One minute, Hofstra was cruising toward a dominant win over Elon, and the next, it was missing one critical free throw after another down the stretch and headed toward the shoals of a shocking loss as the Phoenix rallied for a one-point lead with 1:13 left.
But with the score tied in the final seconds, the ball found Juan’ya Green, and Pride coach Joe Mihalich had the good sense to listen to his star, ignore the urge to call timeout and let the natural order of things unfold. Green ended a poor shooting night by burying a 19-foot jumper with 2.1 seconds left to give Hofstra a 66-64 victory Thursday night at Mack Sports Complex.
Elon guard Luke Eddy launched a shot from midcourt before the buzzer, but it was blocked cleanly by Desure Buie to ensure the win for the Pride (15-6, 7-2 CAA), which got another monster game from center Rokas Gustys with 23 points and 19 rebounds. But a 3-for-10 performance at the foul line by Gustys, who missed six of eight free throws in the final 7:09, left the door open for Elon (12-10, 3-6) until Green closed it.
“No. 1 wasn’t going to let us lose,” Mihalich said of Green. “It was the classic, ‘Coach, give me the ball and tell everybody to get out of the way.’ ”
After trailing by 13, the Phoenix hit three three-pointers in a 17-3 run that ended with a dunk by Christian Hairston for a 64-63 lead at the 1:13 mark. Hofstra tied it at 64 with :35.6 to go when Denton Koon made the second of two foul shots. Buie went for a steal and was called for a foul with 17.3 seconds left, but Eddy missed the first of the one-and-one and Gustys rebounded and passed to Green.
“I could see Coach was going to call a timeout,” Green said, “and I told him, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m not the dumbest, either,” Mihalich said with a smile. “I listened to him.”
Green, who was scoreless in the first half and made only four of 14 shots in a 12-point night, hit the one that counted. Until then, Gustys led the way with his seventh consecutive double-double, falling short of his third 20-20 game in that stretch by one rebound. Ameen Tanksley added 13 points and Koon had 12.
Dmitri Thompson topped Elon with 17 points. The Phoenix shot 51.5 percent in the second half after starting the game 1-for-16.
It was the Pride’s first game since losing sixth man Malik Nichols to a season-ending knee injury, but Gustys stepped up.
“This guy is getting to be incredible,” Mihalich said. “He’s a go-to guy now.”