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For men’s hoops, it’s all aboard

Photo by Jim Pierce.

Last season, the Northeastern University men’s basketball team played the 21st most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation and also went up against three conference foes that qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies lost 20 games, but were outscored by their opponents by an average of only four points. “We challenged ourselves against the best and came up a little short,” head coach Bill Coen says.

The experience, he explains, “taught us how to compete and prepare for these type of contests.”

This season, the red and black will be led by a more battle-tested group of players, including junior co-captains Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee.

“We’re a very competitive team, and we’re going to go out every night and give it our all,” says Smith, a 6-foot-4-inch guard who averaged 12.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season. “I’m looking forward to having fun and working hard all year long.”

The Huskies will showcase their newfound grit for the first time this season on Friday at 5 p.m. at Boston University. Season ticket holders for professional basketball franchises such as the Boston Celtics can now purchase Northeastern men’s basketball season tickets at 50 percent off the standard rate.

The Huskies, who finished in 10th place in the Colonial Athletic Association conference last season, hope to improve by grabbing more defensive rebounds. Last season, the club ranked last in the conference with just 19.5 per game.

“Last year, we were in every ball game against great teams, but second-chance points killed us,” says Lee, a 6-foot-2-inch guard who averaged 11.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season. “Our opponents ended up getting easy buckets or kick-out three-pointers.”

Coen agrees with his captain. As he puts it, “The lesson we learned from last year is that defense and rebounding will give you the consistency necessary to compete for conference championships.”

Five freshmen will compete for playing time, including 6-foot-8-inch forward Quincy Ford and 6-foot-7-inch forward Reggie Spencer, both of whom Coen says will add depth, experience and versatility to the roster.

Team unity, he notes, is the club’s biggest asset. “We had a tremendous offseason and worked about as hard as any team I’ve ever had,” Coen explains. “I’m anxious to see what we can do when the lights come on.”

The club’s combination of defensive pluck and up-tempo offense, predicated on ball screens and give-and-go’s, may make the Huskies a formidable dog in the conference’s 12-team race.

“The conference,” Lee says, “is up for grabs.”