By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor
NEWARK, DE—Fifteen feet from the basket, two uncontested chances for points. But at the free throw line, there is so much pressure especially late in the game. On Wednesday night, the Hofstra men's basketball team dropped its third straight Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) game, 67-66 to the University of Delaware after sophomore guard Shemiye McLendon missed the game-tying free throw with 2.1 seconds left in the game.
Hofstra (6-9) would never have gotten to that point if it was not for a long, methodical comeback from 15 points down led by senior guard Mike Moore's 24 points and 15 from senior forward Nathaniel Lester.
"I told our guys the game wasn't lost in the last couple of minutes," said Cassara. "It was lost in the first half. We dug ourselves a hole."
Leading right from the opening tip-off, Delaware had a stronghold on the game up 21-6 with a little more than seven minutes gone in the first half.
"I thought we were ready to go, we had a couple good days of preparation, a good walk through and our guys were ready," said Cassara. "But we came out, the ball didn't go in the basket, we turned it over a little bit, our focus wasn't there."
Delaware forward Jamelle Hagins was an unstoppable force down low, scoring and collecting rebounds with ease as an undersized Hofstra team could not provide any answers for the 6'9" junior.
"They came out of the gate blazing. They lost three in a row coming into this game and they fought hard for it tonight," said Cassara. "He [Hagins] has vastly improved. He's so much better than he was last year. He is so much more aggressive."
Hagins recorded 21 points and 18 rebounds on the night.
In a game that featured the CAA's top two leading scorers in senior guard Mike Moore and Delaware's sophomore guard Devon Saddler, it seemed that only Saddler showed up, as he and Hagins provided a majority of Delaware's scoring. Moore on the other hand, started the game 0-6 with Delaware keying in on him defensively.
"I think tonight was the first time all season we were taking some bad shots," said Cassara. "Mike has to know if his feet are set it's a good shot, if he's leaning or running it's going to be tough."
The play of McLendon and senior forward Nathaniel Lester kept Hofstra close until Moore recorded his first points of the game, a three-pointer with 6:21 left in the first half.
Hofstra's leading scorer picked it up, scoring seven more points in the final six minutes of the half, as Delaware lead shrunk to ten at halftime.
With the Hofstra deficit staying at ten in the first four minutes of the half, Cassara instituted a full court press on defense after the under 16 media timeout which started giving Delaware problems.
The offense started clicking and a three-pointer from the left corner by Lester with 8:52 left in the game put Hofstra within one at 50-49.
Delaware's freshman guard Kyle Anderson hit two consecutive three-pointers to put the Blue Hens back up six, but Hofstra continued to battle back through Moore and Lester.
With 5:14 remaining, a mid-range jumper from Lester tied the game at 58. It was the first time the game was tied since the opening tip.
"We showed some real resiliency," said Cassara. "Our kids fought and battled and we had an opportunity to win."
Seven straight points from Moore paced the Pride with Delaware, keeping the game tied at 65 with 1:43 left.
With Saddler missing a three-pointer for Delaware, Hofstra had a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game with 22 seconds left and Moore going to the line.
He missed both.
"As I always say, free throws are going to win or lose us a game," said Hofstra head coach Mo Cassara.
Hagins was fouled on the rebound by sophomore forward Stephen Nwaukoni, who led Hofstra with 12 rebounds, went to the free throw line, and sunk both of his shots with 20 seconds left.
Hofstra still had the chance to tie again and force the game into overtime. Moore missed a jumper that was rebounded by junior forward David Imes who went up for a lay-up, but his attempt was blocked and sent rocketing out of bounds by Hagins with six seconds left.
The ensuing inbound pass went into McLendon who went up for a jumper from the left corner but was fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining. He made the first to bring it to within one but missed the second.
Hagins brought in the rebound on the missed free throw and was sent to the charity stripe again with .9 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but there was not enough time as Imes heaved up a full court prayer that bounced well short of the basket.
"We have to shake it off," said Cassara. "We get a day of rest and then we head down to Wilmington and try to find a way to win down there on Saturday."