HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — After being on the wrong end of a 59-point swing on Thursday night, the Hofstra Pride needed to be on the right side of some payback at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Saturday.
Hofstra was, thanks to senior guard Omar Silverio (20 points), graduate guard Jalen Ray (19 points) and some good defense turning into offense in a comfortable 83-67 Senior Day win over the ninth-place William & Mary Tribe.
“A great team effort,” said rookie head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton after seeing his team clinch the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association tournament. “I’m proud of my guys for the way we responded after [the] last game.”
Claxton was relieved that third-place Hofstra (20-10, 12-5 CAA) showed a much better effort than the Pride did in its prior game — a 26-point home loss to seventh-place Elon after Hofstra won at Elon by 33 points nine days earlier — and in a surprising and disappointing one-point defeat at William & Mary (5-26, 4-14 CAA) in the Pride’s conference opener on Dec. 29.
“We’ve got to come to play no matter who we play against,” Claxton said. “I think we looked at Elon and we remembered that we beat them pretty good at their place and we kind of played down to them. We thought we were just going to be able to show up and that wasn’t the case. So, we definitely wanted to make the effort to come and play the right way today, and I think we did.”
Although he went scoreless, missing all five of his shots in the second half, Silverio scored nearly half of Hofstra’s 41 points in the opening half, making five of nine shots from 3-point range before halftime.
Silverio has the option of possibly returning for another season next year under the NCAAs Covid pandemic protocols.
Ray, who took the NCAA up on that opportunity to return after what would have been his final season last year, led the Pride with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting (including 3-for-4 from 3-point range) in the second half.
“Omar had a really good first half,” Claxton noted. “He kind of carried us and then J-Ray kind of carried us in the second half.”
Silverio’s first-half outburst marked the second time he scored 20 points in the opening half this season. The Rhode Island transfer by way of the Dominican Republic, poured in 25 first-half points en route to a career-high 40 points (while setting CAA and Hofstra records with 11 3-pointers) off the bench in Hofstra’s win at Elon on Feb 15.
Detailing how Silverio’s shooting opens up the rest of the Pride’s attack — in particular, for Ray, leading CAA Player of the Year candidate Aaron Estrada, and Hofstra’s third-leading scorer, senior transfer guard Zach Cooks — Claxton said, “It allows the rest of the offense to flow because now you can’t sit in the lane and load up on J-Ray, Estrada, Cooks. When Omar’s hitting, it really changes the look of our team.”
After Silverio, Ray, Cooks (six points), and transfer graduate forward Jarrod Simmons (three points) were all honored in a pregame ceremony, three players in that quartet fittingly scored Hofstra’s first 23 points (12 from Silverio, eight by Ray and three from Simmons) before a layup by sophomore transfer guard Darlinstone Dubar (12 points) capped a 19-5 run that turned an early 10-6 deficit into a 25-15 Pride lead 9:04 into the game.
Hofstra’s first nine points were scored in groups of three, in three different ways, by three of the Pride’s honored seniors. Ray opened the scoring with three free throws on the game’s first possession before Silverio made a 3-pointer, and Simmons (making his only start of the season) added a three-point play on a layup and free throw.
Silverio nearly made a sixth 3-pointer in the first half when his halfcourt heave clanged off the back of the rim as the half expired.
Although Hofstra’s season free throw percentage dipped slightly after going 15-for-19, the Pride remained the nation’s third-best free throw shooting team at 80.2 percent.
Hofstra made all but one of 13 first-half foul shots, with Silverio and Ray each going 5-for-5 at the line in the half.
“Free throws are free,” Claxton quipped. “Everybody likes free things, so you’ve got to step up and knock ‘em in.”
Rebounding from a 0-for-8 first half, Cooks made his first three shots of the second half, all on layups. That, along with a Ray 3-pointer, accounted for the first nine points of the second half as the Pride broke the game open, to lead, 50-31.
Eight straight points on three dunks and two free throws by redshirt sophomore Kvonn Cramer (eight points) helped Hofstra push its lead to as much as 22 points three different times.
“Kvonn Cramer did an excellent job today,” Claxton noted. “The minutes he gave us off the bench were much needed. He gave us a lift.”
Ray added of Cramer, “He’s gifted. He’s very athletic, so whenever he’s in the game, nobody can guard him, so you’ve just got to lob the ball up to him. He helps us out because you just can’t focus on one or two players, but you’ve got to focus on everyone.”
Two of Cramer’s dunks and his free throws came off of fast breaks, as the Pride converted some active defense into easy scoring opportunities. Hofstra forced 19 of the game’s 27 turnovers and held decided advantages in steals (12-4), points off turnovers (21-9), and fast-break points (10-0).
“That’s Hofstra Basketball, that’s Hofstra defense,” Claxton said. “We wanted to make a real effort on the defensive end coming out because we knew that we were going to be able to score on the other end, and we didn’t want to match them, points for points. We knew we had to get stops.”
William & Mary cut into Hofstra’s lead but got no closer than 12 points on two different occasions over the final 3:26.
While Estrada (10 points on 5-of-12 shooting) was held well below his CAA-leading average of 18.2 points per game, he found other ways to contribute significantly with game-highs of 10 rebounds and five steals along with a team-best three assists.
Praising Estrada, Claxton said, “That’s important because every night is not going to be your night and you’ve still got to contribute to the team in some form or fashion, and I think he did a good job of that.”
Celebrating a Hofstra Senior Day in a third different way, Claxton — one of Hofstra’s all-time best players (1996-2000) and a Pride assistant coach for eight years (2013-21) before realizing his dream of becoming the program’s head coach — was simply happy to take part in the special festivities for the seniors he now coaches, like Ray, Hofstra’s 11th all-time leading scorer (three spots behind Claxton).
“It was fun, my first Senior Day as a head coach,” Claxton said, with Ray seated to his right in the press room. “I got to share [that] first time with a special player in Jalen Ray. He’s a legend here and I’m glad to be a part of his Senior Day.
“I’m happy with the way he played today. He played a great game, so [I’m] happy for him.”
From Ray’s perspective, the day was extremely meaningful after the school’s second all-time leader in 3-point makes (301) was denied the typical Senior Day feeling last year in a fanless arena due to the Covid pandemic before he decided to return for another season.
“It was good having a Senior Day today because last year, I really didn’t get to have one. It was good to see everyone here.”
Securing Hofstra’s 24th 20-win season (and 15th in Division I) pleased Claxton, but he isn’t satisfied yet.
“We’ve still got more work to do,” Claxton said. “Twenty is nice, but 21, 22 will be better.”
With one more regular-season game left, it will take either a 23rd or 24th victory to win a CAA championship and reach the NCAA tournament.
A couple of hours after Hofstra’s win, Charleston, despite leading for all but 19 seconds at Drexel, lost by one point to miss out on securing the fifth seed in the CAA tournament. Instead, Charleston was locked into the sixth spot.
Relegated to the third position, the Pride will host Charleston in its regular-season finale on Monday night. The contest will be a Covid pandemic-induced makeup game from a Jan. 5 cancellation that won’t have a bearing on any teams in the final CAA standings before the two teams will meet again in the CAA quarterfinals on March 6.
Assistant coach Tom Parrotta said that ideally, it would be best if the game didn’t need to be played, but added that as long as it will be, Hofstra will play to win, trying for its eighth win in nine games and a regular-season sweep over Charleston to take into the CAA tournament.