With the seconds left in a tie game Hofstra sophomore Shaquille Stokes was not worried about having the ball in his hands with the chance to win.
The Hawaii transfer, who was recently granted a Hardship Waiver from the NCAA to play right away, had the ball near half court and under 10 seconds left in a tie game.
“I know Taran [Buie] and Stevie [Mejia] kept calling for the ball,” Stokes said. “I waved them off saying, ‘I’m going to have to shoot this one.'”
Stokes nailed a three pointer over a defender’s hand with three seconds left to give Hofstra a 66-63 lead. A last second push was made by South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters up to Brayden Carlson but his shot hit the rim, securing the victory of the season for Hofstra.
Wolters would push the Jackrabbits back into the game with three points to cut the lead to one and tie the game at 63 with 32 seconds left. He led South Dakota State with 25 points and 10 rebounds on 9 of 18 shooting.
Mejia led the Pride in the second half with clutch plays and active defense on South Dakota State’s leading scorer Nate Wolters. Mejia, seen pounding the hardwood floor several times throughout the contest, picked Wolters pocket at half court and his subsequent layup gave the Pride a 48-43 lead with 10:56 left in the game. Mejia scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for the Pride who shot 50% from two point range in the second half.
“Just stay in front of him, try to be a pest,” Mejia said of how he defended Wolters. “Every time he has the ball just try and be in front of him and let him know I’m there.”
“He’s a great player, his numbers show but most importantly we got the win. I’m glad about that.”
Hofstra head coach Mo Cassara said that he and his staff argued about how they wanted to defend Wolters for the entire week before deciding to place Mejia with the task of guarding the Summit League’s Preseason Player of the Year.
“He’s a tough guard,” Cassara said of Wolters. “We were arguing in my office for the last three days every day on how we were going to guard him. I walked out a couple of times because we couldn’t agree.”
Hofstra was able to hold Wolters down with active man to man defense and the occasional double team, forcing him to turn the ball over three times. However Wolters’ three pointer at the end of the first half gave the Jackrabbits a 32-31 lead.
“The play that actually bothered me was the end of the first half,” Cassara said. “If the shot clock’s going down at the end of the game or the half run at him make him pass the ball and kick it to somebody. He actually hit one late in the game too where I think we backed off. He’s a terrific player and he makes you make mistakes.”
Wolters made a three pointer with 1:28 left to cut Hofstra lead to one at 61-60 and a three pointer with 32 seconds left to tie the game at 63. Stokes responded to each one with a dribble drive floater to give Hofstra a 63-60 lead and the game winning three pointer.
Taran Buie made his Hofstra debut off the bench and missed only one free throw in the first half. Buie knocked down his first look, a three pointer, to give the Pride an 11-8 lead early. Buie ended up tying a team-high 14 points with Mejia on 4 of 7 shooting.
“It felt great,” Buie said. “It’s been a long journey a long two years since I’ve been on the court.”
“There’s been a lot of off the court stuff that I’ve had to get through to get to this place so I’m very proud of myself for making it back on the court and then playing as well as I did today. But I just want to give that credit to my coaches for sticking with me and believing in me through the whole thing.”
Buie, transferred from Penn State but sat out the first two games of the season due to a violation of team rules. His 14 points off the bench helped Hofstra beat South Dakota State 26-7 in bench points.
“The first two games we played we just struggled to score,” Cassara said. “Turan came off made a couple shots for us got us going.”
“When that first shot went in [for Turan], it was almost like the pressure just came off everybody because all of the sudden we’ve got another threat to score. He’s got his feet underneath him and then all of the sudden we put the ball in the basket. It’s amazing when you’re putting the ball in the basket you play a little harder on defense.”
Hofstra led by as many as five points in a game that saw 10 ties and nine lead changes.
Jimmy Hall, who led Hofstra with 17 points in their last game against Purdue, grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds. Hall was in on second chances throughout the second half and his spin move to the basket with 5:06 left gave the Pride a 57-52 lead.
The Jackrabbits would break a 16-16 deadlock in the first half with a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 23-16. The Pride would respond right back with a run of their own to tie the game at 25 led by 7 points from Buie. Wolters three pointer on the final possession of the half gave South Dakota State a 32-31 halftime edge. The Jackrabbits made just two of their 12 three pointers during the first half and just five of their 20 attempts for the game.
“I thought we contested every shot,” Cassara said. “They share the ball as well as any team I’ve ever coached against.”
The win was the ninth straight home opening win for Hofstra, dating back to the 2004-05 season. They will have a chance to win two straight when they face Division II District of Columbia on Saturday followed by a matchup with Marshall of Conference USA on Sunday.
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