Ethan O'Day led five Vermont players in double figures as Catamounts opened CBI with 85-81 victory over Hofstra. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
For one team, it was a sense of deja vu. For the other, an opportunity to prove they belonged against a bigger team in a stronger league, and also to build toward an already promising future with a boost to its present state.
With five players scoring 10 or more points, and two more coming close to that plateau, Vermont (19-13) was the latter team, setting the tone early and fortifying it with a 73 percent shooting effort in the second half to withstand a valiant Hofstra rally at the Mack Sports Complex, scoring an 85-81 win over the Pride (20-14) in the first round of the 2015 College Basketball Invitational.
"I thought we did a great job," John Becker remarked after the Catamounts scored 52 points following the intermission to keep Hofstra chasing until the final buzzer, when the Pride simply ran out of time to get over the hump. "We're young, and physically overmatched, but I thought our guys battled."
Ethan O'Day's 17 points led all scorers, while Trae Bell-Haynes and Zach McRoberts poured in 13 points apiece, combining to shoot 8-for-10 from the field in the victory. Dre Wills also contributed 11, with Drew Urquhart adding 10 of his own off the bench.
Vermont started aggressive, opening the game on a 9-0 run before Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich burned a timeout just over two minutes into the game. The Pride would quickly cut into their deficit, though, with a 10-2 run bringing the home team within two points and providing the impetus Hofstra needed to keep the game close going into the locker room, a feat they achieved despite trailing 33-30 at halftime.
Amid a crowd of 958 that voiced their displeasure for the contest's officiating as the night wore on, Hofstra struck first after the intermission, with a layup from Dion Nesmith, who scored 15 points in his final collegiate game. The Pride would cut Vermont's lead to one point on three more occasions after the opening basket of the final stanza, but a 9-2 run by the Catamounts after the third such one-point margin gave the visitors a 67-59 advantage that would soon be stretched to 11 points as the two teams traded baskets for several minutes.
Trailing 81-72 with 1:56 to play, Juan'ya Green, whose 16 points paced the Pride, joined Malik Nichols as catalysts of a 9-2 Hofstra spurt, which rejuvenated the intimate gathering of patrons when Green's three-pointer with 48 seconds remaining in regulation made the score 83-81. Hofstra fouled on the ensuing possession, with O'Day making one of two shots to leave the door open for the home team as the final seconds wound down. However, Green's next attempt from beyond the arc fell short, and O'Day made one more at the charity stripe to ice the game for Vermont, who advances to the CBI quarterfinals, where the Catamounts will host Delaware State.
"We didn't lose to a bunch of bums tonight," Mihalich offered after the game. "We lost to a good team. We're down right now because of tonight, but we're real excited about this program. These are exciting times for us."
So too it is for the winners Wednesday night, who move forward with renewed confidence on a night where each Vermont player to see the floor not only scored, but also played at least 17 minutes in contributing to a victorious cause.
"We were committed to playing everyone tonight," Becker admitted. "These experiences are great for young teams. VCU won this tournament in 2010, I think, and the next year, they went to the Final Four. All these wins, I think, are going to pay dividends down the road."