMC.
Another first-year starter, guard D.J. Bussey, ranks second on the team in scoring (12.7 pppg) while shooting 49.1 percent on 3-pointers, 47.4 percent from the field overall and 92.3 percent on free throws.
Add in veterans Anderson, junior forward Justin Martin (9.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and senior guard Mitch Worcester (8.3 ppg), have helped Husson average a robust 85.8 points per contest — tops in the NAC and 30th in Division III.
“One of the things we really like about the progression of our young guys is that they are starting to learn how to play off each other and what each other does,” said Caruso. “We’re scoring a bunch of points and one of the reasons is you take one thing away and we can do another, and that’s based on the people we have and the fact they trust each other and share the ball really well.
“The upperclassmen have played well,” he added. “I still don’t think we’ve put it all together yet and that’s the exciting thing. When that happens I think it will be a magical night for us, so to speak.”
Husson is 11-1 in NAC play, two games ahead of New England College and Colby-Sawyer, both 9-3.
NEC, which edged Husson 84-82 in Bangor on Jan. 13, held the conference lead by tiebreaker until its trip to Maine last weekend when the Pilgrims lost at both UMaine-Farmington and Thomas College of Waterville.
Colby-Sawyer split its central Maine sojourn last weekend, losing at UMF after defeating Thomas.
Husson has won five straight conference games since its loss to NEC and owns an 87-66 victory over Colby-Sawyer on Jan. 12.
“We’ve been in some tight games that we’ve closed out pretty well and have ended up being 15- to 18-point games,” said Caruso, whose team is vying for its seventh NAC championship in the last 10 years and the NCAA Division III tournament berth that comes with that title.
“Maybe last year we didn’t close them out as well, but at the end of the day we think we’re better than we were a year ago. We think we’ve got better depth, better skill players, and we’ve really been playing some good basketball.”