Every team loses its best players from time to time, but losing a player like Charles Jenkins, a three-time Haggerty Award winner as the top player in the New York metro area, marked a huge change for Hofstra. It was reflected in the Pride's up-and-down start when a solid win over Cleveland State was followed by four straight losses.
But the Pride's 83-75 victory over 11-3 Iona Thursday night at Mack Sports Complex not only was the third straight win in a row for Hofstra (6-7) but also provided a measuring stick of progress heading into a Colonial Athletic Association home game Monday against Virginia Commonwealth, which made the Final Four last season.
Iona is one of the two or three best teams in the metro area, and a solid favorite to win the MAAC. But a great defensive and rebounding effort by the Pride never allowed the Gaels to get going at their accustomed high-octane pace. Mike Moore, who played second banana to Jenkins last season, did his usual stellar job with 24 points.
The real key was the production in supporting roles of David Imes, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and Nathaniel Lester, who chipped in 21 points and 10 rebounds. "We had to adjust to losing Charles," said Lester, who sat out all of last season with a serious quad injury. "We lost a lot."
Of course, Jenkins is now a rookie in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. "Teams lose great players all the time," Moore said. "Maybe not as good as Charles, but we believe in ourselves. I think we can do a lot in the CAA conference."
Certainly, if Imes and Lester can approach the kind of production they had against Iona on a regular basis, the Pride, which lost its CAA opener to James Madison back on Dec. 3, could surprise when CAA gets going full blast in the New Year. "Since we were losing, we had the mentality to pick it up," Imes said. "Everyone knew they had to step up and come to practice as if it's a game."
Beating a team the caliber of Iona should provide a tremendous lift before the Pride faces VCU. "I told our guys that, on paper, Cleveland State and Iona are the two best teams we've faced athletically and in the RPI," Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said. "We've beaten both of them. That shows we have the ability to compete in non-conference and in our league."