SALT LAKE CITY—The 13th-seeded Northeastern Huskies were hoping for a second-half comeback as they trailed the fourth-seeded Kansas Jayhawks by more than 20 points in the second half of their opening game of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
The Huskies’s struggles mirrored those of Vasa Pusica, the Huskies’ senior leader and a big reason why many around the country were picking Northeastern to score an upset. Pusica scored just 3 points in the first half as the Jayhawks focused the superior athleticism and length of their switching defense against him.
Both teams were anxious in the opening minutes. The Huskies were settled by guard Jordan Roland, who hit a pair of jumpers from the arc to set a Northeastern season record for 3-pointers (99 and counting).
The Jayhawks were steadied, as anticipated, by their 6-foot-9-inch junior forward Dedric Lawson (16 points on 12 shots to go with seven rebounds), who shifted to center as Kansas quickly went small to match up with Northeastern. From the beginning, he was threatening to dominate the boards at both ends, while making decisions with the ball at his own unhurried pace. At the other end, when Pusica beat him off the dribble, Lawson responded with characteristic patience, blocking his layup from behind to create a Jayhawks fast break.
There were no surprises from the Jayhawks. They shot poorly from the 3-point line (2 of 12) but made up for it by swarming defensively on Pusica whenever he tried to turn the corner around screens. When Pusica was able to beat his man off the dribble, more defenders were waiting at the basket to snuff out his attempted layups. His lone basket came on a second-chance 3-pointer created by Bolden Brace, who found Pusica alone at the arc before the Kansas defense could recover.
After shooting a disappointing 25.8% from the floor (8 of 31), the Huskies were counting on halftime adjustments—and moments of needed perspective—to give them a shot at a return to form, and a potential second-half run.
The Huskies are seeking their first victory in the Big Dance since 1984, when they scraped by Long Island University 90-87. Over the past 34 years, which have been barren for Northeastern, the Jayhawks have gone 84-31 in the NCAA Tournament (including 31-2 in opening games), while reaching nine Final Fours and earning two national titles.