By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
Down 23 points at the beginning of the second half, the Hofstra University women's basketball team mounted one of the most improbable comebacks in program history to stun CAA top dogs James Madison, whose 13 game win streak was snapped, 75-73 on Sunday afternoon.
"We needed this one," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "We've been in some tight ones that if the ball bounced our way, who knows where our confidence would have been."
Hofstra had its work cut out with a very large James Madison line up, but the Pride used its speed to try and neutralize its disadvantage.
Some sloppy play plagued both teams early but the score remained close, with James Madison holding a 10-9 advantage at the under 16 media timeout. The Dukes were having their way on the boards as the size proved too much for Hofstra.
Hofstra's guards were really working hard bringing support down low to the forwards on both ends of the court. Offensively, the likes of sophomore Candace Bond and Candice Bellocchio were making impressive drives to the basket, trying to open up decent looks from the field. On defense, the Pride had to put three and four bodies on one JMU forward at times to eliminate chances of offensive rebounds.
The Pride however was having great difficulty boxing people out allowing second and third chances for James Madison on offense. With 10:48 left, the score was knotted at 15.
James Madison's shooting finally heated up as the Dukes went on a 12-0 run, making Hofstra's defense look non-existent.
"I felt like we weren't sharing the ball," said Steveskey. "We were letting them get their second and third and fourth attempts and it really deflates you."
Hofstra could not find a way through JMU's defense, forcing up some bad shots and turning the ball over.
In the blink of an eye it was 27-16 in favor of the Dukes with 5:10 remaining in the half and Hofstra was scrambling just to stay in the game, not making a field goal for over nine minutes.
Sophomore forward Shante Evans was invisible in the first half. The one who has so many times put the team on her back over the course of this season was held to just four points in the first 20 minutes.
"Basically I just calmed myself and told myself that I had to play better defense," said Evans. "She [Lauren Jiminez] was killing me down there and I had to put some points up there for my team and get some rebounds."
James Madison continued to exploit the Pride, scoring with ease and simply shutting down any offensive attack. At halftime, the deficit was 20 with JMU leading 43-23. JMU's senior center Lauren Jiminez and guard Courtney Hamner had as many points as Hofstra did at the break.
Evans woke up in the second, but Hofstra was on the brink of things getting blown wide open. The few mistakes James Madison did make, Hofstra could not take advantage of. With 4:24 gone in the second, the Dukes led 51-32.
The Pride kept fighting to try and cut the deficit, going on small runs, but James Madison always answered right back.
Hofstra's defense started stifling the Dukes and a 14-3 run chipped the Pride's deficit to 12 at 56-44 with 12:11 remaining in the second.
The run continued as Hofstra began making some aggressive cuts to the basket, drawing contact and making its way to the free-throw line.
Hofstra hit its stride and finally ignited.
With the help of some swarming defense, Hofstra cut its deficit to 59-49 with 10:44 left. James Madison was showing signs of panic with some loose ball control.
JMU's offense remained stagnant, while the Pride kept chipping away with some hot shooting. A lay-up by Bellocchio gave Hofstra a 63-62 lead with 7:10 left in the game as a part of a 31-11 run.
Madison started finding its offensive legs, but teams could only trade baskets in the games last five minutes. A three-pointer from freshman guard Kate Loper tied the game at 69 with 5:04 left.
The scoring slowed down, and with three minutes left, junior guard Nicole Capurso's lay-up gave Hofstra a 71-69 lead, only to be answered right back with one made free throw and a three-pointer from senior guard Dawn Carter with 1:59 left.
A couple of defensive stops gave James Madison the ball, only to have Carter dribble out of bounds with 22.2 seconds left to give the ball back to Hofstra.
The Pride went right down to its star in Evans who sunk a tough lay-up with 13 seconds left to tie the game at 73.
Without calling timeout, James Madison stormed down the court to look for the win. Hofstra thought they made a stop when the ball went out of bounds off a JMU player, but the referees thought otherwise and gave possession back to the Dukes.
The ensuing inbound pass found Jiminez, who was shut down all half, and missed her shot under the basket. The rebound came out to Bond who ran the length of the court with five seconds left and was fouled as she was going up for the game winning lay-up with 1.9 seconds left.
The sophomore coolly hit both free throws to give Hofstra the lead.
"I knew I was going to hit both of those," said Bond. "I was basically thinking ok they're going to go in, we have to make sure we don't foul and we don't let them launch it for an easy lay-up."
James Madison looked for the home run pass that travelled more than half the court, but Evans stole it to complete one of the best comebacks in Hofstra women's basketball history.
"They responded, they listened and they believed," said Steveskey.
Evans finished the game with 19 points, Capurso had 16 and Bond added 14 in the win.
The Pride improves to 17-11 overall and 9-8 in CAA play.