BALTIMORE — The heartbreak of March came one round later than last year, but that didn’t make it go down any easier for Hofstra following an 80-73 overtime loss to North Carolina-Wilmington in the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament Monday night at Royal Farms Arena.
UNCW (25-7) outscored the Pride, 12-5, in the extra session. Rokas Gustys tied the score at 73 on a dunk with 1:34 to play, but the Seahawks drained the life out of Hofstra (24-9) with a three-point play by C.J. Bryan and a three-pointer by Denzel Ingram for a 79-73 lead with 34.5 seconds left to earn the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Unless the Pride receives an at-large bid, it will get an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
But that came as small consolation to CAA player of the year Juan’ya Green, who totaled 13 points and eight assists but suffered through a 2-for-16 shooting night that seemed a product of the fatigue that came with playing nearly every minute of the past 12 games.
“I was just horrible,” Green said. “I didn’t make shots for my teammates.” As for the fatigue factor that was exacerbated by the UNCW press and tough half-court defense, he added, “I tried not to think about it. I just wasn’t making the shots I usually make.”
Ameen Tanksley led the Pride with 24 points, and Gustys had 18 points and 23 rebounds. But in the second half, the Pride shot just 25 percent (6 of 24) and made only 1 of 9 three-points attempts. After a Gustys layup gave Hofstra a 56-48 lead with 12:30 left in regulation, the Pride missed 12 straight field-goal attempts and shot 1-for-14 with four turnovers to the end of regulation.
Tanksley, who scored 17 points in the first half, said the UNCW press didn’t affect him. “I wasn’t wearing down at all,” Tanksley said. “It was different plays called and different execution. I wasn’t tired at all.”
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich primarily stuck with a six-man rotation, as he has done most of the time since sixth man Malik Nichols was lost for the season with a knee injury. “You have to play the guys that can help you win,” he said. And he was right for the previous eight games the Pride won to reach this point.
But the Seahawks simply had more in the tank in the second half and overtime and a playing style to capitalize on Hofstra’s lack of depth.
Craig Ponder led UNCW with 20 points, including 14 in a 28-12 run that gave the Seahawks a 68-64 lead with 3:03 to play. They also got 19 from Chris Flemmings and 17 from Ingram to help overcome a 12-point Hofstra second-half lead.
Running on fumes, Green responded with a layup and two foul shots to tie the score at 68 with 32.8 seconds left in regulation. Ponder was called for a charge with 5.2 seconds left, but Hofstra couldn’t get a shot off on the inbounds play.
“It’s heartbreaking to work so hard and come up short,” Tanksley said. Reflecting on the past two seasons after transferring with Green from Niagara to continue playing for Mihalich, he added, “I’m appreciative of everything Hofstra gave me. I hope they keep it up when we leave.”
Green was too distraught to put the past two seasons in perspective, saying, “To be part of the program and the things we did, I’m happy for it. But we came up short.”
If nothing else, Hofstra went one step farther than last season, when it lost in the semifinals to William & Mary on a three-pointer by Daniel Dixon with eighth-tenths of a second left in double overtime. Sitting between his two senior stars, Mihalich said, “I couldn’t be any prouder, but my heart’s broken, especially for these two. Sometimes in life, you don’t get what you deserve.”