When you play in front of a near capacity crowd on a road trip to a California mid-major power, face the current No. 1 team in a hostile environment and play under the bright lights of the Barclays Center, suddenly an audience of less than 1,000 during a midweek February outing doesn’t seem as daunting.
At least, that was the mentality for Hofstra men’s basketball during a 72-53 victory at Northeastern.
“We’re focused,” head coach Speedy Claxton said after the team’s sixth-straight win and 10th victory in the last 11 outings. “I honestly think we’re more focused on the road than at home. We know that all we have is us. These kids come with the right mindset and they go out there and play, no matter what the environment is.”
Maybe those respective non-conference games at Saint Mary’s, Purdue and against UMass in Brooklyn set the Pride (18-8 overall, 11-2 CAA) up for the success they’re currently experiencing. Of the last 10 wins, five came away from Hempstead, N.Y., bringing the team’s road record to 6-1 in league play.
More importantly, Hofstra keeps its grip firmly around the CAA lead.
Just a few weeks back, pundits were highlighting a meeting between the two longest win streaks in the country, as Charleston and UNCW entered a Jan. 11 game on 15- and 13-game winning waves, respectively. The Cougars held on for a 71-69 win over the Seahawks to stake their claim as the CAA leader at the time.
Since then, it’s Hofstra’s streaking that has reshaped the league.
The team’s current six-game run started with a dominating 24-point home victory over UNCW, followed two games later with an 85-81 road victory over then-No. 18 Charleston. Because Hofstra will only play the Seahawks and Cougars once this season, the Pride hold the tiebreaker against both teams and have a firm grip on their claim to the CAA’s No. 1 overall tournament seed.
Following a 93-61 drubbing of UNCW on Wednesday, Charleston (23-3, 11-2) has the same CAA record. With five regular season games to go, Drexel (14-11, 8-5) is the only remaining opponent for Hofstra with a winning overall or conference record.
Balance has led Hofstra as the team has the CAA’s top scorer (Aaron Estrada - 21.2 points per game), second-best 3-point shooter (Tyler Thomas - 41.5%) and best player in relation to assist to turnover ratio (Jaquan Carlos - 2.6).
Carlos led the way for Hofstra in its 72-53 win at Northeastern Wednesday as he flirted with a triple-double of 10 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and zero turnovers. His performance was crucial for the Pride since Estrada was held to 13.
“(Carlos is) our floor general,” Claxton said. “He’s our leader. He’s the one who keeps us organized on both sides of the basketball, offensive and defensively. I’m really proud of the way he’s playing. He has really taken his game to the next level.”
That balanced attack will be crucial over the final five games and in the CAA Tournament. During his first year at the helm of his alma mater, Claxton led similar streaks (six straight and eight of nine) to guide Hofstra to 21 wins and place third in the league. The team ended up falling in the CAA quarterfinals.
Now, Claxton and his program want more.
“We’re peaking at the right time, and I like what I’m seeing from my guys,” he said. “We’re extremely focused. We know what’s at stake right now. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re going to go get it.”