Hofstra has made a habit of falling behind early this season, but sometimes you wonder if that’s just what the Pride needs as motivation to crank up its formidable offense. It happened again Sunday at Madison Square Garden, where Hofstra overcame an early nine-point deficit and the brilliant 38-point effort of Appalachian State’s Frank Eaves to pull out an 86-80 victory in the Holiday Festival.
The Pride (6-2), which had four players who scored in double figures, shot 50.8 percent overall and 50 percent from three-point range. They outscored the 2-6 Mountaineers 36-20 in the paint and turned 16 turnovers into 21 points.
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Brian Bernardi led the way with 23 points. Ameen Tanksley had 18, Juan’ya Green was brilliant with 17 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals, and big man Rokas Gustys had 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Joe Mihalich wondered if the thrill of playing in the Garden contributed to his team’s slow start. “It’s fabulous to be here,” Mihalich said. “Our guys might have been a bit too excited — more excited about being here than about playing defense in the first half.”
The Pride fought back to trail at halftime 36-34, but Eaves was virtually unstoppable in the second half, when he scored 24 of his 38 points. “We had him circled on the scouting report, but we didn’t make it hard for him early,” Mihalich said. “We created a monster. He was terrific.”
The teams traded the lead seven times until the score was tied at 55, but Hofstra took control with a 15-7 run. It included six points from Green and seven from Bernardi, who showed that he’s more than a three-point shooter by driving and hitting pull-up jumpers. “I worked all summer on my ballhandling and making better use of the pick and roll and how to get my shot when they’re guarding me tightly,” Bernardi said.
In the second half, Green orchestrated the offense like a maestro, at one point driving before dropping a blind pass over his left shoulder to a trailing Gustys for an easy layup and a 73-65 lead.
“We’re a very confident offensive team,” Mihalich said. “You’ve got to pick your poison with us. Rokas has improved so much. That pass that Juan’ya threw him, we see two or three of those a day [in practice]. That’s why I say he’s an elite passer. I know the Knicks play here, and I’m not sure, with all due respect, if they have anyone who can pass like he passes.”
Still, Mihalich came away unhappy with the defensive effort and about being outrebounded 44-31. “I hate to beat a dead horse,” he said, “but we’ve got to find a way at the [defensive] end of the floor to be better.”