Last season, the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity men’s bas­ket­ball team played the 21st most dif­fi­cult non-​​conference schedule in the nation and also went up against three con­fer­ence foes that qual­i­fied for the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies lost 20 games, but were outscored by their oppo­nents by an average of only four points. “We chal­lenged our­selves against the best and came up a little short,” head coach Bill Coen says.

The expe­ri­ence, he explains, “taught us how to com­pete and pre­pare for these type of contests.”

This season, the red and black will be led by a more battle-​​tested group of players, including junior co-​​captains Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee.

We’re a very com­pet­i­tive team, and we’re going to go out every night and give it our all,” says Smith, a 6-​​foot-​​4-​​inch guard who aver­aged 12.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season. “I’m looking for­ward to having fun and working hard all year long.”

The Huskies will show­case their new­found grit for the first time this season on Friday at 5 p.m. at Boston Uni­ver­sity. Season ticket holders for pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball fran­chises such as the Boston Celtics can now pur­chase North­eastern men’s bas­ket­ball season tickets at 50 per­cent off the stan­dard rate.

The Huskies, who fin­ished in 10th place in the Colo­nial Ath­letic Asso­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence last season, hope to improve by grab­bing more defen­sive rebounds. Last season, the club ranked last in the con­fer­ence with just 19.5 per game.

Last year, we were in every ball game against great teams, but second-​​chance points killed us,” says Lee, a 6-​​foot-​​2-​​inch guard who aver­aged 11.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season. “Our oppo­nents ended up get­ting easy buckets or kick-​​out three-​​pointers.”

Coen agrees with his cap­tain. As he puts it, “The lesson we learned from last year is that defense and rebounding will give you the con­sis­tency nec­es­sary to com­pete for con­fer­ence championships.”

Five freshmen will com­pete for playing time, including 6-​​foot-​​8-​​inch for­ward Quincy Ford and 6-​​foot-​​7-​​inch for­ward Reggie Spencer, both of whom Coen says will add depth, expe­ri­ence and ver­sa­tility to the roster.

Team unity, he notes, is the club’s biggest asset. “We had a tremen­dous off­season and worked about as hard as any team I’ve ever had,” Coen explains. “I’m anx­ious to see what we can do when the lights come on.”

The club’s com­bi­na­tion of defen­sive pluck and up-​​tempo offense, pred­i­cated on ball screens and give-and-go’s, may make the Huskies a for­mi­dable dog in the conference’s 12-​​team race.

The con­fer­ence,” Lee says, “is up for grabs.”