HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — For a little more than one half of play, the Hofstra Pride was able to overcome its leading scorer being a non-factor. Trying to win with its top two scorers being silenced from that point, however, was too much to handle.
Junior guards Ameen Tanksley (five points) and Juan’ya Green (team-high 16 points) combined for just two points over the final 16½ minutes, as the James Madison Dukes scored 14 straight second-half points to erase a 14-point deficit, before closing on a 10-2 run, to win, 69-63, at the Mack Sports Complex on Saturday.
The win was the Dukes’ third in four games, and conversely, the Pride’s third defeat in four tilts, as JMU (12-9, 5-3) tied Hofstra (14-7, 5-3 CAA) for fourth place in the CAA, with each one game behind a trio of teams (William & Mary, Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington) in the increasingly tightening league standings.
Plagued by early foul trouble, Tanksley (who entered the game with a team-leading 18.4 points per game) made his only first-half shot (a 3-pointer) before sitting out the final 16:25 of the stanza, as Green (who started the day with 17.4 points per contest) picked up the slack for his fellow Niagara transfer and Philadelphia native.
But that help only lasted a short while into the second half, as Green — after missing his first five field goal attempts, before he made six of seven and put Hofstra up, 52-40, on a layup with 16:31 left — took only three shots and failed to score the rest of the way.
Tanksley, meanwhile, played the entire second half, but missed seven of eight shots from the floor while scoring only two points after halftime.
Sophomore guard Brian Bernardi, second in the CAA in 3-point makes and 3-point percentage (behind Tanksley), also struggled, scoring just six points on 2-of-10 shooting (all from behind the arc).
“It always comes down to what you deserve,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “We didn’t deserve to win. We got outscored by 18 points (36-18) in the second half. We weren’t tough enough on offense or defense.”
Overall, the Pride made only 24.2 percent (8-for-33, including 2-of-15 from 3-point range) of it shots in the second half, after shooting nearly twice that — 46.9 percent (15-for-32, including 9-of-16 on 3s) — before the break.
Hofstra also settled for too many jumpers, and went to the foul line just 10 times (making six), while making just two trips (without making a free throw) to the charity stripe during the second half.
That was no problem for JMU, which went 17-for-20 at the line, as junior guard Ron Curry led all scorers with 25 points, while singlehandedly taking (13) and making (10) more foul shots than the Pride.
“I thought in the second half, Ron Curry took over the game when he needed to, and he really did it by getting to the basket and getting to the free throw line, which is really what you want your point guard to do,” head coach Matt Brady said.
Senior center Moussa Kone’s first double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) of the season was offset by the 13 points posted by sophomore guard Jackson Kent, who was the only other Dukes player besides Curry to reach double figures in scoring.
Before collapsing down the stretch, Hofstra’s offense surprisingly didn’t miss a beat despite Tanskley’s early absence and Green’s slow start.
After Bernardi and Kent traded 3-pointers to start the game, Tanksley and Curry did the same, as Hofstra led, 8-6.
With the Pride up, 10-6, Tanksley picked up his second foul, and went to the bench just 3:35 in. Another Pride bucket made it 12-6, before a 6-2 JMU run later sliced the margin to 22-21, and a 5-1 Dukes spurt tied the game for the first time, at 26-apeice, with 6:43 left in the opening half.
Getting his initial five misses out of his system, Green made his next three shots — all from 3-point range — as sophomore guard Jamall Robinson (10 points) made a trey and Kone added four points during a 19-5 run that gave the Pride a 45-31 lead, with 1:02 left in the half, before Hofstra took a 45-33 edge into the locker room.
Green made a fourth straight shot, to start the second half, but the Dukes scored the next seven points (the first five, by Kent) before Green answered with a 3-pointer and layup to push Hofstra’s lead to a dozen points.
But while Hofstra missed seven straight shots and committed four turnovers, JMU scored the next 14 points — half of them by Curry — to take its first lead, 54-52, on a Curry layup, with 9:44 left.
Still down two, the Pride went back on top, 59-58, on a Bernardi 3-pointer, with 5:25 remaining.
Curry made one of two free throws to tie the game, before a strong, driving layup along the left blocks by Kone moved Hofstra ahead for the final time, 61-59, with 4:34 left.
The Dukes went up, 63-61, after a jumper and two free throws by Curry, but a putback by Kone, off of an airballed, right-corner 3-point try by Bernardi, tied the game at 63-63, with 1:56 to go.
Thanks in large part to Kone’s defensive efforts, JMU’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Yohanny Dalembert, was limited to only seven points (to go along with a team-high nine rebounds), but his three-point play (after his layup and a foul by Kone) with 1:32 to play gave JMU the lead for good, 66-63.
Two missed 3s by Bernardi on the next trip led to a couple of free throws by sophomore guard Joey McLean (eight points), which extended the Dukes’ lead to 68-63, with 32.6 seconds remaining.
Three more 3s wouldn’t go down for Hofstra on its next possession, before Curry closed the scoring with another free throw.
“I don’t know that they did anything differently,” Mihalich said of JMU’s second-half defense, which was greatly aided by greater intensity and a switch to a zone. “Without watching the tape, I thought we got good shots… [we] just didn’t make them… I’d like to think we have the team where if they really make it hard for Juan’ya to score, then somebody else will score.”
On attacking the Dukes’ zone, Mihalich added, “We did a poor job when we got the ball inside the zone. That soft spot in the middle of the zone, we did a poor job there, whether it was making that shot or springing it out to somebody that’s in rhythm for a shot… or driving to the basket.”
Agreeing with his coach, Green said, “We got the ball in the middle and we didn’t look for the wide open guys in the corners to shoot it… we didn’t drive to the lane [or] especially get guys open. I think we took a lot of 3-point shots [instead of attacking more]… sometimes we’ve just got to man up and try to get to the hole and create for [ourselves], and try to get to the free throw line as much as possible.”
Although the Pride is suddenly slumping after a strong start (which including winning its first four CAA games of the season), Hofstra, after concluding a disappointing season-long homestand with two losses in three winnable games, will get its chance to make a strong statement on Wednesday night, when it travels to William & Mary, which posted an impressive 16-point home win over league preseason favorite Northeastern on Saturday.
“We’ll see what we’re made of,” said an obviously distraught yet hopeful Mihalich. “There are two things you can deal with in life: failure and success… we’ll see how we deal.”