For most of the second half of the CAA season, Old Dominion was the forgotten team. The 2004-05 CAA champs, the team that gave 2005 Final Four member Michigan State all they could handle in the first round game of the 2005 NCAA tournament, had finished fourth in the 2005-06 CAA regular season, despite having basically its entire team back from last year. Then a stunning upset at the hands of Northeastern in the quarterfinal round of the CAA tournament, left Old Dominion out of the CAA limelight as UNC Wilmington, George Mason and Hofstra got national press, in one way or another. But the NIT tournament was the Monarchs' resurrection. They first thumped Colorado on the Buffs home court 79-61. Then they held off Manhattan at home 70-66. Then last night at Hofstra Arena, the Monarchs ended college basketball's second longest winning streak, as the Monarchs rallied from an eight point second half deficit to defeat Hofstra 61-51.
I was at sold out Hofstra Arena last night for the game. It was loud, electric and exciting; everything you wanted in a college basketball game. The teams struggled early in a turnover fest. It was evident that both teams were a little tired. Hofstra and Old Dominion traded leads early on in the first half, then with Old Dominion up 21-20 with a little over 2 minutes left in the first half, Hofstra went on a 10-3, culminating in a Carlos Rivera three point bomb to end the half with Hofstra up 30-24.
The turning point came in the second half. With the Pride up eight, 32-24, and a chance to put the lead into double digits, Hofstra guard Antoine Agudio's three point shot attempt rimmed out and the Monarchs' Isaiah Hunter proceeded to hit two three pointers in a row to cut the lead to 32-30. The momentum changed right there. Hofstra would go back up as many as five, 35-30, but could not shake the Monarchs. Isaiah Hunter finally put Old Dominion up for good at 43-41 with 9:03 left. Hofstra would stay in the game and cut the lead to two, 51-49 on a jumper by Loren Stokes with 2:41 left. But Hunter again would hit another jumper to make it 53-49 and Hofstra would get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
Old Dominion had a simple game plan; play a physical 3-2 zone defense and keep sending fresh bodies in, often looking like hockey line changes. It worked as Hofstra struggled in the second half. Despite many open looks, the shots would not fall for Hofstra. The Pride shot a meager 23.5% in the second half on eight of thirty four shooting as opposed to Old Dominion's 48 percent in the second half. Old Dominion also hit 11 of its 15 free throws in the second half to ice the game. Isaiah Hunter led the Monarchs with an awesome performance, 29 points on 10 of 19 shooting, including four three pointers. For Hofstra, their trio of Stokes, Agudio and Carlos Rivera struggled, only combining for 35 points on 14 of 51 shooting.
For Hofstra, a great season ended in a bit of bitter irony. Their home court winning streak started after a one point loss in January, 2005 to...Old Dominion by a point. It was fitting that the streak would end by Old Dominion. But there should be no shame for Hofstra. They tied a school record with 26 wins, they swept NCAA Sweet Sixteen member George Mason, and they have their starting guard trio back next year. But they know they had a chance to play a home court game in the NIT at the nearby Madison Square Garden. The shots just wouldn't fall for them in the second half.
For ODU, the NIT has been a redemption for a team that in the beginning of the season was the favorite to repeat in the CAA. Its also further proof of the great depth of team talent in the CAA. Its now ODU's turn to shine for the CAA in the national spotlight. They are the only mid major left in the NIT after Louisville hammered Missouri State. The Monarchs face Michigan in the NIT semifinals. Could another George Mason-Michigan State repeat be in store? For the CAA this year, its a good possibility.
Sidenote 1 - In a twist of irony, on my welcome message to my college basketball blog on December 12, I predicted that Old Dominion would beat Hofstra in the CAA tournament final, which would have been their third meeting of the season. Last night was their third meeting of the season.
Sidenote 2 - It was great to see the Hofstra Arena last night sold out and loud and raucous. Though the Pride didn't give their best effort, I hope the fans realize how good this Hofstra team is and that their starting guard trio of Stokes, Agudio and Rivera are all back next year. With so many CAA teams losing good starting players and though Hofstra lost starting forwards Adrian Uter and Aurimas Kieza, Hofstra will be considered one of the favorites in the CAA. I hope these fans that came last night will continue to come. Hofstra Arena has only sold out one other time the last two seasons, and that was against St John's last season. Even the home game win against then #25 ranked George Mason was not sold out. Its time the local area fans of Long Island realize that the best January - March team in the area the last two years has not been St John's, certainly not the Knicks or the Islanders, but here in Hempstead, the Hofstra Pride men's basketball team. Hopefully all the national attention that the CAA and Hofstra has been getting will finally get thru to these people and make Hofstra Arena the home court advantage it should be.