WASHINGTON, D.C — As much as the Hofstra Pride made a habit of blowing out conference opponents en route to a Colonial Athletic Association regular season title this year, Hofstra took that to another level in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament at the Entertainment and Sports Arena on Sunday.
The first five points came from the Pride. Four minutes in, top-seeded Hofstra (24-8, 16-2 CAA) led 14-2, forcing a William & Mary Tribe timeout. A little over five minutes later, it was 23-4. That became 36-6, and an astounding 51-14 by halftime, a margin that established one CAA tournament record.
Hofstra led by as much as 86-35 with 5:50 left before putting eight-seeded William & Mary (13-20, 7-11 CAA) out of its misery in a 94-46 domination, a final margin that set another CAA tournament record.
The Pride’s 12th straight win and 17th victory of the season against CAA competition was Hofstra’s 14th by at least 13 points, its eighth by at least 20 points, and the Pride’s second victory against a CAA foe this year in which Hofstra could have conceivably gone scoreless in the second half while still winning.
Two-time CAA Player of the Year, senior transfer guard Aaron Estrada and an All-CAA Second Team selection this year, senior transfer guard Tyler Thomas, led the Pride offensively with 22 points apiece. Sophomore point guard Jaquan Carlos added 15 points, while sophomore guard Darlinstone Dubar and senior transfer guard Bryce Washington chipped in nine points each.
William & Mary, which ousted ninth-seeded Elon by 22 points a day earlier, matched Estrada by intermission, but it was otherwise 37-0, Hofstra by that point.
If there was any notion of the Tribe staying closer than a 13-point home defeat against the Pride on January 7, Hofstra quickly erased all doubt about that early and never let up while matching its biggest margin of victory this season when the Pride won by a very similar score (96-48) at home, against Division III Old Westbury on Dec. 22.
Referencing Hofstra’s regular season win at William & Mary this year, CAA Coach of the Year Craig “Speedy” Claxton noted, “At that time, we weren’t playing great, so they didn’t really see the real Hofstra. Today, unfortunately for them, they saw the real Hofstra. We were clicking on all cylinders.”
Playing that way has not been a sudden occurrence in the evolution of the Pride’s season.
“It clicked weeks ago,” Claxton said. “This is our twelfth win in a row. These guys know what’s at stake. They’re totally locked in. I’m not worried about them, not one bit.”
Not even an early noon tip, a start time that often causes teams to begin sluggishly before playing more like their normal selves could derail the Hofstra express train that has been rolling through the CAA since the middle of January.
Avoiding that type of pitfall, Claxton said was, “Extremely encouraging because having a noon start, it’s rough. It’s a different day for us. We can’t have a normal walkthrough like we like to have. So, we really had to be dialed in last night. To these kids’ credit, they were, and they were ready to go right from the start.”
Hofstra also had to put aside the thoughts of the last time the Pride played on the same floor, when Claxton’s rookie season as a head coach ended as his team, as a No. 3 seed, was blitzed in the first half and never recovering during a CAA quarterfinal loss to sixth-seeded Charleston in last year’s conference tournament.
Putting that bitter memory into perspective, Claxton said, “Last year is last year. We’re not thinking about that, although when we got here and we had the same locker room, I was like, ‘Oh man… this is bad vibes,’ but new year, new us.”
That certainly seemed to be the case as it was Hofstra doling out the punishment in the same round this time around.
Seated next to Carlos, Claxton said, “A really good job by our guys. I thought we came out with the right mindset and we put them away right from the start.
“Everybody that came in the game contributed really well, especially Bryce Washington. He was clicking… offensively and defensively, as was everybody else. And then Estrada and Thomas, they were great, but this guy next to me (Carlos), he’s our team leader, and I’m proud of him.”
Another helpful mindset that has helped the Pride is treating every situation with urgency, even when there seems to be good reason to relax.
Instead of getting comfortable with an already exorbitant halftime lead, Hofstra kept building on that as if William & Mary wasn’t already being embarrassed.
“Whenever we get out to a big lead at halftime, we try not to play the scoreboard and we want to continuously do the right things,” Claxton said. “It’s always about us.”
Among the players, Carlos divulged that such an attitude comes not only from Claxton and his staff but from Hofstra’s best player.
Carlos shared, “When we do our ballhandling in warmups, Aaron Estrada, when we bring it in, he told us, ‘Let’s just keep throwing the first punch and suffocate them, and don’t give them [any] breathing room throughout the whole game.’ So, he kind of led us, and then we stood on what he said.“
Offensively, the Pride had its most efficient game of the season, posting season shooting highs of 59.4 percent (38-for-64) overall and 61.9 percent (13-for-21) from 3-point range.
“They were making shots at an extremely high clip,” Claxton said of his players. “Whoever we went to, they scored the ball, whether it was J.C., Aaron, Tyler, Bryce, ‘Stone got us off to a good start, everybody who stepped on the court really played well today.”
Defensively, Hofstra held William & Mary to a Tribe’s season-low of just 30 percent shooting (18-for-60).
“We’re a defensive-minded team and we’re going to allow our defense to fuel our offense,” Claxton said. ”When we get out in transition, we’re extremely hard to stop. We want to get stops and then sprint the court and then run for layups or 3s. The easiest time to score is in transition, but at first, we’ve got to get a stop.”
Carlos, a CAA All-Defensive Team selection this season, added, “It let everybody know how we’re gonna come out and defend. We had a great offensive game, but we were getting a lot of stops, so that sent the message that we’re going to win games by defense.”
Tribe head coach Dane Fischer later said, “Hofstra did a great job of limiting opportunities. A lot of the credit goes to Hofstra for making it tough on us to get good looks.”
William & Mary senior guard Anders Nelson — who, with 15 points, was the Tribe’s only double-figure scorer — added, “Like Coach said, they just do a really good job of guarding the ball. They take a lot of pride in that and that’s how you win games in March.”
Noting the difficulties in preparing for and with trying to execute well against the Pride, Fischer said, “Someone asked me before the game, ‘What are the two keys to the game?’ and I said, ‘Only two?’ because these guys, there’s not a lot of holes in their game.”
Fischer added, “Congratulations to Hofstra and a ton of credit to them. I thought they played unbelievably well today. We tried to throw a few different things at them defensively and they just seemed to have an answer for whatever we did, and what was probably the most impressive was the way they defended. We just couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively and a lot of that had to do with the way that they played.
“They’ve got great guard play. Estrada is phenomenal but he’s not alone. Tyler Thomas is terrific, Jaquan Carlos was very good today, and then I think they just do a really good job guarding. They take a ton of pride in guarding on the ball and it’s hard to get loose against them.”
Assessing how far the Pride can go this season as Hofstra enters Monday evening’s semifinal game against fourth-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington (which saw a tie game at halftime turn into a 24-point loss at Hofstra on Jan. 19, to start the Pride’s current winning streak), Fischer said, “They are a very complete team because they’ve got guards that can play with just about anybody, they’ve got bigs who can defend and score on the blocks. I think they’re really good. I think that they can make a run in March because they’ve got all the pieces you need to do that.“
Being able to limit Estrada and Thomas to 32 minutes each and everyone else to no more than 23 minutes while dispatching William & Mary with ease is something that could figure to help Hofstra in its quest to win a second CAA tournament title in four years.
“[It’s] extremely important because it’s hard to play three games in three days,” Claxton said. “We definitely wanted to come out and put them away, and get these guys some rest so they’re not out there for 37, 38, 40 minutes… so it’s good to start off like this.”
Tipoff for Monday night’s semifinal game against UNCW is at 6:00 pm ET.
UNCW Rallies Past Drexel to Reach CAA Semis Against Hofstra
WASHINGTON, D.C — Fourth-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks overcame a 12-point deficit over the final 12:41 to oust the fifth-seeded Drexel Dragons, 73-68, in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament at the Entertainment and Sports arena on Sunday afternoon.
UNCW (23-9, 12-6 CAA) started strong, leading 13-5, but Drexel (17-15, 10-8 CAA) outscored the Seahawks 52-32 to seemingly take control. However, UNCW scored the next 16 points to regain the lead, at 61-57, with 8:52 left.
The Dragons didn’t lead again, although they tied the game, 64-64, with 6:24 remaining. UNCW scored the next seven points to go up for good, 71-64. Drexel got within 71-68 in the final minute, but the Dragons missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds before the Seahawks iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Reflecting on UNCW’s regular season loss at Hofstra on Jan. 19, in which the Seahawks were outscored 40-16 in the second half after the game was tied at halftime, head coach Takayo Siddle said, “You know what really hurt us in that game outside of us not competing and [not] being tough enough for probably 25 of those minutes? The live ball turnovers. When you look at Hofstra, everybody talks about their scoring and their firepower on offense, but they’re probably the best defensive team in our league. They really guard you and they make it very difficult for you. They’re very physical. They pack the paint, their pick-and-roll defense is really good, so we have to make sure we execute offensively, and then we can’t let those two guards (Aaron Estrada and Tyler Thomas) have career nights. They were able to do whatever they wanted to do [against us]. They did the same thing today (in the quarterfinals against William & Mary).
“It’s going to be a challenge for us but we have to lock in on both ends of the floor and try to execute our gameplan as best as we can.”
Fast Start Powers Charleston Over Stony Brook and into CAA Semis
WASHINGTON, D.C — This game was for the analytics folks.
The second-seed Charleston Cougars weren’t as sharp offensively against the 10th-seeded Stony Brook Seawolves as they were in a 40-point home win over Stony Brook to end the regular season, but they still limited the Seawolves to the same offensive output and used a 22-2 run at the start of Sunday evening’s Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinal matchup to carry them the rest of the way in a 74-52 win at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Although Stony Brook 11-22, 6-12 CAA) slightly outshot Charleston (29-3, 16-2 CAA) overall, 39.3 percent to 38.2 percent, and while the Cougars didn’t shoot well (27 percent, 10-for-37) from behind the arc, Charleston attempted 23 more 3-pointers and made eight more treys than the Seawolves.
Stony Brook never got closer than 13 points after Charleston’s big start, as the Cougars (who won their eighth straight game) advanced to Monday night’s semifinal matchup with third-seeded Towson.
Towson Too Tough for Delaware, Rounds Out CAA Semis with Only Top Four Seeds
WASHINGTON, D.C — As if following a script, the third-seeded Towson Tigers copied what the Colonial Athletic Association’s top two seeds did earlier in the day. After seeing top-seeded Hofstra race out to leads of 23-4 and 36-6 against eighth-seeded William & Mary, and after witnessing second-seeded Charleston lead 10th-seeded Stony Brook 22-2, Towson (21-11, 12-6 CAA) got into the act as well, jumping on the sixth-seeded Delaware Blue Hens, 25-5 and 37-10 before coasting from there to an easy 86-60 victory. The Blue Hens (17-16, 8-10) were unable to put up much of a fight against the more physical and tougher Tigers, whose win ensured that all four of the top seeds reached the CAA semifinals.