Already removed from its own arena, the Hofstra Pride was taken out of its game.
With winter commencement exercises taking place in the Pride’s on-campus arena, Hofstra (7-4) was forced to move its scheduled home game with the Manhattan Jaspers (5-6) to the nearby Center for Sports and Recreation at Division II Adelphi on Wednesday night.
However, Hofstra made Manhattan feel at home at home during a frustrating 63-61 loss in which the Jaspers slowed down the Pride’s normally dangerous offense.
Having its four-game win streak stopped, Hofstra — which entered the night scoring 80.1 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting — was badgered into its second-lowest scoring total of the season (just two points higher than the Pride’s season-low scoring output against Clemson on Nov. 17) while being limited to season-worst shooting percentages of 32.3 percent overall and 21.4 percent (3-for-14) from 3-point range.
Although Hofstra made one more field goal than Manhattan (20-19), the Pride did so on 17 more attempts (62-45).
“Manhattan has a way of making you play their game,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “It’s a credit to them.”
Head coach Steve Masiello said, “We’re a defensive basketball team. That’s who we are… and that’s who we’re going to be.
“All we cared about was speeding them up, turning them over, sending them into our shot blockers, trying to get them into charges, make them play a pace that wasn’t comfortable [for them] and giving them a ton of different looks defensively.”
That strategy worked from the outset as Hofstra uncharacteristically missed 12 of its first 14 shots while seeing its modest 14-12 edge turn into the game’s biggest margin after Manhattan used a 14-2 run to go up, 26-16, with 5:57 left in the opening half.
Disappointed with his team’s play aside from a final late push that nearly surged the Pride to an unlikely victory, Mihalich divulged, “I told our team that I don’t think we played with the desperation we needed to play with all game long. The last five minutes, it’s obvious we did. You’ve got to play that way [all game]. I thought [Manhattan] played harder [and was] tougher than us.”
While Mihalich’s assessment was mostly true, it was also dismissive of Hofstra’s good start to the second half when the Pride stormed out of the locker room with much greater intensity and energy while scoring the first nine points after halftime to take a 36-33 lead as the Jaspers didn’t score in the frame until 5:45 elapsed in the half.
But once again, on the strength of its defense, Manhattan turned the game on a 17-5 spurt, to lead, 50-41, with 6:18 remaining.
Locking down Hofstra’s best player and leading scorer, junior guard Justin Wright-Foreman, was the most important part of building that advantage and holding onto it.
“I thought their kids are really talented,” Masiello said of Hofstra’s players. “We watched them on film and we have so much respect for them offensively… Justin is a big part of that and he was a major target for us tonight. Really, all we care about is defense, and I thought we came out with a great mindset of defending.”
Wright-Foreman eventually neared his season-average of 23 points per game with a game-high 22 points, but after scoring 13 of the Pride’s first 18 points and netting 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting by halftime, he missed all but one of his nine second-half shots.
“They keyed on me the whole second half,” said Wright-Foreman, who accepted the blame himself as much as crediting the Jaspers. “They denied me the ball [but] I just wasn’t hitting anything in the second half. I had open looks. My teammates got me the ball in good spots. I just wasn’t hitting shots.”
Continually harassing Wright-Foreman was only part of Manhattan’s scheme. Funneling Hofstra’s other offensive threats to sophomore forward Pauly Paulicap, who along with a team-high nine rebounds, recorded all six of the game’s blocks himself, marking a personal career best.
“I think Pauly’s a game changer,” Masiello said. “I don’t think a lot of teams have someone like him at this level. His mentality is to block shots, start our break and anchor our defense.”
Paulicap’s efforts along with his teammates’ in bottling up Hofstra’s previously potent offense proved enough to help Manhattan overcome a sharp downward turn in its free throw shooting (the Jaspers missed half of their 24 second half free throws after going 10-for-12 at the line in the opening half).
Yet not without some tense late moments.
A free throw by Paulicap moved Manhattan’s lead to 62-54 with 46.7 seconds left. But with the help of a key sequence involving Wright-Foreman and sophomore guard Aaron Walker, Jr. (team-high 17 points in 25 minutes off the bench) almost helped Hofstra complete its second last-minute, miracle comeback win in its last four games.
After a foul on Wright-Foreman, Walker, Jr., was assessed a technical foul, leading to each player standing alone at the foul line for a pair of free throws before the Pride got the ball back.
Walker, Jr. missed both of his foul shots before Wright-Foreman made both of his to give Hofstra seven straight points and suddenly bring the Pride within 62-61 with 28.7 seconds left.
“They’re scary because you could be up eight on them with 40 seconds to go [and not feel safe],” Masiello said. “We understand how good they are in late-game situations.”
Rather than being aggressive, Hofstra ended up with a rushed, contested, ariballed 3-pointer from the right wing by Wright-Foreman with 14 seconds to go.
“I thought we should’ve taken the ball to the basket,” Mihalich noted. “We were just down one and we kind of settled. Our team [at that point] was a combination of guys that for defensive purposes, we had to have those guys in there and they’re not quite used to playing together like they had to, so we didn’t execute as well as we should have.”
After making just one of two free throws — to double its slim lead to two points — Manhattan needed one last stop, and got it, when the Pride inbounded near the Jaspers’ basket with 5.6 seconds left, only to have Wright-Foreman get trapped in the left corner. Desperately trying to pass out of trouble, Wright-Foreman threw the ball into the back court as time expired.
Perhaps Hofstra might have pulled the game out on its regular home floor. But each team was nonetheless happy with the unorthodox, makeshift-for-a-night environment.
“It was great,” Mihalich said. “We certainly appreciate Adelphi hosting us. I thought it was terrific. It was a good basketball atmosphere.”
Masiello added, “This was awesome. I really liked this. I just that it had a different vibe. It kind of reminded me of AAU games. It had a great, intimate atmosphere.”
Mihalich, though, focused more on the way his team failed to make Hofstra’s temporary home away from home a helpful advantage.
“Quite frankly, I’m not sure we deserved to win the game because for the first 35 minutes, we didn’t play with the desperation we needed to play with,” Mihalich said, “But we’ve got to own it, we’ve got to deal with it and we’ve got to make sure it makes us better.”
There’s a good chance that won’t happen right away, as the Pride continues an odd week with a “road” game across the street from its home arena, at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night as the designated visiting team against its old head coach Jay Wright and the current best team in the nation, top-ranked Villanova.
Still, Wright-Foreman and his teammates are by no means shying away from the opportunity.
“I think it should be a good experience for everybody,” Wright-Foreman said. “Not a lot teams, not a lot of players get to play against the No. 1 team in the country, so it should be an amazing experience for all of us, something that we’ve got to live in the moment for.”