HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — As a big the showdown between the Colonial Athletic Association’s top two teams played out in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Hofstra Pride quietly took care of its own business more than 600 miles north, at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
Before 22nd-ranked Charleston extended the nation’s longest active winning streak to 16 consecutive victories and barely escaped with a narrow triumph over North Carolina-Wilmington (which had its own 13-game winning streak snapped), Hofstra (11-7, 4-1 CAA) further quelled the memory of the previous time the Pride played on its home floor, when, as 12-point favorites on New Year’s Eve, Hofstra choked away a 13-point lead with under 10 minutes left and lost at the buzzer on a tiebreaking tip-in against CAA newcomer North Carolina A&T.
Choosing to view that disappointing defeat as an aberration in conference play, the Pride focuses instead on its four easy conference wins so far this season, which included a CAA-opening road win at Delaware by 14 points and following the loss to North Carolina A&T, additional road victories by 16 at Hampton and by 13 at William & Mary.
Despite a lackluster beginning on Wednesday night, Hofstra (winning for a third straight time) moved into a second-place tie with UNCW (4-1 CAA) and remained within a game of first-place Charleston (5-0 CAA) with a decisive 77-57 win over the Monmouth Hawks (1-16, 0-4 CAA), who have struggled mightily in their first year as CAA members after leaving the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Together, the quartet of graduate forward Warren Williams, redshirt senior guard Tyler Thomas, redshirt senior guard Aaron Estrada, and sophomore point guard Jaquan Carlos outscored Monmouth by three points and accounted for all but 17 of the Pride’s points, with Williams and Thomas each scoring a game-high 18 points, and Estrada and Thomas chipping in with a dozen points apiece.
But it was Hofstra’s defense that buckled down and sparked a game-turning 37-11 run (spanning both halves) as the Pride limited the Hawks to a 3-for-21 shooting stretch after Monmouth started the game a surprising 7-for-12 from the floor. Hofstra held a decisive 29-15 advantage in points off turnovers, with the Hawks committing 17 of those.
Although sophomore transfer guard German Plotnikov (three points on just 1-for-7 shooting in 16 minutes) and redshirt freshman guard Amar’e Marshall (six points, making his only two shot attempts in 13 minutes) didn’t provide a lot of scoring punch or play many minutes, they were credited by second-year head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton as playing key roles — alongside Williams — in collectively raising the Pride’s energy level and turning the game in Hofstra’s favor.
“A really good team effort,” Claxton said. “I thought we started the game out a little slow and then we went to the bench. Dub (Williams), German came in, Amar’e came in, and that kind of gave us some momentum. We were a little sluggish to start, but those guys came in and we rallied behind them, and we were good.”
After starting flat and falling behind 15-8, the Pride scored 26 of the next 33 points to go up by as much as 12 points before settling for a 36-26 halftime edge.
Scoring the first nine points of the second half, Hofstra – which entered the game as 19-point favorites — finally matched that spread with a 45-26 lead as Monmouth didn’t score its first points of the half until the Hawks made a 3-pointer 6:12 after intermission.
That shot started a 12-4 run that trimmed Monmouth’s deficit to 49-38 with 10:44 remaining, but Hofstra responded with a 26-12 spurt, to take a game-high 75-50 lead with 2:25 left.
After posting his Hofstra scoring-high and a game-best seven rebounds, Williams (whose career scoring-high was 27 points as a freshman with Manhattan), is starting to provide a sorely needed post presence for the Pride after joining Hofstra in the offseason and missing his new team’s first five games this season due to injury.
“I feel okay about my role right now, but it’s all about the ability to keep going,” said Williams, who made all but one of his seven shots on the night.
Thomas, who led Sacred Heart in scoring each of the past two seasons before moving on to Hofstra this year, is a little less humble, as revealed by confident postgame remarks which drew some comical reactions from his head coach and teammate, each seated to Thomas’ left.
Responding to a question about his 7-for-8 finish from the field after starting the game with three misses, Thomas said, “I think every shot I take I take right now is good, it’s just matter of me [to] keep shooting.”
That comment drew a quizzical look in Thomas’ direction from Claxton, before he and Williams both let out some hearty laughs. Claxton then said with a smile, “I like the confidence, man.”
Ignoring a couple of losses against much tougher competition (at Saint Mary’s and at Purdue), Claxton dismissed Hofstra’s mediocre 7-6 record out of conference (prior to CAA play starting) and the Pride’s unexpected, almost inexcusable defeat to North Carolina A&T in a positive light given Hofstra’s good early positioning as one of the top three teams in the CAA to this point.
“I don’t think we were off track, quite honestly,” Claxton said. “We lost some games but we were in every single one of them… I like where we’re at.”
To continue to feel that way, Claxton knows the Pride can’t afford to underestimate any team going forward, whether it’s fellow top CAA teams like Charleston and UNCW, or if it’s Monmouth, which has yet to reach multiple wins 17 games into the Hawks’ schedule.
During an early timeout, with Hofstra down, 10-4, Claxton told his team, “To respect [Monmouth]. That was the word going into the game, was ‘respect’ — respect everybody you play against no matter what their record is. [We] took [Monmouth] lightly to start but we went to the bench and put some other guys in, and they gave us some great energy.”
Thomas admitted, “I think we have a bad habit of starting first halves or second halves slow… and I think it starts on the defensive end, ramping up the defense, and communication, and rebounding… and letting the defense carry [over] to our offense.”
On Saturday, Hofstra will next host longtime America East and CAA rival Delaware, which the Pride led on the road by 15 at halftime, by as much as 18, and beat, 87-73, on Dec. 29.
Claxton knows the rematch may not be as easy, especially if the Pride should start as slowly as it did against Monmouth.
“We have to put that last game [against] Delaware behind us,” Claxton said. “It’s extremely hard to beat a team twice in a short period of time, especially with the way we beat them. We beat them pretty handily, so we can’t take them lightly. No one’s going to come in here and lay down for us. We’ve got to go out there and play hard and compete. It doesn’t really matter if we’re at home. We got to come out to start the game the right way.”