Hofstra enters NCAAs on nation's top winning streak
Updated: Saturday March 10, 2001 6:57 PM
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- Last year, when Hofstra made its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1977, one name dominated the special season: Speedy Claxton, who led the then-Flying Dutchmen.
Claxton went to be a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers and the school changed its nickname to the Pride.
When Hofstra beat Delaware 68-64 Saturday in the American East tournament championship game to earn a return trip to the NCAA tournament, there were plenty of names receiving credit.
Norman Richardson, the leading scorer all season, had 20 points in the title game. Roberto Gittens, who closed the season with six straight games scoring double figures, had 17 points, including eight of the Pride's first 10 in the second half, and was selected tournament MVP. Jason Hernandez, Claxton's steady backcourt partner last season, took over down the stretch Saturday as his only field goals of the second half started Hofstra's closing 10-0 run.
"Last year Coach Wright and Speedy willed us to win," Hernandez said. "This year, with seven seniors, we felt composed and had a great attitude that we felt no matter what happened to us we could win the game."
Hofstra (26-4), which lost to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, enters it on an 18-game winning streak, the longest in the nation.
The Pride beat Delaware (20-10) in last season's title game and that also came on their home court where they have won 36 of 37 games. The only loss was to the Blue Hens last Nov. 30.
"They taught us a great lesson," coach Jay Wright said of that early season loss. "We were a little cocky. I thought that was one of the best things to happen to us because we realized we are a blue collar team, one that wins with rebounding and defense. We're not pretty boys."
The Blue Hens, who had won seven straight and were playing in the conference championship game for the fourth straight year, had cut a 56-49 deficit to 58-54 with 3:46 left on a reverse layup by Greg Miller.
Hernandez, one of the seven seniors, then hit a jumper as he was falling with one second left on the short clock to make it 60-54 with 3:07 to play. After a Delaware turnover, Hernandez hit a jumper with 2:16 left to make it 62-54.
The Blue Hens didn't score the rest of the game and the Pride went 6-for-8 from the free-throw line over the final 1:35 to ice the win and set off a wild on-court celebration.
"I saw the clock and turned around and knew I had to get it off," Hernandez, who was 3-for-9 from the field, said of the first shot. "Then we got a stop and Roberto set a great screen for me and I got a clean look that time. I felt once we got back to eight points our defense would take over."
Miller had 17 points for Delaware, while Ajmal Basit had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Basit had 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks in the Blue Hens' win at Hofstra earlier in the season but he was 4-for-10 from the field this time as the Blue Hens shot just 31.7 percent (19-for-60), including 3-for-21 from 3-point range.
"I don't know what happened," Basit said. "I tried to play hard but I did have foul trouble. They just outplayed us."
First-year Delaware coach David Henderson was quick to point out Hofstra took 34 free throws, twice as many as his team, but also credited the Pride's defense.
"Hofstra forced our guys to make quicker decisions and do things individually," he said. "But by no means am I disappointed with the outcome of the game.
"Hernandez comes off a ball screen, throws it up and it goes in. When the breaks are going that way for a team and they're playing on their home court it's tough to turn the corner."
Both teams will be leaving the America East after next season to
join the Colonial Athletic Association.