HEMPSTEAD, N.Y — If not for an inability to pull out some earlier one-possession losses, the Hofstra Pride wouldn’t have started a disappointing 1-3 in conference play and might currently be at the top of the Coastal Athletic Association standings.
But after losing three CAA games by a total of just seven points, Hofstra (13-10, 6-4 CAA) may be starting to figure out how to finish those types of contests even when the Pride is on the short end of some categories in ways that would cause most teams to have little chance of winning.
After beating Stony Brook by one point on a last-second shot — by graduate guard Tyler Thomas — despite being outscored 20-0 off the bench on Thursday night, Hofstra found a way to gut out a defensive struggle, edging the Towson Tigers, 59-56, even though Towson (14-9, 7-3 CAA) held sizable advantages of 17-6 in offensive rebounds, 17-3 in second-chance points, 14-2 in made free throws, and 9-0 in fast break points before a boisterous winter homecoming crowd of 3,743 at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Saturday night.
One thing the Tigers couldn’t do was shoot well, going just 18-for-60 (30 percent), including 6-for-24 (25 percent) from 3-point range while the Pride shot much better, at 23-for-51 (45.1 percent), including a sizzling 11-for-23 (47.8 percent) from behind the arc.
Thomas continued his own hot-shooting turnaround of late, scoring a game-high 23 points, while making nine of 17 shots overall and half of his eight 3-point attempts. Thomas is 12-for-26 from 3-point range over his last three games after shooting 2-for-25 from that distance over his prior three contests. He also dished out a game-high and career-best nine assists while pulling down a team-high tying seven rebounds.
Head coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton said of Thomas, “He’s a [conference] Player of the Year type candidate, a First Team All-League guy, and we’re gonna ride with him. It’s going to be important for him to play like that the remainder of the way if we want to win.”
Junor transfer guard Darlinstone Dubar complemented Thomas with 14 points, making four of seven 3-point shots to help hold off Towson.
The teams played to a 28-28 first-half tie after the Tigers started the game up 6-2 and finished the half on a 10-2 run with the Pride controlling things by a count of 24-12 in between, taking the half’s largest lead at 24-15, on a step-back 3-pointer from Thomas.
Starting the second half on a 10-3 spurt (making it a 20-5 stretch spanning both halves), Towson grabbed a 38-31 lead almost five minutes after halftime, but Hofstra countered with a 19-4 run to go up 50-42 on a layup by backup center Silas Sunday with 7:06 remaining.
While those were Sunday’s only points and he didn’t get a rebound, the normally little-used seven-foot, 280-pound sophomore transfer had two blocks and played a key role in helping to neutralize the bigger and more physical Tigers’ front line during his 15 minutes, the most Sunday had played in 14 games.
“Silas was huge,” Claxton said. “He’s a big presence and playing against [Towson’s] bigs and their physicality, we needed him tonight, and he stepped up in a big way. He provided great minutes for us.”
Thomas extended Hofstra’s big second-half stretch further, to 23-7, on a four-point play, hitting a left corner 3-pointer while being fouled by redshirt freshman guard Dylan Williamson in front of the Pride’s bench. Thomas made the ensuring free throw for a 54-45 lead (matching the game’s biggest margin) with 5:29 to go after he was mobbed by his teammates as the Lion’s Den student section exploded at the other end of the court.
“[Williamson] backed up and there was enough space to get [the shot] off,” Thomas recalled.
Claxton interjected, “I’m glad he shot it.”
Thomas continued, “I passed up some [shots earlier] and Speedy was mad.”
Claxton responded with a laugh, which likewise drew a laugh from Thomas, “Shoot the ball, you’re open.”
Recalling Thomas’ game-winner on Thursday night, Claxton added, “Big Shot Ty. That’s what we expect. We knew that him making that last shot against Stony Brook was extremely important. I think that kind of carried him over to today.”
Seemingly figuring out things on offense recently, Thomas said, “I’m just trying to take what the defense gives me every night. [Towson] really tried to get the ball out of my hands and my teammates made shots tonight. When they went to the low drop [coverage], I like the low drop because it helps me score and get to my own spots.”
Although Hofstra seemed in control after Thomas’ four-point trip, Towson scored the next nine points to tie the game for a sixth time with 3:24 left, but the Pride would need Thomas to still make more plays for his teammates and for himself.
Drawing attention in the lane on a drive, Thomas found Jacco Fritz with a nice pass for the graduate transfer forward’s only points on a layup that put Hofstra in front for good, 56-54, with 2:16 remaining.
A defensive rebound by Thomas with 1:07 left led to a Thomas 3-pointer and a 59-54 lead with 42.5 seconds to play.
Thomas almost cost his team in the final seconds when was trapped along his own baseline and turned the ball over, leading to a Towson layup, which brought the Tigers to within 59-56 with 8.8 seconds left.
Carlos then missed the front end of a one-and-one with exactly eight second to go, giving Towson one last chance, but Williamson missed a right wing 3-pointer with two seconds left as Dubar grabbed one last rebound to seal the victory.
For much of the game, the best offensive option for the Tigers — who only had two players score in double figures and had no scorers tally more than 12 points — was a missed shot and trying to score of an offensive rebound or getting a trip to the foul line, where Towson was 14-for-15, including 10-for-11 in the second half.
While the Tigers had seven first-half offensive rebounds and another nine over the first 8:47 of the second half, Towson managed only one more offensive board (with 30 seconds left) the rest of the way.
Claxton recollected, “In one of those timeouts coming down the stretch, we said to our guys, ‘Listen, if we could clean up the offensive rebounds, we can win this game. They can’t beat us if they don’t offensive rebound,’ and to these kids’ credit, they stopped giving up offensive rebounds, and that’s why we won.”
Claxton noted, “Towson [is] a very physical team. We still gave up 17 offensive rebounds and I think if we would have limited that a little bit, we would have put ourselves in a better position. We knew… they were going to be up for the challenge and we didn’t back down, not one bit.
“We showed a lot of toughness and that was the number one key going into the game. We had to be the tougher team and I thought for 40 minutes, we were, and that’s why we won.”
Some of the energy needed to display that toughness came from a good crowd which received replica throwback jerseys like Claxton wore when he starred for Hofstra in the same building more than two decades ago.
“When we can play in front of a crowd like that, that’s gonna be our sixth man,” Claxton said. “These kids, they deserve to play in front of a crowd like that. Kudos to the students for showing up and to the fans. That’s a great college basketball atmosphere. That’s a real home court advantage.”
Following two important wins that moved the Pride into a two-way with Delaware for fifth-place in the CAA, one game behind Towson and two other teams that are tied with the Tigers, and two games behind first-place Drexel, Claxton said, “A great job by the guys, way to protect home court. We knew that this was an extremely important week for our season and I’m glad we got two [wins]. I’m happy with the way we played.”
Commenting on Hofstra’s ability to beat Stony Brook and Towson while playing two different styles over three days, Claxton said, “If you want to get into a shootout, we can do that, and then if you want to play big boy basketball, we can do that also. So, two different styles, and we were ready for both of them. I’m happy with the way we carried ourselves this week.”
Thomas said that focusing on each game and each possession rather than looking at the larger team goals was a key for the Pride during the week. “That’s been the motto the last couple of games and it helps us,” he said.
Winning for the fifth time in six games — particularly making a statement against a team that entered the day alone in second place — after Hofstra’s bad start, Thomas added, “It means a lot to our guys. It helps build our confidence to let us know we are a championship [caliber] team.”
Claxton added, “This put us right back in the mix of things. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
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