By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
Senior guard Charles Jenkins scored eight of his 22 points in the final four minutes of the game as the Hofstra University men's basketball team defeated UNC Wilmington 66-57 to improve to 6-1 in CAA play and 12-6 overall.
UNC Wilmington had no trouble getting through Hofstra's man defense, hitting their first three shots of the game in the first two minutes. The defense clamped down after the shaky start and the Pride were able to settle things down after four early points from senior guard Charles Jenkins.
With UNCW holding a 9-7 lead, Hofstra's transition game began clicking on all cylinders as the Pride began passing the ball beautifully, finding the easy shots and going on a 15-4 run opening an 18-12 lead with 10:30 left in the first. Sophomore forward David Imes found himself wide open several times under the basket for some easy dunks.
"I think we keep finding a way and finding some different guys to give us a lift," said head coach Mo Cassara. "We're a little beat up and a little limited in bodies and we got a good effort from a bunch of different guys."
In the last five minutes of the first, Hofstra's defense began to bend, as some long passes from UNCW were able to find some easy looks under the baskets, with sophomore forward Keith Rendleman reaping the benefits, cutting the Pride lead to five. With three seconds left though, senior guard Brad Kelleher sunk a buzzer beating three-pointer from the corner to open Hofstra's lead to eight points, at 35-27 going into halftime. Both Jenkins and junior guard Mike Moore led the Pride with 10 points at the break.
Both teams traded baskets to start the second half, as Hofstra could not take advantage of some early UNCW turnovers to extend its 40-34 lead with four minutes gone.
Wilmington continued to cut the lead with a 14-3 run and was down only one with the score at 42-41 and 13 minutes left in the second. With nine and a half minutes remaining and with Hofstra's shooting ice cold, UNCW took its first lead of the game, its first since 9-7 early in the first half and extended it to five at 50-45 with 9:13 left in the game.
"We got a little flat and a little hesitant on offense," said Cassara. "When we do that and turn the ball over we put so much pressure on our defense."
UNCW continued to kill Hofstra under the basket offensively, as a majority of its points came from easy lay ups by Rendleman.
Hofstra tried to regain the lead, with some scoring contributions from Moore and freshman guard Shemiye McLendon, as Jenkins was held to over 12 minutes without a single point.
"I think I wasn't as aggressive as I'm supposed to be," said Jenkins of that stretch of play. "I was hesitant because they [UNCW] were sliding and trying to create a lot of charges for me."
Just thirty seconds after a jumper from Imes tied the game at 52, the Hofstra run continued as Jenkins got back on the score sheet in style with a deep three to give Hofstra the lead at 55-52 with four and a half minutes left. Two free throws from the senior star capped a 14-2 run and a 7-0 personal run and Hofstra extended its lead to 61-54.
The show continued for Hofstra fans as Jenkins delighted the crowd with some strong defensive rebounding, great speed and some amazing body control, taking on two to three defenders at a time while driving to the basket. The stellar play of the nation's seventh leading scorer opened Hofstra's lead up to nine at 65-57 with less than two minutes remaining.
The defense stayed strong till the end, taking away any of UNCW's offensive chances away to wrap things up.
"I thought our defense in the last three or four minutes was terrific and really allowed us to seal the victory," said Cassara.
The Pride will be back in action when it travels to Virginia to take on William & Mary this Saturday, looking to stay atop the CAA standings.