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Pride upsets Dragons, stays in hunt for first round bye

By Christian Heimall, Staff Writer

After a 56-52 loss at Northeastern last Sunday, the Hofstra Women's Basketball team proved they have the mental stability to compete and win in the CAA. Last Thursday the Pride earned a gritty 10-point victory over the George Mason Patriots at home and the following Sunday a road win against defending CAA Champion Drexel.

On Thursday, the effects of Hofstra's loss to the Huskies were evident. While Hofstra led almost wire-to-wire against the Patriots, it was nowhere near the same result as the 72-39 loss Hofstra handed them a few weeks prior in Fairfax, VA. The Pride's largest lead of the ballgame was 13 but Mason battled back time and again, even taking a brief one-point lead in the second half. Hofstra did finish out the contest on an 11-4 run to push the final margin of victory to ten at 59-49.

"That's a kiss of death sometimes when you really play well at someone's place," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "I think we were motivated. Obviously Northeastern woke us up a little bit here."

The Pride was led by freshman forward Shante Evans who tallied 20 points and 17 rebounds, her eleventh double-double of the season. Evans is averaging a double-double in CAA play as she makes a run for CAA rookie of the year. Other players scoring in double-digits for Hofstra were sophomore guard Nicole Capurso who poured in 12 and senior center Jess Fuller with 15 points. Fuller has scored over ten points in each of the three games following her ankle injury against UNC Wilmington on February 7.

The win was made even sweeter for Hofstra as Delaware fell to James Madison 88-83 in overtime in Newark, DE, putting Hofstra into a tie with the Hens for fifth in the conference and keeping them just a game out of the top four in conference. The Pride pushed its conference record to 8-6 and 15-11 overall.

"We really have a lot of goals here to finish out strong," said Kilburn-Steveskey after the Pride won its fourth game in the last five. "We can really make this a good season and that's my challenge to them."

Sunday marked one of the biggest challenges of the season for the Hofstra Pride as it traveled to Philadelphia, PA to take on the reigning conference champions, the Drexel Dragons. Drexel boasts the reigning CAA Player of the Year in Gabriela Marginean.

Behind a team high 21 points from Capurso, including the game winning shot with two remaining in overtime, Hofstra knocked off the preseason CAA favorites and ended the Dragons 21-game home winning streak against conference opponents.

Hofstra came out strong on both the defensive and the offensive end. Two quick steals and buckets from sophomore guard Candice Bellocchio set the tone early as Hofstra would control the first half, taking a 37-24 lead into halftime. Capurso led all Pride players with 12 points at halftime making her first three field goal attempts, including two from beyond three-point range.

"We just needed to win. I think all 10 of us were just ‘we need to get out of here with a win'," said Capurso. "We knew they were going to make their runs and we just had to sustain them."

The Dragons would make that run in the second half. The Pride took a 16-point lead early in the second half thanks to senior guard Sam Brigham's three-pointer. Drexel's senior forward Marginean scored 16 of her game high 31 points in the second frame to help her team get back in the game.

Drexel used a 15-1 run in the second half to close the gap late before Marginean tied the game at 59-59 with two free throws to force the game into overtime. In overtime, the Dragons took a 63-62 lead, their first since 8-6 early on, thanks to a layup from sophomore Tyler Hale. The teams traded buckets throughout overtime; with Drexel taking a 67-66 lead with just 24 seconds left, off another Marginean layup.

In the final moments, the Pride brought the ball across midcourt and called a timeout to draw up Capurso's game winning heroics. With 10 seconds remaining, Capurso drove down the left side of the lane rolling a shot off the backboard and in with just two seconds on the game clock and Hofstra up 68-67. The Dragons would throw up a desperation shot at the buzzer that would fall short.

"We know what we're capable of, physically can go out and match against anyone in this league," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "I'm very proud of our effort tonight, very proud of Nicole Capurso, but it was a team win."

The win was Hofstra's first against Drexel since February 15, 2007 snapping a six-game losing streak to the Dragons. It also kept Hofstra in competition for fourth place in the CAA standings and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Hofstra currently sits at 9-6 in conference, tied for fifth place with Delaware and one game behind James Madison with three games left in the regular season.

"We have to roll with it. I challenge them, we're not a one hit wonder," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "We don't get too high, we don't get too low and it's going to be a challenge."

Hofstra's next game is on the road in Maryland as they take on the Towson Tigers at 7 p.m. on Thursday February 25. It is a rematch of the Pride's second CAA game of the year in which it fell by a final score of 66-58 at home.

Sophomore guard Nicole Capurso scored a game winning layup in overtime in Philadelphia, PA to beat the Drexel Dragons 68-67. (Sean M. Gates/ The Chronicle)

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