HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — The Hofstra Pride won the battle of the team-leading Thomases and — thanks to their sharing nature — the game as well.
Although graduate transfer guard Tyler Thomas and transfer junior guard Jamarii Thomas were each a bit short of their respective team-leading scoring averages, they both led their own teams in scoring with the former reaching 22 points (including 14 in the second half) and the latter held to 17 points as Hofstra (7-4) used a big game-turning second-half run to snap a short two-game skid with a 74-58 win over Norfolk State (7-5) at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Saturday.
After three offensive rebounds led to the same number of second-chance points and a 5-0 Spartans lead, third-year head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton called a timeout to, as Claxton recalled, “Just to try to get our guys focused. [Norfolk State] got off to a hot start. We weren’t playing Hofstra basketball at both ends of the court, so we just wanted to get a quick timeout and just refocus the guys.”
That worked for a little while as Hofstra grabbed its first lead, 14-13, on a Thomas jumper with 10:40 left in the opening half. However, Norfolk State countered with a 12-3 run to take its largest lead of the game, 25-18.
The Pride responded with a 10-2 spurt to retake the lead, 28-27, before the Spartans led 32-31, at halftime, when the same basic message that Claxton tried to get across during the early timeout seemed to sink in a lot more.
“That first half, we were kind of beating ourselves on both ends of the court, “Claxton noted. “Once that stopped, we kind of took off in the second half.”
Hofstra stormed out of the locker room with as 10-1 start to the second half, as a Thomas 3-pointer and layup bookended five points from graduate guard Bryce Washington (13 points, three assists) in between.
“Bryce was great today and that’s what we expect from him, being an older guy,” Claxton said. “A great job by him. We gave him the game ball. He was the player of the game and I’m happy for him.”
Washington (who missed his Hofstra high by only a point) added, “My goal is just to go out there and play hard and do the best I can every day. Some days, you’re gonna make shots, other days, you might not make shots. Today, I was able to make a few, so that feels good, but the same mentality goes into every game for me. I just want to compete at a high level.”
Claxton was also pleased with the various contributions of those who complemented Thomas (who entered the day as the nation’s fifth-leading scorer with 23.0 points per game), like junior transfer guard Darlinstone Dubar (13 points and seven rebounds), graduate transfer forward Jacco Fritz (nine points, making all four of his field goal attempts, and four rebounds), and junior guard Jaquan Carlos (10 points, 10 assists, only one turnover, and four rebounds), who reached a double-double with an assist and a fast break layup in the final minute.
With Carlos leading the way, the Pride was appropriately in the giving spirit during a mid-December afternoon on Ugly Sweater Day at The Mack, assisting on all but three of its 26 baskets (88 percent) while shooting 48.1 percent.
“A good team game” Claxton said. “Everyone who played, contributed. The way we shared the basketball — we had 23 assists, six turnovers — that was a big key to the game. They like to gamble and junk it up, so to only have six turnovers against that team, who pressed, who shoots through the passing lanes, [was] a really good job by the boys.
“We shared the ball. When we do that, we’re going to be hard to beat. It’s an equal opportunity offense and whoever has a good shot, they take it. We have really good shooters, so if we can get open shots, then more than likely, we’re going to make them.”
Four of the seven career times the normally sure-handed Carlos has had at least four turnovers came this season, including twice over the Pride’s prior three games. But Carlos focused more on protecting the ball while dishing it out against the Spartans.
“The more we value the ball, the more shots we get and we’ve got nothing but great shooters,” Carlos said. “So, nine times out of ten, if I don’t have a high turnover game, we’re going to most likely win and get our shots.”
Whereas Hofstra’s Thomas mainly did his damage from behind the arc (going 5-for-14 from there out of 17 total shots), Norfolk State’s Thomas had team-bests of seven assists and six rebounds, and shot fairly well from the floor (5-for-12) and at the foul line (7-for-9), but he was held to only four harmless points in the final five minutes after putting his team ahead for the final time more than nine minutes earlier.
“We just wanted to keep throwing different bodies at him,” Claxton said. “He’s a really good scorer and to hold him to 17 points… we did a really good job on him.”
A pair of second-chance free throws from Jamarii Thomas (who entered the game as the nation’s 28th-leading scorer with 20.0 points per game) capped a string of nine straight points to give Norfolk State its final lead, 42-41, with 14:44 left, before Hofstra took control with a 17-3 run over the next 3:13 to go up, 58-45.
That spurt was keyed by a six-point trip toward the beginning of that stretch. After a Tyler Thomas 3-pointer broke a 44-44 tie, Carlos doubled the Pride’s lead to six on a left-wing 3-pointer. On that shot, Jamarii Thomas was whistled for a foul away from the ball, allowing Hofstra to retain possession. Four seconds later, off a baseline inbounds feed from Carlos, Thomas drained a right-wing trey to make it 53-44.
The Spartans later got within 10, but five free throws from Carlos keyed a 7-0 stretch (and capped a larger 22-5 run) that gave the Pride the game’s largest lead, 66-49, with 4:53 remaining. Norfolk State again got it to 10, with 2:38 left, but would get no closer thereafter.
Holding the Spartans to just 26 second-half points on only 34.6 percent shooting (9-for-26, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range), Hofstra raised its record to 52-1 over the past 11 seasons when allowing under 60 points (winning the last 48 such contests). The Pride also improved to 106-19 (.848) over the past 10 seasons (including 30-4 under Claxton) when allowing under 70 points.
Two more tests await Hofstra to close non-conference play with a game at UNLV on Dec. 21 before the Pride makes its debut at the new UBS Arena (right up the road from The Mack) in a highly-anticipated local rivalry battle with St. John’s on Dec. 30.