By Mike Rudin and Chris Buckley - SPORTS EDITOR AND STAFF WRITER
The Hofstra Pride women’s basketball team nearly collapsed in the second half against Northern Iowa University in the first round of the Hofstra Thanksgiving Tournament, but the Pride stood their ground and battled back in overtime to take the 61-58 win. Hofstra then advanced into the championship round.
But the Hofstra Pride fell to the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers 70-65 in overtime of the championship game in the Hofstra Thanksgiving Invitational Tournament on Saturday night. With the loss, Hofstra moves to 3-2 on the season, while the Lady Toppers improve to 5-2 as part of Conference-USA.
Krystal Luciano, Elo Edeferioka and Ashunae Durant led the Pride with 14 points each on the court against the Northern Iowa Panthers. Edeferioka led Hofstra in rebounds with 11 total in the game, Durant came in second with 10 total rebounds.
Darius Faulk played an important role as a universal utility player as she shot 9 points, made 9 total rebounds and led the Pride in both assists with four and steals with three. Hofstra overwhelmed the Panthers in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Pride took a 17-4 lead by the 9:18 mark in the first half and maintained the 13-point lead for slightly over a minute and a half in the game.
The Panthers started to pick up their offense against the Pride. Northern Iowa rallied 15 points versus Hofstra’s 12 within the last 7:44 of the half. The Pride still maintained a ten-point lead, 29-19 going into the second half.
The second half was Hofstra’s weakest point in the game as Northern Iowa outscored the Pride 30-20 to tie the game.
The Northern Iowa panthers started out strong, scoring in the first ten seconds. In addition, the Panthers scorched through the Pride with an 11-2 rally in the first five and a half minutes of the second half. Hofstra’s lead disappeared and the panthers took a one-point lead. Elo Edeferioka allowed Hofstra to retake the lead with a layup at the 14:05 mark. Sdyni Epps and Krystal Luciano both shot jumpers that made their way to the net to extend the Pride’s lead to 37-32 with 12:21 left in the game.
Exactly a minute later, Northern Iowa struck back with one layup, and then another at the 10:45 mark that cut Hofstra’s lead down to 37-36. After a pair of free throws shot by Northern Iowa and a three-pointer, the Panthers regained the lead and extended it to 41-37. The Panthers later took an eight-point lead with 4:48 left in regulation.
By the 2:44 mark, the Pride mounted a comeback with Ashunae Durant’s jumper to cut the lead down to a five-point deficit. Then 26 seconds later, Edeferioka shot a free throw to cut the lead to four.
Durant had two scoring opportunities from the free throw line after a foul from Panthers’ player Madison Weekly. Durant made both shots and cut the lead again with two points and 1:10 left in regulation.
Edeferioka made her mark again sinking a jumper to tie the game at 49 a piece with 24 seconds left. Asia Jackson tried to play the hero shooting a jumper with four seconds left on the clock but missed the shot sending the game to overtime. With five minutes to take the game, the Pride stepped up when it mattered most. Back-to-back layups from inside the paint gave the Pride a four-point lead in the first 29 seconds of overtime.
Including the two layups, Hofstra went on a 8-3 run after Durant scored two more free throws and Krystal Luciano found the hoop with a jumper to extend Hofstra’s lead to 57-52 with 2:14 left. Panther’s Stephine Davis shot a layup and a free throw to cut the lead down to 57-55 with 1:56 left in the game.
The Pride refused to go under as Krystal Luciano put up a clutch three-point shot to extend the lead to 60-55 with 55 seconds left on the clock. Madison Weekly responded with a three-pointer of her own with 26 seconds left but the Pride managed to keep possession of the ball. The game ended with Edeferioka in the middle of a free throw as she stalled out the remaining second.
Luciano’s last minute shot put the Pride into the championship round against Northern Kentucky in the Hofstra Thanksgiving Tournament.
But the next day didn’t go as successfully. The Pride battled Western Kentucky and took the tournament title away from the Pride. Western Kentucky’s Chastity Gooch led all scorers with 21 points and nine rebounds.
The forward was also named tournament MVP after averaging just over 15 points in WKU’s game against Tulane on Friday, as well as the win over Hofstra.
Three Pride players finished in double digits, including Asia Jackson who had a team-high 16 points and 2 three-pointers. Guards Darius Faulk and Jakelle King-Gilchrist chipped in with 15 and 10 points, respectively. A physical first half saw Hofstra take its first lead, 10-9, with 10:28 remaining in the frame after a 5-0 run. Each team fought for a lead throughout, trading the advantage with run after run.
The Lady Toppers managed two 7-0 runs on a Pride defense that struggled to consistently maintain control of a dynamic WKU offense. Nearly four of WKU’s five starters entered the contest averaging double figures. Hofstra went to the locker room trailing 34-26.
Hofstra’s Elo Edeferioka was tasked with guarding the explosive Gooch, a day after containing Northern Iowa’s offensive juggernaut Jen Keitel in a Hofstra overtime win. On this day, Edeferioka was in foul trouble early, forcing head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey to allow Edeferioka limited minutes. Gooch continued to dominate in the paint all game long, as the Pride defense was uncharacteristically inconsistent, allowing the Lady Toppers easy penetration and paint presence.
In the second half, Darius Faulk scored six of Hofstra’s first eight points, playing in her first game as a starter for the Pride. The Hempstead native provided a much-needed jolt of energy and offensive production.
However, the Pride’s turnovers prevented them from maintaining a significant lead, as the squad coughed up the ball 27 total times in 45 minutes. The team also shot poorly from the charity stripe, going 14-23 for a 61 percent clip.
In the waning minutes of regulation, Asia Jackson helped keep the Pride in the game by knocking down clutch shots, including a three-pointer and a pair of game-tying free throws with 1:36 left in the second half. With the game tied at 57, Faulk put Hofstra up one after a successful free throw. Gooch responded for WKU with a free throw of her own to make it a 58-58 contest.
The Pride could not convert on their next possession, giving WKU a chance to win. However, a travel was called and Hofstra regained the ball with eight seconds remaining. The team could not get a shot before the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, WKU quickly took control and dominated the Pride, scoring eight straight points to put Hofstra in a deep hole. Ashunae Durant was the first Pride player to get on the board in OT, draining her lone field goal of the game on a three-point play.
With 5.7 seconds left, Krystal Luciano buried a three-pointer to make it a 68-65 contest, but time was not on the Pride’s side. Gooch converted her final two free throws on the ensuing possession to help WKU wrap up the hard-fought victory.
“We know that we had one right here in our hands tonight,” said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. “It was definitely hard-fought and we certainly didn’t give in.”
The Pride finished the game with 30 points from bench players, primarily due to the team’s foul trouble. Durant, Edeferioka, Faulk and Jackson all finished with four fouls apiece. In a physical battle in the paint, Hofstra outrebounded the Lady Toppers 49-38.
“We have a heck of a lot more challenges left on our plate,” said Kilburn-Steveskey. “We can only take them one at a time, and our next one is with Albany. So, we need to right the wrong pretty quickly.”
The women’s basketball team is next in action onight. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m.