HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — All season long the Hofstra Pride has admittedly been motivated by the way its conference season ended in heartbreaking fashion last year, when a tense, back-and-forth-game in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals finished with a crushing, one-point loss on a last-second 3-point shot by the William & Mary Tribe.
After waiting since last March, what was another 20 hours?
Well, according to CAA preseason Player of the Year choice, senior guard Juan’ya Green, Hofstra’s first meeting with William & Mary (13-7, 5-3 CAA) since last year’s CAA tournament being delayed by Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped more than two feet of snow across the New York City and postponed Saturday’s regular 4 p.m. ET start time to Sunday at noon — was just what he, and perhaps his teammates, needed.
Quite understandable, since Hofstra’s starters had totaled 466 minutes in their previous two games, an overtime home loss to James Madison and a triple overtime win at defending CAA tournament champion Northeastern on Thursday night.
Green, a Niagara transfer, played a team-high 99 minutes in those two contests, including 55 in the second one. So the snow day pushing a revenge game — featuring the top-rated teams in the CAA (as William & Mary entered with a 43 RPI and Hofstra at 82) — was helpful, as Green somehow summoned the energy to put forth one of the best performances in Hofstra history, with 30 points (his most as a Hofstra player, making 10 of 16 shots from the field, six of nine 3-pointers and all four of his free throw attempts) eight rebounds, and game-highs of seven assists and four steals to help rally the Pride (14-5, 6-2 CAA) from a nine-point, first-half deficit to an easy 91-63 win at the Mack Sports Complex.
“It helped a lot,” Green said of the extra day to recuperate. “Playing a lot of minutes, your body’s sore, but [we’ve] got to come out and make sure we play hard. We had that day off, we made sure we rested, stayed in and got treatment, and once the game time came, I felt good.”
“We have a plan here,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “We can’t tell you what it is because it’s a secret, but we have a plan for getting these guys on the floor, keeping them on the floor, keeping them fresh, keeping them lively, and it’s working.
“Other than the normal tired, I don’t think these guys were [overly] tired at the end of that [Northeastern] game… but what we’re doing in the weight room, how we’re practicing, so far the plan’s working.”
Initially, it didn’t seem that way, as Hofstra missed six of its first seven shots while William & Mary made its first three shots and five of its first nine — two each, from senior forward Terry Tarpey (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and a team-high eight rebounds) and sophomore guard David Cohn (team-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting) — while jumping out to a 12-5 lead after less than five minutes.
But a 3-point play by senior forward Ameen Tanksley (17 points, five rebounds) and a straight-away jumper and right corner trey from Green fueled an 8-2 run that brought the Pride within 14-13.
A 3-pointer by Cohn gave William & Mary an 18-13 lead, but a 3-point play from sophomore center Rokas Gustys (who scored 15 of his 18 points and grabbed seven of his game-high 11 rebounds in the second half) tied the game at 18-apeice, near the midpoint of the half.
However, three points each from Tarpey, junior guard Daniel Dixon (who made the 3-pointer that beat Hofstra in March) and sophomore forward Greg Malinowski (five points) keyed an 11-4 spurt that gave the Tribe a 31-22 edge about six minutes later.
Mihalich was concerned at that point, especially with Green having already picked up the first two of his three personal fouls.
“Obviously a great win for us against a very good team, a very good offensive team,” he said. “They can get you in a lot of ways and they were doing it in the first half.
“I think it’s 31-22, they’re winning the game, and Juan’ya has two fouls, and I don’t think anybody in this (postgame media) room — starting with me — would think that the game would end up the way that it ended up. To win a game like that is certainly gratifying for us.”
Following the final media timeout of the half, the Pride moved ahead, 38-35, on a 16-4 run that started and ended on 3-pointers by graduate forward Denton Koon (13 points) — with five points each from Tanskley and Green in between — before a Cohn layup beat the first-half buzzer to pull William & Mary to within 38-37 at intermission.
Similar to its game-starting 9-3 spurt, the Tribe began the second half on a 7-3 run, capped by five points from junior guard Omar Prewitt (14 points ), to go up, 44-41.
Fighting back again, though, Hofstra responded with another 16-4 run, to lead, 57-48, with 11:08 left. The spurt ended with 11 straight Pride points, the first seven of which came from Green. That sequence ignited a larger game-closing 45-15 Hofstra stretch over the final 13:50, which turned a 48-46 William & Mary lead into a sudden blowout win for the home team.
Although the Pride was of course pleased with that outcome, a negative was losing senior forward Malik Nichols, a main piece in an already short season rotation relied on by Mihalich. Nichols left the game with a leg injury he suffered on a dunk that gave Hofstra a 55-48 edge with 12:28 remaining.
Soon after, a Cohn 3-pointer closed the gap to 57-51, but a trio of 3-pointers from Green and one each by Koon and Tanksley, came during a 19-7 run that extended the lead to 76-58, with 5:40 to play.
The Pride’s advantage continued to soar further from there, after an additional 15-4 spurt, to as much as 91-62, in the final minute.
Hofstra, which tied a school record and tied a program home record with 37 3-point attempts (making 15, to shoot 40.5 percent), made more treys (nine, in 21 attempts) than the William & Mary had field goals (eight, in 23 shots) during the second half. The Pride also committed a season-low five turnovers, while forcing three times as many (15), and had turned the ball over just twice in the final 36:22.
“Without going through the other 18 games, right now it feels like [the second half it was [our best of the season],” Mihalich said.
“We didn’t make any major adjustments [at halftime]… we kept it simple, we got the ball into (uniform) No. 1’s (Green’s) hands, but I think we missed shots that we normally make in the first half.
“What Juan’ya did was incredible. He just showed why he’s the best player in this league, and there’s a lot of great players in this league, and I don’t need anybody to get upset with me for saying that, so I probably shouldn’t have. But what the heck, he’s just terrific. Thirty points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and no turnovers… just a Player of the Year performance right there.”
Helping Green was the resurgence of Tanskley — who after a dismal, two-game 7-for-33 stretch, rebounded after practicing some extra shooting to go 10-for-20, including 6-for-10 in Hofstra’s past two games — along with Gustys, who coming off of a pair of games that made him only the sixth men’s Division I player to record consecutive 20-20 games in the past six years, recorded his ninth double-double and sixth straight.
“When the shots weren’t going for us [today], Tank made some big ones for us,” Mihalich said. “It’s a testament to Ameen that he’s got the guts to take the shots, but he’s also willing to put the time in and work.”
Tanksley added, “I think Rokas’ play [has been] great,” Tanskley said. “I just put a lot of work in after practice on my shot because I was the only one that wasn’t really holding up my end of the stick in the games, missing shots I usually make… Rok was playing great, so it was my turn to really step it up, because if I step it up, we can’t be beat.
“I think I’ve just got to treat my shots wisely, don’t force them [and] let the game come to me, and that’s made my life much easier in these past two games. I’ve been shooting the ball better.”
Of course, also helping Green and the rest of the Pride was the painful yet motivating memory of the previous time Hofstra played William & Mary.
“Definitely,” Green said. “That’s always played in the back of our minds, that last shot from last year. So this is a game [that we] circled on the schedule. I’m just glad we got the win.”
Yet even with all of the minutes Mihalich is pushing his starters, which so far has resulted in Hofstra – the CAA preseason favorite — sitting in a three-way tie for first place (with James Madison and North Carolina-Wilmington), Mihalich was careful to note that the Pride needs to keep pushing ahead.
“It’s obviously a confidence booster to beat a good team pretty soundly, but we’ve got to keep it in perspective,” he said. “There’s a long way to go… there’s no rest for the weary.”
Although even after a blizzard-induced delay, Hofstra will still get the next three days to rest up and get ready for Elon, at home on Thursday night, to finish the first half of the conference regular season schedule.