NEW YORK, NY – It was once again comeback time for Hofstra Sunday afternoon as the Pride erased a nine point first half deficit on their way to taking down Appalachian State 86-80 in the second game of the Holiday Festival doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
In a seesaw game that saw the score knotted 11 times and leads change hands eight times, the Pride placed four players in double figures and had no trouble scoring the ball, ending the game with 1.24 points per possession.
Brian Bernardi paced the Pride with 23 points, Ameen Tanksley added 18, Juan’ya Green contributed 17 points along with six assists, and Rokas Gustys locked down his third double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Here are three thoughts from Hofstra’s victory at the World’s Most Famous Arena:
1.) Hofstra’s confidence is growing every game. The Pride have proven they are an explosive offensive team, but in the process they are disproving the old adage “defense travels.” For Hofstra, it is the offense which has traveled with them wherever they go.
With the win over Appalachian State, the Pride improved to 4-2 this season in games played away from home. Within that, they hold a 2-2 record on a neutral court, with one of those losses coming in a one point loss to Indiana State in the third place game of the Paradise Jam tournament. In those six games, the Pride have averaged 81.8 points per game.
The reason the Pride have been able to take their offense on the road? Simply, they are a senior-laden team with a lot of confidence. They haven’t been able to finish off every game, as evidenced by the loss to Indiana State, but every game they knock down their 3’s and put up their points, they grow more confident.
“We’ve got some answers on offense,” Coach Joe Mihalich said. “We just have to find a way on the other end of the floor to be better. We are a confident offensive team. You’ve got to pick your poison with us.”
2.) The defense must improve. Hofstra’s troubles rested in the fact that they had trouble guarding Appalachian State. In particular, the Pride struggled to contain senior Frank Eaves, who set new career highs in points and field goals made. The Mountaineers’ star guard posted 38 points on 13-for-21 shooting.
“Whatever we did didn’t work,” Mihalich said of defending Eaves. “I think our biggest mistake was we let him get comfortable early on. He felt good, and the really good scorers, when they make their first couple of shots, that basket just gets bigger and bigger. It’s not like we didn’t have him circled on the scouting report. We just came out and didn’t make it hard for him early. We created a monster. He was terrific.”
Hofstra has ridden their high-powered offense to a 6-2 record to open the season, but they have needed that scoring success to cover up their defensive woes. Though the Pride are one of the top offenses in the CAA, averaging 85.5 ppg and shooting 40% from behind the arc, their offense has masked a defense allowing 78.3 ppg, landing at tenth among CAA teams.
Thanks to Eaves’ career night, the Pride once again struggled to defend, allowing Appalachian State to score 1.13 PPP.
“Our guys might have been too excited,” Mihalich said of playing at Madison Square Garden. “At least, they were more excited about being here than playing defense. We found a way to win. It wasn’t one of our better efforts, particularly defensively, but these two guys I’m sitting here with (Green and Bernardi) just weren’t going to let us lose.”
3.) Juan’ya Green – the Knick? It was Juan’ya Green’s first visit to Madison Square Garden, but is there a chance it may not be his last? The Knicks could certainly use a talented passer to feed the ball to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, so maybe Green ends up being that guy.
Whatever the chances may be for that destiny to play out, Mihalich couldn’t pass up another opportunity to praise his guard’s passing ability, and brought up the possibility of him playing at the Garden in the future.
“I always say he’s an elite passer,” Mihalich said of Green. “I know the Knicks play here and I’m not sure, with all due respect, that they’ve got someone who can pass like he passes.”
Green made himself at home with twelve second half points after battling foul trouble early on. For the Philadelphia native, it was a dream come true playing at Madison Square Garden.
“It was a great experience for me,” Green said. “Definitely one of my dreams come true to play in this arena knowing the history of the players who came to play here. I think it was a great experience and I’m glad we got the win.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.