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Hofstra beats UNC Wilmington, moves into tie for first in CAA

Hofstra's Desure Buie moves the ball around UNCW's

Hofstra's Desure Buie moves the ball around UNCW's Jordon Talley in the first half at Trask Coliseum on Feb. 25, 2016. Credit: Mike Spencer/ StarNews

WILMINGTON, N.C. — In a wild, unpredictable Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball season, Hofstra and UNC Wilmington played straight to the script Thursday night with the highest of stakes on the line.

Another big second-half deficit was whittled away, and this time it was Hofstra carving out the comeback. The Pride erased a 16-point halftime deficit, took its first lead of the second half with 27 seconds left, then survived two Seahawks tips at the buzzer for a 70-69 victory.

The teams are tied for first place at 13-4 heading into their regular-season finales on Saturday. UNCW (21-7) will host Towson (20-10, 11-6) at 1 p.m. and Hofstra (21-8) will host College of Charleston (16-12, 8-9) at 4 p.m.

“In the sense, it was, ‘Hey, they did it to us, we can do it to them,’ ” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said after his team’s fifth win in a row. “Sounds a little high school-ish, but if they can do it, we can do it.”

In their previous meeting in Hempstead on Feb. 4, Hofstra built a 38-18 lead late in the first half, but after Juan’ya Green’s three-pointer tied the score with 20 seconds left, Denzel Ingram sank a three-pointer with four seconds remaining to give UNCW a 70-67 victory.

This time the roles were reversed, mostly thanks to a brilliant final six minutes from Green, who hit two three-pointers and two free throws in the final 1:27 to give Hofstra the final eight points of the game. The Pride had fallen behind 41-23 late in the first half.

With the Pride down by 10, Green scored 15 of his 18 points in the final 5:57 and fouled out UNCW center CJ Gettys and point guard Jordon Talley in the process. “My teammates said, ‘Just make a play for us. We’re relying on you,’ ” Green said.

It was the sixth straight game in which Green played every minute of the contest. “I don’t know if I have a player I’ve ever believed in more than Juan’ya Green,” Mihalich said. “You get the ball to him and find different ways to get him in ball-screen situations, mix it up.”

After Green’s two free throws with 27 seconds left gave Hofstra its first lead since 9-7, the Pride turned it over under the UNCW basket with 11 seconds to play. Ingram got the ball on the perimeter, but his three-pointer spun out, and two offensive tip attempts wouldn’t go in.

“It’s frightening,” Green said of the moment. “You have to wait it out and try to get a stop. I just tried to make [Ingram] take a tough shot. At our place, he took a tough shot, so I just tried to do the same and he hopefully misses.”

Ameen Tanksley had 18 points and became the 33rd Hofstra player to score 1,000 career points. He now has 1,008 in his two seasons with the Pride.

Rokas Gustys added 12 points and 21 rebounds, tying his career high. It was Gustys’ fifth game of the season with at least 20 rebounds. Brian Bernardi added 10 points. Talley had 16 points for UNCW.

Hofstra will gain at least a share of first place — and potentially the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, depending on tiebreakers — if it beats College of Charleston. Of course, the Cougars already beat the Pride this season. In this year’s CAA, that’s a blip on the radar from long ago in a season full of them.

“All we’re worried about is ourselves,” Mihalich said. “We learned early with this league, if you think any more than one game at a time, then you won’t win that one game you’re about to play.”

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