Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hofstra rally comes up just short in narrow loss to Charleston

By Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno)
Special To Daly Dose Of Hoops

HEMPSTEAD, NY --- Behind Joe Chealey's 18 points, Charleston (20-8, 11-4 CAA) was able to stave off a late Hofstra comeback bid to pull out a 76-72 victory on Thursday from the Mack Sports Complex.

Charleston led by as many as 15 in the second half, but Hofstra (13-15, 5-10 CAA) managed to make it a one-possession game in the final seconds before falling just short. 

The night featured two of the best scorers in CAA play with Chealey and Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman, who entered Thursday tied for third in the conference with 16.7 points per game. 

Chealey led an offensive effort that saw his team shoot 54.5 percent from the field, though a lot of it had to do with Charleston's dominance in the paint as 40 of its 76 points came from the interior. Jarrell Brantley was the main benefactor of the inside game, posting 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

"I feel like we got beat more off the bounce than the post," Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said. "I was a little bit surprised to hear those figures, but I think they're a little misleading...But we didn't guard the ball as well."

In the loss, Wright-Foreman's streak of 20-plus-point games grew to eight-straight after recording 26 points. He reached the mark with 7:19 left in the game with a mid-range jumper. It was an impressive feat for the sophomore guard to achieve, considering Charleston's defense was ranked 18th in the NCAA with just 63.1 points allowed per game.

Brian Bernardi added 21 points to Hofstra's efforts by knocking down seven three-pointers on 12 attempts, while Rokas Gustys put up 16 with 12 rebounds. No other Hofstra scorer had more than four points. 

As one of the premier rebounders in the country, Gustys was expected to lead Hofstra's efforts on the boards against a Charleston team that was ninth in the CAA in rebounding. However, a hungrier-looking Charleston program out-rebounded Hofstra 35-25 on the night.

Hofstra resorted to its long-range game to spark the offense early on, as Bernardi hit a trio of threes in the first eight minutes. He and Wright-Foreman combined for 19 of the Pride's first 23 points. Once the shooting went cold, though, Charleston took full advantage thanks to a 14-3 run in the final minutes of the first half to take a six-point halftime lead. The only three points came via Bernardi's fourth triple of the half. 

"We just had a bad stretch right there," Mihalich said. "We had three [careless turnovers] and we let them convert like good teams do."

Charleston looked as though it would cruise to victory thanks to a 10-0 run that put it up by as much as 15 points with 8:41 to play in the game. But after Wright-Foreman was held scoreless for the last 7:41 of the first half, he willed Hofstra back into contention with 16 second-half points, including reeling off five points in a two-minute span to headline a 14-6 run as Hofstra cut its once-large deficit to three with two minutes left. 

With 14.8 seconds left, Bernardi hit his final three of the night from the right corner to make it a one-point game. Eli Pemberton then sent Chealey to the free throw line, but the Charleston star could only hit one of two, presenting Hofstra a chance to tie or win. Opting to go for the three and the win, Wright-Foreman's shot was altered by Nick Harris to seal the Charleston win. 

Wright-Foreman didn't think the play was clean, though.

"I got fouled," Wright-Foreman said. "He hit my wrist."

Still, there were positives to take out of the result. 

"To have a shot to win against one or two of the best teams in the league says a lot about these guys," Mihalich said. "It wasn't the last shot, there were a lot of things that we'd probably like to have back." 

Charleston was just one game back of conference leaders UNC-Wilmington before the night began. The Seahawks defeated Northeastern at the same time on Thursday from Boston. The win ensures that the Cougars remain close to UNCW for at least a few more days.

While Hofstra has no hopes of repeating as CAA regular-season champions, it still is within two games of Northeastern for the No. 6 spot, which provides a first-round bye during the conference tournament. 

With a sizable opportunity missed, It doesn't get any easier for Hofstra as it will meet UNC-Wilmington on Saturday to wrap up its regular season home schedule.

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