Hofstra comes close again but falls short to Towson, 83-77

Hofstra's Zeke Upshaw, left, looks to dribble past

Hofstra's Zeke Upshaw, left, looks to dribble past Towson's Mike Burwell during the first half of an NCAA men's basketball game at Mack Sports Complex Feb. 22, 2014. Photo Credit: James Escher

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As much as this has become Hofstra's version of the movie "Groundhog Day'' -- repeating the same script by coming close against a top team before falling short -- there still was hope for a film called "A Better Day.'' It was close at hand, too. Right on the other side of the court.

Visiting Towson was the source of Hofstra's frustration and encouragement Saturday after the second-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association reached the 20-win plateau by beating the Pride, 83-77. That came three days after Hofstra lost an 81-77 decision to first-place Delaware, which notched its 20th win of the season in Hempstead.

This was different, though. Only two years ago, Towson came to visit after having snapped an NCAA Division I- record 41-game losing streak. Now Towson is 20-9 (11-3 in the CAA) and has an excellent shot to make the NCAA Tournament.

"I remember my freshman year, they weren't as good as they are now. They took a good timeout to rebuild their whole program, with the coach they have and a couple transfers," junior Moussa Kone said after an energetic eight-point, 12-rebound, six-block effort that put Hofstra (8-21, 4-10) in position for an upset. "Seeing them doing a good job of that tells me we're coming, too. I'm sure we're going to be even above that in the future."

The future just isn't now for the Pride. Hofstra did wipe out a six-point halftime deficit with a boost from Kone and Zeke Upshaw, who finished with 33 points. It helped that Towson's Jerrelle Benimon, a transfer from Georgetown and a good bet to repeat as CAA Player of the Year, sat out much of the second half with four fouls. But Hofstra couldn't finish.

"In a strange way, him not being on the floor kind of pushed their other guys," Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. "They made winning plays and we didn't. They were tough when they had to be."

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Rafriel Guthrie (16 points) scored on three consecutive drives during Towson's 12-2 run. Mike Burwell (15 points) made a three-point shot and traditional three-point play. Marcus Damas, a senior from Bay Shore, also was solid for a team that was a punch line two years ago.

"Coach [Pat Skerry] does a good job of focusing on the future," Damas said. 'It's a great feeling. It's a blessing because all of our hard work is paying off."

Mihalich thought his team also worked hard but added, "You've got to earn it. And by making some bonehead plays and not making winning plays when you have to, that's not earning it."

It has become a familiar theme. Upshaw, the graduate student who has scored more points (101) in his three 30-point games this season than he did in his entire three-year career at Illinois State (100), said, "It's definitely frustrating. I'm one of those guys who made some of those boneheaded plays, so I'm disappointed in myself."

Things can change in a hurry, though. Damas, who grew up with Pride forward Jordan Allen, said: "I think Hofstra is a great program. They've got a great coach, a great group of guys. They've got to stay with it. Anything is possible if they stay with it."

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