Husson University's Justin Thompson of East Millinocket drives to the basket against the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, to score his 1,000th career point with the Eagles at Newman Gymnasium in Bangor. Husson went on to win the game 84-81. Credit: Drew Hallett / Husson Athletics

Graduate guard Justin Thompson scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Husson University men’s basketball team won the North Atlantic Conference championship and secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament Saturday with a 57-53 victory over SUNY Polytechnic University of Utica, New York, at Newman Gymnasium on the Bangor campus.

This marks the ninth conference title Husson has captured since 2009, and the Eagles are 14-4 in championship games during head coach Warren Caruso’s 28-year career.

Husson (15-9) will be making its first NCAA appearance since 2019, and the Eagles will learn of their first-round opponent during the NCAA Division III tournament selection show scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Monday.

SUNY Poly ended its season at 18-10.

Thompson, the former standout at Schenck High School in East Millinocket, scored 13 points during the second half as coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles rallied from a 30-23 intermission deficit.

Husson began the final half with a 13-5 run and took a 36-35 lead on two free throws from Thompson with 14:36 left in the game.

The game then went scoreless for more than three minutes before junior center Cam Wood of Winthrop scored on a putback with 11:10 left to give the Eagles’ lead a three-point cushion and Husson never trailed again as sophomore center Jared Balser making a layup and junior guard Derek Collin and senior guard DJ Bussey connecting on 3 of 4 free-throw tries after SUNY Poly had closed within 52-51 with 1:34 left.

Senior guard and tournament most valuable player Justice Kendall added 14 points for Husson while Balser finished with eight points and four blocked shots.

Senior forward Josh Gregory, the NAC player of the year, led SUNY Poly with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds while junior center Jesse O’Dell had 12 points and nine rebounds and sophomore guard L.J. Randle added 11 points.

Husson’s defense forced SUNY Poly into 21 turnovers, while the Eagles committed just eight giveaways of their own.

Thompson, Bussey and Kendall all represented Husson on the NAC all-tournament team along with Gregory and O’Dell from SUNY Poly, Jack Kane from the University of Maine at Farmington and Erhunosere Uwuigbe from SUNY Delhi.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...