Without Aaron Estrada, Hofstra pulls away from Stony Brook
This feels like the start of something big.
Stony Brook’s move to the Colonial Athletic Association before this school year made it not only a regional rival with Hofstra but also a conference rival. So when they met Saturday — with more than just bragging rights at stake — there was a big-game feel and some big-game play.
At least for a little while.
It’s said that records can be discarded in rivalry games, and so it was that in the second half, the front-running Pride and the middling Seawolves were separated by a mere four points.
Stony Brook made a charge early in the second half, but Hofstra pulled away for a 79-58 victory before a sellout crowd of 3,901 at Mack Sports Complex.
Many Pride fans wore gear emblazoned with “516 > 631.”
“The Island is blue,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said, referring to the Pride colors in contrast with SBU’s red.
“It was a great atmosphere. I wish every game would be like this. To have a crowd like that is going to raise these kids’ games. Playing for that crowd? Who wouldn’t get up for that?”
“It was a great environment,” Seawolves coach Geno Ford said. “Hopefully that’s something that we’ll be able to do when they come to our place [Feb. 18].”
The Pride (17-8, 10-2) was without leading scorer Aaron Estrada (illness), and several players raised their game to fill the void. Tyler Thomas had 29 points, nearly double his average, and 13-for-17 shooting.
Warren Williams, Bryce Washington and German Plotnikov each scored 14, bettering their respective averages of 7.8, 3.1 and 4.5 points. Hofstra’s Jaquan Carlos had 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“We weren’t really looking at any one guy to replace Estrada,” Claxton said. “We knew it was going to take a total team effort, which it did.”
Seawolves leading scorer Tyler Stephenson-Moore (hip) missed his third straight game. Toby Onyekonwu had 15 points and six assists, Kenan Sarvan scored 14 points, including four three-pointers, Frankie Policelli had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Keenan Fitzmorris added 12 points and four assists for SBU (8-16, 4-7).
Ford said playing without Stephenson-Moore “is a disaster for us in a million ways. We don’t have another wing player on the roster . . . who isn’t injured.”
Hofstra has won five straight and, because it owns the tiebreaker with Charleston, remains in position to capture the top seed for next month’s conference tournament. The Pride have six conference games left, one against a team over .500.
“We are extremely focused right now. We know what’s at stake. I am sure everybody does,’’ Claxton said. “We’re going to go from here. There is no looking back. As [Carlos] says, ‘It’s no U-turns.’ ’’
Thomas was smoldering from the start, hitting his first six shots. But the Seawolves kept pace and moved within 28-27 on Fitzmorris’ baseline jumper 5:10 before halftime.
Plotnikov had nine points as Hofstra closed the half with a 13-2 run.
SBU closed to 41-37 on Policelli’s three-pointer with 17:09 to play but got no closer. Washington had seven points and Thomas and Warren four apiece as the Pride went up 60-46 and continued to pull away.
“[The CAA is] a significant change from where we were — we’ve spent the last 25 years in low-major conference — and this is much different,” Ford said. “We’re still in a spot where most of our roster was recruited to play in the other league and they’ve been recruiting guys that we couldn’t get . . . At least we’re recruiting the same guys now.”