This is guest post by Jerry Beach, follow him on twitter @defiantlydutch.
BALTIMORE — Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich, the son of a minor league pitcher, was left to search for a baseball analogy in the first half of Saturday’s CAA Tournament quarterfinal game against Drexel.
Andre Walker, who acts as the in-case-of-emergency big man for Hofstra, picked up his third foul with 4:27 left in the first half. As the referee came over to the press table to explain the call, Rokas Gustys, the Pride’s All-CAA first team center, remained seated in warmups with two fouls.
So Mihalich turned towards the Hofstra bench, his hands on his hips and his eyes searching for someone who wasn’t there.
“I was looking at Hunter Sabety, sitting out this year, thinking he was the next guy in there,” Mihalich said of the 6-foot-8 transfer from Division II Tufts. “Our third-string catcher had to be ready to go. I don’t even know who that is. We don’t have a third-string catcher.”
Despite lacking a third-string catcher, the Pride managed to survive the game-long foul troubles of Gustys and Walker during a wire-to-wire 80-67 win over Drexel.
Top-seeded Hofstra will face fifth-seeded William & Mary, which beat James Madison 79-64, in the semifinals Sunday at 1 PM. It will be a rematch of last season’s classic CAA semifinal, which William & Mary won, 92-91, in double overtime.
“We were able to nurse it along, keep them in the game, change up some things we did to ourselves,” Mihalich said.
Gustys picked up his second foul with 6:46 left in the first and sat out the rest of the half. He recorded his third foul 43 seconds into the second half and his fourth with 9:50 remaining. He ended up playing just 20 minutes, his fewest of the CAA season.
Walker played a season-high 18 minutes even though he played his final three minutes in the first half with three fouls and more than six minutes in the second half with four fouls. Mihalich swapped out Gustys and Walker five times in the second half before relying largely on Walker in the final 10 minutes.
Fellow little-used reserves Desure Buie and Justin Wright-Foreman combined to play 16 minutes as Mihalich occasionally went very small.
“You just never know when your number’s going to be called,” Mihalich said. “I thought all of them really helped us.”
It wasn’t an optimal situation for Hofstra—Drexel scored 20 of its 38 second-half points in the paint—but Gustys and Walker managed to make just enough plays and the Pride hit enough big shots to keep the Dragons at bay.
“They realized they could attack the post a little bit,” Mihalich said.
Gustys and Walker were each aggressive on both sides of the floor despite their foul issues. Gustys recorded a block nine seconds after his third foul and might have gotten away with a fourth foul midway through the half, when he lowered his shoulder into Kazimbe Abif, who fell over and was whistled for a blocking foul on Gustys’ drive to the basket seconds later.
Walker played the next 6:29 after Gustys’ fourth foul, during which the Pride extended their lead from 12 to 14. Walker recorded a steal and a block on consecutive possession as the Dragons were trying to cut the Hofstra lead to single digits.
The block jumpstarted a 9-2 run by the Pride in which Brian Bernardi, Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley all hit 3-pointers to extend the lead to 73-54 with 5:12 left. Drexel never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
Green (a game-high 22 points) also sparked the biggest run of the first half, when a pair of 3-pointers bookended an 8-0 run that extended Hofstra’s lead to 34-19. Drexel got the deficit to single digits just once more.
“You’ve just got to get that first tournament game under your belt,” Mihalich said. “Little jitters and all that stuff. I thought our seniors handled it well. If anybody had some nerves, I couldn’t tell because people like Juan’ya and Ameen loosened them up.”
Gustys (16 points and 11 rebounds) recorded his 20th double-double of the season while Bernardi added 14 points and Tanksley scored 13 points. With Hofstra’s win, the CAA’s no. 1 seed improved to 33-1 all-time in its first tournament game.
Rodney Williams (20 points and 11 rebounds) produced a double-double for ninth-seeded Drexel (6-25), which won its fewest games at the Division I level.