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Dion Nesmith's 27 points, late free throw lead Hofstra past Hartford, 81-78

Hartford's Yasin Kolo (12) fouls Hofstra's Dion Nesmith

Hartford's Yasin Kolo (12) fouls Hofstra's Dion Nesmith (11) during the second half. (Nov. 23, 2013) Credit: AP

Victories are always important, especially for a team in a rebuilding stage.

Dion Nesmith had a career-high 27 points, including a late free throw, as Hofstra rallied from a second-half deficit for an 81-78 win over Hartford Saturday at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

"It's a huge win for this team, definitely a step in the right direction," Nesmith said.

In addition to his point total, Nesmith made what Pride coach Joe Mihalich described as a "game-saving" play.

With Hofstra ahead 81-78, Nesmith recovered a loose ball with less than five seconds left to preserve possession for the Pride.

"The way I saw it was if we don't get that ball, they could hit a three and send it to overtime," Nesmith said.

Hofstra will play Belmont -- which beat Holy Cross, 81-70 -- in the Tip-Off Classic final Sunday.

"This is like a mini-season tournament," Mihalich said. "We have a chance to win a championship."

Hartford led 60-55 with 10:41 left in the game.

Hofstra came back with a 20-9 run, capped by a Nesmith three-pointer that gave the Pride a 75-69 lead with 2:20 to go.

Nesmith added a free throw with 16 seconds left to provide the final margin.

Aside from getting the win, Mihalic is also pleased with the way his two transfers Nesmith (Monmouth), Zeke Upshaw (Illinois State) have been playing.

Upshaw, who had 12 points Saturday, scored a career-high 37 points in a 74-63 overtime loss to Richmond on Tuesday, while Nesmith had 24 in the Pride's loss to Louisville.

The two have scored in double figures in four of Hofstra's five games this season.

"They're better than I thought in every way," Mihalic said. "They've been great on the court and off."

Hofstra also got solid performances from Stephen Nwaukoni (10 points, nine rebounds) and Payen (10 points).

Long Island Lutheran graduate Jordan Allen added eight points and seven rebounds for the Pride.

"We have a solid group of guys who are all on the same page," Nesmith said. "Nobody is selfish. It's been an easy transition."

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