A new first for Northeastern’s head coach

Bill Coen is a veteran of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, seven times attending the Big Dance as an assistant for Boston College and the University of Rhode Island. But he’s never led a team to March Madness as a head coach—until now.

Coen will lead the Northeastern Huskies to the NCAA tournament for the first time in his nine seasons with the red and black, the latest milestone in a season of big moments.

“I’ve gone through the NCAA tournament as an assistant, and I think the first time for everyone is probably the most memorable,” Coen said. “That is why I am so excited for this opportunity for our guys—because you never forget it.”

The Huskies secured their NCAA berth by winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship on March 9, and will play Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. on CBS.

Before learning that the Fighting Irish would be their opponent, Coen noted that the Huskies’ greatest adversary would be a lot more familiar than the team from Indiana. “Our biggest opponent will be ourselves,” Coen noted. “The emotions the kids and the staff will feel can be enormous. So we’ll have to be able to manage those emotions. We want everyone to get excited and relish the moment, but at the same time we can’t get too emotional.”

Northeastern has amassed 145 wins since Coen took over the men’s basketball program in 2006, and the team’s 23 victories so far this season have set a single-season record during Coen’s tenure. Northeastern spent the majority of the regular season near or at the top of the CAA standings, finishing in a four-way tie for first place.

The Huskies have had plenty of ups and downs this season, from scoring a road victory against Florida State and winning the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic to losing late-season contests to CAA foes Elon and Delaware. But Coen said that one key factor to the team’s overall success has been its mental toughness. “We were 10-1 after losses,” Coen said. “I think that is a stat that shows [how we perform through adversity].”

Coen credited the players and coaching staff for their hard work in winning the CAA championship, and also emphasized that the Northeastern community’s support throughout the season has played an integral role in the team’s success. In his welcoming remarks at Sunday evening’s NCAA Selection Show watch party at the Cabot Center, he told a large and enthusiastic crowd that the CAA championship is a “Northeastern family championship.”

“(This championship) has been a long time coming,” Coen added. “It’s really a tribute to this group’s hard work, dedication, and commitment to each other. And I believe in my heart we aren’t quite done yet.”