Hofstra Coasts to Senior Night Rout Before Big Final Road Trip

Matteo Bracco (gohofstra.com)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — With the seemingly difficult challenges that await the Hofstra Pride the rest of the way, an easy home finale victory while paying homage to its seniors was going to be helpful.

That’s exactly what Hofstra had, while leading by as many as 26 points in an 87-64 Senior Night, Coastal Athletic Association romp over the Elon Phoenix at the David S. Mack Sports and exhibition Complex on Saturday night.

Graduate transfer guard Tyler Thomas led third-place Hofstra (18-11, 11-5 CAA) with 25 points (along with seven rebounds and four assists) despite missing 17 of 26 shots. The rest of the Pride shot 57.1 percent (24-for-42) with fourth-year junior transfer guard Darlinstone Dubar (17 points, nine rebounds) going 7-for-12, transfer graduate forward Jacco Fritz (14 points, game-high 10 rebounds) shooting 5-for-9, and junior transfer guard German Plotnikov (11 points, five assists) missing only one of his six shots. Junior point guard Jaquan Carlos also added eight points and a game-high nine assists.

We can beat you in a variety of ways with different people,” head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton said. “When we get that kind of point production from everyone, we’re pretty hard to beat and we’re more than capable of doing that. All these guys are very good scorers and capable shooters. They all work on their craft, so I’m not surprised when everybody scores like this.”

Local product, sophomore guard T.K. Simpkins (from Brooklyn, N.Y) led 11th-place Elon (12-17, 5-11 CAA) with 24 points, but was the only double-figure scorer for the Phoenix.

After spotting Elon an early 7-2 lead, Hofstra scored 15 straight points (to extend a one-point edge to 16) as part of a dominant 45-17 stretch, to go up, 47-24.

Simpkins started the second-half scoring with a pair of free throws to cap eight straight Phoenix points spanning both halves, but a 22-11 answer gave the Pride an insurmountable, game-high 69-43 advantage (matched later, at 75-49) with 10:23 left, as the margin never dipped below 20 points thereafter.

In some very rare statistical reoccurrences, it was the second consecutive game that Hofstra — which beat fourth-place Drexel (69-57) in a showdown for CAA tournament seeding, at home, on Thursday night — held an opponent to 18-for-51 shooting, had nine turnovers while its opponent had 13, and outscored its opponent, 19-5, in points off turnovers. Improving further from its previous game, the Pride assisted on 25 of its 33 baskets (75.8 percent).

At the other end of the floor, Hofstra — which closed its home schedule with an 11-2 record by winning on its own floor for an eighth straight time after losing its conference opener to first-place Charleston, and which won for the seventh time in eight games and for the 10th time in 12 games after a disappointing 1-3 start in conference play — continued its trend of being stingy defensively.

The 64 points scored by Elon were the most the Pride allowed in its last six victories as Hofstra surrendered only 57.8 points per game in those wins.

Our defense has been carrying us,” Claxton said. “Offense is going to come and go… but our defense has to remain constant. If we do that, it’ll put us in a really good position to continue to win ballgames.”

Noting the Phoenix’s early but short-lived lead two games after Elon stunned second-place North Carolina-Wilmington in a one-point road win, Carlos added, “I think we came out kind of overlooking them and they kind of jumped out on us and then we had to settle in. Speedy told us, ‘We can’t be lackadaisical with a team like that. They’re very capable of beating us.’ I think we just settled in and we got to doing what we do, usually — locking in on defense and going from there.”

With Hofstra ahead 81-57 and 3:16 remaining, Claxton removed Carlos, Fritz, Thomas, Dubar, and reserve graduate transfer guard Bryce Washington.

The latter four were honored along with redshirt senior transfer forward Myles Wilmoth (who has been injured and hasn’t played this season) in a pregame ceremony.

It was a special moment because they dedicated so much time and effort to the program,” Claxton said, “To get them a standing ovation, that’s something that they’re very deserving [of] and they earned that, so I definitely wanted to give them that moment.

We wanted to send the seniors off on a good note. I think we did that. Senior Night is always kind of emotional for me because it’s the last time I’m going to see these guys on our home court, so it was very important for us to get a win for them.”

All of the pregame honorees came from the transfer portal, which has become a much more significant staple of building college basketball rosters nationwide in recent years.

We’re happy to have all of them,” Claxton said. “They all play an integral part of what we do here and that’s just the [current] landscape of college basketball. You’re going to have a lot of transfers, but you’ve got just pick out the right transfers that can add value to your team. I think my staff has done a really good job of doing that so far.”

Sending his regulars off to appreciative cheers from the crowd of 2,613 also provided an additional meaningful moment for a rarely used player on Hofstra’s roster when Claxton inserted local freshman guard Jayden Henriquez (from neighboring East Meadow, N.Y.) for just the second time this season.

Having logged only three prior career minutes at the end of the Pride’s 32-point win at North Carolina A&T exactly two weeks earlier, Henriquez missed his second shot of the season with 3:04 left but recorded his first career basket when he banked in a 27-foot 3-pointer 1:02 later to give Hofstra an 84-61 lead.

It’s extremely rewarding because you always want to win on Senior Night,” Claxton said. “All day, I was thinking about and praying that we would win tonight, and not just win, but win big so Jayden could get in. I [saw] his father in the stands before [the opening] tip. I was just hoping that he’d get a chance to see his son play, so that was a special moment. To see [Henriquez] bank in a 3, I’m sure [his father] was extremely proud.”

As for the CAA’s leading scorer and conference Player of the Year candidate, Thomas reflected fondly on his move from three years as Sacred Heart — the last two as the program’s leader scorer — to becoming the Pride’s 24th-leading scorer all-time (two spots behind Dubar).

It’s been a great decision,” Thomas said. “These guys believed in me from the jump and Day One. They made a plan for me and I just followed the plan, and everything they said was true so far.”

Moving to within a half-game of UNCW and staying a half-game ahead of Drexel (both of which play on Monday). Hofstra also went up one game on fifth-place Towson (which lost at home earlier in the day to Charleston) in its quest to secure a top-four seed to earn a double bye in next month’s CAA tournament.

A great win,” Claxton said. “We handled business the right way and we validated Thursday’s huge win.”

Although there is still much to be decided in the final week of the regular season, the Pride is confident it can compete well and continue to win as it embarks on the toughest possible road trip it could have, going to UNCW on Thursday and concluding at Charleston next Saturday before playing in the CAA tournament the following weekend in Washington, D.C.

Focusing on Hofstra’s 23-3 record in the month of February (including 7-1 this year) under its third-year head coach, Carlos said (drawing laughs from Claxton and Thomas), “Like we say, February is Speedy Month. We always kind of find ways to go into March [hot], so that’s good momentum. We’re going to finish out strong and win those three games in D.C.”

Thomas added, “Going off that, I think we’re mentally prepared, physically prepared, to go win two on the road and three in D.C.”

To accomplish that, Claxton believes two keys are to continue to get help from up front — particularly from Fritz – and to keep holding opponents down defensively.

After seeing Fritz’s first double-double in a Hofstra uniform, Claxton said, “Jacco was huge. Whenever we get that kind of production from our bigs, it takes us to another level. I hope Jacco has finally settled in here and he’s comfortable. When he gives us minutes and point production like that, we’re tough to beat.”

Picking a single primary objective for the Pride’s last road trip of the season — whether it’s the Pride maintaining its good play going into the CAA tournament, securing a top-four seed (to avoid having to win a fourth game in four days in D.C.), or sending a message and making a pre-tournament statement against the league’s top two teams on their own floors — may be just as difficult as winning at UNCW and Charleston next week, but according to Claxton, that all stems from Hofstra’s defense.

It’s pretty much all of the above,” Claxton said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time and just go out and kind of do the things that we’ve been doing to keep winning. That starts on the defensive end. We’ve got to go down there and guard these guys and if we do that, it’ll put us in a really good position to win.”

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons).Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship).He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

Get connected with us on Social Media