BALTIMORE — The third time was the charm for the Hofstra Pride in Charm City.
After getting swept in a pair of regular season Colonial Athletic Association meetings with the James Madison Dukes this season, Hofstra finally beat JMU when it counted most, 74-57, in the CAA tournament quarterfinals at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore on Saturday.
“Today, we got outplayed by a better basketball team,” head coach Matt Brady admitted in defeat.
Stifling defense one week after allowing the fourth-seeded Dukes (19-13, 12-7 CAA) to score nearly at will, balanced front court scoring and playmaking from junior point guard Juan’ya Green — whose eight assists were nearly half of Hofstra’s 17, and almost as many as JMU’s 10 — led the fifth-seeded Pride (20-12, 11-8 CAA) to the mild upset and into the CAA semifinals against top-seeded William & Mary on Sunday.
Senior center Moussa Kone (18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds) canceled out junior guard Ron Curry’s 18 points as junior forward, CAA Second Team selection Ameen Tanskley, scored 16 points and reserve forward Rokas Gustys added 11 points and five rebounds. Looking to set his teammates as the first option, Green, a CAA First Team selection, made half of his shots while chipping in 10 points.
Besides Curry, reserve sophomore forward Dimitrije Cabarkapa (12 points) was the only other player to score in double figures for the Dukes, who shot just 37 percent (20-for-54), including 22.7 percent (5-for-22) one week after shooting 62.8 percent overall and 58.8 percent from 3 in a nine-point home win over Hofstra in the teams’ regular season finale.
“Our battle cry all week was that we had to be a better defensive team and I thought we clearly were today,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “We guarded them great and I’m really proud of our guys for taking on that challenge.”
Mihalich was particularly pleased with the job Nesmith and junior guard Malik Nichols (two points, five rebounds) did on slowing Curry (who shot 6-for-14) down, even if the Pride couldn’t stop him.
“Both Dion and Malik did a really good job guarding him,” Mihalich said. “He still had 18 points [but] he really had to work to get them.”
Brady noted, “They pressured everything we did. They were really, really physical. Hofstra came into this where Ron was dominating the two previous games with Hofstra, and they weren’t going to let Ron beat them [again]. On every ball screen, they trapped him, they harassed him.
“At that point, you have to get the ball to somebody else and make them pay for double teaming the ball screen. And we just didn’t do a good job of that. The ball never really went side to side… went side to side maybe [only] twice today.”
Tanskley said that was the goal in general, not just with Curry, who scored 25 and 20 points respectively in the Dukes’ two earlier wins over the Pride this season. “We just wanted to put as much pressure as we could on defense,” he said.
Each club started cold, with JMU missing six of its first seven shots and Hofstra missing four of its first six as the Pride plodded to a slim 5-3 lead by the first media timeout.
Gustys made one of two free throws before getting a steal and going the other way for a layup to cap a 7-2 run that ended with a 10-5 Hofstra lead.
A slower early pace gave way to a running game for each team, as JMU scored 10 straight points to lead, 20-15, less than nine minutes into the opening half.
However, five points from Tanksley and four from Gustys bookended Green’s first points (on a 3-pointer) to give Hofstra a dozen consecutive points and a 27-20 edge with 7½ minutes left before halftime.
Layups by freshmen guard Joey McClean (four points) and Curry closed the gap to four points, but Kone scored the next five points — the last two off of a terrific no-look pass from Green — to post the game’s first double-digit lead, at 34-24, before a right corner trey by reserve sophomore guard Jamall Robinson (three points) made it eight straight Hofstra points to put the Pride up, 37-24.
Scoring nine of the final 11 points of the half, the Dukes got within 39-33 at halftime, but were shooting only 32.4 percent (11-for-34) including just 15.4 percent (2-for-13) from behind the arc.
With the Pride up seven points early in the second half, graduate guard Dion Nesmith (nine points) scored on a fast break layup before stripping sophomore forward Yohanny Dalembert (six points) and dishing to Kone, who finished with a dunk that got the Hofstra bench up and hopping as JMU called a timeout, down 47-36.
After missing his first five 3s, sophomore guard Jackson Kent (seven points) made his first to slice the Dukes’ deficit to eight points, but Tanskley scored the next five points to push the Pride’s lead to 56-43, with 9:28 remaining.
A 3-pointer and a free throw by Curry momentarily kept JMU within striking distance, at 56-47, but consecutive buckets inside from Kone moved the margin to 60-47, before a Nesmith 3-pointer and two Green layups finished a decisive 11-2 spurt grew Hofstra’s advantage to 67-49, with 3:28 to play.
Turning a slim advantage in turnovers (14 for the Dukes and 11 by the Pride) in a significant 23-9 edge in points off turnovers, Hofstra also dominated in the paint, where it outscored JMU, 46-28.
Offensively, Mihalich confessed that repeatedly getting the ball inside to score wasn’t the plan going into the contest.
“I wish I could say it was,” he said. “It was really taking what they give you. It’s a credit to our guards for making good plays [for themselves and our bigs].”
Sophomore guard Brian Bernardi (five points) made his only 3-pointer in six attempts to give the Pride a game-high 74-55 lead with 11.1 seconds left.
“All week long, we were talking about attitude and effort, and toughness and all those intangibles,” Mihalich said. “If you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to [have those].”
Discussing his team’s poor 1-7 regular season record against the top four seeds in the tournament, Kone tried to become more of a vocal leader since the Pride’s 82-73 loss at JMU exactly a week earlier.
“We didn’t play to our best ability and our potential,” he said. “I was just trying to get them riled up and get hyped for this game. It’s win or go home.”
Tanskley agreed with Kone, going so far as to suggest that Hofstra might have finished as good as 16-2 in the CAA had the Pride brought the same intensity to each game.
“We felt like we underachieved [during the regular season],” he said. “We don’t think we should have had as many losses in [the] conference. Every game, we didn’t come out playing hard.”
With the season on the line now, that focus clearly changed against JMU. To advance further, Hofstra will need to maintain that mentality when it meets top-seeded William & Mary — which finished in the CAA’s first four-way tie for a conference title, along with North Carolina-Wilmington, Northeastern and JMU — in the first CAA semifinal game on Sunday afternoon, with second-seeded UNCW and third-seeded Northeastern to follow.
TOP-SEEDED WILLIAM & MARY PUTS AWAY UPSET-MINDED ELON
BALTIMORE — CAA Player of the Year Marcus Thornton scored a game-high 17 points and sophomore guards Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon added 16 and 12 points, respectively, to lead William & Mary to a 72-59 win over Elon at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore on Saturday.
Senior guard Austin Hamilton led all scorers with nine points at halftime, but was held to just four in the second half as CAA Rookie of the Year, freshman guard Elijah Bryant led the Phoenix with 15 points.
Elon went on a 6-2 run after guard Daniel Dixon scored the game’s first points on a 3-pointer. But consecutive 3s from reserve guard Connor Burchfield triggered spurt of 11 straight William & Mary points that gave the top seed a 16-6 lead.
Bryant, highlighted a run of seven straight Elon points that brought the Phoenix to within 20-17. But Thornton scored his first points on a 3-pointer to double that margin to 23-17.
A jumper by junior forward Sean Sheldon (five points, five rebounds) pushed the lead to 27-19, but Hamilton sank a right-wing trey to keep Elon within five points by the under-4 timeout.
Hamilton followed with a nice drive through traffic, finishing off glass, to trim his team’s deficit to 29-26.
But William & Mary scored the final seven points of the half, the last five coming from Thornton, who beat the first half buzzer with a 3-pointer while shooting at the same basket as when he missed a last-second mid-range jumper in last year’s CAA finals, which would have given the Tribe its first NCAA tournament appearance.
Making three of its first four 3-pointers — including two from guard Tanner Samson — after intermission, Elon began the second half on a 9-4 run and get within 40-35. However, William & Mary scored the next 10 points — seven from Prewitt — to open a 50-35 advantage, with 14:03 remaining.
A Dixon trey gave the Tribe the game’s latest lead, at 55-37, less than 2½ minutes later.
The Phoenix chipped away and used a 13-6 run to climb within 61-50, with 4:42 left.
Another Dixon 3-pointer swelled the lead to 14 and finished off any realistic hopes for Elon, which split a pair of regular season games with William & Mary and been the CAA’s hottest team in Baltimore with four straight victories.
William & Mary will play the James Madison-Hofstra winner during the first of Sunday afternoon’s two semifinal games.
Following the Dukes-Pride matchup, the other side of the quarterfinal bracket will take place on Saturday night, with third-seeded Northeastern meeting sixth-seeded Delaware before second-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington takes on Charleston.
UNCW CRUSHES CHARLESTON IN BATTLE OF THE CAROLINAS
BALTIMORE — The Charleston Cougars may have finished in last place in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, but they had been a bit of a pest to the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks, who needed overtime to win at Charleston and then a big second half to rally from a home halftime deficit to sweep the Cougars during the regular season.
UNCW had no problem with Charleston during the CAA tournament semifinals in Baltimore, however, while claiming the bragging rights for the North over the South in the battle of the Carolinas.
Going on an early run to lead for good, the second-seeded Seahawks (18-12, 13-6 CAA) pulled away in the second half for a convincing 79-53 win over the tenth-seeded Cougars (9-24, 3-16 CAA) at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore on Saturday evening.
Senior forward Cedrick Williams and senior guard and Wilmington, N.C. native Freddie Jackson led all scorers with 19 points apiece while senior guard Addison Spruill added 12 points and eight rebounds, and junior guard Craig Ponder contributed 11 points and a game-high four assists. Williams also pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Joe Chealy (12 points) was the only player to score in double figures for the Cougars.
UNCW missed seven of its first nine shots and Charleston sank its first two shots and scored the first four points. But the Cougars missed five of their next six shots as the Seahawks used a 13-4 run to lead, 15-8.
Senior guard Anthony Stitt (eight points) drained a right wing 3-pointer to slice the margin to 15-12 just before the midpoint of the opening half before Spruill, UNCW’s leading scorer this season, scored on a driving layup after missing seven of his first eight shots.
A pull-up jumper by Jackson, who trails only Spruill in scoring for the Seahawks this year, extended UNCW’s edge to 21-14 with just under eight minutes left in the half.
Nearly two minutes later Jackson assisted on a 3-pointer by reserve junior forward Dylan Sherwood (eight points), capping a 9-2 spurt that pushed UNCW’s lead to 24-14.
Consecutive layups by freshman forward Donovan Gilmore and sophomore guard Joe Chealy kept Charleston close, at 26-20, but treys by Sherwood and Jackson highlighted an 8-2 run that moved the lead to 36-23, with 1:27 left before halftime.
Sophomore guard Barry (nine points) tried to get the Cougars within single digits before the break, but his made 3-pointer was a fraction of a second after the first half buzzer, as the Seahawks went into the locker room with a 36-25 edge.
After a Stitt layup made it a nine-point game, but Charleston went scoreless for more than five minutes as UNCW ran off the next 14 points — eight by Jackson, on a pair of 3s and layup — to balloon the Seahawks’ advantage to 54-31, with 12:05 remaining.
Reserve sophomore center C.J. Gettys (two points) ended an 18-2 run with a layup that gave UNCW a 58-33 lead.
The Cougars never got closer than 18 points, at 62-44, thereafter. Eight straight Seahawks points swelled the lead to 26 and UNCW’s biggest lead was 77-48, after a short turnaround jumper by Sherwood with 1:37 left.
Awaiting the winner of Saturday night’s quarterfinal matchup between third-seeded Northeastern and sixth-seeded Delaware, the Seahawks will play in the second CAA semifinal game on Sunday.
NORTHEASTERN HANGS ON TO KNOCK OUT DEFENDING CHAMP DELAWARE
BALTIMORE — It took until the last of four quarterfinal games at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore on Saturday, but the Colonial Athletic Association tournament finally provided another taste of March Madness (after a first-round overtime game on Friday night) as the third-seeded Northeastern Huskies survived the defending champion, sixth-seeded Delaware Blue Hens, 67-64 on Saturday night.
Junior guard David Walker led Northeastern (21-11, 13-6 CAA) with 17 points, including the Huskies’ last four points over the final 14.3 seconds and junior forward Quincy Ford had 16 points and junior guard Zach Stahl added 13 points during a close contest in which neither team led by more than eight points.
Freshman guard Kory Holden led Delaware (10-20, 9-10 CAA) with 20 points, but went the first 19½ minutes of the second half without a point. Senior guard Kyle Anderson (the only remaining holdover from last year’s key rotation that won the Blue Hens’ only CAA regular and tournament titles) scored 11 points and sophomore forward Maurice Jeffers added 10 points for Delaware.
Getting off to a good start, the Huskies led 8-2, with six points off of seven Blue Hens turnovers on Delaware’s first eight possessions.
Ford made the game’s first 3-pointer and answered a trey by freshman reserve guard Chivarksy Corbett (nine points) with another triple, to give Northeastern a 14-7 edge.
Despite giving the ball away so frequently at the outset, the Blue Hens made six of their first seven shots to hang with the Huskies, who started 6-for-9 from the field.
Jumpers by Holden and Anderson trimmed Northeastern’s lead to 14-11, and another jumper by Holden kept Delaware within 16-13.
Senior forward Scott Eatherton (seven points) scored the next three points, making one of two free throws and a jumper, to move the Huskies’ cushion to 19-13, but a Holden 3-pointer cut that margin in half and a Corbett jumper pulled the Blue Hens to within 19-18.
With Delaware down three points, Holden made a pair of free throws and a jumper to give the Blue Hens a 22-21 lead — their first since scoring the game’s first basket — before a steal and fast break dunk by Corbett gave Delaware six straight points and a three-point edge, with 5:04 left in the half.
Stahl, who had registered only two points, scored the next six of the game to start a personal 9-3 that moved the Huskies back in front, 30-27.
A lucky roll in the final seconds of the half gave Walker his first 3-pointer and a 35-31 Northeastern lead at halftime.
Ford’s third 3-pointer started the second half scoring and put the Huskies up seven points, But after going scoreless in the first half, sophomore guard Cazmon Hayes scored all of his points during a personal 9-2 spurt to tie the game, 40-40.
However, an Eatherton dunk and trey by Walker pulled Northeastern ahead, 45-40.
Two free throws and a tear drop floater by Anderson made it 45-44, before seven straight Huskies points gave Northeastern the game’s biggest lead, at 52-44, just before the midpoint of the half.
Refusing to go away, Delaware used an 8-2 run, behind four points from Jeffers, to get within 54-52, with 8:10 remaining.
Walker’s third 3-pointer (in as many attempts) and two free throws from reserve sophomore forward Reggie Spencer (eight points) extended Northeastern’s lead to 61-54, with 5:37 left.
Scoring the next six points, the Blue Hens cut their deficit to just one point, with 2:52 remaining, before a Ford jumper put the Huskies up, 63-60, a little over a minute later.
Holden and Walker traded 3-point misses before Holden’s offense suddenly awakened.
Scoreless in the second half after leading all scorers with 16 first-half points, Holden scored on a beautiful reverse, spinning shot in the lane, with 30.9 seconds to play, to cut Northeastern’s lead to one point.
Following two free throws by Walker with 14.1 seconds remaining, Holden quickly drove to score and get the Blue Hens to within 65-64 with 8.9 seconds left.
After an ensuing time out, Walker was fouled and made two free throws to make it 67-64, with 7.8 seconds left, before a desperation, leaning, off-balance 3-point attempt by Corbett bounce off the right side of the rim at the final buzzer.
Northeastern will face second-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington in the last of two CAA semifinal games on Sunday.
All photos by Jon Wagner at Royal Farms Arena, in Baltimore, MD, on March 7, 2015