By Max Sass, Editor In Chief
It's been a long season for the 10 – 21 Hofstra Pride. The team has learned just how valuable Charles Jenkins was and how difficult it is to succeed in a difficult conference when your transcendent talent has left for the NBA's Golden State Warriors. The Pride went 3-15 in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, defeating James Madison, Towson and UNC-Wilmington. None of those wins you may notice, was against Georgia State, the 20-10 (11-7 CAA) team the Pride will face in tonight's first round of the CAA Tournament.
The two teams only met once this year, at Hofstra, with Georgia State leaving Hempstead victorious, 59-43. New coach Ron Hunter has energized the Panthers and helped his team earn the no. 6 seed in the conference. Hofstra, the no. 11 seed won its last game heading into the tournament, a 93-64 beat-down of UNCW on senior night.
Can Hofstra's head coach Mo Cassara coax a little more magic out of his team, or will Hunter's GSU Panthers advance to face no. 3 George Mason tomorrow night? Seems like a perfect game for a running diary.
20:00 – Stephen Nwaukoni wins the tip from Eric Buckner to give Hofstra the first position. Cassara seems pumping, giving a "YEAH, STEPHEN!"
This is actually of note, seeing as how dominant Buckner was in the teams' first matchup. The 6'10" center recorded six blocks and altered countless others. If Nwaukoni and other front court players for Hofstra can somehow play this game even with Buckner, the Pride infinitely increases its chances of winning.
18:51 – Nat Lester shoots two free throws, hitting one. Georgia State's student section tries to distract him. The Panthers student section is larger than Hofstra's by a count of approximately 7-0. At least the pep band and cheerleaders showed up.
17:38 – Off a defensive rebound, Cassara urges his troops to "RUN!" Granted, Cassara is getting paid for this and I'm not but that seems to be a good idea. Georgia State likes to play a methodical, knock-em-around, defensive type of game and creating mismatches using its speed seems to be the Pride's best option. Hofstra leads 7-6 early.
15:49 – I don't know much about cheerleading other than that Hofstra has won 576 straight national championships (NOTE: number approximate), but one Georgia State male cheerleader has pants that are SO tight, he should be having trouble moving. Still a 7-6 Hofstra lead.
15:01 – Eric Buckner scores and is fouled on a put back, but Hofstra has made a real effort to use a guard to double team him on any post feed. This strategy worked extremely well against UNCW, as the Pride held CAA First teamer Keith Rendelman to just 16 points in 34 minutes. GSU leads 9-7.
14:03 – Following a Mike Moore three-pointer, Georgia State implements a full court press. Hofstra breaks the first time, but Lester turns the ball over in the half court. The Pride only turned the ball over 10 times in the loss to GSU at home, but that still wasn't careful enough against a GSU team that gives up few good shots.
13:12 – Freshman forward Moussa Kone comes flying in from behind to swat away Fields' shot, but he hits him with the body. Kone is such a raw talent and can potentially be a CAA All - Defensive Player in time, but he needs to mature on the court and learn better body control. GSU up 13-11.
12:23 – Let's not pretend it took me over 7 minutes to notice it, I was thinking it the whole time, but Cassara is impeccably dressed as always. Ron Hunter and staff are wearing polo shirts on their bench, which just makes Cassara look even more GQ. Okay, back to the game.
11:44 – Buckner with his second offensive rebound and put back of the game. I was just busy complimenting Hofstra's defense on forcing him away from the basket and kicking the ball out, but they have to finish possessions and not allow Buckner second chance opportunities. Way too easy. GSU 15-13.
11:03 – Jihad Ali hits a wing 3 after the Pride defense collapses around a baseline driver. That keeps Buckner out, but the Pride's scramble defense has to be better than it has all season. GSU 18-13.
8:20 – In that last possession Buckner swatted Lester's shot and then forced Mejia to change his shot into an errant floater. I don't care that this guy averaged only 10.8 points per game this season, with the way he anchored the defense that keyed GSU's turnaround, he deserves more recognition.
And now he hits two free throws on the offensive end after getting fouled. GSU 22-15.
7:17 – We've hit the under-8 media timeout and I think this next stretch is going to be HUGE for Hofstra. Last time GSU pulled away early and despite its best efforts, the Pride just couldn't muster a big enough run again Georgia State's defense. A seven-point game is manageable, if this turns into 12 over the next two possessions, the Pride should just pack up.
5:43 – GSU had extended its lead to 10, but Lester hits a floater over Buckner and Cassara calls a quick timeout for see if the team can work off that. 25-17 GSU lead.
5:10 – Cassara calls time out again! But it's bad. Buckner hits two free throws, Lester throws the ensuing inbounds to Jihad Ali (NOTE: He's on Georgia State) and GSU proceeds to convert and we've reached that magical deficit of 12. Uh-oh. GSU up 29-17.
4:25 – Moussa Kone fouled and hits 0/2 free throws. Here's the thing about Kone. He's so young and so raw, that a red shirt year would have done him a lot of good, but the Pride just couldn't afford to not have another active player. Right now the Pride has just 7 scholarship players eligible (David Imes is hurt, Taran Buie, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Daquan Brown are sitting out the year after transferring and freshman Jordan Allen is redshirting).
What good can possibly come out of it? Last year Stephen Nwaukoni was a very raw freshman forward forced into playing time just due to numbers. He played significant minutes in last year's CAA Tournament loss to ODU and the experience seems to have paid off. He may never be a dominant offensive forward, but he has turned into a very efficient rebounder, pulling down about 11 rebounds per 40 minutes of play. If Kone can make the kind of leap that Nwaukoni did, then at least something would be gained from this game.
2:25 – Things are getting ugly for the Pride. James Vincent scores down low to make it 41-20 in favor of the Panthers. That's a 21-point deficit for all you non-math majors. That's a lot.
0:48 – Rashaad Richardson with a steal and goes coast-to-coast for the lay in. GSU 43 – Hofstra 22. Now I'm not here to make excuses for Hofstra, the Pride has been really bad today and it's been a very long season, but I wonder if the Pride just caught a terrible matchup tonight. The Pride has not been an efficient scoring team and when a good defensive team (like GSU) forces even tough shots, it's a bad combination. The Pride has played tough this season and had some bad luck, going 2-6 in games that were decided by less than 5 points. Does the Pride win if its faces no. 5 Delaware instead? Probably not, but it's a very different game.
0:00 – Halftime. The Pride is going to try to regroup and….ah, who am I kidding? This game is over and the Pride needs to just salvage some pride here (no pun intended) and see if it can gain some experience for young players like Kone.
20:00 – A couple key stats from the first half (other than the score):
10 turnovers for Hofstra in the first half – remember it had 10 all game last matchup
Moussa Kone already has 3 personal fouls and Stephen Nwaukoni has 2. At this pace, the Pride is going to need to find the tallest player in the stands to fill in.
The Pride is getting almost doubled up on the boards 15-8. And 5 of them are offensive for GSU, giving them second chances.
19:36 – Corner three from Moore to start the half. It would take a miracle to come back here, but Moore hitting a bunch of quick threes would certainly help. GSU up 45-27.
18:17 – Nwaukoni pulls down an offensive board and makes a sweet post move to score and draw a foul on Buckner. Like I said in the first half, he's not going to average 15 points ever, but if he can at least be an occasional threat on the block, that opens up a lot of shots for his guards. GSU up 47-30.
17:37 – Cassara is normally a really upbeat guy, but he seems really withdrawn and sullen right now. I get that his team is down 50-30, but I can't remember the last time I've seen him spend this much game time sitting.
16:42 – Mejia hits a wing three-pointer and the Pride is only down 16. A comeback seems unlikely, especially with the short bench, but there is a way to do it. My theory: do it in chunks. Get it down to 12 or 13, call a time out. Get it down to 7 or 8, call time out. Get it down to one possession. If you look at it like a 20 point game, you'll never make it, but three different six point games, that is manageable. GSU up 50-34.
15:48 – Cassara's ears must have been burning, because he is up and about. Hofstra forces a turnover on the press and Mo is out on the floor with a big fist pump. 52-35 GSU.
13:53 – Every time the Pride seems to gain a sliver of momentum, Buckner takes it back. He forced Mike Moore to alter his drive and get called for a travel, and then threw down a two-handed dunk on the other end. GSU 56 – 35.
13:13 – Make that two straight dunks.
12:06 – We haven't seen a lot of what Stevie Mejia was billed to be this year, largely due to injuries, but he's had his flashes this game. A nice three earlier and now a nice slicing lay in. GSU up 61-39.
11:12 – Grogan gets up to check in. Cassara tells him to, "Shoot the basketball."
10:40 – Rashaad Richardson shoots the basketball. In fact he dunks it on a fast break. GSU up 65-39.
7:41 – GSU up 73-40.
A thought: You have to feel for a guy like Nat Lester. Very highly touted player coming out of Canarsie in Brooklyn, he got overshadowed by his good buddy Charles Jenkins. He's a smart, well-spoken guy who graduated in 3 and a half years and is working on a masters degree. In what was supposed to be his senior year, Lester hurt himself and had to sit out, while Jenkins led the team to the CAA semifinals. Now, Lester has to finish out his career with a tough ending after a really tough season.
6:44 – Hofstra pep band: "Let's go Hofstra!" George Mason fan sitting behind press row: "Let's go home."
Mason, of course, faces the winner of tonight's game in the quarterfinals tomorrow. That should be a good game. GSU and Mason only met once this season, at Mason, with the Patriots escaping with a three-point victory.
3:38 – Richardson sneaks in for a dunk on an offensive rebound. Hofstra has just stopped boxing out at this point. GSU leads 79-44.
1:59 – Mejia with a steal and takes it down court in a 2-on-1 situation. Could have dropped it off to Lester for an easy bucket, but instead forces a twisting layup that doesn't fall. GSU follows with a three-pointer, leads 83-46.
0:00 – That's a final from Richmond. No. 6 Georgia State wins 85-50. A very poor performance overall from the Pride. It's the final games in their Pride careers for Mike Moore, Nat Lester and Dwan McMillan. See you next year Pride fans.