Stephen Nwaukoni's late free throws help Hofstra overcome 14-point first-half deficit

Stephen Nwaukoni, right, and Zeke Upshaw hug after Stephen Nwaukoni, right, and Zeke Upshaw hug after the Pride's 75-71 win over the College of Charleston in an NCAA men's basketball game at Mack Sports Complex. (Jan. 11, 2014) Photo Credit: James Escher

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Not only does Stephen Nwaukoni do his pregame homework, but he's pretty good in pressure situations down the stretch.

The Hofstra senior center hit the Internet to do some research on his man before the Pride's 75-71 comeback win over the College of Charleston Saturday. Then he outplayed Adjehi Baru.

With the game in the balance at the Mack Sports Complex, Nwaukoni hit six vital foul shots in the final 1:17, including the go-ahead attempt, as Hofstra snapped a three-game losing streak and registered its first Colonial Athletic Association win of the season.

The Pride (5-11, 1-1) overcame a 14-point first-half deficit against the Cougars (9-8, 1-1).

"An incredible win for these guys," coach Joe Milhalich said. "I'm so happy with this group of guys. They worked so hard. Every game they've been so close. The effort was incredible. We could have packed it in. They just refused to lose."

"We want to build on this," said guard Zeke Upshaw, who led Hofstra with 22 points. "This is a huge confidence-booster for the younger guys that we know we can compete at the top of this league."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

All five Hofstra starters finished in double figures. Jordan Allen and Jamall Robinson had 12 points each and Dion Nesmith added 10.

It took the proper preparation, and focus in the waning minutes. Nwaukoni (13 points, season-high 15 rebounds), might have exemplified that better than anyone, outbattling Baru (13 points, five rebounds).

Beforehand, Nwaukoni corrected assistant coach Shane Nicholls, who said Baru was averaging 9.0 rebounds, not 7.8.

"This is when I really had a feeling we're going to win this game," Milhalich said. "This man was locked in. He already had been doing his homework. He wanted to know who he was playing. He had 15 rebounds against one of the best rebounders in the league."

Nwaukoni's numbers would have gone for naught had he not come through under the gun. After missing two free throws with the score tied at 63 with 4:23 remaining, he found himself back on the line in a 65-65 game with 1:17 left. Nwaukoni hit one of two attempts to give Hofstra a 66-65 lead. After Moussa Kone hit and missed a free throw, Nwaukoni was fouled on the rebound and knocked in the next two shots for a 69-65 advantage.

With Hofstra clinging to a 71-68 edge with 22.4 seconds remaining, Nwaukoni sank two more foul shots.

"The big thing with me shooting free throws, when I miss one, the coach always tells me not to think about the miss but to focus on the next shot," he said. "I missed a couple, but I had that confidence to knock it down."

After Charleston's early 20-2 run, Hofstra found itself in a 38-24 hole with 2:26 remaining in the first half. Upshaw scored eight points (two three-pointers) to close out the half and slice the deficit to 38-34.

"I felt somebody had to get us going," he said. "I felt it had to be me. It was a springboard for us."

You also may be interested in: