Sophomore guard Justin Wright-Foreman was having the game of his life. But a pair of missed free throws left the door open for the Hofstra Pride’s old nemesis to break its hearts again.
Nearly 22 months after Daniel Dixon’s last-second 3-pointer gave the then top-seeded William & Mary Tribe a stunning 92-91 double overtime victory over then fifth-seeded Hofstra in the 2015 Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals in Baltimore, the senior guard struck again, hitting a catch-and-shoot, buzzer-beating trey to lift the Tribe (7-6, 1-1 CAA) to a 95-93 overtime win in Hofstra’s CAA home opener one day after New Year’s Day at the Mack Sports Complex on Monday.
Before that, Wright-Foreman — who scored a total of 44 points as a freshman — had led Hofstra (9-6, 1-1 CAA) with a career-high 30 points on efficient 10-of-15 shooting while grabbing a career-high-tying eight rebounds.
Scoring 12 points in each half and six of the Pride’s seven in overtime, Wright-Foreman had made seven of his first nine free throw attempts.
But after his jumper put Hofstra ahead, 93-92, with 1:22 remaining, Wright-Foreman was fouled by Dixon and missed two foul shots, setting the stage for Dixon to snatch a victory from the Pride the same way he had done before.
William & Mary seemed to be out of sync on the final possession, but with Hofstra two fouls away from the penalty, Wight-Foreman fouled Dixon on the right wing with 1.2 seconds left.
That decision turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Tribe and head coach Tony Shaver, who drew up a play for Dixon to catch the ball at the top of the key. Dixon had just enough time to put a quick ball fake on senior guard Brian Bernardi (18 points, five rebounds) and let the game-winning shot go with only three-tenths of a second left.
Head coach Joe Mihalich (who was in his second season at Hofstra the first time Dixon stunned his team on a clutch game-winner), said, “It doesn’t matter who would’ve made that shot. It would have been the same amount of heartbreak. I don’t care who made the shot. If the 10th guy [on William & Mary’s bench] made the shot, it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. It wouldn’t have hurt any [less] than it does right now.”
At least this time, Dixon didn’t end the Pride’s season. Instead, Hofstra has a lot it can learn from such a gut wrenching defeat — like continuing to improve defensively, Hofstra’s biggest issue so far this year, but also an area with which the Pride made positive strides, in a 58-56 CAA-opening win at Delaware on Friday.
Being unable to stop the Tribe (which shot 53.1 percent in the first half and 50 percent in the second half, and overall) was of the most concern to Mihalich, especially after William & Mary started the game 10-for-13 from the field while jumping out to a 25-17 lead after 7½ minutes, before turning deficits of 38-29 and 50-44 (at halftime) into a 59-56 lead on the strength of a 19-6 run over the first 3½ minutes of the second half.
“Everybody’s going to talk about the last shot, everybody’s going to talk about 1.2 seconds, but really, as I said to the team, we lost the game the first five minutes of the [second] half, the first five minutes of the game,” Mihalich said. “We didn’t play defense, we didn’t guard. We didn’t have that will to defend, that desperate find-the-shooters [mentality]. We let them feel good. [William & Mary is] a very good offensive team… it wasn’t that last shot. It was 45 minutes of poor defense.”
Senior guard Deron Powers (17 points, team-best seven assists), who helped force overtime by scoring Hofstra’s final seven points of regulation — the last of which came on a game-tying layup with 30.1 seconds left in the second half — added, “Defensively, we didn’t get enough stops. They got way too many open shots throughout the game. That really hurt us.”
Wright-Foreman said, “Everybody [on our team] should feel like we should have played defense [better]. We would have won this game.”
As much as the Pride’s defensive deficiencies were to blame for the loss, Hofstra might have pulled out the win before overtime had it shot anywhere near the hot pace it set in the first half.
After shooting 60.6 percent (20-for-33) before intermission, the Pride dipped to 43.3 percent (13-for-30) after the break. Yet Mihalich also put that on his team more than crediting the Tribe.
“I don’t know if it was what they did or what we didn’t do,” Mihalich said. “We stopped moving the ball a little bit [in the second half]. I thought a couple guys maybe should have made a couple more passes. We got a little impatient, maybe, but I don’t think it was anything they did, it was more us.”
That didn’t necessarily apply to Wright-Foreman, who lifted his season scoring average to 12.3 points in 20.2 minutes per game after scoring just 1.6 points in 4.1 minutes per contest as a freshman.
“This doesn’t surprise me and it doesn’t surprise anyone in [our] locker room,” Mihalich said of Wright-Foreman’s jump forward this year. “That’s how he can score. I mean this as a compliment — I thought it would have happened sooner.”
Behind Wright-Foreman, Hofstra finished 50 percent both overall (34-for-68) and from 3-point range (11-for-22).
However, all that did was convince Mihalich even more that the Pride should have been able to compete as well defensively as it did at the other end of the floor.
“I think you can do both,” Mihalich said. “I think you can be good on offense and you can be good on defense. We were good on offense [today] and we were horrible on defense.”
And yet, even with that, all Hofstra needed was one final stop to get a win.
However, William & Mary had Dixon, who was just enough to start the Pride’s 2017 exactly the way Hofstra’s 2015 ended.