By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
The Hofstra University women's basketball team dropped its fifth of seven games in a 70-66 nail-biter to UNC Wilmington on Sunday at the Mack Sports Complex.
The Hofstra defense was clicking early with sophomore guard Candace Bond disrupting UNCW's game plan early with some key steals and big offensive rebounds.
Both teams had trouble finding its offensive flow, with the score tied at three with four minutes gone in the first half and only two field goals made.
Hofstra's strategy on offense looked to get the ball down low to sophomore guard Shante Evans as she had the Pride's first five points, but UNC Wilmington was able to reply with some great three point shooting, grabbing a 9-7 lead with six minutes gone.
UNCW was easily able to navigate its way through Hofstra's zone defense, getting great looks from three-point range. When Hofstra's offense began pressing, the Seahawks were able to burn the Pride on the fast break.
The Pride was having trouble containing the size of UNCW's forwards Brittany Blackwell and Martha White, as the pair of seniors was able to establish themselves under the boards and grab some key rebounds.
"We had our hands on the ball we just couldn't grab it," said Evans who led all rebounders with 17 boards. "We have to find the man and box her out."
Back from suspension, freshman guard Annie Payton tried to spark the Pride, scoring five points in her first two minutes on the floor, helping to cut UNCW's lead to 21-18 with nine minutes left in the first half.
"I know she [Payton] has been chomping at the bit," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "I think this two week situation that we've been dealing with is a way to open up your eyes a little bit on how important it is to play the game that you love."
Due to Hofstra's poor shooting in the first half, the Pride were unable to use its full court press that has been so effective throughout the year. UNCW was able to take advantage of this and keep its lead throughout the first half.
With less than a minute left, a three from junior guard Nicole Capurso cut the UNC Wilmington lead to 37-33 going into halftime. Payton led the team with eight points at the break.
The Hofstra offense ignited with some great ball movement and inspiring play by Bond as the Pride went on a 17-0 run to grab a 50-41 lead with five minutes gone in the second half. With the shooting greatly improving, the Hofstra defense was able to settle down during the run and begin frustrating UNCW.
Wilmington answered right back with a 15-0 run after some sloppy offensive possessions and turnovers to grab a 56-50 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
"We made some silly turnovers," said Steveskey. "We weren't attacking to the basket because they kept making adjustments on their defense."
The game of runs continued as Hofstra went on a 13-2 run with some help from Payton, Capurso and sophomore guard Jael Pena as it seemed that the defenses had five to ten minute periods of total lapses.
Once again though, UNCW came right back and with three minutes left, it was 63-62 in favor of the Pride as an exciting finish was a guarantee.
With less than two minutes left, the Seahawks grabbed a 66-65 lead as Hofstra's offense started making bad decisions down the stretch.
After Shante Evans hit one of two free throws, who else but White grabbed a big offensive rebound for UNCW and put it back to give the Seahawks a 68-66 lead with 51 seconds left.
On Hofstra's ensuing offensive possession, Capurso missed two three pointers and a chance for the lead as the Pride began fouling UNCW with 17 seconds left.
After UNCW hit one of two free throws with 10 seconds left, Hofstra called a timeout to draw up a final play to try and tie things up.
Evans missed a three pointer and UNCW's Kristine Henzer, who recorded 24 points and 10 rebounds, iced the game by hitting one of two as the Seahawks came away with the narrow victory.
Hofstra only shot 34.4 percent from the field, a stat that did not please Steveskey.
"It's painful," said Steveskey. "As long as we get this thing together our cylinders running by March but that stat line is the proof in the pudding."
The Pride drops to 10-6 overall on the season and 2-3 in conference play. Evans led the Pride with 15 points and Payton added 13 of her own as Hofstra will prepare a trip to Maryland to take on Towson on Thursday.