HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Frozen in time on the penultimate day of 2018, the new video boards at the Mack Sports Complex appeared unready to move into the new year. The Hofstra Pride seems to feel the opposite way.
Two days after opening its conference schedule with a 45-point dismantling of Colonial Athletic Association rival Delaware, Hofstra (12-3, 2-0 CAA) was en route to another easy CAA home win, leading the Drexel Dragons (6-9, 0-2 CAA) by 20 points at halftime and by as much as 22 early in the second half.
After things got tense when Drexel got within six points with 8:40 remaining, the Pride answered with a game-deciding 13-1 run to end with the same victorious result Hofstra has familiarized itself with ever since its most recent loss on Thanksgiving weekend.
Behind a game-high 34 points (on 11-of-17 shooting) from reigning CAA Player of the Year, senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman, the Pride ultimately put the Dragons away, 89-75.
Fittingly, as the last digit of the current year will change from eight to nine at midnight on Tuesday, Hofstra — which started the season by alternating wins and losses over its first six games — will enter the new calendar year on a nine-game winning streak before its next game, when the Pride hosts CAA preseason favorite Northeastern on Jan. 5.
With Drexel still hanging tough after a dominant first 25 minutes by Hofstra, Wright-Foreman sank a 3-pointer to put the Pride up, 75-65, with exactly seven minutes remaining, but the recently installed, modern video boards were mysteriously stuck for the rest of the game showing Hofstra leading, 72-65, with 7:17 left.
Although head coach Joe Mihalich said, “When it gets to time and score situations, you need to know what the situation is,” he also noted (backed up by an affirmative nodding of Wright-Foreman’s head) that not being able to focus on the scoreboard helped Hofstra.
When Drexel called timeout immediately following Wright-Foreman’s 3-pointer, Mihalich explained, “I think I said that in the huddle, ‘Let’s just play.’”
With the videoboards no longer able to serve as a reminder that Drexel had chipped away at a large deficit, Mihalich’s team was able to relax, refocus and run off 11 straight points to put the game out of reach, at 83-65, with 3:27 to go.
Mihalich also relied on his two leaders, Wright-Foreman and senior point guard Desure Buie (who posted his second career double-double, his first against a Division I opponent, with 15 points and game-highs of 10 assists and four steals).
“[They] are like having two coaches on the floor,” Mihalich said. “Justin, on his own, ran an action against their zone that resulted in him getting the shot, [and] it was the right play. Desure made a suggestion on a ball screen that made the difference against their 1-3-1 [zone defense]… they think the game and have a passion for the game.”
Acknowledging that he and Buie each relish their roles of leading Hofstra, particularly when their team needs it the most, Wright-Foreman added, “Me, personally, and Desure, as the leaders of this team, we’ve got to keep everybody together especially when the lead comes down close. We’ve got to pull everybody back together and get our heads right, and stay positive, and just keep playing hard.”
That wasn’t an issue at the start, when the Pride showed no signs of a letdown following its crushing win over Delaware, while racing out to leads of 18-4 and 30-13 by the midpoint of the first half. Ahead, 47-27, at intermission, Hofstra extended its advantage to 22 points on four different occasions, the last, at 61-39, with 15:33 left.
“We talk a lot about energy,” Mihalich said. “I thought our energy in the first half was really, really good – exceptional. [In the] second half, it wasn’t what it needed to be. What I think I’m most proud of is that [Drexel] had everything going their way, the tide was turning, the momentum was shifting, and I was really proud of our guys for keeping their composure and keeping their poise… that’s what good teams do.”
Of course, good teams also normally have great players, like Wright-Foreman, who notably demonstrated his skills on a crafty bucket that gave Hofstra a 43-25 lead with 1:17 left in the first half. Cut off on the right wing and forced to pick up his dribble, Wright-Foreman patiently waited for an opening before stepping through a Drexel double-team to finish with a nifty scoop layup off the glass.
“To be honest, I don’t know what I was doing,” Wright-Foreman said with a laugh. “I tried to make a play and then I made another play out of it. It was kind of weird, but I don’t know, I just made it happen, I guess.”
Mihalich chimed in, “It’s what great players do… that’s why he’s great. He just figures out.”
As a team, Hofstra initially figured out how to stop senior guard Troy Harper, holding Drexel’s leading scorer without a field goal on eight shots in the first half before Harper scored 17 of his team-best 22 points in the second frame, when the Pride — which leads the CAA in scoring and points allowed — surrendered 48 points.
“Our defense [over] the last 20 minutes, we took a step back there,” Mihalich admitted. “We had been playing some pretty good defense [this season], so we’ve got to get to the drawing board there and tighten up.”
In the meantime, it was yet another Pride win, a milestone victory for Mihalich during his sixth season at Hofstra, where he is 100-79 (and 365-282 in his 21st season overall).
When Mihalich was asked about his momentous achievement after the game, Wright-Foreman proudly raised his right fist in the air and patted his coach on the back with his left hand.
Mihalich humbly deferred the credit of reaching triple digits in school wins while again praising Wright-Foreman and Buie, who were seated on either side of their coach. “You win with good people and you win with good players,” he said. “The two guys I’ve got sitting next to me are as good as it gets. It’s fun to be part of a team. It’s a team thing.”
Likewise, winning became a team thing in 2018 that Hofstra hopes to continue in 2019.