HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — For one half on Thursday night, it appeared that the Hofstra Pride learned little from its 78-66 Colonial Athletic Association loss to the Towson Tigers on January 11, which was keyed by Towson’s school-record-tying 16 3-pointers on 34 attempts.
Then the Tigers provided another lesson.
Once again, Towson (17-6, 8-2 CAA) torched Hofstra (13-9, 5-4 CAA) from behind the arc while building a 12-point first-half lead. But as the Pride finally learned how to take that way in the second half, the Tigers educated Hofstra in a new way, scoring inside and getting to the foul line often in a 78-68 win that completed a regular-season series sweep over the Pride on Jewish Heritage Night at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
A meaningless jumper by junior guard Aaron Estrada (who scored 18 of his team-best 22 points in the second half) in the final seconds prevented the Tigers from beating the Pride by the same score twice this season.
Redshirt junior guard Nicolas Timberlake led the way in the opening half, making all six of his shots in the frame — including four from 3-point range — while scoring 17 of his career-high 26 points before halftime.
In all, Towson made eight of 11 3-pointers (and a nearly equally sizzling eight of 12 2-pointers) in the first half and used a 30-10 surge to turn a 21-13 first-half deficit into a 43-31 on a Timberlake 3-pointer in the final minute of the half.
The teams went in opposite directions to get to that point. After making five straight shots to build its lead, Hofstra — which lost for the first time in eight home games this season — missed its next seven attempts and 12 of 15. Towson missed four of its first five shots before making 14 of 15 shots.
After scoring the final basket of the first half, the Pride made its next six shots during a 16-4 run that tied the game, 47-47. Ten of Hofstra’s points during the spurt came from Estrada, on two 3s and two jumpers, within the first five minutes of the second half.
But the Tigers responded with the next dozen points, to lead, 59-47, with 10:32 remaining. The Pride only managed to cut that margin in half, at 70-64, with 1:28 left, before Towson pushed its advantage back to twelve points twice during the final minute.
Towson, which was 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the second half, wiped out Hofstra’s 23-13 edge in points off turnovers by outscoring the Pride 18-10 in the paint after halftime.
The combination of junior forward Charles Thompson (10 of his 16 points in the second half) and graduate forward Juwan Gray (9 of his 11 points in the second half), in the second half alone, more than offset 17 points from reserve graduate guard Jalen Ray, who was the only other Hofstra scorer in double figures besides Estrada.
When the Pride didn’t allow a basket down low in the second half, Hofstra was often fouling Towson. After each team was whistled for six first-half fouls, the Tigers drew 13 fouls, committed only three, and went 17-for-22 from the free throw line in the second half.
“Everybody knows each other’s offense,” first-year head coach and former Hofstra star Craig “Speedy” Claxton said. “We knew that they like, when they pick up the dribble, to hit the big, and chase it, and our guys tended to relax when they did that. They hurt us because of [that].”
Unlike Towson, Hofstra refused to change its offensive approach to its own peril. After going a less-than-mediocre 5-for-15 from 3-point range (on 28 total shots) and getting to the free throw line just four times in the first half, the Pride went a similar 5-for-14 from behind the arc (on 31 total shots) in the second half as the nation’s fourth-most accurate free throw shooting team attempted only two free throws in the half, each coming with just 32 seconds to go.
Sharing the ball and efficiency were other big dichotomies between the teams. Towson had 21 assists on 25 made baskets (84 percent), with four different Tigers each posting four assists. In sharp contrast, Hofstra had only 11 assists on its 26 made field goals. Counting a loss at first-place North Carolina-Wilmington on Saturday, the Pride only has 16 assists on its last 51 made shots over its past two games.
Although the Pride made one more shot overall and two more 3-pointers than the Tigers, Hofstra took 18 more shots, including 14 more 3-point attempts than Towson.
“It seemed like we were struggling on both ends all night,” Claxton said.
Three days after a new Chinese year rang in the Year of the Tiger, and 10 days before the Cincinnati Bengals will make a surprising Super Bowl appearance, Towson — which is off to its best Division I start in its program history but which has yet to win a regular-season or tournament title during its more than two decades in the conference — is hoping that this season will be the Year of the Tigers in the CAA.
Conversely, losing multiple games in a row for the first time since dropping three straight non-conference games Nov. 16-22, Hofstra lost consecutive contests for the first time in CAA play this season, right after the Pride won four straight games in the conference.
Rather than gaining a game on second-place Towson and on UNCW (which finally lost its first league of the year on Thursday night), fourth-place Hofstra concluded its first half of conference regular-season play as one of seven teams within two games of each other between third-place and ninth-place in the bunched-up CAA.
Long before tipping off against Towson, Claxton was worried about his team’s preparation in facing the Tigers.
“We lost this game in practice yesterday,” Claxton said. “We didn’t come with the right energy and effort, and focus, that we needed to win this game. We knew they were going to be physical. You can’t spot teams in this league points. The teams are too good. We needed to play the right way the whole game.
“We went a little long the day before, but it was a great practice. We tried to back off of them, realizing that we were going to play tonight. Maybe these kids aren’t mature enough to handle a practice like [yesterday’s]. Maybe we have to be harder on them all the time.”
That’s a tough balance to strike, following road games last Thursday and Saturday, in the midst of playing three home games in five days, before the Pride goes back on the road for three games in six days.
“[Tomorrow’s practice] can’t be too [tough] because these kids played a lot of minutes tonight and we play on Saturday,” Claxton noted. “We’re kind of forced to have [only] a walkthrough type of practice. It’s just the nature of the business. We’ve got a lot of games coming up in the next week or so. These kids are going to have to be really mature and approach it the right way because we can’t have long practices.”
Although Hofstra is no longer unblemished on its home court this season and missed a big chance to sweep a key three-game homestand, the Pride can still salvage an important stretch at home against James Madison on Saturday afternoon before hosting UNCW on Monday evening.
While the quick turnarounds in the schedule don’t help much with practice time, Claxton believes they’re mentally beneficial following losses.
“We’ll bounce back from this,” Claxton insisted. “I’m not that worried about my guys. We definitely got what we deserved. Everything’s a learning process. We’ll learn from this and move on, and try to win Saturday.
“I love the fact that we don’t have much time to rest. We’ve got to have a short-term memory and move on. We’ve got to let this one go and start getting ready for JMU.”