Jalen Hill slumped his shoulders and turned away in disgust.
The UCLA sophomore forward had already logged a career high in points, but it wasn’t going to matter given the way things were unraveling for his team in the final minutes against a supposedly lesser opponent.
He had experienced this sort of thing last season on his home court against Liberty and Belmont.
“Coming from last year,” Hill said, “I’ve seen it a lot, so I knew what was happening.”
Teammate Cody Riley had already fouled out after being called for a technical foul and now Hill disgusted himself by fouling a shooter on a three-point attempt. It resulted in three free throws and a 10-point deficit that was too much for the Bruins to overcome Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion during an eventual 88-78 loss to Hof-stra.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin switched defenses and yanked ineffective players but could do nothing to help his team stay in front of shooters or sustain effort on a night he said his players tallied only nine deflections, the fewest in his 17 seasons as a head coach.
“As a coaching staff, we were concerned about a lot of things about our team that got exposed tonight,” Cronin said, “so we’ve got to get back to work.”
Hill finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds but did not get nearly enough support on a night the Bruins (4-1) made only six of 22 three-pointers (27.3%) while allowing the Pride (3-2) to make 12 of 24 attempts from long range.
Hofstra played fearless basketball against a team that had been giving up only 60.3 points a game before Thursday. The Bruins, who led by 13 in the first half, seemingly couldn’t get any stops against Hofstra’s Desure Buie (29 points) or Jalen Ray (27).
Another reason the Pride won despite getting outscored 42-12 in the paint and outrebounded by nine was because it took 30 free throws to UCLA’s 18.
“They shot 30 free throws and they don’t post up all night,” Cronin said, “so just got beat off the dribble, beat off the dribble. We tried changing defenses, our guys got confused at that, so we’re a work in progress as far as being able to change defenses.”
Riley and Chris Smith each scored 12 points, but freshman point guard Tyger Campbell went scoreless after taking only three shots and Prince Ali scored an inefficient nine points on four-for-13 shooting. Campbell played a career-low 28 minutes, but Cronin said he may not have deserved that many after getting repeatedly beaten like so many of his teammates.
UCLA had one last chance after cutting its deficit to six and getting the ball back, but Smith’s entry pass intended for Hill was stolen and Hofstra made more than enough free throws to seal the upset.
“I played terrible to-night,” said Smith, who was coming off back-to-back games in which he had set career highs in scoring. “I feel like I let my team down today. I didn’t bring the same energy and everything I’ve been bringing the previous four games, but I’ve definitely got to pick it up for the remainder of the season.”
Hofstra’s previous game was a 42-point blowout of New York Tech, an NCAA Division II opponent, but Cronin said the Pride was a difficult foe because they started three senior guards and took care of the basketball.
“We don’t have anywhere near the mental toughness that we need to have here,” Cronin said. “We just don’t have enough fortitude and they tested it tonight because they had only seven turnovers. They did an unbelievable job taking care of the ball.”
Cronin called Riley’s technical foul with 8:22 left “unacceptable” and said the sophomore forward would run as punishment Friday. Those two technical free throws allowed the Pride to pull into a 63-63 tie as part of a game-ending 27-15 run.
Hill exacerbated his team’s struggles by fouling Buie on a three-point attempt with 2:49 left that essentially sealed the outcome.
“I was mad on the three,” Hill said, “because it was just unforced and we had a lot of that tonight.”