By Ken Cross
Hofstra sophomore guard Eli Pemberton didn’t mind being a party crasher on Thursday evening in Game 4 of the Charleston Classic. The lower bowl was filled with excited Dayton Flyers basketball fans, an outstanding pep band led by celebrity of a conductor. Pemberton’s 27 points and the Pride’s poise in the clutch allowed Hofstra to pull out a 72-69 win in a game with an incredible March atmosphere.
Pemberton finished 7-of-15 from the floor and got to the line consistently in making 10-of-12 shots as he eclipsed his career high of 26 against Towson last season. He nailed back-to-back threes in his own eight-point run in the first half that saw a seven-point lead balloon to 15 at 26-11.
“He’s a high energy guy, a great character guy, great great guy Elijah,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich, who starts his fifth season as head coach of the Pride, “He’s not perfect – he makes his share of mistakes – but he stepped up tonight.”
Pemberton, who scored 12 points in the Pride’s opening win over Kennesaw State, saw opportunity on Thursday night as he burst not he scene and took his game to a really high level. He scored seven of Hofstra’s first 11 points int he second half as the Pride pushed the lead to 47-38 at the under-16 time out.
“He wanted to be out there,” noted Mihalich, “The great ones want to be out there. It was a tough game. The other team had the great crowd and our guys responded.”
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The second half turned into a defensive struggle as the Flyers caught Hofstra when Darrell Davis hit a triple to tie the game at 68-68 with 2:44 to go. He then added a free throw to give the Flyers a brief 69-68 lead.
Hofstra kept it’s poise and worked the ball into the paint where Justin Wright-Foreman, Rokas Gustys, and Kenny Wormley all made free throws to seal the game.
Foreman, the Pride’s leading scorer at 20.5 points per game, played the entire 40 minutes and scored 19 points. Although he had a tough shooting night, the attention that the Flyers had to pay to him allowed Pemberton the opportunity to get comfortable and confident within the game.
You didn’t even see the real Justin Foreman,” explained Mihalich, “He had a terrific start and he’s a terrific player. He had a tough time scoring tonight. He is a sensational player and has become a tough defender as well. I tell you what even if he is not scoring, the other team has to focus on him so much that it allows Elijah Pemberton scoring opportunities.”
Hofstra battles Clemson, an 81-76 winner over Ohio University, Friday night at 9:30 on ESPN2.