HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Well, that was more like it. This time, the Hofstra Pride was ready.
One game after losing its season opener at home as a heavy favorite, Hofstra (1-1) did to the Monmouth Hawks (1-1) what many thought the Pride would do in its prior game.
Although Hofstra looked like it might be in for another struggle over the first nine minutes, as the Pride and Hawks were tied six different times before Monmouth took its final lead (by one point), Hofstra broke the game open with a 34-4 run and eventually coasted to a 94-74 win at the David S. Mack Sports Complex on Saturday.
“A little better feeling today in [our] locker room because we did what we had to do.” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “We talked a lot the last few days about attitude and effort, which wasn’t quite what it needed to be the other night. If anything, we learned a lesson. This is how it has to be. There’s only one way to play the game and I thought we did that today.”
Sophomore transfer guard Omar Silverio came off the bench and hit a pair of 3-pointers to score six of his 13 points and recorded two of his three assists to help spark Hofstra’s huge outburst before his teammates quickly followed suit. Silverio’s 3-pointer with 10:37 left in the first half put the Pride up for good, 20-18. Another Silverio trey 1:32 later extended the Hofstra’s lead to seven points before Silverio helped force a Monmouth timeout by assisting on a fast break layup to junior transfer forward Isaac Kante (15 points).
“He gave us a boost,” head coach Joe Mihalich noted of Silverio. “There’s nothing like seeing the ball go through the net. He can do that. He can score.”
Out of the timeout, senior guard Tareq Coburn (11 points, game-high 12 rebounds) made a 3-pointer to give the Pride 15 straight points. Hofstra’s lead grew to as much as 51-22 in the final minute of the half before the Hawks scored the last two points before halftime.
Senior guards Desure Buie (eight assists) and Eli Pemberton led all scorers with 17 points apiece and junior guard Jalen Ray added 14 points as Hofstra had six scorers in double figures for the first time since a 38-point home win over Stony Brook on Dec. 13, 2016.
Besides crediting Silverio’s help, Mihalich also praised 13 valuable minutes from reserve junior forward Kevin Schutte (five points, four rebounds) for a Pride bench which was much better than when it was outscored 35-2 one game earlier.
“Great balance from everybody,” Mihalich said. “If this team’s going to be good, we’ve got to keep bringing those guys along off the bench and get them to contribute because we can’t do it with just the five guys that start.”
Spreading the wealth was enough to maintain a comfortable lead after Monmouth scored the first nine points of the second half, used an 18-6 spurt to whittle its deficit to as little as 70-57, with 8:52 left, and practically cancelled out Hofstra’s first-half scoring outburst with 50 second-half points of its own.
But the Pride — which attempted only seven free throws, including two in the second half in its surprising loss to San Jose State on Wednesday night — aggressively attacked the paint and kept the Hawks at bay with a second-half parade to the free throw line, where Hofstra scored more than half of its 43 second-half points while making 24 of 31 free throws after intermission.
Mihalich said the Pride’s repeated trips to the foul line weren’t necessarily a specific point of emphasis after Hofstra settled for 8-for-29 shooting from 3-point range against San Jose State before making half of its 18 3s against Monmouth.
“These guys can really shoot,” Mihalich said of his guards. “This game gave us the drive more than the 3-point shot. The other night, we took 29 3s [and] 25 of them were shots I hope we get every game… because these guys are going to make half of them, the way they shoot.”
Instead, the Pride was simply taking advantage of what the Hawks were allowing in the second half, to the tune of 26 fouls drawn (including 18 in the second half) to 16 called on Hofstra.
Mihalich said, “Just playing basketball, not being robots out there and we had to take what they gave [us]. They were pressuring us and the play was to go by them and score. So, we were attacking the rim and we did draw a lot of fouls.”
After his team evidently heeded the warning signs of difficult season opener, Coburn said, “We just had to learn from our mistakes [from] the first game. I don’t like that feeling… [each game], we’ve just got to know that losing sucks and we’ve just got to go hard from the beginning.”
In addition to getting the line a lot more, Hofstra also, as Coburn pointed out, had to do better in a few other areas. “Rebounding, boxing out more, [being more] ball strong and getting a lot of stops on defense,” he said. “If our shots are not going in, we [still] have to get stops.”
In a broader sense, Mihalich added, “In general, we’re trying to find out who we are… we have a lot of returners, but it’s still a whole new team. Every team’s different. We’re trying to figure out what this team is [and] who we’re all about. We think we know, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Every day, we’re trying to get better and build towards something good.”
And, of course, it’s a lot easier to build something good when you start with something good instead of working off of disappointment. In that regard, what a difference one game can make, especially when it’s this early.