Hofstra 80, Sacred Heart 73: The Pride Survive

Sometimes the end justifies the means. Hofstra didn’t have the easy time anticipated when they hosted 1-9 Sacred Heart Monday evening, but in the end the Pride managed the 80-73 victory.

Joe Mihalich
Joe Mihalich was not pleased with his team’s inconsistency down the stretch of their non-conference schedule

Hofstra trailed by as much as 11 early in the second half and seemed to have no answer for the Pioneer’s star Cane Broome’s shutdown allowed Hofstra to crawl back from what was a five point deficit at the time of Broome’s last basket. Leading the charge was Juan’ya Green, who scored 20 of his team-leading 22 points in the second half.

Hofstra finally regained the lead on a Brian Bernardi 3-pointer with just under six minutes remaining. As the ball fell through the net, a sigh of relief enveloped the Pride’s sideline. Battling through foul trouble and trailing for over half the game, Hofstra finally came away ahead, and at the end of the day that tally in the win column is all that matters.

Here are three thoughts from Hofstra’s come-from-behind victory.

Rokas Gustys had a career night despite foul trouble. Hofstra’s towering sophomore netted a career-high 17 points in just 16 minutes Monday night. Gustys posted 11 points in the first half despite logging just 10 minutes before picking up two fouls.

Sacred Heart had no answer for Gustys in the paint, but were saved from his wrath for good after he picked up two more fouls in just over a minute midway through the second half.

“I felt pretty comfortable and confident today,” Gustys said. “But my fouls stopped me from doing much better.”

Gustys has showed marked improvement in his sophomore season, increasing his averages from 5.2 ppg and 5.7 rpg in 2014-15 to 8.8 ppg and 9.1 rpg this season. The young forward has already proven himself to be one of the top players at his position in the CAA and his dominance against Sacred Heart gave a glimpse of his full potential.

Juan’ya Green once again proved he is the lifeblood of this Hofstra team. As Green goes, so go the Pride. The senior guard averages 16.5 ppg, but through the first half Monday night tallied just two points on a pair of free throws – a big reason why Hofstra trailed by four at halftime.

It took over 23 minutes, but Green finally knocked down his first field goal of the game early in the second half. The basket was a simple layup, but kickstarted a 20-point half for the senior and spurred the Pride’s comeback effort.

“He finally realized he’s got to play,” head coach Joe Mihalich said of Green coming alive in the second half. “I don’t know why he had the half he had in the first half. He did show some composure and then have a good second half and made plays when we needed him to.”

Green’s production had dropped off recently with lackluster efforts on the road against Siena and Stony Brook, the latter largely due to early foul trouble. The Pride’s star guard averaged just 8.5 ppg in those two losses, and the team failed to break the 70-point barrier in each.

Things don’t get any easier from here on out. The Pride wrapped up their non-conference schedule with an 8-4 record, tallying wins over Florida State, St. Bonaventure, and La Salle, but the road ahead doesn’t get any smoother with the start of CAA play looming.

Hofstra gets the in-conference portion of their schedule started on New Year’s Eve with an afternoon tilt against Delaware. The Blue Hens have been ravaged by injuries and face the Pride off a quick turnaround after visiting Buffalo Tuesday night. Hofstra may not face a stiff test from Delaware, but the rest of the league looks like trouble.

Though a mid-major conference, the CAA ranks ninth among all 32 conferences according to KenPom. Four of the conference’s members – William & Mary, Northeastern, UNCW, and James Madison – fall within KenPom’s top 100 teams, with Hofstra sitting just outside at 106. In addition to the Pride’s marquee wins, the conference gets a boost by virtue of Northeastern owning the only win over Miami this season.

“We’ve got to decide we want to show up every night.” Mihalich said of the attitude approaching conference play. “I don’t know who we’re beating in our conference playing the way we played tonight. If we play the way we played against [Florida State] we’ll have a good shot at beating everybody in the conference.”

Though picked to win the CAA in the preseason poll, Hofstra will face plenty of challenges in the coming months. The conference is clearly stronger than anyone had anticipated, and the Pride will need to play a more consistent version of their game to reach their goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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