BALTIMORE - In its regular season-ending loss a week earlier at James Madison, Hofstra allowed the Dukes to shoot 62.8 percent from the field and basically take whatever they wanted to complete a sweep of the two-game season series.
But the Pride did a 180-degree about-face when it counted in a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Royal Farms Arena. Fifth-seeded Hofstra played hard-nosed defense that cut the Dukes' shooting percentage to 37.0 and dominated in the paint offensively and defensively in a 74-57 rout of fourth-seeded JMU.
Questioned about how he changed his game plan, Pride coach Joe Mihalich said, "We did a couple things differently, but all week long, we weren't talking about X's and O's. We were talking about attitude and effort and toughness, all those intangibles. If you're going to win a championship, you've got to be that way."
If Hofstra (20-12) can bottle the formula it used to whip the Dukes (19-13), it has as good a shot as anyone to win the CAA title and earn the automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
The Pride advanced to a semifinal meeting Sunday afternoon against top-seeded William & Mary (19-11), another team that swept the season series, including a two-point win Feb. 22 at Hofstra.
"Our battle cry all week was that we had to be a better defensive team," Mihalich said. "I thought clearly we were today. Our toughness showed through today when it counted."
JMU star Ron Curry, who averaged 22.5 points in the previous two meetings, was held to 18 by a combination of Dion Nesmith and Malik Nichols, and JMU made only 5 of 22 three-point attempts.
"He still had 18 points, but he really had to work to get them," Mihalich said of Curry.
Hofstra's defense produced offense as the Pride turned 14 Dukes turnovers into 23 points. Big men Moussa Kone (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Rokas Gustys (11 points, five rebounds) helped Hofstra to a 39-32 edge on the boards.
Although Ameen Tanksley (16 points) and Juan'ya Green (10 points, eight assists) each hit a pair of threes, they focused more on driving to the basket to give the Pride a 46-28 dominance of points in the paint.
Recalling his team's 31 three-point attempts in a game in which Hofstra blew a 14-point second-half lead against JMU at home, Tanksley said, "The first time we played them at home, we shot a lot of threes. It was probably because, at that time, we were hot every game. We got into that rhythm of chucking threes. That was a bad idea. We learned that we've got to attack them with our pressure."
Tanksley had three of Hofstra's 10 steals and Kone did a great job of running the floor whenever the Pride forced a turnover. "The first two games, we let them feel very comfortable on the court with the ball," Kone said. "We wanted to pressure and force turnovers. I was running as hard as I can."
That determination showed after James Madison scored 10 straight points for a 20-15 first-half lead. Hofstra responded with a 22-4 run that began with Tanksley's three-pointer and layup and ended with back-to-back layups by Kone and a three-pointer by Jamall Robinson for a 37-24 lead. During that stretch, JMU made only 2 of 14 shots.
The second half opened with an 8-3 surge that ended with Kone's fast-break dunk for a 47-36 lead, and the cushion never was less than eight after that.
"The last time we played these teams, we didn't play to our ability and our best potential," Kone said of his message to his teammates. "I was trying to get them riled up and hyped. It's win or go home."
Seems as if the Pride plans on staying a while to right its regular-season wrongs.