Dion Nesmith had 18 points, but none bigger than game-winning jumper with 1.6 seconds left as Hofstra won first game against Stony Brook since 2008. (Photo courtesy of Hofstra University)
It was billed as a local Super Bowl of sorts, the "Battle of Long Island;" and for each second of its 40-minute duration, it was just that, a battle fought to the bitter end between two programs that had not shared the same space on the hardwood in nearly six years.
Upon its conclusion, the prevailing feeling among fans and media alike called for an encore.
In a clash of Nassau meeting Suffolk for the first time since December 10, 2008, it came down to the final seconds to decide a winner, taking a jumper from Dion Nesmith with 1.6 seconds remaining in regulation to separate Hofstra (2-1) from Stony Brook (1-2) as the Pride emerged from their home floor at the Mack Sports Complex 66-65 winners over their geographic adversaries, the Seawolves.
"I thought it was two teams that just went toe-to-toe, fought their brains out, and competed like crazy," Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. "Fortunately, we were the team to make the last shot. The buildup was really fun, it felt like a big game three days ago. They should all feel the same, but this one felt more special."
Mihalich's counterpart felt similarly, albeit having come up one point short.
"I just thought, (it was) a great college basketball game," Steve Pikiell conceded after his Seawolves were denied a chance to win on the coach's 47th birthday by Nesmith's dagger. "They were one point better today, but I like my team. We're young as can be, but we're going to get better and we're going to be a real good basketball team, too."
Trailing 65-64 after Jameel Warney, whose 26 points and 14 rebounds led all players in both categories, got a friendly roll on a layup to put the Seawolves ahead with 9.2 seconds to play in regulation, Hofstra needed to drive the length of the floor. On the ensuing possession, a play designed for Juan'ya Green broke down, setting the stage for Nesmith's heroics with a step-back rainbow from the foul line.
"The play was actually to get the ball to Juan'ya," said Nesmith, who ended his night with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. "They face-guarded him, he passed it to me and I saw the clock was running down."
Green scored 22 points to lead the way for Hofstra, who scored 27 points off 19 Stony Brook turnovers while registering only eight giveaways of their own, overcoming a night where the Pride shot a meager 8-for-16 at the free throw line, and 4-for-10 in the first half.
Despite Hofstra's foul shooting woes, the Pride were able to stay in a game that neither team led by more than seven points thanks to Stony Brook's carelessness handling the ball, a trait uncharacteristic of the Seawolves' trademark offensive discipline.
"I'm disappointed in our turnovers," Pikiell lamented. "(All) 19 of them. I'd like to have any one of those back. Ray(shaun McGrew) had six, that's not him. We're a good defensive team, and we still had chances to win."
After Hofstra led most of the first half, Stony Brook seized momentum on a combination of defensive stops and Warney's matchup advantage in the paint to go on a 9-0 run before an Ameen Tanksley layup inside the final minute cut the Seawolves' halftime advantage to 30-25. The two teams traded baskets for the first several minutes following the intermission before a 10-3 Hofstra run capped by a Green layup with 12:57 to play put the Pride ahead 45-42. A seesaw exchange ensued once more until Stony Brook utilized an 11-3 spurt of their own to take a 61-54 lead with 5:03 remaining.
The Seawolves would not make another field goal for another 3:14 thereafter, leading to a seven-point Hofstra swing that sent the Hempstead crowd into a delirium; first on a three-pointer by Tanksley before Brian Bernardi drew contact against Rayshaun McGrew deep in the left corner en route to another trey, prompting a foul and a trip to the line for the Staten Island native, who calmly buried the free throw to convert the four-point play and even the proceedings at 61.
A Carson Puriefoy basket gave Stony Brook a brief two-point lead, which was cut in half when Green made one of two foul shots with 1:09 left in regulation. The Seawolves' next trip down the court came up empty, as Scott King's errant entry pass gave Hofstra the ball to set up Nesmith's first of two final-minute buckets, this one a reverse layup with 33 seconds to go. Warney answered with his layup, but it was the Pride's sixth-year senior who fired the final salvo in the restoration of a rivalry that has only just begun to regenerate.
Prior to tonight, the last time Hofstra and Stony Brook matched wits, George W. Bush was still in the White House, Brett Favre had only danced with retirement once, and both schools had football programs. However, any fear of another six-year hiatus was soon put to rest.
"Give them a tip of the hat," Pikiell respectfully directed toward Hofstra. "They got the home game first, and we'll have them at home next year. It's a good rivalry, it'll be good and it's good for New York basketball."