By JOE PANTORNO
Good teams find a way to win even when they are not having the best of nights. While the book is still out on Hofstra University, it seemed the formula for success on Tuesday night was putting the ball in the hands of Ameen Tanksley.
The junior guard recorded a career-high 30 points and simply did not miss, going 9-for-9 from the field in an 88-74 Hofstra (5-2) victory over Norfolk State (4-4).
“Ameen’s line is just so efficient,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said. “He only took nine shots and got 30 shots. That’s terrific right there.”
This was not a flash in the pan kind of game for Tanksley, either. He has been piping hot from three, going 20-for-25 in his last four games from deep. Hofstra was just one three-pointer away from setting a school record, hitting 14 on Tuesday night.
With Juan’ya Green getting plenty of defensive attention from Norfolk State, Tanksley started early, recording 10 of Hofstra’s first 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
“I knew from the beginning that I was feeling good about myself,” Tanksley said. “I focused and told myself if I get open looks, then I’m going to make them.”
However, it was Norfolk State that was controlling the tempoafter trailing early. As Hofstra’s shooting went cold, the Spartans showed what kind of speed they had. Paired with precise shooting, Norfolk State exploded for a 19-3 run to establish a seven point lead.
A Dion Nesmith three-pointer helped stall the Spartans as the graduate guard recorded his 1,000th career point with that basket. He had 10 on the night. Green managed to break through for his first points of the night, a rare fast-break lay-up after a Nichols steal, 13 minutes into the first half.
Hofstra’s defense managed to find its bearings a bit, picking up the pressure and starting to dictate the pace. Brian Bernardi and Nesmith’s shots came around and despite an almost dooming stretch of play midway through the half, Hofstra responded with a 20-4 run.
“We had to play a different way,” Mihalich said. “I’m proud of our team playing a different way and finding a way to win.”
Tanksley, who was stymied after his furious first four minutes, came back strong in the last six minutes of the half. His 17 points in the opening 20 helped Hofstra hold a three-point halftime lead over Norfolk State.
“A lot of times when I was going for the pick and pop, I was getting caught in collisions,” Tanksley said. “So I started moving.”
The junior guard continued his strong play in the second half, scoring seven of Hofstra’s first nine points. The defense, however, continued to be picked apart by an opposition averaging 63 points per game. Norfolk State was continuously finding the open shot by making the extra pass as Hofstra’s zone was not able to keep up with the concise ball movement.
Despite the less than stellar defensive play, it was mental play that was building Hofstra’s lead. The Pride sported a disciplined game while Norfolk State was a bit too eager with the body. The Spartans committed the first eight fouls of the half, giving Hofstra plenty of opportunities for free points at the charity stripe. The free throw line hasn’t exactly been kind to Hofstra this season, but a 26-for-37 outing, while nowhere near perfect, is still a step in the right direction.
Norfolk State came storming back as Hofstra’s defense continued to sputter. RaShid Gaston was a force to be reckoned with down low, scoring 28 points and hauling in 10 boards while Jeff Short and Malik Thomas provided the long-range threat. The Spartans pulled to within one with eight minutes left in the game, but a pair of clutch three-pointers from Bernardi, who finished with 17, helped keep them at bay.
“Whenever I can get open and get open looks, I’m going to take it,” Bernardi said. “I’m going to hit it. I don’t mind taking the big shots.”
Green helped seal the game with three consecutive trips to the foul line, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half. A three-pointer from Jamall Robinson capped an 11-1 run with his first points of the game.