Aaron Estrada, Tyler Thomas deliver as Hofstra moves into tie for first in CAA
It may be time for Hofstra to start thinking big.
In the course of six days, the Pride have altered the balance of power in the Colonial Athletic Association and discovered a new horizon.
It started Saturday when they shocked the 18th-ranked College of Charleston in South Carolina. Hofstra followed that on Thursday with a sensational encore, a scintillating 76-72 victory over preseason favorite Towson before 2,023 at Mack Sports Complex. It put them in a tie for first place.
“Our play at Charleston prepared us for tonight,” Pride coach Speedy Claxton said. “That was a big win [in] a big-game atmosphere. My guys knew what was at stake . . . We knew if we won that game, we’d hold a tiebreaker if something weird happens down the stretch.”
Something weird did happen as he was speaking those words. Drexel finished off a 70-69 home win over Charleston, vaulting Hofstra (16-8, 9-2) into the driver’s seat for the top seeding in next month’s CAA Tournament. The Cougars also are 9-2, but Hofstra holds the tiebreaker.
“The league is up for grabs and the [NCAA] Tournament is up for grabs,” Claxton said.
Hofstra was unshakable against the Tigers in avenging a 21-point loss in Maryland last month.
Towson (16-8, 8-3) led by 11 with 3:05 left in the first half, by eight with 12:10 to play and — after Hofstra grabbed a momentary one-point edge — by seven with 6:33 left as Nicolas Timberlake made his seventh three-pointer in a 32-point effort.
Aaron Estrada (27 points) and Tyler Thomas (20 points) led the Pride back. Estrada had 20 points and Thomas 12 in the second half.
The teams exchanged haymakers down the stretch. Estrada’s three-pointer with 2:44 left put the Pride up 70-67 and Towson answered with Ryan Conway’s three-pointer. Warren Williams made a one-hander in the lane, but Timberlake responded with a jumper for a tie at 72.
Finally, Thomas made a step-back jumper in the lane with 58 seconds left to break the final tie and, after a stop, Estrada made both ends of a one-and-one to ice it.
“We preach never giving up and keep fighting,” Estrada said. “We never put our heads down. We were never making faces. We just kept playing and that put us back in the game.”
Bryce Washington and Williams were the unsung heroes. Washington entered averaging 2.6 points and scored 12 on four three-pointers. The 6-9, 247-pound Williams had 10 points and gave Hofstra the muscle to compete with the more physical Tigers.
“We were talking about validation leading up to this game,” Claxton said. “It was a great emotional win — great ‘road kill’ — but we had to follow it up with another win. This game was even more important [once] we won at Charleston. We knew it. We were ready.”