BROOKLYN, N.Y – It’s been difficult enough for the Hofstra Pride to figure out how to mesh all of its new pieces with key returning ones from last year, but it’s even harder when one of the returnees happens to be the team’s best player and can’t play.
Such was the case for Hofstra on Sunday night when senior guard Aaron Estrada, the reigning and preseason Colonial Athletic Association Player of the year, missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury.
Sans Estrada, the Pride (6-5) lost its third straight game and fifth in seven contests as the Massachusetts Minutemen (8-2) pulled away from Hofstra during the second half for a 71-56 win in the nightcap of a quadruple header in the third annual Naismith Hall of Fame Invitational event at the Barclays Center.
Freshman guard Amar’e Marshall filled in admirably for Estrada in his first career start with an efficient 24 points during a 19-point loss at fourth-ranked Purdue on Wednesday. But his second start did not go nearly as well, as UMass held Marshall to just four points on 1-for-10 shooting in 27 minutes.
“He’s a redshirt freshman, so he’s going to have some up-and-down games,” said second-year head coach and former Hofstra star (who immediately and consistently dazzled with his own play from the time he was a freshman) Craig “Speedy” Claxton. “The last game, against Purdue, was up. Today was down. With young guys, you try to have them be consistent in their play, but they’re just not [consistent] at that young of an age. So, there are going to be highs and lows, ups and downs [with young players like Marshall]. We’ve just got to hope there are more ups than downs.”
Trying to pick up the slack for Marshall and Estrada’s absence, the Pride held an early 12-2 edge in scoring in the paint, but the Minutemen turned that around to hold a decisive 34-12 advantage in that category thereafter, including 26-8 in the paint after halftime. Massachusetts also turned second-chance scoring around, going from 7-4 in Hofstra’s favor before intermission to 14-2 for the Minutemen after that point.
“We had a lack of toughness,” Claxton admitted. “We didn’t stick to our game plan. We knew we had to limit our turnovers to keep [UMass] out of transition. We knew we had to box out. We didn’t… [and] we didn’t limit their second shots. The last 10 minutes of the game, we didn’t do that. So, it was a combination of all those things.
“Give UMass credit. They were the tougher team. We knew going into this game that the tougher team would win, so kudos to them. They’re a tough, physical team.”
Hofstra’s best run of the game, scoring seven straight points, gave the Pride a 15-7 lead after 7:17. Hofstra led by the same margin, 17-9, less than 1½ minutes later, but managed only 31 points over roughly the next 30 minutes.
Massachusetts scored 10 consecutive points (to regain the lead, 19-17) at the start of a larger 17-4 run, to lead, 26-21. A trio of 3-pointers, two from freshman guard Griffin Barrouk (11 points), with another from senior transfer guard Tyler Thomas (eight points) in between, helped the Pride draw even, 30-30, by halftime.
Hofstra started the second half on 3s from Thomas and sophomore guard Darlinstone Dubar (who led the Pride with 13 points), to go up, 36-32, but the Pride missed 16 of its next 19 shots.
A little over four minutes after the second-half 3s from Thomas and Dubar, a hook shot by graduate forward Warren Williams (12 points) — who played his best game in a Pride uniform thus far — put Hofstra ahead, 41-40, with 14:04 left. With that basket, Williams was the game’s first player to score in double figures.
But he would be joined by others, including freshman forward Tafara Gapare (who led Massachusetts with 13 points), along with junior freshman Dyondre Dominguez and Matt Cross, each of whom added 12 points and nine rebounds, while each did most of their damage during the second half.
Head coach Frank Martin, seated next to Cross and Dominguez after the game, noted the valuable contributions of those two players. “We needed some toughness in the second half and they provided that,” Martin said. “These two guys led the way with the toughness and enthusiasm to go out there and compete.”
Cross added, “I think the only thing that changed was just effort and playing harder, rebounding, being more physical, and I think that’s the only reason why we broke away — our second-chance shots and being tough down low… I think just playing harder was really the biggest difference in the second half.”
Of course, Cross was a big part of UMass’ turnaround, but he was able to lead while not feeling completely healthy.
“Matt Cross is sick right now,” Martin revealed. “He woke up this morning with a bug. It was uncertain whether or not he was going to play tonight. For him to gut it out the way he did shows a lot about who he is.”
Before Cross and Dominguez helped Massachusetts put the game away, Gapare gave his team some breathing room. He moved the Minutemen ahead to stay, 42-41, on a jumper off of one of the Pride’s 17 turnovers and then added the next four points to start UMass’ second stretch of 10 straight points.
Buoyed by nine points from Dominguez and six from Cross, that run grew to 22-2 (to put the game out of reach, at 62-43, with 5:28 remaining) and to 27-5 (making it 67-46 with 3:38 to go). That margin was matched twice more before Hofstra closed the scoring with a pair of meaningless 3-pointers in the final minute.
The loss dropped the Pride to 3-5 during a tough stretch of road and neutral site games that have winded through California, Canada, Virginia, Indiana, and Brooklyn since Hofstra’s last home game on Nov. 14. The Pride will next have one more road game at South Florida before finally returning home to face Division III Old Westbury three days later to close out its non-conference schedule.
Earlier Results from the Naismith Hall of Fame Invitational during the day:
Iona used a 40-29 second half and rode game-highs of 24 points and 10 rebounds from Nelly Junior Joseph to beat St. Bonaventure, 72-57.
Virginia Tech used a late 25-14 run to overcome a 46-42 deficit and beat Oklahoma State, 70-65.
No. 7 Tennessee held off No. 13 Maryland, 56-53, despite shooting only 28.8 percent, as Maryland shot just 2-for-24 from 3-point range against the nation’s best team at defending the 3-point shot.