After having one 16-game win streak end last Saturday, the Hofstra Pride left no doubt about extending another streak to the same amount.
Cruising to the top of the Colonial Athletic Association standings on the strength of what had been a nation-best stretch of 16 consecutive victories, first-place Hofstra (20-4, 10-1 CAA), picked third in its conference before the season, finally lost (soundly, by 14 points) at Northeastern, the CAA preseason favorite.
However, some home cooking quickly and decisively removed the sour taste of that defeat from the Pride’s collective mouths, as Hofstra scored the first nine points before racing out to leads of 25-2 and 57-22 (at halftime) in a 102-61 dismantling of the Elon Phoenix (8-18, 4-8 CAA) at the Mack Sports Complex on Thursday night.
The Pride remained perfect (13-0) at home this season after winning its final three games on the same floor last year. Hofstra also had a much easier time than six games prior, when the Pride rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit before barely holding on for a three-point road win when Elon missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Junior guard Tareq Coburn led all scorers with a game-high 21 points, with all 11 of his field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. Before missing his final three shots, Coburn made seven of eight to help Hofstra roll early.
However, it was a dominating team effort at each end of the floor for the Pride.
Senior guard Justin Wright-Foreman recorded 16 points (on 6-of-8 shooting), to move within 19 points of reaching 2,000 for his career, while breaking Hall of Famer David Robinson’s CAA record with a 77th straight game scoring in double figures. Meanwhile, senior guard Desure Buie and graduate transfer forward Jacquil Taylor (who made all six of his shots) added 15 points apiece.
Shooting 56.9 percent (37-for-65) — including a sizzling 48.6 percent (17-for-35) from behind the arc — while limiting Elon to just 37.5 percent shooting (24-for-64), Hofstra had a ridiculously efficient ratio of 25 assists and just one turnover. The Pride also turned a dozen Phoenix turnovers into a sizable 23-0 advantage in points off turnovers, while controlling the paint, 34-16.
That type of performance made sure the Phoenix never had a chance to rise from the ashes, especially with the right approach by Hofstra from the outset.
“It might sound crazy, but we approached tonight as a little bit of a must-win game,” said head coach Joe Mihalich. “Coming off that loss (at Northeastern), it seemed like a long, long time. We wanted to make a little bit of a statement to show that we don’t like to lose. I’m really proud of our guys. They came out of the gates with a lot of fire.”
That was a sharp departure from the way Mihalich’s team felt after losing at Northeastern.
“Ugh, we lost last night,” Mihalich recalled the next morning. “It was that sick feeling that we were lucky enough not to have for [over] two months. Elijah was saying that and Desure and Justin were saying that. We forgot what it was like. You always turn a negative into a positive and maybe that loss reminded us of how much we hate to lose.”
Coburn added, “I felt like that loss brought us even closer, so now we’re just more focused on winning games.”
If doing nothing but winning for 10 weeks made Hofstra want to continue to do so, finally tasting defeat only enhanced that sentiment even more.
“We were just ready to get back on that court and play,” said Pemberton, who posted a career-high nine assists. “We work so hard, and a game like [the one] at Northeastern, it was a tough one.
“Guys were missing shots that they usually make, but we stick together as a team through highs and lows. We said, ‘Let’s not feel this again.’ I don’t like silent bus rides. I think that loss really motivated us to work even harder. This last week in practice was amazing. The energy was very high.”
Although he was the one often setting them up, Pemberton credited his teammates for his high assist total.
“Everybody was really efficient tonight, so they just made it easy for me,” Pemberton said.
One game after being held to a season-low 61 points, the Pride responded by scoring in triple digits for the first time in a conference game in 27 seasons (since a 103-97 East Coast Conference win at UMBC).
Normally, Hofstra’s offense is very reliable. But it’s the Pride’s improved defense this year which has been the driving force behind one of the country’s best winning percentages this season.
“People will [point to us] scoring over 100 points… but our defense was unbelievable,” Mihalich noted.
“It was really, really good. These guys were locked in. It was five guys working together. Every time the ball moved, five guys were sprinting into position. It was a thing of beauty… we’re in sync, defensively.”
The best example of that was how the Pride held Elon’s leading scorer Tyler Seibring to just six points after the senior forward torched Hofstra for 25 points in the teams’ prior meeting this season.
With at least one streak still going, Hofstra will be very happy to play next in front of what will be the Pride’s first home sellout crowd of the season, against William & Mary on Saturday.
But Hofstra won’t need that extra support if it remains as inspired as the Pride was from its first loss in a while.