Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hofstra Rallies to Win The "Jordan Allen Invitational"

On Monday night, Hofstra hosted 1-9 Sacred Heart in the last non-conference game for the Pride before the start of the CAA conference schedule on Thursday vs. Delaware.   It was also the return of Jordan Allen to the Mack Center.  Allen played two seasons for Hofstra before transferring to the Pioneers.  

Just like their 68-54 win over now 2-10 Florida Atlantic, the Pride would struggle against a seemingly lesser opponent.  An opponent whose only win came in their first game of the season, a win over fellow Connecticut school Quinnipiac.    It was the same old song for the Pride, a lack of defense, a lack of bench play and bad shot selection that was nearly their undoing.

Early on, it was a back and forth affair.  Cane Broome, who was the best player on the court for nearly the entire game, scored the first five Pioneers' points.  Sean Hoehn's three pointer would give Sacred Heart an early 10-8 lead.   But Hofstra's Brian Bernardi answered with two three pointers of his own to put the Pride back in front 14-10.

Next it was a battle of the big men.  Rokas Gustys, who was a force inside all night for Hofstra, would score the Pride's next nine points.  His layup on an assist from Juan'ya Green would put the Pride up 23-19.  However, Sacred Heart's Eyimofe Edukugho, a senior from Nigeria who only averages five points per game, would keep his team in the game, scoring six straight points.  His layup, assisted by Allen would cut the Pride lead to two, 23-21.  Then Allen assisted again on Quincy McKnight's layup and one, which would put the Pioneers up briefly 24-23.   Ameen Tanksley would then hit one of his few baskets all night, a three pointer that put Hofstra up 26-24 with 8:05 left in the half.

It was over the last eight minutes of the half that we would see the Pride's three biggest weaknesses come into play.   First, Sacred Heart would score fifteen of their last seventeen points on layups as the Pride's tallest player on the court for most of that time was the six foot six Nichols as Gustys would pick up his second foul during this time and head to the bench.   Cane Broome would score six straight points, all on layups,  to give the Pioneers a 30-26 lead.  Later, Allen would score five straight points, including a three point play to extend the Sacred Heart lead to eight, 37-29.  

During this time, the Pride went ice cold from the field, or more specifically, from beyond the three point arc.  Abandoning the strong inside work of Gustys, Hofstra settled for shooting, or better yet, clanking three pointers.  They would miss six out of their last seven three point attempts in the half.  The Pride did manage an 8-2 run thanks to Bernardi and Green attacking the basket.   Green's two free throws would cut the deficit to two before Broome's last layup of the first half gave the Pioneers a 41-37 halftime lead.

The first half stats showed the Pride's weaknesses. Sacred Heart would shoot 18 of 32 from the field and out rebounded Hofstra 21-13.  The Pride were also an abysmal 5 of 18 from beyond the arc in the first half.  Thus your halftime score.

You would have figured that Hofstra would have made some halftime adjustments and fix both ends of their play for the start of the second half.   

You thought wrong.

The Pioneers would out score the Pride 9-2 at the start of the second half, as they continued to score at will inside.  Meanwhile Hofstra would turn the ball over twice and miss two outside jumpers.  Their only points during the span came on two Bernardi free throws.  An Edukugho layup would give Sacred Heart their biggest lead of the game, eleven at 50-39.

Down eleven and staring at possibly the worst loss of the season so far for Hofstra, the light bulb came on for the Pride as they remembered their inside game.   Green and Gustys pounded the paint for layups and the Pride cut the deficit to four, 54-50.   But Gustys would pick up his third and fourth fouls and he again headed to the bench.  The lack of the Pride's best post player stymied their run and Sacred Heart would maintain the lead.  

Broome and Allen would combine for six points over a ninety second span.  Broome would have twenty five points with 9:38 left in the game and then assist on an Allen layup that gave Sacred Heart a 65-58 lead with 8:42 left in the game.   

But Broome would never score again.   Yes, you know what happens next.

Over a span of a little more than four minutes, the Pride would go on a 14-1 run, thanks in large part to Green driving the lane for several points and Bernardi burying two three pointers.  Green's layup would give the Pride a 72-66 lead with 4:27 left in the game. 

Allen would keep the Pioneers in the game with two free throws and later a Matej Buovac three pointer would cut the deficit to three, 76-73.  But Green would end the game with four free throws and the Pride escaped with an 80-73 win.

Broome led all scorers with twenty five points, but his game ending scoring drought over the last nine and a half minutes doomed the Pioneers, who lost their sixth game of the season by nine points or less.  Edukugho, a reserve player who had scored no more than eleven points in a game in his career, the opening game of the season win over Quinnipiac, scored seventeen points in sixteen minutes of action.   Allen added eleven points and four assists, showing off the passing skills he had in his first two seasons with Hofstra.   Sacred Heart, who has played nine of their eleven games on the road so far on the season, shot a very solid forty eight percent from the field.

For the Pride, Green led the way with twenty two points, six assists and five rebounds, shooting six of twelve from the field and ten of thirteen from the line.  It was by far his best game in quite a while.  Bernardi added eighteen points, while Gustys had a double double with seventeen points and ten rebounds.  When Gustys scores in double figures, the Pride are 6-0.  Denton Koon added ten points.  Tanksley, who came in as one of the top scorers in the CAA had a very off night, only scoring seven points on two of nine from the field.

The Pride had an terrible night shooting from beyond the arc, as they went eight of twenty seven.  They had much better success from two point range, shooting eighteen of thirty five.   They made up for their lack of success from beyond the arc by going to the line twenty nine times, making twenty of those attempts.

However, two numbers stand out from the game. Sacred Heart had forty two points in the paint. FORTY TWO.  And the Hofstra bench, what there is of it, scored six points.  

Combine those numbers with the Pride's woeful three point shooting and you had the near win by the now 1-10 Pioneers.    The Pride are 263 in the country in two point field goal percentage defense, allowing 51.7 percent per game.  A lot of this has to do with their lack of footwork on the defensive end.  

But also some of it has to do with their shot block percentage defense, ranked #300 in the country.    Yet Sophomore Andre Walker, a six foot ten forward who had three or more blocks in four games last season and who had four blocks and ten rebounds against Wagner last season, another NEC opponent, didn't play at all last night.  Surely Walker could have come in late in the first half when Gustys had to go with the bench with two fouls.    Walker plays thirteen minutes vs. Florida State yet none against Sacred Heart?  Come on.

I've said a lot of things about Tom Pecora over the years, but one thing his Hofstra teams did was play defense and usually had a shot blocking presence like Adrian Uter or Greg Washington.  With Walker barely playing, this team has neither.

And the Pride bench last night was basically Malik Nichols, who scored all six bench points for the Pride, and Desure Buie, who played ten minutes but didn't score.  Justin Wright Foreman played one minute, Walker of course didn't play at all and Jamall Robinson, who averaged nearly ten points a game as a freshman and contributed significant minutes off the bench for Hofstra as a sophomore, is seemingly redshirted for the season.   

I can tell you this much.  They could sure use Allen.   A big man who can pass and shoots high percentage shots (shooting fifty two percent from the field on the season).

I've watched CAA games and gone to many CAA Tournaments the past fifteen years.  Simply put, you can't consistently win in the CAA with a two man bench, especially trying to win three games in three days in Baltimore in March.  

You can't. 

Over the past three games I've watched in person; Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic and now Sacred Heart, I've talked to several Hofstra fans, whether in our seats or talking with them in the stands during halftime etc.  They have the same complaints, so I know it's not just me.  Lack of defense, a lack of commitment to an inside game, too three point happy and a lack of a bench.  It doesn't sound like a recipe for winning the CAA Tournament, which Hofstra was predicted to at the beginning of the season.

The Pride needs to realize these things fast and try to fix them.   Conference play starts Thursday at home vs. Delaware.  

Whether they act on them is another matter.

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