In coach Joe Mihalich’s mind, the vote for Colonial Athletic Association player of the year is all but closed, and the runaway winner is Hofstra’s Juan’ya Green. The reason is because of wonderfully improvisational plays like the one he made to feed Rokas Gustys for the winning layup with 2.7 seconds left in an 84-82 slugfest over Towson on Thursday night at Mack Sports Complex.
An 11-2 run fueled by three-pointers from Green, Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi gave the Pride a 79-71 lead with 4:21 left, but Towson came back to tie it at 82 and had the ball with 34 seconds left. But Bernardi drew a charge that regained possession for Hofstra before Mihalich called timeout with 13.7 seconds left.
Green held the ball above the three-point arc and then drove the left side of the lane before stepping back and going up as if to shoot before finding Gustys. The big center completed an 8-for-8 shooting night with the go-ahead layup to finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Green said the play was a total ad-lib. “I was just trying to get a mismatch with the big guys guarding me and probably take a shot,” Green said, “but I saw Rok open.”
Well, Gustys wasn’t completely open. “There was a man who stayed with me, and he tipped the pass,” Gustys said. “But I got it and scored. I wasn’t expecting it, but with Juan’ya, you always have to stay ready.”
Asked what his “mindset” was in calling a play for Gustys, Mihalich laughed and said, “The mindset was give the ball to Juan’ya. He might have a step-back move, he might shoot a three, he might throw an incredible pass to Rok and he might make the shot himself. When you have a great player, you stay out of his way and you let him make a great play.
“That’s why he’s the player of the year. He’s done it all year long. There’s a lot of great players in this league, but I’m not sure if it isn’t just about a one-man race for player of the year.”
Green had 21 points and 10 assists to lead the Pride (19-8, 11-4 CAA), which moved within a game of first place after North Carolina Wilmington lost at William & Mary to fall to 12-3 in CAA play. Tanksley added 20 points, shooting 8-for-12, and Bernardi had 12, hitting 4 of 8 from three-point range. Hofstra shot 68.0 percent in the second half. Towson (18-10, 9-6) had five players score in double figures, led by William Adala Moto with 20 points.
Since last-minute losses to UNCW and James Madison, Hofstra has won three straight, prompting Mihalich to say, “These guys have incredible spirit, heart, character, all the things you need to have to be a championship team.”