CHARLESTON, South Carolina – First-Team All-Conference performer Vasa Pusica keyed an early surge and No. 2 seeded Northeastern led wire-to-wire to end UNCW’s men’s hoops season with a 80-59 victory over the No. 10 seeded Seahawks in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship quarterfinals Sunday night at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Huskies advanced to the CAA semifinals for the sixth time in the last seven years and improved to 21-10. The Seahawks closed out the 2018-19 season with a 10-23 record.
Pusica, a senior guard from Belgrade, Serbia, filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies, who eliminated the Seahawks for the second straight year. Junior guard Jordan Roland led the Huskies with 21 points and junior guard Bolden Brace added 17 points.
The contest was the finale in UNCW senior forward Devontae Cacok’s spectacular career. He paced the Seahawks with 21 points and 13 rebounds for his NCAA-leading 24th double-double and 59th gem over the last four years. The Riverdale, Ga., product hiked his career totals to 1,593 points and 1,263 rebounds in 128 career appearances.
Junior forward Jeantal Cylla, who led UNCW with 23 points in Saturday’s opening round win over Elon, was the only other player in double digits with 12 points.
Seahawk freshman point guard Kai Toews, a member of the CAA’s All-Rookie team, set his second record in as many days. He smashed Rick Alessi’s longtime UNCW single season assist record in UNCW’s win over Elon on Saturday and became the CAA’s single season leader with four helpers on Sunday. He finished his inaugural season in college play with 253 assists, breaking the league’s single season record of 251 dimes shared by George Mason’s Curtis McCants (1994-95) and Navy’s Doug Wojcik (1985-86).
The Huskies, winners of 10 of their last 11 contests, led by as many as 27 points and went 12-of-26 behind the arc to take their sixth in a row from the Seahawks.
Northeastern started strong and quickly reeled off 11 unanswered points to sprint out to a 17-4 cushion out of the gate. The Huskies used a 9-0 spurt over a 2:21 stretch to put the Seahawks on their heels early.
The Huskies still led, 22-9, when the talented Cacok took things into his own hands. The two-time First-Team All-CAA honoree scored six consecutive buckets and Cylla’s baseline jumper closed the gap to 29-23 with 3:24 left in the first half.
But Roland helped the Huskies right the ship for a nine-point halftime lead. The transfer from George Washington scored on the left wing and added a triple from the top of the key to extend the margin to 39-26 before Toews sank a jumper on the left side with 28 seconds on the clock to bring the halftime score to 39-28.
The Seahawks got no closer than 13 points in the final period as Northeastern kept up the pressure and took advantage of UNCW’s cold shooting. The Huskies outscored the Seahawks over the first four minutes of the second half, 11-1, en route to reaching the CAA semifinals for the sixth time in the last seven years.
TOURNEY SCORECARD: The Seahawks stand 41-28 in 35 appearances in the CAA Tournament.
QUARTERFINAL RECORD: The Seahawks are now 21-7 in CAA quarterfinal games.
SO LONG CHARLESTON: The Seahawks went 5-2, including a CAA title in 2017, in three trips to the North Charleston Coliseum. The event moves up to Washington, D.C., for 2019-20.
ARC MADNESS: The Huskies outscored the Seahawks behind the arc, 36-3, behind 12 triples and five treys from Roland.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS: The Seahawks misfired on 10 consecutive shots during one stretch early in the first half, allowing the Huskies to break away in the opening part of the game.
KEY MOMENT: After UNCW sliced the early deficit to 28-23 on Cylla’s baseline jumper with 3:24 left in the first half, Roland answered with a three-pointer and Brace tacked on another bucket to push the margin back to double digits.
QUOTABLE: “You have to give Northeastern credit. They attacked us from the get-go. We didn’t really have much fight back. They came out and executed exactly what they wanted to do. They’re a heckuva team.” -UNCW Head Coach C.B. McGrath