BALTIMORE -- About 30 minutes after Saturday's Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal, Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich's face and voice were filled with frustration.
Hofstra's season is over at 10-23. Delaware is very much alive at 23-9, with a CAA Tournament semifinal matchup against Northeastern on Sunday. But despite bad foul trouble, eighth-seeded Hofstra gave the top-seeded Blue Hens all they could handle.
The Pride built a nine-point first-half lead, stayed within striking distance through most of the game and had a chance to move within three in the final minute before losing to Delaware, 87-76, at Baltimore Arena.
"I'd like to think we pushed them and challenged them, and they had to respond, but they did," said Mihalich, whose team cut a late 12-point deficit to five with 1:02 left. "I don't want this to sound self-serving, but I'd like to think we really pushed them and forced them to play their best."
Zeke Upshaw scored 23 points, Dion Nesmith had 16 and Stephen Nwaukoni added 13 points and 15 rebounds. Nesmith and Moussa Kone each fouled out and Upshaw and Jordan Allen (nine points, 10 rebounds) had four fouls each.
Upshaw picked up his fourth foul with 14:21 left and Delaware leading 53-49. By the time he got back in, the Blue Hens led 71-61 with 7:22 left. But when Upshaw missed a three-pointer with 46 seconds left, the Pride missed a chance to move within three.
The Pride outrebounded Delaware 39-28 but the Blue Hens went 30-for-38 at the free-throw line to Hofstra's 18-for-23.
Davon Usher scored 16 of his 28 points and Jarvis Threatt had 18 of his 22 in the Blue Hens' 50-point second half. Devon Saddler added 15 and Kyle Anderson had 12 for Delaware, which trailed by three at the half.
"We've been down at half the three times that we've played these guys," Delaware coach Monte' Ross said. "I think the key for us is we have a bunch of guys that don't panic."
Allen's layup gave Hofstra a 26-17 lead with 9:16 left in the first half, but Delaware forced 11 second-half turnovers that led to 18 points. "I felt like they tried to take the ball out of me and Dion's hands a little bit more in the second half," Upshaw said. "They turned up the denying on me and Dion, so that was kind of tough."
Mihalich needed several seconds to compose himself when asked about his feelings for his first Hofstra team. Upshaw patted him on the back as he talked about how much they meant to him. "What I wanted from this year, when we're eventually cutting nets down and [winning] championships,'' Mihalich said, "is for people to look back at this team and say they were a big part of it."