The buzzer echoed through the arena and the final warm-up act was over for Hofstra before Colonial Athletic Association play begins later this week.
The Pride did what it was expected to do Monday night at the Mack Sports Complex, beating a one-win Sacred Heart team that rode into Hempstead on a nine-game skid after being picked for seventh in the Northeast Conference.
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But Hofstra struggled to claim its 80-73 win. It will surely have to lift its level of play to match its status as the CAA favorite, beginning here Thursday against Delaware.
“We’ve got to decide if we want to show up every night,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “I don’t know who we’re beating in our conference playing the way we did tonight.”
They finished the non-conference portion of the schedule at 8-4. That included an impressive victory over Florida State of the ACC and a lot of inconsistency along the way.
“It keeps me up at night,” Mihalich said. “I think it comes back to attitude and effort.”
Juan’ya Green, the CAA preseason player of the year, scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. Brian Bernardi poured in 18 points, highlighted by two key threes down the stretch. And Rokas Gustys contributed a career-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, although he sat for the final 12:36 with four fouls.
“I felt pretty comfortable and confident, but my fouls kind of stopped me from doing much better than I could’ve done,” Gustys said.
The Pioneers (1-10) were clinging to a 66-64 advantage, but then Bernardi buried a three from the right side with 5:52 on the clock. Next possession, Bernardi buried another, this one from straightaway. Green followed by driving for two, and it was 72-66.
But Sacred Heart, paced by Cane Broome’s 25 points, hung in. When Matej Buovac nailed a three, the spread was down to 76-73 with 1:18 remaining. Green, though, countered with two free throws at 59.2 seconds and 33.3 to clinch it.
“We had no answer to Juan’ya Green,” Pioneers coach Anthony Latina said.
Back in the first half, Sacred Heart led by as many as eight. The Pioneers came out and scored the first seven of the second half to grab their largest lead at 48-37 before the Pride started chipping away.
“We’ve just got to stay together,” Bernardi said. “We’ve just got to be better in the first half than we have been.”