In a matchup of the top two teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, conference-leading Hofstra outclassed College of Charleston from start to finish in a convincing 76-63 victory at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex Thursday night.
Eli Pemberton matched his career high with 28 points as Hofstra (19-7, 10-3) won its fifth straight game. The Pride lead Delaware by one game and Charleston by 1 1⁄2.
“I’m really proud of our guys. We really answered the bell,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “The stage was set. National TV game, two teams playing for first place, team that beat us at the buzzer . . . We were fortunate enough to make some better plays than them throughout the course of the game.”
Hofstra, the preseason pick to win the CAA, has begun to look the part in recent weeks. It seemed the Pride could be in trouble after back-to-back losses in January dropped them to 5-3 in conference play, but those losses proved to be blips.
Hofstra lost, 69-67, in the first meeting with Charleston (15-11, 9-5) on Jan. 18. The Pride made sure this game didn’t come down to the buzzer by scoring the first seven points — including five by senior guard Desure Buie — and leading by as many as 19.
The Pride had no issues dissecting Charleston’s defense, getting the ball to the rim with ease. Hofstra shot 54.7% from the field against a Charleston team that entered with the third-best defense in the conference, allowing only 67.4 points per game.
Hofstra, which led 41-30 at the half, led by at least 10 points for the final 13:29.
Pemberton paced the Pride in a performance that marked a stark contrast with his season-low two-point effort in the first meeting. “Down there, I kind of hesitated. It was uncharacteristic. Kept it simple [today],” Pemberton said. “Just wanted to go out there and keep first place, that was the main thing.”
Hofstra’s defense did its part by forcing Charleston into a cold night from deep, as the Cougars shot 5-for-20 from three-point range. Charleston senior guard Grant Riller finished with 27 points, but Hofstra limited the conference’s second-leading scorer to six points in the first half.
“If you told me at the beginning of the season that on Feb. 13, we’d have a one-game lead and be in first place,” Mihalich said, “I’m sure we’d take that.”