Guards Stevie Mejia and Taran Buie had combined to score 11 of 15 Hofstra points as the Pride fought down the stretch to hold off South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, whose NBA-caliber talents were coming to the fore.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 1:05 left, Hofstra coach Mo Cassara decided to add starting guard Shaquille Stokes to the mix.
"They all do a good job, and they're tough to guard defensively," Cassara explained.
Talk about pushing the right button at the right time. Cassara hit the jackpot.
Stokes hit a short jumper in heavy traffic near the rim, and after Wolters tied the score with a long three-pointer, Stokes called his own number again. He buried a three-pointer with three seconds remaining for a 66-63 victory over the Jackrabbits Friday night at the Mack Sports Complex.
"Taran and Stevie kept calling for the ball," Stokes said. "I waved them off. I said, 'I'm going to have to shoot this one.' "
No doubt, the three-guard offense will become one of Cassara's staples this season. Buie, a Penn State transfer who spent last season at the end of the bench in sweats, was eligible to play for the first time and provided a huge spark with 11 of his 14 points in the first half.
"It felt great," Buie said. "It's been a long journey, a long two years. There was a lot of stuff I had to go through to make it back to the court. I'm proud I played as well as I did."
Mejia's performance might have been his best for Hofstra (1-2). He scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and added seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and only one turnover in 37 minutes. He also had the unenviable task of guarding Wolters (25 points, 10 rebounds) with double-team help from forward Jimmy Hall (eight points, nine rebounds) and did a solid job.
"I tried to stay in front of him and tried to be a pest," Mejia said. "He's a great player, and his numbers showed it."
Wolters scored the final eight points for South Dakota State (1-2) in a 10-4 run that tied the score at 63, and it looked for a second as if he might will his team to a win. But Hofstra showed tremendous grit, especially for a team that opened with two 29-point road losses. And as well as Wolters played, he was outnumbered by Hofstra's guards.