Coming off a twenty six point loss to Wright State on Saturday, Hofstra needed to bounce back against UNCW. To do so, the Pride had to play an all around better game against the Seahawks. And Coach Mo Cassara decided to ride his starters for just about the entire night. And one starter in particular came through in a big way.
As the game started, the UNCW feed looked like something from the good old days of old broadcast antenna TV. The feed was warbled and there was the potential that this would rank up there with the Georgia State and William and Mary video feeds. But thanks to the intrepid help of UNC Wilmington beat writer Brian Mull via Twitter, the feed was fixed. However, Jerry Beach described it best stating the feed "...is redefining my fear of heights".
The first half truly was a duel between Charles Jenkins and Chad Tomko. Jenkins and Tomko might as well have been singing on the court "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better", minus the six shooters. Both were unstoppable in the first twenty minutes. Jenkins was 6 of 8 from the field in the first half, while Tomko was 5 of 8 from the field in the first half. Each ended up with fourteen points for the half. And it figured that the score was tied thirty all after twenty minutes
But there were a couple of interesting things taking place for the Pride. First, Hofstra's usual sixth man off the bench, Shemiye McLendon, never came in at all in the first half. In fact he never came into the game at all, due to what Brian Mull later quoted Coach Cassara saying as "a teaching moment". One of the first players off the bench for Hofstra was seldom used Matt Grogan. Second, both David Imes and Greg Washington stayed out of foul trouble, so they stayed on the court the entire half. Outside of Grogan, only Yves Jules played significant minutes off the bench for the Pride.
The second half was close for the first ten minutes as Hofstra took the lead from the start but couldn't extend it to more than six points, 47-41. However, there was a major difference in the first part of the second half. Cassara put Jules on Tomko and the Pride sophomore guard held UNCW's version of Jenkins scoreless for the first ten minutes. The UNCW radio announcers raved about Jules and how he was so aggressively playing defense on Tomko.
The Pride finally extended the lead out to seven points, 52-45 on a Mike Moore jumper with exactly ten minutes left. But during this time, Jules left the game and Tomko came alive. Tomko hit a sick looking off balance jumper to cut the lead to five. Jenkins hit a three to put Hofstra up eight, 55-47. But then, Tomko nailed a three, then a layup and assisted on a Keith Rendleman layup. Just like that, the score was now 55-54 with 6:33 left. And a few minutes later, a Darryl Felder three tied the game at 59 with 3:49 left.
But Hofstra's player of the game came through. It wasn't who you normally think with Hofstra. After Dante Morales blocked a Jenkins shot, Imes hit a jumper to put the Pride up 61-59 with about three minutes left. Imes was all over the court last night for Hofstra as he had 12 points and 17 rebounds including five on the offensive end. After Jules harassed Tomko into missing a three point jumper, Moore buried a three pointer to put Hofstra up five, 64-59.
UNCW would not go away though. Keith Rendleman would score the Seahawks next five points and the score was 68-64. But UNCW could not get any closer as Rendleman missed the front end of a one and one and Tomko, thanks in large part to Jules, missed his last five shots. The Pride would win 71-64.
Tomko and Rendleman did all they could for the Seahawks. Tomko, of course, nearly matched Jenkins with 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting and seven assists. Rendleman was very impressive with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting and 9 rebounds. Senior Darryl Felder had a season high 13 points on Senior Night for UNCW.
As for the Pride, Jenkins had another solid night with 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting and five assists, though he only shot 2 of 5 from the line. Moore earned his 20 points by shooting 8 of 10 from the field. With Jenkins, Moore and Imes all scoring in double digits, the Pride are now 17-1 when three or more players score in double digits. Greg Washington had a nice stat line with seven points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
But it was only fitting that Imes gave them the lead last night. Based on Beach's pre-game thoughts, Imes took the Wright State loss very hard. And he channeled that and came out playing 38 minutes of tough defensive basketball. And he made some key fouls shots going 6 of 7 from the line. When you think about it, this is really the sophomore Imes' freshman season. He played six minutes a game last season under Tom Pecora. And that's when he played. Due to injury or coach's decision, Imes only played in twenty of the Pride's thirty four games last season. That wasn't much time to develop his game.
When Hofstra hosted the Season Ticket Holder Reception in October of last year, Coach Cassara stated publicly that Imes had been impressive during practice and would be a big part of the team this season. Cassara was correct, as Imes' work ethic has shown through. After averaging six minutes a game last season, Imes now averages thirty minutes a game. He also now has six double-doubles on the season. Hofstra is 6-0 when Imes has a double double.
With the win, Hofstra (19-10, 13-4 CAA) is now technically in second place in the CAA after VCU lost at Drexel. The Pride are still tied with the Monarchs of ODU in the loss column. ODU still has to play their game tonight at James Madison and holds the tiebreaker on Hofstra, having beat them at the Mack earlier in the year. If Hofstra defeats Delaware on Saturday, they can finish no lower than third.
Before the season began, the Pride lost two of their likely starters to transfer and a third starter/sixth man, Nathaniel Lester, to injury. Not too many people thought Hofstra would be 13-4 and in third place in the CAA at this moment in time. It's a pretty impressive feat by the Pride and their season is still far from over. Yes, Jenkins has been the main focal point and Moore has been a very solid wingman.
But last night, Imes came through when the Pride desperately needed him. They are going to need him more and more come CAA Tournament time.