Three times at Matthews Arena on Thursday night, Hofstra had the ball with a chance to win as the clock expired. Three times, the Pride’s shots didn’t fall. But when the visitors got an opportunity to win by playing defense, they came through, stopping Northeastern on a key possession to earn a thrilling 96-92, triple-overtime victory.
In the final minute of the third overtime, Juan’Ya Green’s floater in the lane gave Hofstra a one-point lead. The Huskies had plenty of time to answer on the other end, but Denton Koon blocked a mid-range jumper by Quincy Ford, and a second Ford shot was obstructed in traffic. Northeastern kept possession for a sideline inbounds with nine seconds remaining, but the Pride forced a five-second violation, and free throws sealed the victory.
“I just thought it was a little bit of grittiness. We played man-to-man, it’s not our best defense, but we just challenged the guys and told them to sit down and guard,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “We got our hand on the ball and got some deflections, and I thought Rokas [Gustys] made a good play in there somewhere, and we just went after the ball like it was ours.”
The Pride could have won long before the overtime thrills. They rode hot shooting (8-14 from three) to a 10-point halftime lead, which grew to 12 following the break. Even after that edge disappeared, Hofstra immediately responded with an 8-0 run and still led by eight at the under-four timeout.
But Northeastern got back into the game with three-pointers from Caleb Donnelly and Quincy Ford, two of the Huskies’ 17 treys (on 34 attempts). Off of a sideline inbounds play with 19 seconds left, David Walker drove from the right wing for an easy layup, forcing overtime when Green’s last-second layup rimmed out.
The Pride led by multiple possessions in the first overtime, and Northeastern in the second, but both ended with the score tied and Hofstra’s ball. Green missed a mid-range jumper the first time, and Koon missed a hook shot in the lane the latter.
“That was two great, great teams, knockout punch after knockout punch,” Mihalich said. “I thought both teams won it and lost it — we probably won it four times and lost it three, they probably won it three times but lost it four.”
Hofstra’s experienced backcourt was the biggest reason it was named the CAA’s preseason favorite. But its frontcourt carried it for much of Thursday’s game. The Pride outscored Northeastern 42-28 in the paint, and they grabbed three times as many offensive rebounds (21-7) on the same number of chances.
Gustys, of course, couldn’t repeat his 25-point, 20-rebound performance from Saturday — so he settled for a mere 23 and 20 instead. (In fairness, he did have 10 extra minutes.) Northeastern had no match for the sophomore center, a constant double-double threat who has added balance to the Pride’s lineup. He shot 10-13 from the floor, partnering with Green for unstoppable pick-and-rolls and cleaning up for his teammates (eight offensive rebounds).
Forward Denton Koon added 22 points, including 11 straight for Hofstra to start the first overtime period. Koon, a graduate transfer from Princeton, has been a streaky shooter throughout his career — but he can get as hot as anybody, as when he hit three straight treys in that run (all from Green feeds).
Hofstra snaps an eight-game losing streak to Northeastern and remains in a tie atop the CAA at 5-2, alongside William & Mary, James Madison and UNC Wilmington. (Northeastern and Towson were part of the same group before taking losses Thursday.) The Pride host William & Mary on Saturday, a chance to avenge last year’s double-overtime loss in the conference tournament — as long as they can catch their breath first.
“I can promise you our practice won’t be very long or very hard tomorrow, because we’re going to get home at 5 in the morning, and then we’re going to play the game in a day and a half,” Mihalich said.
Edit: Thanks to the snowstorm, they’ll get an extra 20 hours.
Three more thoughts from Matthews Arena, one for each overtime:
1. What a night for stat-stuffing. Gustys was just one of five players with double-doubles in the marathon game. Koon (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Zach Stahl (19 and 11) joined him with rebounds, while Green (23 and 14 assists) and Walker (18 and 13 assists) did so with passing. Despite going three overtimes, Hofstra’s bench totaled only 16 minutes, and Green and Walker played all 55.
2. The Huskies’ defense had few answers. These Huskies look much like the team that reached the NCAA tournament in 2015, but the graduation of Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer has left them thinner inside. Defense has been the Huskies’ undoing in all three CAA losses this year — they surrendered at least 1.13 points per possession in each — and Gustys isn’t the first opponent to shoot well in the paint.
Admittedly, no team can easily stop big men while also spying on guards like Hofstra’s. “[Gustys] is the beneficiary of playing with such a terrific guard,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “Juan’Ya Green puts so much pressure on the defense, you have to use two men, or at least a man and a half, to contain him. Gustys, when he gets his momentum going to the basket, he has great hands and finishes really well around the hoop, so he’s a really tough guard when you put those two in the combination ballscreen action.”
3. Hofstra and Northeastern are fun. The best regular-season game I attended last season featured Hofstra at Northeastern, a 91-83 shootout that was back-and-forth and crisply played. Thursday’s game wasn’t like that one, but it was very entertaining in its own way. There were only 29 fouls called in 55 minutes, and the same number of turnovers (17%). And the fans at Matthews Arena saw multiple comebacks and lots of free basketball. With such a packed league, expect more drama this season and in the CAA tournament.