By Mike Rudin – SPORTS EDITOR
The Hofstra Pride men’s basketball team celebrated New Year’s Eve with a 90-80 victory over University of Delaware at the Mack Sports Complex on Thursday afternoon to start conference play as well as end 2015 on a high note.
"Good start to the conference season. We got to take care of the home court [and] we did that, a lot of good things about today," said Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich. "It's a good feeling in that locker room. When we won the other night [against Florida Alantic] we felt like we lost. When we won today, it felt like we got a good, hard-earned win."
The win extends Hofstra's winning streak to three straight games and their record goes up 9-4 overall.
Juan’ya Green collected a double-double with 19 points and 11 assists. Denton Koon scored the second-highest amount with 17 points and he collected six rebounds. Ameen Tanksley (16), Rokas Gustys (13) and Brian Bernardi (12) all scored in double digits to contribute to the win.
The game started out with Hofstra relying on the three-pointer, the "big three" – Green, Bernardi and Tanksley – compiled the first nine points, all outside the arc. Koon shot Hofstra’s fourth straight three to even things out at 12-12 in the first four minutes.
Early on, both teams played a fast tempo with quick passes which is how Hofstra opened up 4-for-6 outside the arc. Delaware did a better job mixing their source of points from short and long range.
The Pride shot better (6-for-8) from three than in the paint (2-for-5) which Gustys struggled early on pushing through Delaware’s defense. But he later adjusted and started to produce inside.
Hofstra’s progression towards mixing their shots and lively play put pressure on Delaware which caused a 3:03 scoring drought and created an 8-0 run for the Pride. Gustys and Koon scored all eight points inside the arc.
Hofstra went up by nine to collect their second-largest lead of the half, their largest lead came shortly later after Koon shot his second three-pointer to put the Pride up 33-23 with 8:40 until halftime.
Koon worked well mixing from shooting inside the arc and out, his first 12 points was an even split scoring between twos and threes.
"I'm just kind of taking opportunities as I get them. Obviously, they're putting a lot of attention on Brian [Bernardi], Juan'ya [Green] and Ameen [Tanksley] so I just fill in the spots, make plays and present themselves," Koon said after the game.
Delaware’s miscues and sporadic decision plays costed them an early hole to dig out. But they came clawing back in the half with 6:07 left in the half. The Fightin’ Blue Hens turned the tables after they trailed by eight with a 9-0 rally to take the lead in over ten minutes.
Bernardi quickly killed Delaware’s one-point lead with a three 17 seconds later. After exchanging points, Hofstra ended up with the lead 43-40 at halftime.
The Pride could’ve taken a bigger lead if their free-throw shooting smoothed out, Hofstra went 1-for-7 at the charity stripe in the first half.
On the bright side, Koon led the Pride with 13 points while Green led with seven assists and Malik Nichols produced five rebounds.
The second half started with Delaware tying the game but Hofstra quickly stole the show with a 10-0 streak in less than a 1:30 span.
This quick, aggressive strike by the Pride proved to be the turning point of the game. Afterwards, both teams went back-and-forth scoring on each other. Delaware slightly improved and slashed the lead to eight points, 64-56, with 11:40 left.
Even though Hofstra started to struggle making baskets, their defense helped maintain their lead and their free-throw shooting got better (4-for-6) in the first 10 minutes of the half.
Then Gustys and Koon revved up in the paint, compiling three layups to keep Hofstra’s lead up by 10 points. The Pride kept solid control over Delaware throughout the last 20 minutes.
Delaware’s depth shrunk after three players committed three personal fouls apiece and it grew worse when Delaware’s Barnett Harris received his fourth personal foul with 7:50 left.
The fight in the Fightin’ Blue Hens slowly faded the longer the game progressed and any hopes of a comeback fell out of sight.
The Pride took their largest lead of 13 points with 3:41 left and never looked back. Hofstra killed the clock and took the 10-point win.
Hofstra’s next matchup in CAA action and the first of 2016 will open up on the road against the Towson University, the first of a three-game road series. Tipoff against the Towson Tigers will commence at 7 p.m. on Jan. 2.