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Hofstra rolls past Drexel in CAA Tournament quarterfinal

Hofstra guard Juan'ya Green dribbles against Drexel guard

Hofstra guard Juan'ya Green dribbles against Drexel guard Sammy Mojica in the second half of a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal in Baltimore on Saturday, March 5, 2016. Credit: Steve Ruark

BALTIMORE — If the ghosts of last year’s double-overtime semifinal loss to William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament still were flitting around in the heads of Hofstra’s players when they returned to Royal Farms Arena Saturday afternoon, you couldn’t tell. The No. 1-seeded Pride extended its winning streak to seven games with a powerful performance in an 80-67 quarterfinal victory over Drexel.

“I’m just glad to be back here and be the hottest team in the league coming into the tournament,” Juan’ya Green said. “We have a lot of confidence. We’ve just got to make sure we get the job done.”

The CAA player of the year set the tone for Hofstra (23-8), scoring 22 points, shooting 6-for-10 and adding six rebounds and four assists. Despite foul trouble, center Rokas Gustys recorded his 20th double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in only 20 minutes. Brian Bernardi had 14 points, Ameen Tanksley added 13 and Denton Koon had eight points and 10 rebounds.

The Pride outscored the Dragons 21-6 at the foul line, but Drexel (6-25) got strong efforts from forwards Rodney Williams (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Kazembe Abif (18 points, eight rebounds).

Hofstra’s victory set up a semifinal rematch with fifth-seeded William & Mary (20-10), which earned a 79-64 victory over James Madison (21-11) in another afternoon quarterfinal. The chance for payback may be important to fans, but coach Joe Mihalich said his team simply is intent on winning a title no matter the opponent.

“The most important team is us,” Mihalich said. “If we’re not ready to go, it’s going to be a long day.”

The Pride was plenty ready against ninth-seeded Drexel, which was going on 16 hours’ rest after a one-point win over Elon in the first round Friday night. The Dragons never led as Hofstra opened a 39-23 lead after a 13-4 run in which Green scored eight points.

“In some respects, that first game is the toughest,” Mihalich said. “You’ve got to get that first one under your belt, but I thought our veterans, our seniors, handled it well the way we shot the ball. Juan’ya looked nice and loose out there and he relaxed everybody. If anybody had some nerves, I couldn’t tell.”

Gustys, who was a first-team all-CAA selection along with Green, got off to a fast start but had to sit down with 6:45 left in the first half after picking up his second foul. He got his third 43 seconds into the second half and his fourth with 9:50 left in the game. Andre Walker came off the bench to replace him in the post and had three points, three rebounds and two blocked shots, but he picked up three fouls in the first half and was tagged with his fourth with 12:44 left.

“I was looking down at [redshirt big man] Hunter Sabety, who is sitting out this year, and thinking he was the next guy in there,” Mihalich said.

Mihalich credited Drexel coach Bruiser Flint with recognizing the weakness and attacking inside. The Dragons enjoyed a 36-28 advantage in points in the paint, but Hofstra held Drexel to 5-for-17 three-point shooting (29.4 percent) and had a 7-0 advantage in fast-break points to make up for it.

Mihalich somehow managed to keep both Gustys and Walker from fouling out by switching up his zone defense, but foul trouble is a problem that could derail Hofstra with its relative lack of depth. “I almost fouled out of the game, but Andre Walker came in and stepped up well,” Gustys said. “He got a couple buckets and some rebounds, and Denton Koon got some rebounds. They filled my spot. That’s what a team is for.”

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