HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — One day earlier, Hofstra Pride leading scorer Jalen Ray’s career-high 30 points weren’t enough to completely rally his team from a 16-point deficit in a narrow loss to the Drexel Dragons.
With Ray ill and noticeably limited on Sunday, Hofstra had others step up to lead by the same margin before hanging on for a 79-74 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Drexel at the Mack Sports Complex.
While Ray missed 10 of 11 shots and scored just five points, five of his teammates scored in double figures to pick up the slack to pay the Dragons back.
Senior guard Tareq Coburn led Hofstra (12-7, 8-4 CAA) with 17 points and was complemented by junior forward Isaac Kante (16 points and a game-high 16 rebounds), freshman forward Kvonn Cramer (15 points), sophomore point guard Caleb Burgess (11 points and a game-best eight assists) and freshman guard Vukasin Masic (10 points).
Recalling the poor first half and the good second half his team played on Saturday, acting head coach Mike Farrelly said, “We played the way we needed to play. We only saw the Hofstra Pride we needed to be for 20 minutes yesterday. We were that team for 40 minutes [today].”
Allowing Drexel (8-7, 3-5 CAA) to score 11 straight points and get within five late was concerning but not enough to ruin the feeling of a good win.
Farrelly asked rhetorically, “Did we have lapses? Yeah, we let them score too easily down the stretch where we could have opened it up a little bit… but we overcame a game where Jalen’s not feeling great, and other guys had to step up.”
The first of those players was Coburn, who scored Hofstra’s first five points. Masic, who had arguably the best stretch of his young college career, followed suit from there, scoring all 10 of his points while making four of six shots in the first half.
“He’s a really good decision-maker,” Farrelly said of Masic. “He’s just really hard to guard.”
Kante added, “Jalen was sick. He was throwing up [before the game] and like Coach says, ‘It’s the next man up.’ Vukasin came in and stepped up in a really big way for us to win.”
Masic’s exploits, along with Cramer scoring eight points and making all four of his first-half shots while Kante added seven points and 10 rebounds in the first half helped the Pride maintain a slim 37-35 halftime edge after turning an early five-point deficit into a 33-27 lead on a Burges layup 3½ minutes before intermission.
Although he only scored three points and missed two of three shots, Farrelly also valued the 14 minutes (nine in the first half) he gave to freshman forward David Green, especially when Cramer was called for two first-half fouls.
“Obviously, Isaac’s 16 [points] and 16 [rebounds] stands out, Tareq was great, Caleb [made] winning plays [and] what David Green did today was tremendous,” Farrelly said. “He sat yesterday. He didn’t play because he wasn’t playing hard enough in practice. He wasn’t bringing his energy and I told him that, I let him know.
“He came back and got extra shots up last night at about 9:30 p.m. and I said, ‘This kid really wants it.’ He’s doing the right things, he’s putting in the work, so I went up to him this morning and said, ‘You’re going to get your shot. Let me see what you can do.’ He took advantage of it and played really well, especially with Kvonn in foul trouble in the first half.”
Immediately taking charge after the break, Hofstra scored the first seven points of the second half with Coburn making a driving layup and a second-chance layup sandwiched around a Cramer 3-pointer, to put the Pride up, 44-35, just 1:42 into the half.
After Drexel got within five, Hofstra took control with a 15-4 run that included five points from Burgess (who scored nine crucial points in the second half) and which was capped by a Green 3-pointer that gave the Pride a commanding 66-50 lead with 10:06 remaining.
“I think we did approach the game the right way today,” Farrelly said. “Were we great? Certainly not. Did we have perfect, amazing energy all the time? No, but I think especially the way we came out of the locker room in the second half [and] went on that run, and got some separation, it was really, really good. [Drexel] had to call a timeout early and we just built it from there.”
Having missed 16 straight first-half shots a day earlier, Hofstra misfired on eight consecutive shots over roughly five minutes as Drexel scored 11 points in a row to get within 66-61 with 4:48 left on a free throw by graduate forward James Butler (16 points, team-high 13 rebounds).
“The resilience from yesterday to today was terrific,” Farrelly said, before adding, “The only thing that I would complain about it that down the stretch, we didn’t lock in defensively to get a couple of stops that we needed. We lost a little bit of focus there and where a stop or two could have [effectively] ended the game [sooner].”
Kante said that falls squarely on the players, like himself.
“Coach shouldn’t be coaching energy and effort,” he said. “Guys should have that right from the jump, including me. If we don’t have that, we’ve got to rally each other, we’ve got to do it together.”
Despite the late second-half lapse, one thing that helped with that overall was the unorthodox schedule this season, with teams playing back-to-backs, designed to limit travel during the current national Covid-19 pandemic — especially, Kante said, when teams lose the first of those two-game sets.
“I feel like it’s easier to play the second game after you lose the first one,” Kante noted. “You have that sense of, ‘Alright, guys, we’re coming out for revenge.’ If you won that first game, you just sit back and you’re relaxed and you can get teams that second day like that.”
While things got precarious after the Dragons’ late rally, the Pride never allowed Drexel to get closer than five points after that point, as Burgess hit a couple of clutch shots, sinking a pull-up jumper to give Hofstra a 76-69 lead with a minute left before he got the bounce on a step-back jumper to make it 78-71 with 19 seconds left.
“We’re not going to win a whole lot of games when Jalen Ray’s going 1-for-11, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen again the rest of the season,” Farrelly said. “But the way that others stepped up, and made plays, and made shots, and took over a little more responsibility, and the way Jalen battled — he wasn’t scoring but was really solid on the defensive end — [all helped a lot].”
Not leaning too much on a single player or two this season could help Hofstra defend the regular season and tournament CAA titles the Pride won last year.
“There are so many guys that we can rely on in different areas — which is great — so it’s not all on one person’s shoulders,” Farrelly said. “You can have Jalen have a bad game and you can have Tareq (Hofstra’s second-leading scorer) have a bad game — [probably not both at the same time] — but guys know that [others] can step up and make plays. So, definitely, that versatility, [having] multiple threats, and then different ways that we can go offensively, as well, [exploiting mismatches or opponents’ switches].”
Although having that type of versatility helps a lot, for Kante, it comes down to the Pride simply giving maximum effort.
“I feel like we played hard like we were supposed to,” Kante said. “Yesterday, we didn’t do that. We showed what we can be like when we play hard. That’s just a challenge for us, moving forward if we want to win the championship.”