Building a big lead hasn’t been a problem for Hofstra lately. Now the trick is figuring out how to hold on to it.
Ron Curry scored 31 points, including a tying three-pointer with 12.6 seconds left in regulation, and Shakir Brown scored eight of his 15 points in overtime as James Madison — which trailed by 14 late in the first half and by nine with 3 1⁄2 minutes remaining in regulation — beat the Pride, 98-95, Sunday in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
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In the previous game, the Pride went ahead by 20 late in the first half before losing to visiting North Carolina Wilmington, 70-67. Fatigue likely was a factor in each game; Hofstra’s starters played all but 16 of the 225 available minutes against James Madison and all but 23 of the 200 minutes against UNCW.
“I mean, two great teams just going at it, man. Just going at it,’’ Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “Too bad for the fans that were here it didn’t go another overtime. It was just two great teams playing their hearts out. I’m really proud of our team. We had a tough loss the other night. We had a tough, tough loss the other night. the kind of loss that can take your spirit, but it didn’t take our team spirit. It didn’t take our hearts. And our guys played our hearts out.
“I’m so proud of this team. I am so proud of this team. Juan’ya, Ameen, Denton . . . all of them. They’ve got the heart of a lion, this team.’’
Brian Bernardi scored 22 points, and Juan’ya Green added 20 points and eight assists for Hofstra. Denton Koon had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Ameen Tanksley added 19 points and 10 boards. Rokas Gustys, who entered the game averaging 18.2 points and 17.2 rebounds in the previous six games and shot 44-for-62 from the field in that span, had 13 points and 18 rebounds for his ninth double-double in the last 10 games.
The Pride (16-8, 8-4) fell into a three-way tie with James Madison and Towson for third place in the Colonial Athletic Association, a game behind William & Mary (9-3) and two games behind UNCW (10-2).
After Tanksley missed a three-pointer at the regulation buzzer, Brown’s three-pointer early in overtime gave the Dukes an 87-82 lead, and Hofstra never caught up. Koon sank a three-pointer with 9.2 seconds left to bring the Pride within 97-95, but Joey McLean’s free throw gave James Madison a three-point lead and Koon missed a three just before the buzzer.
Yohanny Dalembert scored 15 points, McLean 13 and Jackson Kent 10 for James Madison (18-7). Curry went 7-for-12 from three-point range, including the shot that forced overtime. “The best time to be open for a three is on an offensive rebound,’’ Mihalich said, “and to his credit, he knocked it down.’’
Green, who entered needing 10 points to give him 1,000 at Hofstra to go along with the 1,131 he scored for Niagara, reached that plateau with a free throw with 9:12 remaining in regulation. He then hit the second one, and on the next possession, he passed to Gustys for a dunk that gave the Pride a 70-61 lead and gave Gustys a double-double.
“He’s an incredible player and he’s an even better person,’’ Mihalich said of Green. “I’ve said this a couple of times: The most incredible thing about this accomplishment is that I don’t think of him as a scorer. All these points that he scored, all these points that he scored, only the fourth player to ever score 1,000 points at two schools — and counting; I don’t know how many he has; does he have 2,200 or something like that? — and I don’t think of him as a scorer. That’s how good a player he is. When you can score that many points and your coach doesn’t even — you know, it’s a compliment — and your coach doesn’t even think of you as a scorer . . . now we know he can score, but he’s the best passer I’ve been around. He’s an elite passer; he makes the team better.’’
With Hofstra leading 34-31, the Pride scored 11 straight points in a span of 2:11 on its next four possessions as three-pointers by Green, Tanksley and Koon and a layup by Gustys produced a 45-31 lead.
James Madison entered the game allowing opponents to shoot only 28.6 percent from three-point range, but the Pride shot 9-for-19 from outside the arc in taking a 46-34 halftime lead. “It was a barrage of threes,’’ James Madison coach Matt Brady said. “We did a very poor job of locating when the ball went inside, the kick-out pass. I thought they did a really good job of kicking it out.’’
But Hofstra went 4-for-19 from three-point range the rest of the way, and James Madison began the second half on a 20-4 run capped by consecutive three-pointers by Curry and Kent that gave the Dukes a 54-50 lead.
“It’s incredibly gut-wrenching,’’ Mihalich said. “If it’s not, you’re not in the right profession. I mean, I can’t swallow right now. I’ve never felt worse for these guys, I mean, they played their hearts out. I’ve never been more proud of a team. My heart’s broken for them. If it’s not gut-wrenching and if it’s not heartbreaking, then we’re doing the wrong thing.’’
— GREG GUTES