HEMSPTEAD, N.Y. — By helping the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils with free throw miss after miss, the Hofstra Pride gave a whole new meaning to the term “charity stripe” on Sunday afternoon.
Yet when it mattered most, the cold Pride (3-6), despite missing a shocking 24 of 46 free throws, suddenly made four straight foul shots to ice a 72-67 victory at the Mack Sports Complex.
“The Hall of Fame did not call and ask for a copy of the tape to watch that game,” joked head coach Joe Mihalich.
“It was painful,” Mihalich added of his team’s atrocious free throw shooting. “The basket’s twice the size as the basketball, right? It’s a shot that hasn’t changed since [you were kids], nobody’s guarding you, you take 10 seconds to shoot it, but it kind of gets a little contagious. You miss a couple, you’re going to miss a couple more. Ironically, we won the game at the foul line at the end.”
Although Hofstra struggled to barely pull out a win that it should have earned easily had the Pride simply matched it’s pregame free throw shooting average of 67 percent, Milahich and the Pride were grateful for the triumph after living with a three-game losing streak that due to a dearth of games in the schedule, spanned three weeks.
Thanks to a weather-related postponement of an originally scheduled game at SMU on December 7, Hofstra’s last game was 11 days earlier — a 79-53 home defeat to Sacred Heart, back on December 4.
“It left a bad taste in our mouths for a long time after that last loss,” Mihalich admitted. “But we won [today], and we had a lot of chances to lose… in the second half and our guys wouldn’t let it happen. I’m proud of our guys for finding a way to win down the stretch.”
CCSU (3-7) — whistled for 31 fouls, 15 more than the Pride was called for — was led by a game-high 23 points from junior forward Faronte Drankenford and 21 points from junior guard Kyle Vinales (before he fouled out with 1:14 left). But the Blue Devils failed to have another scorer reach double digits.
Hofstra had four such scorers, led by graduate student forward Zeke Upshaw, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.
Senior forward Stephen Nwaukoni added 12 points and as many rebounds, and freshman guard Jamall Robinson scored 13 points on just 4-of-12 shooting, but senior center Moussa Kone (13 points, eight rebounds) complemented Upshaw the most with nine points and five rebounds (three offensive) after some halftime words of encouragement from Mihalich.
“I’m really proud of [how] Moussa [played] in that second half,” Mihalich said. “The paint was peeling off the walls, I was getting on him so much at halftime, and he really responded.”
“I can handle it,” Kone said with a smile, of Mihalich’s motivational tactics.
Of course, that wasn’t the only time that Mihalich, in his short stint as Hofstra’s coach thus far, tried to get one of his players to perform with the spirit befitting of the team’s nickname.
“There weren’t enough guys that were upset at the results… so I got on the guys about that,” Mihalich said of the way his team seemed to willingly accept losing it three prior games.
Meanwhile, Upshaw and Kone each acknowledged that they needed to show their teammates by example how to win again.
“We’re the leaders on the team so we felt like we had to pick it up to pull out the win,” Upshaw said.
To which Kone added, “The guys look at us like, ‘If they’re getting it going, we’ve got to do the same thing… and match that intensity.’ So, as soon as we get it going and get them excited and hyped… then they’re going to respond the same way.”
Behind five points from Nwaukoni, the Pride jumped out to an 8-3 lead, and a 3-pointer by Upshaw extended that margin to 24-17, with 7:17 left in the first half.
But CCSU, which only led once in the opening stanza (2-1), closed the half on a 10-2 run, to get within 27-26, and Hofstra wouldn’t make another field goal until another Upshaw 3-pointer cut a Blue Devils advantage to 32-30, with 1:52 gone in the second half.
Thanks mainly to Hofstra’s inability to take advantage of hitting its plethora free throw tries, neither team would lead by more than five points the rest of the way.
After Drankenford tied the game for a seventh and final time, at 61-apeice, with 3:41 remaining, a Kone layup 20 seconds later, put the Pride up for good, 63-61.
The Blue Devils, who shot 13-of-18 at the line, made their final free throw attempts with 27.5 seconds left, to get within 66-65.
At that point, Hofstra held a huge 38-18 edge in free throw attempts, but was only outscoring CCSU by a small 16-13 margin at the foul line.
However, the Pride made six of its final eight free throws, starting with its next four — two by Upshaw and then a couple more by Robinson, to lead, 70-65, with 14.8 seconds left.
Before that, Robinson had missed seven of eight free throws in the game, and Hofstra’s biggest culprit at the line was sophomore Jordan Allen (five points, six assists, six turnovers, three steals), a six-foot-six forward who due to injury and eligibility issues with the Pride’s regular point guards, was pressed into emergency point guard duty.
Allen misfired on nine of his 10 foul shots, an issue for which Mihalich tried to offer a reasonable explanation.
“Whenever you’re recruiting a point guard, and you’re on the phone with the high school coach or the AAU coach or whatever, and you say, ‘We need a point guard,’” Mihalich explained. “And they’re telling you about their player and I’ll [ask], ‘Is he a point guard?’ And they say, ‘Well he can play the point.’ “[Then] he’s not a point guard. Point guards are born, they’re not bred. Jordan’s doing the best he can, but he’s not a point guard… I played the point and I was not very good… by the time he gets to the foul line, he’s got so any things on his mind, [it makes him miss].”
There’s one major flaw with Mihlaich’s hypothesis, however — Allen has always been an awful free throw shooter, even while playing his natural position. He made just 47.5 percent of his free throws last season, and over the course of this year, he’s shooting just 27.7 percent (13-for-47) from the line.
Despite all of the ugly foul shooting numbers though, the Pride was happy to remember what a win felt like for the first time since five days before Thanksgiving.
Next, Hofstra will try for first its first winning streak of the season, but only after another lengthy layoff. The Pride won’t play again until it travels to Sienna on Monday, December 23, before closing the calendar year with a pair of non-conference home games on December 28 (against George Washington) and December 30 (versus NJIT).