In a pivotal Colonial Athletic Association matchup with William & Mary on Thursday, Hofstra needed someone to be its rock. How fitting that it was the guy they call “Rok.’’
Senior center Rokas Gustys had 22 points and 21 rebounds to help the Pride earn a 90-84 win before 2,102 at the Mack Sports Complex and push its way into a third-place tie with the Tribe in the CAA standings.
Eli Pemberton had 26 points, his eighth game this season with at least 20 and the fourth time he’s done it in the last five games. Justin Wright-Foreman had 19 points, added a career-high seven assists and might have made the biggest shot of the game for Hofstra (16-11, 9-6): a three-pointer with 30 seconds left for an 83-76 lead.
“I’m really proud of this team for playing the way we played at the defensive end,’’ Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said.
“There’s going to be chuckles because they scored 84 points,” Mihalich added, noting that the Tribe (16-10, 9-6) has the CAA’s highest-scoring offense. “They are going to score some points and you have to outscore them.”
This is the third time in his career that Gustys — who fouled out with 1:04 to play — has eclipsed 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. It’s the first time he’s done it in regulation.
“Rok takes what the game gives him . . . . As the year’s gone on, guys have gotten better and better at getting the ball to him,” Mihalich said. “We know to look for him and he’s finishing when he gets the ball.”
Said Gustys, “Coming in, I got myself going and wanted to get every single rebound. They were finding me for open shots.”
Hofstra led nearly the entire game. Pemberton had 17 of his points and shot 6-for-7 in the first half, and Gustys, Wright-Foreman and Jaylen Ray picked up the beat in the final 10 minutes of the half. Wright-Foreman went the length of the court for a fast-break layup and a 46-29 lead with 4:33 left.
“It’s a good time to be hot,” Pemberton said of his recent play. “Coach says ‘hot now,’ so that’s our thing.”
But Hofstra’s lead shrunk to 48-38 at halftime and William & Mary moved within 61-56 with about 12 minutes left when Nathan Knight hit layups on consecutive possessions.
When Justin Pierce (24 points) put back his own miss with 52.7 seconds left, the margin was four. And though Wright-Foreman was in a 5-for-16 shooting night, Mihalich knew whom he wanted with the ball. Wright-Foreman hit the step-back three-pointer to get the Pride out of danger.
“He had uncharacteristically made a couple bad plays down the stretch,” Mihalich said. “I said, ‘Let’s have Justin run this play.’ And down the bench I hear, ‘But he just made a couple bad plays.’ And I said, ‘Let’s have Justin run this play.’ ’’