WASHINGTON — With Hofstra leading Delaware 35-22 in the first half of their CAA tournament semifinal, Hofstra forward Stafford Trueheart lost control of the ball, only to save it from bouncing across the half-court line for a backcourt violation at the last moment. Truehart then immediately passed to guard Eli Pemberton, who promptly knocked down his fourth 3-pointer Monday.
That moment at the Entertainment and Sports Arena reflected what went right for No. 1 seed Hofstra, whose made field-goal percentage from behind the 3-point line and Pemberton’s leadership were significant factors in their 75-61 victory over No. 5 seed Delaware in a rematch of last year’s CAA tournament semifinal.
Pemberton continued his rich scoring form, making 7 of his 15 field goals, including 5 of 8 from behind the 3-point line, to finish with 24 points.
“This game, they knew I was going to attack the rim, so I had to mentally prepare,” Pemberton said. “We have great guards and they found me for those shots.”
Center Isaac Kante was the game’s biggest physical presence and used all of his 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame to haul in 11 rebounds.
Last year when these two teams met each other it took overtime to separate them. Monday the game looked largely decided by halftime when Hofstra staked a 40-28 lead.
Hofstra found Pemberton early, while Delaware had difficulty creating any type of space for its key man, Nate Darling. Darling was forced to take low-percentage shots in an effort to keep Delaware from slipping further behind.
“This defense that we play,” said Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich, “everyone has a name for it. People think it’s a matchup, people don’t like it. We love it. The credit has to go to our assistant coach Mike Farrelly. He’s like a mad scientist.
“It starts with our scouting … our standard for preparation is high,” he continued, explaining that Farrelly adapts the team’s defensive strategy to the opposition’s most dangerous threat.
Hofstra guards Pemberton, Desure Buie, Tareq Coburn and Jalen Ray experienced victory for the second time in a semifinal over their CAA rivals. For Delaware, Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson were the only players that remained from their team that suffered defeat last year.
Hofstra faces No. 6 seed Northeastern in the final of the conference championship, scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Huskies defeated Elon, 68-60, to advance.
Hofstra lost the CAA championship game last year to Northeastern, 74-82.
“It means everything to us,” said Pemberton, when asked what winning the tournament means to the team. “We worked for it all year.”