Three Thoughts: Hofstra 88, Columbia 86

Hofstra pulled out a two-point victory over Columbia on Tuesday in Morningside Heights. The game was a clash between two retooling New York City area teams and the Pride had a little more depth and grit in the victory.

Here are three throughts.

1. Hofstra’s offense is ready to go. The Pride scored 1.16 points per possession in the victory. Their 70% effective field goal percentage was driven by shooting nearly 50% (12-25) from 3. Brian Bernardi led the way with 21 points, as he shot 5-8 from deep. Four other players also scored in double-figures for Hofstra.

Right now the Columbia defense appears designed to give up the 3-pointer. Opponents are shooting 36% from 3 on the season, 217th in the country. Also, opponents are attempting 45% of their shots from 3, 333rd in the nation. The first of those numbers is hard to control—an opponent’s 3-point shooting is mostly luck. The second you can most certainly gameplan for. Jim Engle’s defense is sagging deep into the paint and it’s encouraging teams to shoot from deep. In every loss the Lions have paid for that decision.

2. Stars were in foul trouble. Both Rokas Gustys for Hofstra and Nate Hickman for Columbia picked up two early fouls and had to sit most of the first half. The Pride built a 6-point lead at the break because one of Columbia’s top players was sitting on the bench for 15 first half minutes. The Pride received strong minutes from Hunter Sabety and then, when Sabety got into foul trouble, Ty Greer slid over to the middle. Greer, a 6-foot-6 forward, hadn’t played the pivot all season, but the small lineup definitely worked for Joe Mihalich’s team. Even without Gustys on the court, Hofstra out-rebounded the Lions by 10 in the first half.

Hickman came back with a vengeance in the second. He scored 18 of his 21 points in the second 29 minutes, most of them during a personal 12-3 run that brought Columbia back within one point early in the half.

“When I was sitting there in the first half and seeing the guys out there playing hard I just felt like I wanted to try and make an impact as soon as I got in the game,” Hickman said. “It just ended up that I got the ball in some good situations and got some good shots.”

Hickman is averaging 3.6 fouls per 40 minutes. If Engles is going to auto-bench Hickman after two first half fouls they’ll need to find a better way to protect him defensively. The Lions need their talented lead guard on the court scoring points—since that’s what Columbia does best right now. Hickman did eventually foul out of the game with 1 second remaining.

Gustys also fouled out. He finished with six points and five rebounds in 13 minutes. Considering Gustys spends his nights battling for rebounds, it’s not surprising that he is committing 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes, but Hofstra could sure use his leadership on the court at the end of games.

3. Winning the game twice. After getting up by 12 points with 17:52 remaining, the Pride watched their lead completely disappear with two minutes left in the game. Luke Petrasek, who scored a game-high 27 points, hit a 3 to give Columbia the lead. But two free throws and a block by Eli Pemberton helped the Pride clinch the victory.

“We just kind of had a toughness to us at the end,” Mihalich said. “Some guys made plays when they absolutely had to.”

On the other end Engles was left to wonder if he could have made some different strategic decisions down the stretch. Columbia is now 3-3 on the season and is 1-2 in games decided by one possession.

The Pride have now won three games by a possession or less (they also have a tough 4-point loss at Sacred Heart). That grit has helped carried them to an unexpectedly strong 5-3 record to start the season.

“It speaks to the culture that we have and the character that these guys have,” Mihalich said about the close wins. “We can’t forget that Juan’ya Green used to carry us through the last five minutes of every game and now someone else is doing it.”

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