Husson University's Justin Thompson (center) is greeted by his teammates after scoring his 1,000th career points during a Dec. 4, 2021, game against the University of Maine at Presque Isle at Newman Gymnasium in Bangor. Credit: Drew Hallett / Husson University

Jordan James and Sam Peek combined for 33 points and 19 rebounds as host Wesleyan University pulled away in the second half for an 81-61 victory over Husson College in the first round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament in Middletown, Connecticut, on Friday night.

The win was just the second for Wesleyan in its NCAA tournament history and advances the Cardinals to a second-round game at Silloway Gymnasium on Saturday night against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a 78-58 winner over Nichols College earlier Friday.

Wesleyan, now 25-3, is ranked eighth nationally in NCAA Division III.

North Atlantic Conference champion Husson, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2019, ended its season at 15-10.

James made 9 of 10 field-goal tries and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds while Peek added 15 points and 12 boards for Wesleyan, the New England Small College Athletic Conference champion.

Senior guard and NAC tournament MVP Justice Kendall paced Husson with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, while senior guard D.J. Bussey added 18 points for coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles.

Wesleyan jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes, but Husson countered with a 9-2 run to take a 9-8 edge.

The Cardinals quickly regained the lead and stretched their advantage to as many as 12 points before a deep 3-pointer by Kendall with time winding down rallied Husson to within 42-34 at intermission.

Kendall scored 14 first-half points for the Eagles.

Bussey scored to make it a six-point game at the outset of the second half, but Wesleyan put the game away midway through the final period with a 12-1 run to gain its largest lead of the night at 69-47 with 8:34 remaining.

Husson got no closer than 16 points the rest of the way.

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...