Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hofstra Beats Cleveland State at Its Own Game

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day in Rhode Island.  The temperature was around sixty degrees as I left my hotel and took the short drive down to Newport.  I spent part of the morning sightseeing, first around town, then I visited the Newport Shipyard.   I had never seen so many large expensive boats in one place in all my life.

As I walked back from the shipyard past the Marriott where the Hofstra team was staying, an older gentleman came up to his wife by the dock and said "The Hofstra University basketball team was having a team meeting in one of the rooms...". I didn't hear the end of the conversation, but I smiled as I made my way back to town.  It was nice to hear your home team making an impression on someone in Newport.

I got to the Ryan Center about an hour early before game time. When I sat down in my seat, the Pride were practicing on the floor.  Hofstra assistant coach Patrick Sellers was working with reserve Matt Grogan about defensive positioning.  After watching the game between Cleveland State and Hofstra, it definitely felt that the entire team was listening to Sellars.

When I watched Cleveland State play Boston University in the first game on Friday afternoon, I could see why the Vikings knocked off Vanderbilt and Kent State.  They play an aggressive man to man defense and every shot, pass and move are contested.  Watching two rows from the court yesterday, I can honestly tell you that Cleveland State is literally in your face.  They are literally on their man and it creates a very intense atmosphere.  You need to bring your lunch and be up to the task of playing them.

In the first half, it was clear that Cleveland State's had two game plans on defense.  The first was to come out with a press defense similar to the one that Rhode Island did so effectively against Hofstra.  The Pride were somewhat affected by the press, but not to the degree it was against the Rams.   The second was to take Hofstra's Mike Moore out of the game. D'Aundray Brown was assigned to Moore and he stuck to him like glue.  Moore attempted only three shots in the first twenty minutes, missed them all and only had one point.

However, the Pride found another scoring option in the first half and it came from an unlikely source. Reserve sophomore forward Stephen Nwaukoni came off the bench and sparked Hofstra with eight points, several of which came from offensive rebounds.  Nwaukoni had a career high with twelve points on the game.

The teams played evenly for the first twenty minutes as the largest lead by either team was four points.  The Pride took a late three point first half lead on two free throws by Nathaniel Lester.  But Jeremy Montgomery buried a long three pointer just before the buzzer and tied the game at twenty nine at the half.

Hofstra came out and took its biggest lead of the game at that time, 33-29 on two layups by Lester and Steve Mejia.  But the Vikings came back with a 13-4 run and took their largest lead of the game, 42-37 as Brown, their leading scorer on the season, scored the last two points of the run on a layup.

But the Pride followed back with a huge run of their own.  Over the next seven minutes, Hofstra outscored Cleveland State 20-4.   The Pride were mostly lead by their reserves Nwaukoni, Dwan McMillan and Bryant Crowder,  They combined to score sixteen of those twenty points.  Hofstra was up 57-46 with six and half minutes remaining.

The Vikings were frustrated on offense, as the Pride held them to 37.5 percent shooting on the field.  And when Cleveland State missed, Hofstra cleaned up on the glass.  In the second half, the Pride outrebounded the Vikings 20-8.   Cleveland State had only two offensive rebounds in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Cleveland State's frustration boiled over on one play late in the game.  On a fast break, Crowder was going in for a dunk attempt.  The Vikings' Aaron Pogue clearly intentionally fouled Crowder, who crashed to the floor and then was writing in pain on the court.  As the fans booed Pogue, Crowder was helped off the court.  Lester hit one of two free throws.   Hofstra would go on to win 63-53.

The bench came up huge for Hofstra.  Besides Nwaukoni's career high twelve points, McMillan matched him with twelve points and Crowder added eight.  The Pride Bench outscored the Vikings bench 32-14.   Lester and Mejia each had ten points.  Moore was held to five points overall, fifteen less than his season average. Hofstra shot 51 percent for the game, including 57 percent in the second half.

As for Cleveland State, they were led by Montgomery who had twelve points and Brown, who fouled out, had ten points.  The Vikings only had eleven free throw attempts as opposed to thirty one for the Pride.   Cleveland State was held to four of nineteen shooting from beyond the arc and scored their lowest point total of the season.  The Vikings had twenty nine fouls on the game and coach Gary Waters was clearly not happy with the officiating.

After a tough loss against the Rams on their home court, the Pride rebounded with their best effort of the season against a team many think could be the favorite to win the Horizon League.   And they did it in large part on the defensive end.   Hofstra truly beat Cleveland State at its own game yesterday.

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