Juan’ya Green proved Thursday night exactly why he was selected as the preseason CAA Player of the Year.
Hofstra suffered their poorest shooting performance from distance all season but were still able to grind out a 69-61 victory over Drexel. The high-octane Pride average 80.5 ppg and over 38% from 3-point range this season, but were held to just 16.7% from distance Thursday night.
These shooting struggles landed Hofstra into a mud fight with the Dragons. Though Drexel failed to hold a lead for the first 33:38 of the game, they were able to stay within range and hold Hofstra’s lead to single digits throughout the second half.
Twice Drexel tied the game – first at 38, then at 45 – but it wasn’t until Kazembe Abif’s layup with 6:22 remaining that the Dragons held their first lead of the game.
It didn’t last long.
After the teams traded baskets and Drexel took a 56-54 lead with 5:25 remaining, Green decided enough was enough. The Pride’s star guard took over the game with a personal 10-0 run to push the Pride’s lead to eight with just over three minutes remaining.
With the ninth point of that run, a short jumper in the paint, Green reached 22 for the game and more importantly 2,000 for his illustrious career. He joins D.J. Balentine of Evansville as the only two active players in the 2,000 career point club.
“It’s a great honor; I’m thankful and grateful for it,” Green said, remaining humble after reaching the 2,000 point milestone. “I just try to not think about it as much and just make plays for my team. If I kept thinking about it, I would just try to score the ball all the time thinking about that next point. I just kept thinking about making plays for my team and getting someone open rather than shooting the ball.”
Green powered Hofstra’s victory, as he has powered their offense all season, but he was not the only star Thursday night. Sophomore forward Rokas Gustys achieved his seventh double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds while frontcourt mate Denton Koon set a new career high with 13 rebounds, including nine in the first half.
“He’s like a walking double-double,” head coach Joe Mihalich said of Gustys. “He sets the tone for toughness. Rokas’ toughness gets contagious for us.”
Despite Gustys’ continued success during his breakout sophomore season, he was quick to give Green the credit for leading the team to victory.
“Juan’ya is the first man we go to, and he’s taken care of us,” Gustys said of Green. “He’s the best leader for us right now and throughout the year, so we believe in him.”
Green joined an elite club with his 2,000th point, but has the opportunity to join an even more exclusive group later this season.
As anyone who follows Hofstra knows, Green was one of two players to transfer to Hofstra from Niagara when Mihalich was hired as the Pride’s head coach prior to the 2013-14 season. In two seasons with the Purple Eagles, Green amassed 1,131 points. Green now sits at 872 points with the Pride, and if he were to pass the 1,000 point barrier with Hofstra, he would become just the fourth player in Division I history to score 1,000 points at two different schools.
While Green downplayed the attention he pays to these lofty milestones, his coach offered another milestone to aim for.
“The other milestone he’s talking about is trying to get another win,” Mihalich said when the goal of scoring 1,000 points at two different schools was brought up.
Hofstra won’t have to wait long for a chance at another win. The Pride (4-1 CAA), who have not lost on their home court this season, host James Madison (3-2 CAA) Saturday afternoon in a clash of the top two teams in the preseason CAA poll.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.