Free Throws, Defense Help Hofstra Edge St. Francis

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – By halftime on Saturday, the Hofstra Pride men’s basketball team found itself in the identical situation it was in last week – only this time, it was much tougher for the Pride to finish with the same positive result.

Eight days prior, Hofstra (2-1) turned a 32-30 halftime lead into an 89-71 home victory over Long Island University on the strength of 71.4 percent field goal shooting during a 57-point second-half explosion.

Leading another local opponent – the St.Francis (NY) Terriers – by the same halftime score on Saturday, the Pride shot just 33.3 percent (10-for-30) from the floor after intermission, but closed the game on a 6-2 run over the final 5:32 to gut out a hard-fought 63-59 win before 2,133 at the David S. Mack Sports Complex.

Senior guard Mike Moore led all scorers, matching his uniform number with 23 points while pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds, and although Shemiye McClendon scored just four points (4.5 points below his season average) in 27 minutes, the sophomore guard’s only field goal put Hofstra ahead to stay with 4:21 left, before McClendon sealed the win with a steal and a pair of free throws in the closing seconds.

Those final two foul shots were part of a huge game-deciding advantage for the Pride, which was the far more aggressive team.

Hofstra shot didn’t shoot well from the foul line (just 63.9 percent), but the Pride took 23 more free throws (36-13) and made 13 more (23-10) than St. Francis (0-3), which was whistled for 12 more personal fouls (25) than Hofstra (12).

By design, the Pride not only tried to get into the paint offensively, but Hofstra also wanted to keep St. Francis on the perimeter, defensively.

“We thought if we kept them under ten threes, we would win,” said second-year Hofstra head coach Mo Cassara. “We didn’t think they could make enough two’s to beat us.”

Nearly half of the Terriers’ field goal attempts were from behind the three-point arc, as St. Francis made five more three-pointers than Hofstra (on 19 more attempts), but shot an inefficient 28 percent (7-for-25) from three-point range.

Overall, the Terriers made two more field goals than the Pride, shooting 39.6 percent (21-for-53) from the floor while Hofstra made 38.8 percent (19 of 49) of its field goal attempts.

St. Francis also held a 38-33 rebounding edge, but Hofstra’s assertiveness with getting to the free throw line (12-for-19 in the first half and 11-17 in the final 20 minutes) persisted throughout the game.

Senior forward Nathaniel Lester (13 points, 5-14 fg, 3-4 ft, 9 rebounds) started the scoring by making one of two free throws 1:04 into the game, but the Terriers’ only two players to reach double figures in scoring – junior forwards Travis Nichols (12 points, 5-7 fg, 5 rebounds) and Akeem Johnson (11 points, 5-9 fg, 7 rebounds) combined for the next five points, to put St. Francis ahead, 5-1, 2:32 into the game.

That would be the Terriers’ largest lead, one that they would match only one other time, however.

Moore (7-16 fg, 8-12 ft) scored five straight points on a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to cap a 9-2 Pride run that put Hofstra back in front, 10-7, with 14:28 left in the opening half.

The Terriers responded with a 10-3 run to lead 17-13 on a three-pointer by sophomore guard P.J. Santavenere (his only points on 1-for-4 fg) with 10:50 remaining in the half.

However, junior forward David Imes (6 points, 3 rebounds) made his only three-pointer (in three attempts) from the left corner to cap a 15-5 Hofstra spurt (keyed by seven points from Moore) to give the Pride its largest lead, 28-22, with 3:20 to go in the half.

A three-pointer by senior Serbian forward Stefan Perunicic (8 points, 3 rebounds) with 31.6 seconds left in the half brought St. Francis to within two points by the break.

Unlike Hofstra’s previous home win over LIU, a game that featured nine ties and 12 lead changes remained close the rest of the way.

A three-point play by Imes and a layup by senior point guard Dwan McMillan (8 points, 6-10 ft) broke the game’s seventh tie and gave the Pride a 47-42 advantage with 14:30 left in the game, but senior guard Brent Jones (6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) scored the next four points to spark an 8-0 Terriers run to put the Terriers back in front, 50-47.

A layup by Moore finished a 7-2 Hofstra run to regain the lead for the Pride, 54-52, but a right-corner three-pointer from sophomore guard Ben Mockford (8 points, 7 rebounds, 2-10 fg, 2-9 3-pt. fg) and a fast break layup by Perunicic gave St. Francis a 57-54 lead with 6:24 remaining before Hofstra’s defense would dig in until the final buzzer.

From that point, the Terriers missed four of their final five field goal attempts and committed four of their 13 turnovers.

A couple of free throws by McMillan closed the Pride to within 57-56 before McClendon pulled down one of his four rebounds and made a nice outlet pass to McMillan, who was fouled by Mockford on a fast break. McMillan made one of two foul shots to tie the game, 57-57.

After a turnover by Johnson, McClendon finally scored his first basket, but it was a huge one, to put the Pride ahead, 59-57.

McMillan, who split time at point guard with junior Stevie Mejia (9 points, no assists, 3 turnovers) then stole the ball from Jones and had a layup attempt blocked in the lane by Johnson, but Moore grabbed the loose ball, and beat the shot clock buzzer with a nice spinning, fade-away jumper as he fell down along the left baseline to extend Hofstra’s lead to 61-57 lead, with 2:38 left.

A jumper by Nichols cut the Pride’s lead in half 18 seconds later, and after two missed jumpers by Moore on the same trip, St. Francis had a chance to tie the game in the final minute. But, senior guard Dre Calloway (7 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists) missed a pair of free throws with 47.4 seconds to go.

Moore then drew a foul at the other end of the floor, but like Calloway, he also missed two foul shots to keep to keep the Terriers alive.

Calloway tried to tie the game while driving along the left blocks, but McClendon stole the ball as Calloway started his shot. Calloway fouled McClendon, who coolly hit his only two free throw attempts of the game to close the scoring with 3.6 seconds left.

Coming off a cross-country trip and an 82-72 loss at Oregon State three days earlier, the Pride was happy to move above the .500 mark for the season, even if Cassara knows his squad still has work to do, especially on offense.

“We just kept putting pressure on our defense,” Cassara said. “We’re not really a good team offensively right now. We’re trying to score on the first pass, [and] we’re a little impatient. I think the biggest evidence of that is we only had six assists. We’re not going to win a lot of games like that. We’re a little rushed, [and] we don’t quite trust what we’re doing yet.”

Fatigue exacerbated those issues.

Cassara, who had been coaching since 1997 before getting his first chance as a Division I head coach at Hofstra last year, said “We went all the way out to the west coast and all the way back. I don’t like to make excuses, but it’s been a long week. It was evident tonight. We just really didn’t have our legs… I’ve been doing this for 14 years and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many missed, easy shots around the basket.”

“We didn’t have our ‘A’ game tonight,” Cassara added. “As a coach, I’m not super pleased, but [I’m] certainly happy that we found a way to win… that’s part of learning as a team, that’s part of growing as a team, and we made some plays down the stretch that we had to.”

He also credited the scrappy Terriers, who have lost all three of their games by a total of just 14 points. “They’re going to win a lot of games before the year is over. I know they’re 0-3, but they’ve played some tough games,” said Cassara, who acknowledged a close loss in the Terriers’ opener to Seton Hall, which five days later, beat Hofstra’s conference rival, Virginia Commonwealth, a surprise entry in last year’s Final Four.

The tired Pride will have a couple of days to rest before it stays home to face the Sun Belt conference’s Florida Atlantic Owls (2-3), whose two wins this season are against Hofstra’s conference rivals, Georgia State, and one of the top Colonial Athletic Association’s pre-season favorites, George Mason. Tip-off will be at 7 pm ET on Tuesday, at the Mack Sports Complex.

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