Uncasville, CT – Graduate guard Dion Nesmith poured in a game and career-high 27 points to lead the Hofstra Men’s Basketball team to a thrilling 81-78 victory over Harford on Saturday evening in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-off at Mohegan Sun Arena. With the win Hofstra advances to the championship game of the Springfield Bracket.
Senior forward/center Stephen Nwaukoni nearly had a double-double for the Pride with 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Taylor Dyson led Hartford with 16 points.
The win pushes Hofstra’s record to 2-3 this season, while Hartford falls to 2-4.
Hofstra would take a 37-31 lead into the break as the Pride had as much as a 10-point lead before settling for a six-point advantage at the intermission. With Hofstra clinging to a one-point lead (15-14) with 9:50 left, the Pride used a 14-5 run to open a 29-19 lead at the 5:30 mark of the opening stanza. Nesmith was huge during the run as he poured in 10 points during the spurt to push the Pride ahead.
The Pride would continue to hold a lead the remainder of the first half and with the clock winding down, sophomore forward Darren Payen stole the ball and sank a shot at the first half buzzer to give Hofstra the six-point lead and the momentum heading into the locker room.
Hartford would immediately respond out of the break as they scored the first five points of the second stanza to close the gap to 37-36 with just over a minute expired.
Nesmith would still have the hot hand in second half as he scored the Pride’s first points, on a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Hofstra bench, to end the short Hartford run and give the Pride a 40-36 lead with 18:17 left in regulation.
A tight second half would see Hartford finally even the score at 55 with about 12 minutes on the clock as Mark Nwakamma hit a layup in the lane to tie the contest. Hartford would take a three-point lead at 58-55 as Nwakamma added an old-fashioned three-point play moments later.
A pair of free throws from Nesmith with 6:24 to play in regulation would give Hofstra the lead back at 66-64 and set the exciting finish.
The Pride would push the lead to four, 68-64, as junior forward/center Moussa Kone got an offensive rebound and putback at the 5:57 mark.
In all it was a 9-0 Hofstra run to allow the Pride to regain the lead heading into the final minutes.
Nesmith would come up clutch once again as he drained a huge three-pointer from the wing with just over two minutes to play in the second half to push the Pride lead to 75-69.
The waning moments of the game would see the Hawks close to within two, 80-78, before Nesmith added another free throw with 16 ticks left to account for the final margin of victory.
Nesmith would also make a huge play in the final seconds as he dove on the floor to save a Hofstra possession as the clock was winding and prevent Harford from one last attempt to knot the score and send the game to overtime.
Graduate guard/forward Zeke Upshaw added 12 points for Hofstra, while Payen chipped in with 10 points.
Nwakamma added 15 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Hawks.
Hofstra will continue play in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff on Sunday when it faces either Belmont or Holy Cross at 8 p.m. in the championship game of the tournament.