By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor
The Hofstra men's basketball team had work to do over the Thanksgiving weekend, making a trip to the University of Rhode Island for the TicketCity Legends Classic where the Pride recorded a 1-2 record with losses to Rhode Island and Boston University and a win over a borderline top-25 team in Cleveland State.
"It was a real challenging tournament," said head coach Mo Cassara. "We had an opportunity to win two games. We played pretty good basketball."
Opening the tournament Friday night against Rhode Island, Hofstra looked to be suffering from too much turkey as they opened the first match of their tournament falling behind 22-6 in the first eight minutes of the game.
Behind senior guard Mike Moore's 17 points and 13 from senior forward Nathaniel Lester in the first half, Hofstra managed to chip into the Rhode Island lead, cutting the deficit to just six, 45-39, at halftime.
Junior forward Bryant Crowder provided a spark in the second half, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second half as Hofstra pulled to within three with ten minutes left in the game, but Rhode Island used the free throw line and some clutch shooting down the stretch to pull away for an 85-73 victory.
Moore finished with 25 points and Lester with 22.
The quick turnaround proved beneficial for Hofstra, taking down Cleveland State 63-53. Entering the game, Cleveland State was considered one of the 25 best teams in the nation having beaten 7th-ranked Vanderbilt by 12 points just a few weeks earlier.
"This was a great win," said Cassara. "It shows our players that what we do works and we have the ability to beat teams of that caliber."
Sophomore forward Stephen Nwaukoni headlined a night where the Pride experienced some even scoring throughout the bench. Nwaukoni scored a career high 12 points and added nine rebounds.
"I saw an incredible amount of improvement from Stephen," said Cassara. "There was some real hard work, a great attitude and those are the type of characteristics that we're looking for here as we're building a program. He's done some really good things."
Senior guard Dwan McMillan also shared the game high with 12 points and added five assists.
In a game that had nine lead changes, with 13 minutes left in the game and Hofstra down 42-37, the Pride went on a 20-4 run, taking a 57-46 lead with six and a half minutes left, allowing the defense to do the rest and coast to the victory.
It seemed as though Hofstra was on its way to a 2-1 showing at the Legends Classic on Saturday, leading Boston University 54-47 with eight minutes left in the game in the tournament's finale, but it was not to be.
"A quick turnaround noon game against a very good team, they [Boston] should've gone 3-0," said Cassara. "They had Cleveland State, they lost at the buzzer, they beat Rhode Island, they beat us. They're a good team, we had the game under control."
In the final eight minutes, Boston went on a 21-7 run to close out the game for a 68-61 victory.
"That's been our Achilles heel which is the last four or five minutes of ball games," said Cassara. "We have to do a better job of finishing games out."
Moore led the Pride with 27 points, a season high, in the loss. Hofstra is 1-4 when Moore leads the team in points scored.
The scoring did not come from anywhere else, as the second leading scorer was junior forward David Imes with nine points.
Some late turnovers form Nwaukoni and junior guard Matt Grogan, doomed the hopes of a Hofstra comeback down 63-61 with a minute and a half remaining in the game.
Hofstra stands at 3-4 on the season as it comes home to open up Colonial Athletic Association play against James Madison on Saturday night.