Viewed on its own merits, Hofstra's 74-59 victory over District of Columbia, a Division II opponent, Saturday at the Mack Sports Complex wasn't exactly a thing of beauty. The Pride let a 20-point first-half lead dwindle to six in the second half and played unevenly until a game-ending 14-6 run secured the win.
But in the big picture, coach Mo Cassara's team evened its record at 2-2 a week after opening the season with a pair of 29-point road losses, and the Pride got a balanced all-around effort less than 24 hours after an intense three-point win over tough South Dakota State.
The Pride plays its third game in three days against Marshall (2-2) of Conference USA this afternoon at 3 with a chance to win three in a row in the losers bracket of the 2K Sports Classic. The Thundering Herd lost on a last-second shot to South Dakota State, 78-77, earlier Saturday.
"We've got Marshall at home, an NCAA Tournament-type team, a chance to win three games in a row," Cassara said. "If you had told me that last Monday, I would have said, 'You're absolutely crazy.'"
No doubt, the past two games have brightened Cassara's outlook considerably, and even though the Pride had 15 turnovers against the Firebirds (1-3), there was a lot to like about their performance. Hofstra had six double-figure scorers, shot 49.2 percent from the field and crushed UDC on the boards, 49-33.
Freshman forward Jimmy Hall led the starters with 12 points and eight rebounds, and the Pride got lots of production from forward David Imes (11 points, seven rebounds) and guards Stevie Mejia (11 points, seven rebounds) and Shaquille Stokes (11 points, seven assists). But the play off the bench of forward Stephen Nwaukoni (13 points, nine rebounds) and transfer guard Taran Buie (12 points, 2-of-4 from three-point range) provided the biggest lift at critical points.
It's no coincidence that Hofstra's turnaround coincides with the addition of Buie in the first two games he was eligible. "We added Taran, which obviously gave us a lift," Cassara said. "The first two nights coming off the bench -- as much as he doesn't like coming off the bench -- he hits a three both nights, and the game essentially changes. The last couple days bringing Stephen off the bench with his experience gave us a great lift."
Buie scored all 12 of his points in a 26-10 run that gave Hofstra its biggest lead at 39-19. When asked how he likes coming off the bench, Buie couldn't lie.
"I'm not too thrilled about that," the Penn State transfer admitted as Cassara laughed, "but I'll do anything to help us win."
Nwaukoni had no such misgivings. "Coach tells me to be ready and have a positive attitude," he said. "It's important to be ready to play when you're called."
After gaining the 20-point lead, the Pride lost a little steam as D'Angelo Johnson, who led the Firebirds with 18 points, sparked a comeback that cut Hofstra's lead to 45-39 early in the second half. Cassara faulted it for not putting the game away early.
But Hofstra is very much a work in progress. The Pride will add players when forward Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel is over a knee injury and when 6-10 Daquan Brown becomes eligible in the second semester.
"It's going to make practice more competitive, and guys are going to have to work harder," Cassara said. "Those are good problems. We had problems last year, and there were a lot of lonely walks up and down the bench with guys in sweatsuits that couldn't play. I'd rather have more guys that can play and make everybody better."