By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
UPPER MARLBORO, MD.-- The Hofstra University women's basketball team has been known throughout the season for beating teams with its speed and finesse. But on Thursday afternoon, the Pride powered its way to an 89-67 victory over William & Mary by out-rebounding the Tribe 52-34 in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association Championships.
A sloppy start from both teams in the first four minutes had Hofstra back on its heels early, committing a lot of turnovers and staring in out in a 10-5 hole.
William & Mary was double-teaming sophomore forward Shante Evans so the Pride was finding the likes of freshman forward Anma Onyeuku under the basket to help support Hofstra's scoring star.
"It [the double team] was a little bit frustrating," said Evans. "But if I'm helping my team score by keeping an open man open, then I'm fine with that."
Down 20-13, Hofstra settled down, going on a 16-2 run fueled by junior guard Nicole Capurso's nine straight points as the Pride was moving the ball well to dissect the William & Mary defense.
Capurso lost her touch in the last five minutes of the first half and William & Mary answered Hofstra with a 9-0 run.
A buzzer beating three-pointer from junior guard Candice Bellocchio gave Hofstra a 40-35 lead going into halftime. Capurso led the Pride with 13 points at the break. Hofstra did however commit 16 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
"We started the game with 12 turnovers in the first 12 minutes," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "That is very uncharacteristic of us and we were unable to break their press."
With 1:04 gone in the second, a contested lay-up and one from Evans gave the sophomore her 1000th point of her Hofstra career.
"I'm very happy I got my one-thousandth point in my sophomore year," said Evans. "My college goal is to leave Hofstra as the all-time leading scorer in points and rebounds."
Hofstra remained relentless against its larger opponent, working hard under the basket to try and eliminate William & Mary's second chance opportunities.
Hofstra's defense was looking sluggish and the shooting was cooling off, keeping the Tribe in the game in the first seven minutes of the second half.
The defense woke up, sparking the fast break as well as Bellocchio, who's fast pace proved too much for William & Mary, opening up Hofstra's lead to eight with 13:10 remaining.
Onyeuku and Evans remained forces under the boards, dominating the rebounding game as Hofstra was gaining some momentum by grabbing second chance opportunities all while slowly tiring William & Mary.
"Our main focus this tournament is to control things that we can control," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "I was very happy with that stat more than anything else because that's what we have to control this tournament."
Hofstra was doing a great job getting to the foul line, making aggressive drives to the basket and hitting its free throws. The Pride went 16-22 on the day from the charity stripe.
The Pride continued to extend its lead, going on another big run, this time 19-0 as the offense ignited and the defense was a brick wall, holding William & Mary without a single point for over six minutes.
After hanging around for a majority of the game, the Tribe's deficit was too much as Hofstra kept pounding away. With 7:12 left in the game, the Pride's lead was at 73-56 and there were no signs of it slowing down as the aggressive play continued.
Capurso continued to sink her shots, going 9-15 from the field for the day which gave the Pride a huge lift.
"I saw the double team on [Shan]te and Kate [Loper] came out and missed a few and I just knew I had to put the ball in the basket somehow," said Capurso. "Getting to the basket and finishing that way then that gets my confidence up and then my shot feels better."
Freshman guard Kate Loper was relatively quiet, hitting her first three-point field goal with 4:40 left in the game. Hofstra's star rookie ended the game with eight points.
"It just wasn't falling," said Loper.
The lead kept growing and Hofstra kept fighting like any winning team needs to do no matter what the score.
The large lead gave Kilburn-Steveskey an opportunity to rest the big names for tomorrow's game against no. four seed VCU at 2:30 p.m.
Capurso led all scorers with 22 points, Evans added 16 points and 12 rebounds for her sixteenth double-double of the season and Onyeuku had 15 points and eight rebounds.
"That [the play of Onyeuku] was the X factor," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "For her to play the way she did today was huge."