Exactly a year ago, Mo Cassara's Hofstra Pride traveled to New Rochelle, NY to take on Tim Cluess' Iona Gaels. It was the first season for both as head coaches in Division I Basketball. On that night, it was all Iona, as they dominated Hofstra, winning 87-62. It was the second-worst loss of the season (next to a forty-two point drubbing by eventual Elite Eight member North Carolina) for a Pride team that won twenty-one games and finished third in the CAA. It was also a Pride team that featured three time Haggerty Award winner and two time CAA Player of the year Charles Jenkins, who now plays for the Golden State Warriors.
So when Iona rolled into town last night sporting a 10-2 record, having won six of their seven previous games on an eight-game road trip, ready to face a Hofstra team that has struggled this season at 5-7, things did not look too good for Pride fans. Throw in the fact that starting point guard Steve Mejia was again out due to a hamstring injury against a Gaels team that loves to press and create turnovers, it seemed like a perfect storm.
Iona is one of the best offensive teams in the country this season. Fourth in scoring at 85.9 points per game. Second in assists in 20.2 per game. Fifth in field goal percentage at 50.9 percent. They are ranked eighth in Ken Pomeroy's effective field goal percentage at 56.8 percent , fifth in two-point field goal percentage at 56.2 percent and thirty-third in the country at offensive turnover percentage at 17.9 percent. And having seen them in person put up one hundred points twice in home wins over LIU and St. Joseph's in overtime, simply put, they are an offensive juggernaut.
The Gaels were going to be a tall task for a Pride team that had won two in a row after losing their four previous games prior to that. But Hofstra had faced a similar challenge during this season when they met undefeated Cleveland State, another team highly talked about as potentially getting an at large NCAA bid due to their non-conference wins. The Pride handed the Vikings their first loss of the season in Rhode Island, so the potential was there to pull off another upset.
This was the second game of a doubleheader. The first game was a women's basketball game, where a fundamentally sound Princeton team held off a Hofstra team that had won nine of its first eleven games. My older son and I had been there for the entire first game, so we were now entering hour three of our hoops festival.
Due to the local and national publicity Iona has garnered for their high-octane offense and 10-2 record, a large and late-arriving crowd started filling the Mack Center. Included in the crowd was New York radio show host Mike Francesca, who sat in the first row of the section next to me. He was there just like everyone else, wanting to see two of the better New York City metro area college basketball programs square off in the final scheduled non-conference game for both teams this season.
Hofstra came right out and made a statement to the crowd of more than 4,200. David Imes and Nathaniel Lester combined to score the first eight points as the Pride took an early 8-4 lead. But Michael Glover had three monster dunks and Kyle Smyth's three-pointer gave Iona its first lead at 13-12 with about twelve minutes left in the first half.
Over the next couple of minutes, the teams exchanged leads back and forth. The game was tied at 22 with eight and half minutes remaining in the first half. Hofstra fans had to be pleased that the Pride were going toe to toe with the Gaels, unlike their matchup last season. What they were about to see in the next fifteen minutes of game action was stunning and completely unexpected.
The warning signs were already there for Iona. In the first eleven and a half minutes, the Gaels had committed an uncharacteristic eight turnovers. A lot of credit goes to the Pride defense for their inspired play. But for the rest of the first half, Iona would actually top that total. Over the last eight and a half minutes, Iona would commit another ten turnovers.
And Hofstra took full advantage, outscoring the Gaels 21-6 in that span. That was due in large part to Imes and Mike Moore, who combined for 15 of the 21 Hofstra points. Imes was particularly impressive as he was very aggressive on the boards, with eight rebounds, including three of Hofstra's nine offensive rebounds in the first half.
The Pride entered the half up 43-28, much to the delight of the Pride faithful in the crowd. Statistically, it was as if the world had shifted on its axis. The team that prides itself on ball possession, Iona, had turned the ball over 18 times. That allowed Hofstra 12 more shot attempts and seven more baskets.than Iona. Plus, Hofstra was outscoring Iona on second chance points nine to one, as a result of Hofstra's nine offensive rebounds.
You could tell Coach Tim Cluess was not happy with his team at the half, because the Gaels came out of the locker room several minutes early. The team anxiously awaited on the sidelines for several minutes as the halftime CYO game was still being played. It seemed like Iona was ready to make a run at the start of the second half.
However, in line with the last part of the first half, the Pride continued their onslaught on the Gaels. The lead actually swelled to 19, 57-38, with fourteen and a half minutes left in the game. Iona had no answer for Moore, who scored eight of the first 14 Hofstra points in the second half.
But a team doesn't win ten out of its first twelve games without the ability to rally. Sure enough, the Gaels finally made their run. First it was Glover, Momo Jones, and Rashad James who combined for a 11-1 spurt to cut the lead down to nine, 58-49 with a little more than ten minutes left. The large Iona fan contingent in the arena had finally come to life in support of their Gaels.
Then came the three-point barrage. First it was Nathaniel Lester, who had a huge second half for Hofstra, trading three-pointers with Iona's Smyth. Even Moore got in on the act with Smyth, hitting his own shot beyond the arc. But Smyth got the final long range shot in, as his third three-pointer in the span of two and a half minutes cut the deficit to seven, 67-60 with less than six and a half minutes left.
But Iona would never get any closer than seven points the rest of the way. Try as the Gaels might, Imes, Lester and Dwan McMillan would combine to score 13 of the last 16 points Hofstra would score on the night. As John Templon, the author of the terrific Big Apple Buckets website noted to me at halftime, 15 points is a large hole to dig out of as far as comebacks. Hofstra came away with a hard earned, well deserved 83-75 victory.
The Pride had a balanced attack with four scorers in double digits. Moore again led the way with 24 points, but he had a lot of help. Lester had a double-double with 21 points and ten rebounds. Imes had his own double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. And McMillan nearly made it three double-doubles on the night with ten points and nine assists. He outplayed his more highly touted high school teammate, Iona's Scott Machado, who had ten assists, but only six points before fouling out.
Glover led the way for Iona with his usual double-double, 20 points and 13 rebounds. Jones added 20 points as well, and Smyth added 12, all on three pointers. But the Gaels shot 42.6 percent from the field, well under their season average. The turnovers killed them, as Hofstra had an eight-point advantage on points off turnovers -- exactly the margin of victory.
One year later, the tides were turned. It was Hofstra that dominated most of the game last night, just like Iona did to them the year before. Just like last year, many fans shook their heads in disbelief as they headed for the exits, not expecting the outcome they just witnessed. The Pride will be ringing in the New Year on a high note. A three-game winning streak should fill them with confidence for the battle with VCU on Monday. Meanwhile the Gaels will have to regroup for conference play on Tuesday at MSG vs. Siena.
That's the wonderful thing about college basketball. Expect the unexpected.
at HOFSTRA 83, IONA 75 12/29/2011
IONA 10-3 (2-0) -- L. Jones 6-20 7-8 20; M. Glover 9-11 2-4 20; S. Machado 2-5 0-0 5; K. Smyth 4-8 0-0 12; T. Ridley 2-5 4-5 8; R. James 1-4 2-3 4; R. Dezouvre 2-3 2-3 6; S. Armand 0-1 0-0 0; J. Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0; N. Moikubo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 17-23 75. HOFSTRA 6-7 (0-1) -- D. McMillan 3-11 4-4 10; M. Moore 8-17 4-7 24; D. Imes 7-13 2-2 16; N. Lester 7-13 5-9 21; M. Kone 2-4 0-0 4; S. Nwaukoni 0-1 2-2 2; S. McLendon 2-7 2-4 6; M. Grogan 0-2 0-0 0; J. Good 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-68 19-28 83.
Three-point goals: IONA 6-18 (S. Machado 1-2; K. Smyth 4-7; L. Jones 1-6; S. Armand 0-1; R. James 0-2), HOFS 6-18 (N. Lester 2-4; M. Moore 4-9; M. Grogan 0-1; S. McLendon 0-3; D. McMillan 0-1); Rebounds: IONA 38 (M. Glover 13), HOFS 39 (D. Imes 15); Assists: IONA 18 (S. Machado 10), HOFS 19 (D. McMillan 9); Total Fouls -- IONA 26, HOFS 20; Fouled Out: IONA-S. Machado; HOFS-D. Imes.