HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — It wasn’t exactly the way Jalen Ray envisioned the first 30-point game of his college career.
For most of the Hofstra Pride’s Colonial Athletic Association loss to the Drexel Dragons, the senior guard was virtually unstoppable from behind the arc, going 8-for-13 from there despite missing his last three shots from that distance.
But too much else went wrong for the Pride (11-7, 7-4 CAA), including Hofstra missing 16 straight shots, the Pride falling behind by the same margin and Drexel (8-6, 3-4 CAA) barely holding on for a 73-71 victory after Ray — who was just 2-for-10 from inside the arc — missed a floater in the lane just before the final buzzer at the Mack Sports Complex on Saturday.
Edging ahead, 47-46, in the long-standing series, the Dragons not only snapped Hofstra’s five-game winning streak but also put a stop to the Pride’s run of eight consecutive wins over Drexel.
Making his first three shots, Ray — who tied Hofstra’s five-year-old, single-game school record for 3-point makes — scored eight points to stake the Pride to an early 12-9 lead. Hofstra later led, 20-17, before Drexel turned the game on a 24-4 run, to go up, 41-24, before Ray’s third trey made it a 14-point contest at halftime.
Earlier, junior guard Cameron Wynter (16 points, five assists) — a native of Hofstra’s hometown of Hempstead, N.Y. — tied the game, 20-20, on a free throw, following a technical foul on Ray.
It wasn’t the single point on the scoreboard that hurt so much, but the great disruption to the Pride’s offense that was so damaging after Ray was forced to leave the game for more than 5½ minutes thanks to the double jeopardy penalty of picking up his second personal foul (due to the technical foul) with 9:59 left in the opening half.
Hofstra missed three straight shots after taking the 20-17 lead, with Ray missing two of those, but by the time Ray returned from his later benching, with 4:25 left in the half, the Hofstra had already missed seven additional (of what became 16 straight) shots in a row without him. Going back a bit further, the Pride missed 18 of 19 field goal attempts after starting the game 7-for-11.
Acting head coach Mike Farrelly acknowledged of Ray, “He’s a great player.” But Farrelly also conceded, “His technical put us in a bad spot early because he couldn’t play his normal minutes.”
Ray admitted, “I’m a leader [on the team] and that was a bad example from me. I can’t afford to let that happen for my team.”
As Hofstra went ice cold, Drexel fueled its big first-half spurt with an 8-for-10 stretch that ended with six consecutive made shots.
Although the Pride dominated the offensive glass, 19-5 (including 11-0 in the second half), to hold a 17-5 advantage in second-chance points, forced twice as many turnovers (22-11), and took 22 more shots (64-42), the far more efficient Dragons kept points off turnovers even (20-20) and made two more shots (26-24) than Hofstra.
Drexel didn’t shoot much, but when the Dragons did, they were normally on target, shooting 61.9 percent, including 62.5 percent (10-for-16) from 3-point range. Drexel was even more accurate in the second half, shooting 68.8 percent (11-for-16), while make two-thirds of its six 3-point attempts after the break.
Finding ways to make up for that, Farrelly noted that some of Drexel’s turnovers were shot clock violations or offensive fouls which didn’t allow for his team to score easily off of them.
Others, however, were missed chances. “We had a stretch in the second half where it was a couple of transition opportunities [that] we didn’t do a great job with,” Farrelly said. “We need to get better at that, for sure.”
Farrelly added that the talk at intermission was more about attitude than execution.
“At halftime, we didn’t really talk about offensive plays or defensive adjustments… it wasn’t really about that,” he said. “It was about the way that [we] were doing things — not what we do, but how we do it, and that’s what improved after halftime.”
Trailing by as many as 16 points twice within the first two minutes of the second half, Ray made five of six 3s, ending with four straight, to bring Hofstra to within 64-61 with 5:06 remaining.
A steal and a hook shot by freshman forward Kvonn Cramer (six points, six rebounds) 38 seconds later cut Drexel’s lead to just one, but with Drexel up two and the shot clock winding down, Wynter, who didn’t seem prepared to shoot, was forced to and sank a key 3-pointer to extend the Dragons’ lead to 70-65 with 1:42 remaining.
A second-chance layup by junior forward Isaac Kante (16 points, game-high eight rebounds) made it a three-point game with 33.8 seconds left followed by a Cramer steal at mid-court off of some Hofstra pressure and a pass ahead to Ray for a layup with 22.3 seconds to go.
That play gave Ray a new career-high, surpassing the 29 points he scored in a win at Monmouth on Dec. 15. More importantly, it kept the Pride within 70-69 and clinging to a chance to finish its comeback.
The teams traded pairs of free throws, with sophomore T.J. Bickerstaff (team-high 18 points) making two foul shots with 18.6 seconds left and Kante answering with two of his own with 6.9 seconds remaining.
Junior forward Tim Perry Jr. was fouled away from the ball on the ensuing inbounds attempt and went to the line with the same amount of time left.
Perry Jr. made the first shot but missed the second. That was perhaps a blessing in disguise for Drexel, considering Ray’s struggles from 2-point range compared to his hot shooting from behind the arc, which is what Hofstra would have drawn up a play for had Perry Jr. given the Dragons a three-point lead.
Kante rebounded Perry Jr.’s miss and handed the ball to Ray, who raced up court, but his floater down the lane rimmed off just before time expired.
Throughout the game, I was just reading the defense, seeing what they were allowing me to do, and I scored off that,” Ray said. “That last one, [I thought it] was going to drop, but it didn’t.”
Hofstra had a timeout left, which the Pride would have used had Perry Jr. made the second free throw. Once he missed, that changed the strategy because of Farrelly’s trust in Ray.
“If they had made the foul shot, we would have run a play out of that,” Farrelly said. “But in that situation, loose ball, best player on the floor has the ball in his hands in an unsettled situation, I’m going to let Jalen Ray go every time in that situation. I think it makes too much sense.”
After winning its first two CAA games, then losing its next three, before winning five straight, Farrelly was wary of how the Pride would respond with trying to keep things rolling.
“How do you handle success?” Farrelly asked himself and told his players. “I was thinking about it a lot last night and then talked about it this morning in walkthrough and then before the game.”
The answer he got was not what he hoped for, especially in the first half.
“Credit Drexel,” Farrelly said. “They played hard for 40 minutes, we played hard for 20. We’re not going to beat anybody in this league only playing 20 minutes. We came out and did what we needed to do in the second half.
“Were we happy and complacent because we won five in a row? Everybody that said we stunk when we lost three in a row, now everybody thinks we’re good again because we won five in a row. It doesn’t work that way. You are who you are, and we are a good team.”
To prove Farrelly right, the Pride will have to bring the right level of energy, focus and effort on a more consistent basis, even if Farrelly needs to show the same enthusiasm he showed on the sidelines at times during the second half.
“You’d hope it would be a little more natural by this point with how much we’ve talked about it, especially after the Delaware game (Hofstra’s prior loss, on Jan. 15),” Farrelly said. “Hopefully, the energy can come from within a little bit more, but if that’s the way I need to be, then that’s what I’ll be.”
Either way, Hofstra will have to find the right attitude on the floor quickly, facing Drexel for a second straight day hours before Super Bowl LV.
“Certainly, a lot to learn from today, but the most important thing is playing hard all the time,” Farrelly said. “When you do that, it solves a lot of problems.”
Farrelly continued, “Did we just not play hard? Did we think we were good and just roll the ball out today and win? Who knows what it was? But at least we made the adjustment at halftime [so] we know how we’ll have to play tomorrow.”
Confident about the rematch with Drexel, Ray agreed with Farrelly, noting that the Pride has to play to its potential from the start.“When we play hard, with a lot of effort, we can change the momentum of the game,” Ray said. “We just need to notice that early… it’s okay, we’re going to bounce back tomorrow.”