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Hofstra has second half it can be proud of in CAA quarterfinal win

Eli Pemberton of Hofstra, left, high fives fellow

Eli Pemberton of Hofstra, left, high fives fellow senior Desure Buie after Buie drew a shooting foul against James Madison at the Mack Sports Complex on Feb. 29. Credit: James Escher

WASHINGTON — Eli Pemberton described it as having butterflies.

Joe Mihalich called it the jitters.

The two agreed that after a week layoff, top-seeded Hofstra didn’t have its usual mojo in the first half of its Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal game against Drexel on Sunday.

“Typical first game,” Mihalich said. “I don’t care who you are. [We have] two of the greatest seniors in the country, but at the same time, it’s still that first half and you got to work through things.”

When the second half began, Hofstra demonstrated that it just needed those 20 minutes to get the jitters and butterflies out of its system before it could impose its will.

The Pride dominated the second half and cruised to a 61-43 win over eighth-seeded Drexel at the Entertainment & Sports Arena.

Hofstra (24-8) outscored Drexel (14-19) by 15 points in the second half and allowed the fewest points it has given up all season. The Pride will meet fifth-seeded Delaware (22-10) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Monday.

Pemberton had 19 points and 12 rebounds and the Pride held Drexel standout and former Holy Trinity star Camren Wynter scoreless for the first time.

“Once we got that energy going, I saw the guys and that was an uplift. That sparked us in the second half,” Pemberton said. “I’m thankful I was the spark that got the team going.”

Perhaps the biggest drawback to being the top seed in a conference tournament is the long layoff before an opening game against an opponent that often has played the day before. Noon tipoffs in sparsely filled arenas also are not a great energy conductor. Hofstra last played Feb. 29, and the Pride could not find any rhythm in a sluggish first half.

An 11-0 run gave Drexel an 11-5 lead as the Pride missed eight straight shots during a drought spanning 6 minutes, 31 seconds. Hofstra didn’t take care of the ball, with several sloppy turnovers, and kept clanking shots, some of which were clean looks.

The Pride still managed to take a 25-22 lead into the break, thanks to a stingy effort on the defensive end that lasted all game. Hofstra’s zone proved problematic for the Dragons, who rely on three-pointers but shot only 2-for-22 (9.1%) from outside the arc.

The defense particularly frustrated Wynter, a sophomore who shot 0-for-8 and was hounded into five turnovers.

“If it wasn’t for our defense, we certainly wouldn’t be so happy right now,” Mihalich said.

Pemberton galvanized Hofstra, scoring the first seven points of the second half to give Hofstra its first double-digit lead at 32-22. Hofstra shot 53.3% in the second half and led by at least 10 points for the final 16:22.

Jalen Ray and Desure Buie each scored 14 points. Buie had eight assists and six rebounds. Isaac Kante had 13 points and six rebounds.

“Our guys had great poise and great composure, two qualities which championship teams have and we’ve had all year,” Mihalich said. “Knew what we had to do at halftime, didn’t mean it was easy, but [Pemberton] and [Buie] weren’t going to let us lose.”

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