HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — Maybe it’s playing in Florida or playing a team from Florida, or opposing a squad named the Bulls that has brought out the best in the Hofstra Pride. Or, maybe it was Speedy saying, “Be greedy.”
But really, it’s Hofstra continuing to follow its strong 1-2 punch behind its two leading scorers that suddenly has the Pride rolling after losing two straight early season tests.
Behind 25 points from graduate transfer guard Tyler Thomas and 24 points from junior transfer guard Darlinstone Dubar, Hofstra (5-2) led by as much as 32 before winning its fourth straight game, 82-63, over the South Florida Bulls (2-3) on Jewish Heritage Night at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on November 30th.
The Pride was reeling a bit after consecutive losses to Princeton and George Washington following an expected, easy season-opening win over Division III St. Joseph’s (Long Island). However, that was quickly turned around with a three-day run to the Gulf Coast Showcase championship that featured a 34-point thumping of the Buffalo Bulls, a solid nine-point victory over Wright State, and a gutty overtime triumph over High Point.
“It was extremely important,” third-year head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton said. “[We] don’t want to be satisfied with what we did down there (in Florida) and come home, and have a letdown, so I’m glad the way we came out, and played hard, and that we protected home court.”
Dubar added, “Going down there and winning the tournament was a good thing, but like Coach said, he told us to be greedy. So, we just carried it over.”
Just like against South Florida, Dubar and Thomas took turns guiding the way during last week’s tournament in Estero, FL. Dubar had a career-high 30 points and Thomas 21 to thwart Buffalo. Thomas then had his own 30-point game (with Dubar adding 16) against Wright State before following that up with a dominant 33-point second half that keyed a career-best 40-point performance to help topple High Point.
Right from the start against the other Bulls from down south, Dubar and Thomas had their two-man game in high gear with a Dubar layup and a Thomas 3-pointer accounting for the game’s first five points. Less that seven minutes later, Dubar was up to eight points on four buckets and Thomas, nine points, on a trio of 3s, to account for all but four of the Pride’s points as Hofstra raced out to a 22-9 lead.
A Dubar 3-pointer pushed that advantage to 21 before South Florida answered with the next five points. But after the way they started the half, Dubar and Thomas flip-flopped to end the frame, with Dubar hitting a 3 (off of a drive and nice kick to the left corner from Thomas) and Thomas draining a pull-up jumper to send the Pride to the locker room with a 44-23 halftime lead.
Dubar and Thomas also basically took turns with how they complemented each other in each half. The former led all scorers with 14 first-half points while Thomas added 11 in the frame. In the second half, it was Thomas’ turn to score 14 points while Dubar had 10.
With the offseason departure of two-time conference Player of the Year Aaron Estrada to Alabama, Thomas and Dubar were most likely candidates to become Hofstra’s two biggest scoring options. Thus far, each has answered the call.
Last year, Thomas was the Pride’s second-leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, immediately followed by Dubar’s 10.5 points per contest. This year, although only seven games into the season, Thomas leads Hofstra with 25 points per game, while Dubar is second on the Pride this year at 18.3 points.
“I just had to step up and believe in myself,” Dubar said after his own latest scoring outburst. “The coaching staff and my teammates believe in me and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Overall, Hofstra was unstoppable in the first half, shooting 9-for-13 from inside the arc and 8-for-16 from beyond it. Although the Pride cooled off to shoot only 4-for-14 in the second half, Hofstra — as it did before halftime — made half of its 3s after intermission, going 7-for-14 from 3-point range in the stanza.
Claxton said, “We work on shooting every day and we have some really good shooters, so when these guys have open looks, more than likely, it’s going to go down.”
Setting up the Pride’s shooters was junior point guard Jaquan Carlos (11 points, game-high 10 assists, two turnovers), who noted, “One of the keys was, when I drove, they were going to collapse. So, I just looked for my guys and they made open shots.”
Scoring the first nine points of the second half, on a Dubar 3-pointer in between six points from Carlos (on three free throws and a three-point play), the Pride led 53-23 by as much as 71-39 on a Thomas 3-pointer with 11:47 left.
Hofstra’s maintained an advantage of more than 20 points thereafter until the Bulls only got within 18 with 1:38 left.
Freshman guards Jayden Reid and senior guard Selton Miguel each barely got to double figures for South Florida and no other player did so for the Bulls, who were well contained by the Pride, shooting just 34.7 percent (25-for-72).
“A really good job by the fellas,” Claxton said. “They executed the game plan to a T.”
It will likely take the same and more for Hofstra to continue its strong end to November into next month as the Pride face a daunting December schedule featuring upcoming road games at Saint Louis, seventh-ranked Duke, and UNLV, plus Hofstra’s inaugural appearance at UBS Arena on Long Island against local area rival St. John’s.
But don’t expect the Pride to be intimidated for those matchups. “We have a really good team,” Claxton said. “When all of our guys are locked, focused, and ready to play, I feel we can beat anybody.”