Hofstra fans witnessed one of the great games in the history of Hofstra basketball Saturday afternoon. Sophomore forward Rokas Gustys dominated with 25 points and 20 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to earn the Pride the victory as Hofstra fell to James Madison University 86-82 in overtime.
The teams exchanged leads 14 times during a back and forth contest which perfectly encapsulated the level of parity present in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.
JMU held a two point lead in the final seconds of regulation, but Hofstra tied the game at 75 after Denton Koon followed up a missed Juan’ya Green layup with just seven seconds remaining. However, the Dukes kicked off overtime with an emphatic dunk from Yohanny Dalembert and never looked back, outscoring the Pride 11-7 in extra time.
Here are three thoughts from Hofstra’s overtime loss to JMU:
1.) Rokas Gustys is one of the best big men in New York. Gustys’ historic performance was the first 20-point, 20-rebound game from a Hofstra player since David Taylor matched Gustys’ 25 points and 20 rebounds against Wagner in 1982. It was one of the most efficient games of the Lithuanian native’s young career. Gustys shot 9-for-10 from the field, far exceeding his season average of 60.6%.
“Incredible,” Hofstra Head Coach Joe Mihalich said of Gustys’ historic performance. “There’s not a better rebounder in America. And we always kid him about getting 20 [rebounds] and he did it. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get that win so we could really enjoy that.”
The 25 points and 20 rebounds each set new career highs for Gustys, who has enjoyed a breakout sophomore season. Thanks to his stellar performance, the young forward now averages a double-double (of which he has eight this season) with 11.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg.
“It was good to have those numbers, but I’d rather have 10 points and 10 rebounds and have us win the game,” Gustys said. “I’m playing with a lot of confidence and my teammates really trust me and believe in me down in the post rebounding the ball.”
Part of Gustys’ success may have been due to JMU’s intention to focus their defensive efforts on Hofstra’s lethal guard corps. The Pride rank third in the CAA with an average of 80.5 ppg and lead the league with a 38% mark from beyond the arc, but were held to just 8-for-35 (22.9%) on Saturday.
“You kind of have to pick where you’re going to lean your defense,” JMU Head Coach Matt Brady commented on the success against Hofstra’s perimeter but failure to contain Gustys. “We did go into this game thinking [Brian] Bernardi and we wanted to try and neutralize him as best we could. Gustys is really becoming an outstanding player in this league and he’s a hard matchup for us.”
2.) Hofstra’s shooting struggles were not unique to this game. In fact, this is an ongoing problem for the Pride. As mentioned, Hofstra entered Saturday atop the CAA in 3-point shooting, converting 38% of their attempts. However, the Pride have shot just 22.5% from behind the arc over their last four games.
“No concerns, he’ll shoot his way out of it,” Mihalich said of forward Ameen Tanksley, who had been Hofstra’s leading scorer, but is shooting just 7-for-33 over his last two games. “He’s as tough as they come and he’s done this before. I know he’ll be in that gym the next couple of days getting shots up. The only time I would get upset with these guys if they had a good shot and didn’t take it.”
For a team that thrives on the 3-point shot, it may be an encouraging sign that the Pride have gone 2-2 over those four games (including Saturday’s overtime contest) despite struggling so uncharacteristically from long range.
Hofstra holds a 3-4 record in this season’s seven games in which they were held under 30% from 3-point range. The fact that that record is close to even is another reflection of Gustys’ development and his importance to the Pride.
To put it in perspective, removing Gustys’ efficiency from Saturday’s contest would bring the Pride’s shooting down from 36% to 27.7%. The guards may get most of the attention, but Gustys and the frontcourt are equally responsible for Hofstra’s success.
“We don’t have a chance to win without Rokas playing the way he’s playing,” Mihalich added.
3.) The CAA is a mess, but it’s a really good mess. JMU’s victory caused a six team traffic jam atop the CAA standings. Hofstra, James Madison, Towson, Northeastern, William & Mary, and UNC Wilmington all sit at 4-2 in conference play.
Six members of the conference sit in the top 130 of the NCAA RPI rankings, with four of them among the top 100 entering this weekend. The crazy fact is those six aren’t even the same six tied for first place!
44. William & Mary
101. James Madison
“Even if we had won the game, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Mihalich said. “It’s going to be a war every night. There’s going to be five incredible game every night in this league.”
Exceeding all expectations, the CAA is the ninth strongest conference in the NCAA according to conference RPI. Unlike other conferences, there is no defined elite few amongst the conference and it is sure to be a battle all the way through the conference tournament in Baltimore.
Check out a Photo Gallery from the game and make sure to like Big Apple Buckets on Facebook for more.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.