HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Head coach Joe Mihalich insists his team is capable of getting back to the way it started the season, when the Hofstra Pride was off to one of its best overall starts in recent years while leading the Colonial Athletic Association.
But he also knows his team will first have to get a lot tougher and play much better to put an end to its current struggles.
After starting 13-4 and winning its first four conference games, Hofstra (14-9, 5-5) — despite a 12½-point favorite — lost for the fifth time in six games (all within the CAA), 86-72, to the Towson Tigers (11-12, 4-6 CAA) at the Mack Sports Complex on Saturday night.
Not even the Mack’s most filled and raucous student section (the Lions’ Den, with the campus faithful back after a winter break) of the season was enough to motivate the Pride, which according to Mihalich, has become complacent and overconfident after its earlier success.
“I’ve said this before… that this game honors toughness and the toughest team won the game tonight,” Mihalich said. “We just got out-toughed. If there was a missed shot, [the Tigers] went and got it. They wanted it more than we wanted it. They were tougher, probably in every way, shape or form, and that’s why they won the game.”
Taking advantage of Hofstra’s latest poor defensive effort, the Tigers shot 57.8 percent (26-for-45) from the field, including 45.5 percent (5-for-11 from 3-point range), and 63.6 percent (14-for-22) during their 50-point second half, as they pulled away following a close first half that featured a half-dozen ties and twice as many lead changes.
Conversely, the Pride shot just 38.1 percent (23-for-60) and only 23.1 percent (6-for-26) from behind the arc.
While no Towson player posted double-figure shot attempts, the efficient Tigers still had five players score in double figures (including four starters), led by junior guard Four McGlynn, who scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the second half.
McGlynn was amply complemented by 14 points each from freshman forward Mike Morsell and reserve sophomore forward John Davis, while junior forward Timajh Parker-Rivera (6-for-6 from the floor and a game-high nine rebounds) and freshman guard Byron Hawkins added 12 points apiece.
For Hofstra, junior guard Juan’ya Green led all scorers with 25 points, but missed 11 of 17 field goal attempts, including seven of nine from 3-point range.
Only two others scored in double figures for the Pride, with reserve guard Dion Nesmith netting 13 points and forward Ameen Tanskley scoring 10. After that duo combined for 18 of Hofstra’s first 26 points, they totaled just five points over the final 26:51.
Before that, Hofstra scored the first five points and made its first three field goal attempts to go up, 7-3 (with Tanksley scoring five points), but the Pride missed its next three shots as the Tigers scored five straight points to start a 14-3 run that ended with a 17-10 Towson lead.
However, 11 points by Nesmith (including three treys in as many attempts) keyed a 16-8 spurt that gave Hofstra a 26-25 edge, with 6:52 left in the half.
Neither team led by more than a point over the final 4:55 of the stanza, as a pair of free throws by Green with :00.1 left in half inched the Pride ahead, 37-36, by halftime.
Coming off a loss in which Hofstra allowed a season-high 100 points at first-place William & Mary, Mihalich called a timeout 48 seconds into the second half and walked in disgust toward the key as his team huddled around the Hofstra bench, just after Towson began the half with a layup and a left-corner 3-pointer (by McGlynn), to lead, 41-37.
“I was disappointed with the way we started the second half,” Mihalich explained. “We let them feel good… we screwed up a defensive slide in the first possession [of the half and] they got a layup, and then we screwed up in transition on their second possession [of the half], and they hit a 3, and they feel great. So instead of being up one, with two stops, and the momentum being our way, we let ‘em feel good right away. When you let a team good, they’re gonna shoot good.”
What Mihalich told the Pride at that point didn’t take hold as another McGlynn trey and three consecutive jumpers by Parker-Rivera capped a 17-8 run, which pushed Towson’s advantage to 53-45 and had the Tigers shooting 61.3 percent (19-for-31) from the field, including 7-for-8 to open the second half.
Towson final cooled off a bit, missing four of its next five shots, but then six of eight while opening a commanding 69-56 lead on a tip-in by Morsell, with 6:50 remaining.
“We’ve just got to have a better attitude guarding our guys on defense,” Green said.
Concurring, Mihalich mainly blamed the Pride’s lack of exertion at that end of the floor.
“It starts with toughness,” he said. “We always say, ‘Man up.’ It starts with attitude, it starts with effort. That might sound like coach speak or clichés but sometimes, that’s what it comes down to. Technique’s one thing with defense but… it’s a lot more with heart and attitude.”
A personal 10-5 run by Green sliced Hofstra’s deficit to 74-66, with 2:37 to go. But after a pair of Green free throws brought the Pride within 76-70, with 1:36 left, the Tigers, who made 29 of 41 free throws, including 20 of 30 in the second half, scored the next 10 points — all at the free throw line — to swell their lead to 86-70 in the final minute.
“We’re in a bad place right now,” Mihalich admitted, while remaining steadfastly optimistic based on what his squad had showed him earlier. “It’s the guy in the mirror. It’s not the guy next to you, it’s not the guy behind you. It’s the guy in the mirror… we’ve got to change. The biggest thing we’ve got going for us is that we don’t have to change and become something we’ve never been, because two weeks ago, I thought we were a pretty good team.”
He continued, “There are two things you deal with in life, failure and success. We were 4-0, and we got three road wins, and we were in first place in the league, and we didn’t deal with success well. We didn’t stay hungry, we didn’t stay inspired… and now we’ve got to handle [things] the other way. We’ve got to handle failure.”
“We didn’t handle success well,” Tanskley said candidly, likewise reflecting on Hofstra’s hot start. “We got [too] happy.”
Disappointed by Hofstra’s sharp fall from the top of the CAA standings to fifth place in the league, Mihalich stayed true to his earlier mantra this season, when he had repeatedly stated, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
To that end, Mihalich asserted, “We ain’t goin’ anywhere. There’s a lot of basketball to go. We’re down right now, but it’s just going to make us work harder, and we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We still believe in ourselves.
“We’re all extremely frustrated, but we still know that we can win the league. We’re not playing the best basketball right now by any stretch… but we also know that 2½ weeks ago, we were one of the best teams in the league and we can get back to being there.”