The University of Hartford was invited to be part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip Off, with two of their three games coming in the last two days. The first game was against the Louisville Cardinals back on November 19th, which wasn't quite the disaster I thought it was going to be. Over the weekend the Hawks took on the Hofstra Pride and Holy Cross Crusaders, coming in with a 0-3 record for the tournament.
Game 1: Hofstra University 81-78
The Hawks tried their best to keep up with the Pride but always seemed to be a bit behind, and their early foul trouble cost them in the end, as four players had recorded their second foul by the 6:47 mark of the first half.
But Taylor Dyson (16 points) and Oren Faulk (10) stepped up their game, both scoring career highs. Dyson got there hitting 3 of his 5 threes, while Faulk had two nice dunks for his first ever double-digit offensive effort. The Hawks had five players in double digits for the first time since 2009.
Of the 41 free throws the Hofstra Pride attempted, they made 31, which gave them the edge. Dion Nesmith was a force to be reckoned with, scoring a game (and career) high 27 points, including 8-of-11 free throws and 50% from beyond the arc.
With 11.5 seconds left in the game, the Hawks were down by three and had possession, so there was a glimmer of hope. That is, until Evan Cooper was whistled out of bounds. While there's still debate of how accurate that call was, it was enough to seal the win for Hofstra, giving them a spot in the Championship game.
Game 2: College of Holy Cross 80-55
Having experience with back-to-back games, there was a glimmer of hope that Hartford had the advantage in this one. There's no denying their intense first few weeks, so what's another game at the same arena the next day?
Too much, perhaps. Their shots just wouldn't fall in the first half, as they went 1-13 (a layup from Faulk) from the field and finished the half with only 14 points thanks to a dozen free throws. To say Coach Gallagher was angry is an understatement. At the first time out he slammed the white board on the ground. I could hear his disappointment with his players from the other side of the court.
Needless to say it was not their best performance. They actually played better against Louisville, on their home court, with the entire fan base against them. Foul trouble was their weak link again, with Gallagher's more common call from the sideline being "Don't foul!" They avoided early trouble, but Faulk recorded his third foul with two minutes left in the first half and then racked up his fourth on the opening possession of the second half.
Even without the fouls, it wouldn't have mattered much. Holy Cross had the ability to charge through their defense for the layup or turn around and shoot from beyond the arc. Eric Green and Dave Dudzinski scored 18 each, with Green making most of his points in the first half and Dudzinski coming alive for the second. Add Malachi Alexander's 13 points and those three scored almost as much as the Hawks as a team.
What matters most for Hartford is how they came out for the second half. These guys were ready to play, albeit a half too late. Evan Cooper made four from beyond the arc while Taylor Dyson added two more to lead the Hawks with 15 points. Unfortunately their shots from downtown weren't enough. Two Hawks had fouled out in the second half, one being Mark Nwakamma, who didn't reach double digits for the first time this season.
The Hawks will now head home to face Yale at the Chase Family arena on November 30th.