HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — After a pair of tough conference losses, hosting one of the Colonial Athletic Association’s worst teams was just what the Hofstra Pride needed to get back on track.
Allowing the CAA’s eighth-place team to hang around for a half, Hofstra (14-6, 5-2 CAA) followed the lead of sophomore guard Brian Bernardi in running away from the Drexel Dragons (4-14, 2-5 CAA) and moving into a second-place tie (just a half-game behind CAA leader Northeastern), with a convincing 86-58 victory at the Mack Sports Complex on Wednesday night.
Bernardi, who scored a team-high 23 points, while making eight of 12 shots from the floor (including six of 10 from 3-point range), scored 11 of the Pride’s first 19 points of the second half, as Hofstra turned an eight-point halftime lead into a rout.
While Bernardi led the way, Hofstra also got double-doubles from junior guard Juan’ya Green (11 points and a game-high 11 assists) and junior forward Malik Nichols (10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds), as junior forward Ameen Tanksley (nine points and six rebounds), freshman forward Rokas Gustys (eight points and eight rebounds), senior center Moussa Kone (eight points and five rebounds) and graduate guard Dion Nesmith (eight points and four assists) provided some good balance.
“We really had a couple of spirited practices the last couple of days, and I thought these guys responded,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “I think we lost our way there a little bit, for a couple games. Hopefully, we’ve found our way back, but it can’t just be one or two practices, it can’t just be one or two games.”
CAA leading scorer, junior guard Damion Lee, led all scorers with 27 points (in front of NBA scouts from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons), but got little help, as junior forward Tavon Allen struggled (10 points on 3-for-15 shooting) to be the only other Dragons scorer in double figures.
Overcoming a rough start, Drexel recovered nicely from a few first-half Hofstra runs.
The Dragons missed their first three shots as the Pride connected on six of its first 10 attempts, while jumping out to a 14-2 lead almost five minutes in, before Drexel finally got its first field goal at the 14:39 mark of the opening half.
After the Dragons closed to within eight points on three separate occasions, a layup by sophomore guard Jamall Robinson (seven points) and a 3-pointer from Tanskley pushed the lead to 26-13 just past the midpoint of the frame.
A triple by Lee brought Drexel to within 30-21, with 5:17 left in the half, but a left-corner trey by Robinson moved the margin to 35-23 less than two minutes later.
Scoring the next six points, the Dragons sliced their deficit in half, at 35-29, but never got any closer.
Green scored four straight points, on a jumper and a driving layup, to increase Hofstra’s lead to 39-29, before freshman guard Sammy Mojica (nine points) followed a miss and beat the first-half buzzer to pull Drexel to within 39-31 at halftime.
But complemented by consecutive layups from Nichols, Bernardi drained a pair of 3-pointers, made a layup and a 3-point play to help Hofstra to a commanding 58-39 advantage, with 14:55 to play.
“I just came into the game being aggressive,” said Bernardi, who scored 17 points in the second half. “Mostly on defense, but I think when you start out aggressive on defense, it helps your offense.”
His teammates took over from there, extending a 15-point advantage to 74-46, before two more 3-pointers by Bernardi came toward the end of a 24-3 spurt that stretched the lead to as much as 84-48, with 2:55 left.
Significantly outshooting Drexel, 50.7 percent (35-for-69) to 35.3 percent (18-for-51), Hofstra also held sizable advantages in rebounds (43-29) and assists (23-14) while completely dominating the Dragons in the paint, where the Pride held a tremendous 50-16 scoring edge.
Much of that success was set up by Hofstra’s playmaker, Green. The point guard is the Pride’s second-leading scorer this season (behind Tanskley) and the nation’s only player averaging at least 17 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Yet it’s setting up others which gives him the most satisfaction.
“I try to see the play before it happens,” Green said. “I know where guys are going to be. I know where they like the ball and how they shoot, so I try to find guys as much as possible.”
Moments earlier, Mihalich noted, “When Juan’ya Green has the ball, all you have to do is get open… I think he’s an elite passer.”
Mihalich’s Pride will need more of that type of team-wide execution to stay near the top of the CAA as the midpoint of the conference schedule approaches.
And a little assistance from elsewhere in the league wouldn’t hurt either.
One game after his team blew a late six-point lead in a home loss to fourth-place UNC-Wilmington, to kick off its season-long three-game homestand, Mihalich was happy to get a favor from sixth-place Delaware, which upset second-place William & Mary while Hofstra was beating Drexel.
“That certainly was one that we would like to have had,” Mihalich said of the loss to UNCW. “You can’t get it back, so somebody’s got to help you, so you feel like you didn’t lose ground. We’re not too proud to take some help.”
Only a half-game ahead of its next opponent, the Pride will try to wrap up its current home stretch with a winning record against James Madison on Saturday afternoon, before travelling for a key showdown at William & Mary.