Dion Nesmith is back and he's healthy, and it couldn't come at a better time for Hofstra.
After the point guard missed three weeks with a torn meniscus, his presence in the lineup gave the Pride a huge lift in a 75-64 win over NJIT Monday night at Mack Sports Complex.
In his third game back, the graduate student transfer hit two momentum-turning baskets in the final 5:08 and helped seal the game at the free-throw line.
"He's our best guard,'' Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. "He just carries us . . . He brings the ball up the floor, he scores. You just can't put a price tag on it.''
Nesmith had 20 points and five assists. His floater off the glass stopped a Pride field-goal drought of 3:31 and put Hofstra up 59-51 with 5:14 remaining.
Nesmith was 3-for-5 on three-pointers, none bigger than the one with 4:14 left that gave Hofstra (4-8) a 62-58 lead. Just before that, NJIT freshman guard Damon Lynn made back-to-back three-pointers to get the Highlanders within one.
"That's the shot that won the game right there,'' Mihalich said of Nesmith's three-pointer. "We had to score.''
NJIT (6-10) got within 64-61 on Winfield Willis' three-point play, but Hofstra, not a great free throw-shooting team, went 7-for-9 from the line in the final 2:11.
Nesmith said he injured his knee in the season opener against his former school, Monmouth, but tried to play on it. He even scored 24 points against Louisville on Nov. 12. But the eventual diagnosis was a tear, and Nesmith needed surgery.
The 6-foot lead guard said he's back to normal now, and Hofstra will need him. The Pride has two more games this week before beginning Colonial Athletic Association play Jan. 8 at Delaware.
"It was definitely frustrating seeing guys you work hard with every day struggling out there and not winning,'' Nesmith said.
His absence gave Hofstra's freshmen a chance to shine, and they continued their strong play Monday night. Chris Jenkins had 12 points on four three-pointers and Jamall Robinson, coming off a third CAA rookie of the week honor, had 11 points and eight rebounds. Zeke Upshaw struggled from the field (4-for-11) but had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Lynn had 20 points for NJIT, a team Mihalich said Hofstra needed to beat with upcoming games at Tulane on Thursday and at Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday before the start of conference play.
"You don't like to use the expression must-win,'' Mihalich said, "but it was.''
Fortunately for Hofstra, Nesmith was back to cement it.
Said Jenkins, "He makes us a lot better.''