Coach Mo Cassara must have known his team was going to be in for a battle when he saw that Northeastern had defeated VCU 91-80 on Wednesday. That was only the second loss in conference for VCU, a team that had defeated Hofstra 82-67 six days before. The Huskies had now won four in a row in conference after an 0-8 start. This was not the same team Hofstra had beat up in Matthews Arena 76-67 earlier in the season.
Another good crowd came out to the Mack Center, though it was not a capacity crowd like the Saturday prior against Drexel. The Hofstra students did their part as the Lions Den section was again full to capacity, armed with free Hofstra T shirts from State Farm (who sponsored the game yesterday). And they were about to be rewarded for their loyalty to their team.
From the start, both teams gave notice to the 3,786 in attendance that this was going to be a high scoring affair. Chaisson Allen was trying to take on the whole Hofstra team in the first quarter of the half. Allen buried two threes and hit a layup in the first five and a half minutes. Meanwhile, Charles Jenkins, Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore returned fire, all burying threes. A little more than six minutes in and Hofstra was up 13-12.
But there was something unusual happening. Jenkins seemed to be not to be the usual Charles in Charge on Saturday. He missed a layup he would usually make and then he got fouled during a three point attempt with Hofstra up 18-17. Up to the foul line went the fourth leading free throw shooter in the CAA. And to the crowd's disbelief, Jenkins missed every free throw. Northeastern's Jonathan Lee hit a jumper and instead of Hofstra being up by four, they were down by one, 19-18.
The first half continued to be a back and forth affair. Northeastern would grab the lead, then Hofstra would take it back. By my count, there were eight lead changes in the first half. The Huskies would have the final say in the first half as Kauri Black hit a dunk to put Northeastern up 37-36. Both teams shot extremely well from the floor in the first half. Northeastern shot 52 percent, while Hofstra shot 50 percent. Allen had 15 points at the half on 6 of 9 shooting. The Pride countered shooting 7 of 12 from beyond the arc.
The second half saw Northeastern come out and dominate the better part of the second half. Joel Smith and Kauri Black lead the Huskies on a 13-2 run over barely a four minute period. A Smith three capped the run and put Noreaster up 57-44 with 13:09 left. After Hofstra cut the deficit down to nine, Northeastern extended the lead to fourteen 66-52 with 9:26 left on another three by Jonathan Lee. The Pride looked to be in serious trouble of losing their second home game in a row.
Then matters got worse. After Moore cut the deficit to 66-54, Allen, who should be voted "Best Actor in the CAA", barely bumped into Jenkins and threw his head back as if he was shot. The referee called Jenkins for his fourth foul. Jenkins went to the bench and with 8:52 left, Hofstra was staring at its fourth loss in a row.
Then with an assist from an extremely loud Lions Den section, Allen was very off with his free throw on a one and one attempt and Hofstra grabbed the rebound. Then with their leader sitting on the bench, the Pride dug deep and responded with nine additional points in not even two minutes. Two Moore free throws made the score 66-63 Northeastern with seven minutes left. But the Huskies responded to the Pride run by extending the lead to 75-68 with 3:52 left, the last two points courtesy of two Allen free throws, his last points of the game. Little did anyone know at the moment, that these two free throws also turned out to be Northeastern's last points of the game as well.
Hofstra would respond with a game ending run. Moore started it with a layup, then two layups by Jenkins, the second of which he was fouled by Allen on. With a chance to tie the game at 75, Jenkins then stunned the crowd again by missing his fifth free throw on the day. But Shemiye McLendon stole a pass and was fouled on a layup attempt. McLendon, described by a fan behind me as "a kid with ice water in his veins" calmly sank both free throws to put Hofstra up 76-75 with 1:31 left.
Then came the exciting finish. Hofstra forced Smith to shoot an off balance three point attempt which missed. However, the Pride couldn't gather the rebound as their season long problem, lack of good board work bit them again. But Hofstra's strong defense forced another off balance three point attempt, this time by Allen as the shot clock expired and the Pride this time gathered the rebound with 57 seconds left.
The Pride worked the clock down and got the ball in the hands of Jenkins, who forced a layup attempt. The Huskies grabbed the rebound and had an attempt to take the lead again with 21 seconds left. But Greg Washington blocked Smith's layup attempt with seven seconds left. Hofstra grabbed the ball and Moore hit McLendon with a long pass. Allen was forced to foul McLendon with six seconds left. Not only did McLendon sink two more free throws but the foul was Allen's fifth. The game ended with Allen sitting on the bench while Hofstra snuffed Northeastern's attempt to shoot a three. The buzzer sounded with a ball scramble at the top of the key. Using a 10-0 game ending run, Hofstra survived with a 78-75 win that gave them a tie of third place with ODU, who got pounded by George Mason earlier in the day.
Despite what seemed to be a really off day, especially at the line, where he was 2 of 7, Jenkins still had 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting. He did only have 3 assists and had 3 turnovers. Moore had a double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Kelleher had his best game for Hofstra with twelve points on 5 of 6 shooting, six assists and only one turnover.
Northeastern sure doesn't look like a now 4-9 team in conference and certainly didn't play that way. Allen had 21 points to lead five Northeastern scorers in double figures, but only had 6 points in the second half. Joel Smith had 14 points, Kauri Black added 13, Ryan Pierson 12 and Jonathan Lee added 10 for the Huskies who shot 47 percent from the field for the game.
Yesterday morning, I wrote an article about the five things Hofstra must to do to get rolling again. Let's see if they accomplished any of those things.
1) Rebounding - Though Hofstra did not win the rebounding battle with Northeastern, the Pride were a lot more competitive on the boards than their last three game as the Huskies only outrebounded them 30-28. Northeastern did have twelve offensive rebounds (Kauri Black had six of them) but that beats the twenty Drexel had vs. Hofstra. Definitely an improvement, but still needs work.
2) Balance and Ball Movement - Good balance and ball movement. The Pride had three scorers in double figures - Jenkins, Moore and Kelleher. The Pride are now 13-1 when three or more players score in double figures. But others added points too. McLendon had nine points and Greg Washington ended his scoreless streak with eight points. The ball movement was so much better than the last three games. It resulted in a lot of open three point looks and the Pride were 9 of 18 from beyond the arc, and shot 50 percent overall. As stated, Kelleher had six assists and Washington had four as well. Much better.
3) Get to the Line - Hofstra did a much better job of getting to the line with 24 free throw attempts. Hofstra hit only 17 but that was due in most part to Jenkins off day of 2 for 7 from the line. McLendon was a perfect 6 for 6, Moore 5 for 6 and Washington a perfect 4 for 4. The Pride must continue to get to the line.
4) Guard the Three - Northeastern was 4 of 9 in the first half, but only 2 of 9 in the second half as the Pride did a much better job guarding the three. Holding the Huskies, who had been shooting 52 percent from three in their three previous games, to 6 of 18 overall from beyond the arc was a good accomplishment. Keep up the good work.
5) Dig Deep - Though Coach Cassara only used eight players and the eighth man in the row Stephen Nwaukoni only played four minutes, the team dug deep for two big runs in the second half. Most impressive was the 11-0 run that the Pride had while Jenkins for the most part was on the bench. That showed a lot of heart.
It was an exciting game to be at and should have given the Pride a shot of needed confidence for their next game at Georgia State. As previously noted, Hofstra is tied with ODU for third place, one game ahead of Drexel in the standings. As for Northeastern, I wouldn't want to be Pat Kennedy when Towson faces them at Matthews Arena on Wednesday. As VCU and Hofstra have found out, the Huskies are one team that no one in the CAA wants to play right now.