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A 17-0 run during which four different Pride players knocked down 3-pointers helped Hofstra pull away from William & Mary early in the second half Wednesday night for a 77-60 CAA victory. After nursing a narrow lead for much of the game, the Pride’s furious run broke the game open as they led by as much as 23 late in the game.
Graduate transfer Zeke Upshaw led all scorers with 21 points and narrowly missed a double-double, pulling down eight rebounds. Upshaw has had a tremendous year for the Pride so far. After averaging just 2.5 ppg with Illinois State last year, he has exploded for a 19.2 ppg average this year. This surge in production is the highest statistical improvement of any player in the nation since last season. Upshaw’s emergence as a star on this roster has been invaluable to Hofstra’s success. With the win they improved to 3-1 in the CAA and continue to exceed all expectations.
After trading baskets for much of the first half, Hofstra took a 34-33 lead into halftime helped by 11 points from Upshaw. The two teams continued to trade blows until a Moussa Kone layup at the 16:35 mark sparked Hofstra’s 17-0 run. During the run Jamall Robinson, Darren Payen, Chris Jenkins, and Upshaw each knocked down a 3-pointer. After a Tim Rusthoven layup for William & Mary ended the run, the Pride responded with a mini 5-0 run to stretch their lead to 23 and cruise home for the comfortable victory.
“We changed our defense,” said head coach Joe Mihalich of the second half run. “I think it took them a little bit out of their rhythm, and consequently the shots they were getting weren’t the ones they were getting in the first half. We allowed them just one shot, we were able to get some momentum on offense, I thought we shared the ball, we were shot-ready when the ball came our way, and we made our shots.”
“We were getting stops, rebounding, running and just making shots,” added Upshaw. “The bench got into it and that got us going, got the spirit up. We were just knocking down shots.”
William & Mary’s offense became one-dimensional in the second half, as Rusthoven was the only Tribe player to record a field goal in the first 14:50 of the frame. The Tribe’s leading scorer, junior Marcus Thornton (18.8 ppg), was held to just six first half points, but finished the game strong to end up with 17 while dishing out five assists. Rusthoven was the only other teammate in double-figures with 13 points and eight rebounds. Freshman standout Omar Prewitt (13.5 ppg) was held scoreless for the first time in his short career.
William & Mary has been extremely proficient in shooting 3-pointers this year, making 38.7% of their attempts from behind the arc, good for 27th in the nation. However, Hofstra was able to turn the tables and beat them at their own game Wednesday night. The Pride made 50% of their 3-point attempts, going 5-10 from deep in each half. On the flip side, the Tribe made just two of their 12 attempts in the second half and finished the game 8-25 (32%) from behind the arc.
Two other Hofstra players joined Upshaw in double figures. Fellow graduate transfer Dion Nesmith recorded his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. It was the first point-assist double-double recorded by a Hofstra player since Stevie Mejia achieved the feat last February against Old Dominion. Stephen Nwaukoni recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. The senior forward has led the team in rebounding each of the last five games and has recorded double-digit rebounds in four of those five.
In a scary moment at the end of the first half, Hofstra’s Jordan Allen took a hit to the head while going for a rebound on the final possession. The sophomore forward lay on the floor for about five minutes after the half ended and did not emerge from the locker room with the team for the second half. While Nesmith missed three games earlier this year, Allen filled in at point guard and has continued to play a small role at the position since Nesmith’s return. Allen was being evaluated by medical staff following the game, but if he were to miss any significant time it would put a strain on an already thin roster.
Hofstra returns to action Saturday Jan. 25 as they play host to Northeastern at 4 p.m.