Once again, Hofstra and William and Mary met in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship semifinals Sunday afternoon at Royal Farms Arena. Once again, the conference player of the year had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds. And once again, he passed the ball off to a teammate, who put the ball through the net to clinch a decisive victory and a place in the title game the next day.
363 days ago, it was Marcus Thornton ‘15 shoveling the ball to now junior guard Daniel Dixon for the corner three-pointer in double overtime of a 92-91 collegiate classic. Today it was Pride guard Juan’ya Green finding forward Denton Koon down low with eight seconds to go in regulation. Koon banked home the go-ahead lay in, the Tribe (20-11) failed to answer and Hofstra (24-8) walked away winners of an emotionally charged 70-67 “slugfest,” as head coach Tony Shaver called it.
“Heartbreaking loss, no doubt about it,” Shaver said. “I thought our competitive spirit was at a really high level tonight …We really battled and competed hard, it meant a lot to us. And I would say secondly our execution just wasn’t quite good enough …You’ve got to do both to win a great game. You gotta compete, and you gotta have a high level of execution as well.”
Heartbreaking loss, no doubt about it,” Shaver said. “I thought our competitive spirit was at a really high level tonight …We really battled and competed hard, it meant a lot to us. And I would say secondly our execution just wasn’t quite good enough …You’ve got to do both to win a great game. You gotta compete, and you gotta have a high level of execution as well.”
Emotions ran high from the opening tip, the teams and their fan bases all with full knowledge of what happened last time they met in Baltimore. Senior forward Terry Tarpey set the tone early with a hard, flagrant foul on Hofstra center Rokas Gustys underneath the Pride basket. Gustys momentarily left the game after the altercation due to an apparent leg injury, and upon his return was far from the dominant post presence he has been all year, managing just two points.
Part of that was due to William and Mary’s defensive gameplan. Every time Gustys came to the top of the key to run a pick-and-roll with Green, two Tribe defenders hounded the Hofstra point guard, giving him no room to find his center. However this strategy left open Pride players like forward Ameen Tanksley, who cashed in with a game-high 23 points.
“Tanksley’s one of the best players in the league, so I’m not surprised,” Shaver said. “When you try to take one thing away from them, it leaves other things open. By doubling Green, and on the skip pass to Tanksley, he really attacked our close outs … Basically we wanted someone else to try to beat us, and Tanksley did that.”
Frantic, sloppy play defined the first half, as both teams arguably let the moment get the better of them with 21 combined turnovers in the period. The bench once again provided the much needed spark for the College with 19 of the 34 first half points. Sophomore guard Greg Malinowski played his best game as a member of the Tribe, setting a new career high with 22 points on 7 of 10 shooting, knocking down five of the team’s nine threes.
Tanksley’s one of the best players in the league, so I’m not surprised,” Shaver said. “When you try to take one thing away from them, it leaves other things open. By doubling Green, and on the skip pass to Tanksley, he really attacked our close outs … Basically we wanted someone else to try to beat us, and Tanksley did that.”
“Just going out and my teammates having confidence in me,” Malinowski said. “We’ve had great play off the bench recently, and I think it’s really showed these past couple of games.”
The strong bench production and Hofstra’s 11 giveaways propelled William and Mary to a 34-30 halftime advantage, a rare two-possession lead in a game which featured eight ties and 11 lead changes. The second half began with the same hectic pace, both teams cancelling out each other’s baskets on either end, neither showing any signs of slowing down. Gustys received a flagrant foul himself while defending senior forward Sean Sheldon. By the first media timeout of the half, the Tribe still led by four, 47-43.
While little separated the two teams in those opening minutes of the second half, the College’s inability to sink crucial free throws while holding a slim lead had implications for the final outcome. Sheldon and sophomore forward Jack Whitman combined to miss five straight attempts from the charity stripe over a three-minute span early in the period, William and Mary finishing the game 6 for 11 at the line. The Pride meanwhile hit nine of its 12 free throws, a three-point differential which matched Hofstra’s margin of victory.
We’ve had great play off the bench recently, and I think it’s really showed these past couple of games.” – sophomore guard Greg Malinowski
The Pride began to limit the turnovers and convert more consistently on the offensive end in the second half, shooting 56 percent over the final 20 minutes. Utilizing a small ball lineup with Gustys struggling and in foul trouble, Hofstra rattled off an 8-0 run to take a 60-56 lead with just under six minutes to play. Tanksley and Green led the charge, scoring 14 and 10 points, respectively, in the second half.
“They’ve proven for four months they’re the best team in this league,” Shaver said. “They find a way to respond … they find a way to make the plays they have to have down the stretch.”
Down by six with 4:27 to play, the Tribe came out of the final media timeout and went on an 8-0 run of their own, Dixon and Malinowski hitting back to back triples and sophomore guard David Cohn scoring the go-ahead layup at the 2:55 mark. After a pair of Green free throws one minute later knotted the score at 67 apiece, neither team scored again until Koon’s eventual game winner.
“They’ve proven for four months they’re the best team in this league,” Shaver said of Hofstra. “They find a way to respond … they find a way to make the plays they have to have down the stretch.”
Junior guard Omar Prewitt, the College’s top scorer all season, had two opportunities to give the Tribe a late lead, but his corner three bounced out and his floater in the paint with 38 ticks on the clock found nothing but the hands of Gustys. It was a rough night for Prewitt overall, the first team All-CAA performer going just 1 for 12 with five points. It was another first team all-CAA player in Green who made the decisive play 30 seconds later, driving strong into the paint before dishing off to Koon, who finished despite the efforts of Dixon and Tarpey.
“I’ve really not admired a kid in this league any more than I have him,” Shaver said about Green. “He makes the right play 99.9 percent of the time, whether it’s the shot or the pass or the deflection on the defensive end.”
Cohn launched a long three point jumper after Koon’s basket, but he could not find the mark as Tanksley grabbed the board and was fouled immediately by Prewitt with 1.2 seconds remaining. The Pride senior hit one of two from the line, but the Tribe could not get off another shot before time expired. Hofstra celebrated a hard-fought 70-67 win, while William and Mary is left to wait at least another year for that coveted NCAA Tournament bid.