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Leaders of the pack

Scott Eatherton nearly quit basketball after his sophomore year of high school, before the “tall, lanky, and uncoordinated” teenager from Hershey, Pennsylvania, saw his agility and athleticism catch up to his height.

Now, he and his Northeastern University teammates are leading the Huskies back to college basketball’s biggest stage—the NCAA tournament—for the first time since 1991.

“It’s crazy,” a grinning Eatherton said following a shoot-around last week on Solomon Court. “In high school, I never would’ve imagined this would happen.”

The Huskies earned a No. 14 seed in the tournament and will face the No. 3 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Thursday afternoon in Pittsburgh in the Midwest Region. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:15 p.m., and the game will be televised live on CBS.

The 6-foot-9-inch forward led Northeastern this season in points (14.7), rebounds (6.6), and blocks (1.2) per game. But as one of the Huskies’ two seniors, Eatherton made it his personal goal to develop his leadership on and off the court, a shared objective he and fellow senior Reggie Spencer discussed prior to the season.

“It’s been about making sure I’m always encouraging people, but also getting on them when not doing the right thing,” he said. “Reggie and I made that a focus this season, and it’s been really contagious throughout the team.”

Spencer, a 6-foot-7-inch forward from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has embraced his role this season as an “emotional leader” for a Huskies team with plenty of scorers. This commitment shone through in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game, when an under-the-weather Spencer was limited to eight minutes of action. Northeastern beat William & Mary 72-61 to punch its ticket to the Big Dance.

“I tried to keep Scotty, Zach (Stahl), and the other guys energized and focused on our goals and what we were there to do,” said Spencer, who gets himself fired up prior to games by watching a YouTube video of former Seattle Supersonic Shawn Kemp’s top 10 dunks.

“He’s intense in that video,” Spencer said of Kemp. “I try to match that.”

Head coach Bill Coen noted that the seniors have been critical to the Huskies’ success this season. “It starts with senior leadership,” he said. “You have to have that type of direction and resolve in your locker room if you are going to accomplish anything.”

He added: “In our meetings leading up to the conference tournament, those guys were really adamant with what they wanted to accomplish. I think there is enough compassion on our team that the other players wanted to make it special for those seniors.”

After growing up watching March Madness year after year, Eatherton and Spencer, along with their teammates, will get their first taste of competing in the tournament. When asked to name his top March Madness moment, Eatherton pointed to 2005 when the No. 14 Bucknell Bison topped the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks 64-63.

“It’s always exciting when the Cinderella teams knock off the top teams,” Eatherton said. “It’s inspiring. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I’m really excited.”

It’s somewhat fitting that Eatherton will now lead his Huskies into the tournament as a No. 14 seed determined to upset a No. 3 seed. The question now for Northeastern is this: Will the slipper fit?

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