January 5th Game of the Day: Elon Phoenix at Northeastern Huskies

NCAA BASKETBALL:  NOV 10 Elon at Duke
Senior guard Dmitri Thompson is averaging 15 points over his last three games, all of which have been wins for the Elon Phoenix. (Source: HERO Sports) (Header: Boston Herald)

BOSTON — Traditionally, the college basketball world is rather quieter on Friday nights before the action ramps up on Saturday and Sunday to close out the week.

However, on January 5th, there are several intriguing match-ups that are sure to satisfy fans across the country. Twenty-three games are on tap for Friday night as teams continue their quest for a conference title and a spot in the field of 68 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Several teams from the Colonial Athletic Association are in action, and that’s the direction we went for today’s Game of the Day selection. In Boston, the Northeastern Huskies welcome the Elon Phoenix to town for the first of two regular season meetings between the two schools in 2017-18. The Phoenix are in a tie for first in the conference with a perfect 2-0 record, while the Huskies have split their first two games against CAA opponents.

Last season, the teams split the regular season series at a game apiece, and each team won on the road. Their two games were decided by a combined three points. Elon won their game at Northeastern in January, 51-49, while the Huskies needed double-overtime to pick up their 105-104 win in February.

With that in mind, expect another close game on Friday night. Here’s what you need to know in advance of the first meeting of the season between Elon and Northeastern.

Last Time Out

Prior to Friday night’s match-up, the Phoenix got some big buckets late to pick up a 75-72 win over the Towson Tigers on January 2nd. Steven Santa Ana scored a team-high 17 points, while Tyler Seibring added 16 points and six rebounds in the win.

Dmitri Thompson completed a three-point play with 27 seconds left in the game to put the Phoenix ahead by one, and then sealed the deal with free throws in the closing seconds. He finished with 15 points, making it the third straight game that he had reached double digit points. The win extended the Phoenix’s winning streak to three games, and put them in a tie for first in the CAA with a 2-0 record.


On the same night, Northeastern was also in action on their home floor, taking on the visiting Hofstra Pride. It was a back-and-forth second half, but a late free throw from Eli Pemberton gave the Pride a four-point lead. Shawn Occeus hit a three pointer at the buzzer, which would have tied the game if Pemberton had failed to hit his free throw. The Huskies fell for the second time in three games, 71-70.

Occeus finished the night with 20 points, on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Forward Jeremy Miller came off the bench to score 12 points, and the pair were the only two players to reach double-figures for the Huskies. After a five game winning streak that saw the Huskies pick up wins over the likes of the Vermont Catamounts and Bucknell Bison, they have now lost two of their last three outings.


Previous Meeting

The last time the two teams met was back on February 23rd, 2017. Northeastern came away with the 105-104 win on the road over the Phoenix in double-overtime. Bolden Brace hit 10 three pointers on the day, finishing with 40 points to pace the Huskies. Not to be outdone, T.J. Williams posted a triple-double in the win, recording 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.

Brace, Bolden
As a freshman, Bolden Brace (2) recorded 40 points in the last meeting between Elon and Northeastern during the 2016-17 season. (Source: WRBB Sports)

For the Phoenix, Seibring recorded 30 points and 12 rebounds, and all five starters for Elon scored in double-figures. Brian Dawkins added 11 points, while Thompson recorded 23 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double of his own.

The all-time series between the two schools is split down the middle, with each team having three wins.


Players to Watch

Elon – Dmitri Thompson

Guard Dmitri Thompson is one of five seniors on the roster for the Elon Phoenix this season, and the 6’4” guard from Orlando, FL is having his best season in the NCAA to close out his career. For the first time, Thompson is averaging double-digit points per game, posting 10.5 points per contest this season. His 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game are also career-high marks. Thompson has scored in double figures in each of his last three games, and the Phoenix have won all three of those contests. The recent stretch of strong play kicked off when he posted a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against the Indiana State Sycamores back on December 22nd to close out non-conference play. On Friday, the veteran guard will look to lead the Phoenix to a fourth straight win in their second game of 2018.


Northeastern – Vasa Pusica

Junior guard Vava Pusica is having himself a strong season with the Huskies after transferring from the San Diego Toreros. He sat out the 2016-17 season due to the NCAA’s transfer regulations, but has come out and become a go-to option for Northeastern in 2017-18. Pusica is leading the team in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per contest to go along with 3.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds. As a sophomore with the Toreros, Pusica averaged 8.3 points. This season, he is shooting 52.7% from the floor, 40.4% from beyond the arc,and 82.4% from the free throw line. The 6’5” Pusica has the size and shooting ability to impact the game all over the offensive end of the court. He can finish inside, while also possessing the ability to hit shots from long range. In the Huskies’ conference opener against the James Madison Dukes, he posted a career-high 31 points in an 11-point win for Northeastern, and he will look to replicate that against Elon on Friday night.


Prediction

With their recent history of close games, Friday promises to be another close contest between the Phoenix and the Huskies. Elon enters the day with a three game winning streak, while Northeastern is looking to bounce back from their second loss in three games after their five game winning streak.

The road team has won each of the last four meetings between the two programs, which would tip the scales in favour of the Phoenix. However, the Huskies are 5-1 on their home floor this season, with their lone loss coming by a single point (Hofstra).

In the seventh all-time meeting between Elon and Northeastern, the Huskies are looking to break the trend of road teams coming away victorious. The Huskies are hosting ‘N.U.in Night’ on Friday, inviting all Northeastern students to Matthews Arena to cheer on their team. If the students come through, the large, rowdy crowd will give the Huskies the extra shot of momentum they need to improve to 2-1 in CAA play.

Northeastern – 74
Elon – 65

– T. Bennett

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