HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — It wasn’t pretty, but after a long, grueling road trip which ran the gamut of various results and emotions, the Hofstra Pride was merely happy to once again play at home and secure another win.
Logging more than 9,000 miles since its prior home game on Nov. 15, the Pride (7-4) ventured to California for three games in as many different cities, went back home for a brief Thanksgiving weekend rest, and then flew to Florida for a couple more contests before concluding with a game in Western New York.
Hofstra completed the mostly successful six-game, 17-day voyage with four wins, starting with one of the biggest triumphs in program history — an upset victory as a 14-point underdog at UCLA –before posting a pair of blowout wins, and another one in ugly fashion by a slim margin, while also dropping a close game, and ending the excursion with the worst loss of its season, by 28 points, at St. Bonaventure.
It was that final game of the journey which taught Hofstra a valuable lesson that paid off down the stretch of the Pride’s 71-63 bragging rights win over its fellow Long Island neighbors, the Stony Brook Seawolves (7-4), before 3,111 fans at the Mack Sports Complex on Tuesday night.
Head coach Joe Mihalich said, “People talk about that last game and somebody says, ‘Burn the tape and just forget about it.’ That’s the opposite of we’re going to do. We’re going to remember that game all year long and use it as a remembrance that if you don’t play the game the right way, you’re going to get embarrassed… but it’s also why we won tonight.”
Recalling the humiliation Hofstra endured at St. Bonaventure, the Pride dug deep to gut out a win against the Seawolves even while continuing a recent shooting slump.
In five of its first eight games this season, Hofstra shot at least 47.4 percent from the floor, including better than 50 percent three times in that span. However, over its last three games, the Pride shot just 36.1 percent in a win over Canisius, a season-low 27.7 percent at St. Bonaventure and 30.6 percent against Stony Brook.
Yet, despite missing 50 of its 72 shots, including 23 of 35 from 3-point range against the Seawolves, Hofstra found other ways to beat Stony Brook for a fourth straight time while representing Nassau County in a win over the Pride’s Suffolk County rivals for the 23rd time in 28 all-time meetings, going back to the 1972-73 season.
Although the Pride’s shooting struggled, the Seawolves (who shot 41.4 percent) weren’t that much better from the field and got to the foul line with far less frequency than they’re used to due to Hofstra’s tough, adaptable defense, which forced 22 turnovers to key a 16-8 Hofstra advantage in points off turnovers.
While Stony Brook didn’t miss from the foul line, the Pride drew seven more fouls (16-9) than the Seawolves and held 15-7 edges in both made free throws as well as offensive rebounds, the latter of which helped Hofstra to outscore Stony Brook 14-0 in second-chance points.
Head coach Geno Ford noted, “They got a lot more shots than we did (14 more) because of not only the offensive rebounds, but we turned it over. We couldn’t get ourselves to the foul line. Seven free throws for our basketball team is way below what we normally do. We couldn’t get enough fouls drawn in the paint… they were able to do that tonight and we couldn’t.”
Forcing the Pride to abandon its usual zone defense in favor of a man-to-man approach didn’t help the Seawolves either.
“We got them out of zone,” Ford said. “They scrapped their zone and went man and we bogged down a little bit. They did a good job in man [though] I know it’s not their normal defense.”
The switch didn’t bother Hofstra, according to Mihalich, who said his team “can play either defense.”
After falling behind 6-2, Ford’s team used a 12-3 run to take a 14-9 lead, but Hofstra responded with a 27-14 spurt to go up, 36-28, before redshirt junior guard Makale Foreman (16 points) hit a pair of deep 3-pointers in the final minute of the opening half — including one that beat first-half buzzer — to bring Stony Brook to within 36-34 at intermission.
Scoring 10 straight points — half of which came from senior point guard Desure Buie (game-highs of 20 points and six assists) — the Pride opened a 54-45 lead with 11:01 remaining, but the Seawolves soon after scored a dozen consecutive points of their own, to lead, 57-54, with 7:03 left.
However, that didn’t faze Hofstra, as junior guard Jalen Ray (17 points) made the last of his game-high five 3-pointers to put the Pride up for good, 60-59, with 5:46 remaining.
Although the Pride didn’t score another field goal thereafter, it didn’t need to, as Hofstra allowed only four points the rest of the way and made nine of 10 free throws over the final 2:23.
Ford admitted, “They made more plays the last four minutes than we were able to make.”
The biggest example of the Pride doing that despite not being able to shoot well came from senior guard Eli Pemberton (15 points, 10 rebounds) and junior guard Tareq Coburn (10 points, game-high-tying 12 rebounds) late in the game.
Following two free throws from Buie, Pemberton (4-for-16 from the floor) muscled his way for a tough offensive rebound off of a missed corner 3-pointer by Coburn (2-for-13 from the field), drew a hard foul — one of six he drew in the game — and made two free throws to extend the Pride’s lead to 66-61 with 1:31 to play.
After a Stony Brook turnover, Coburn likewise fought for a difficult offensive board, drew a foul and sank two foul shots to put Hofstra up, 68-61, with 44.8 seconds left. Pemberton extended that margin to a game-high 10 points with three more free throws over the next 21 seconds.
“No one epitomizes more what to do if you’re not shooting well than Tareq and Elijah,” Mihalich said. “Tareq got six offensive rebounds, Elijah got four, and they both had double-doubles. We say it all the time, our guys can really shoot the ball, but it’s not always going to go in. When it doesn’t, do the other things. Play defense — we forced turnovers, we held them to 63 points, we got offensive rebounds and did all of the other little things.”
Buie added, “Those last few minutes were all about toughness. Guys grabbed offensive rebounds, which gave us extra possessions, we defended, and it was a great game.”
Earlier, Mihalich said, “[It was] a hard-fought win. We never caved, they never caved. Just fun to be a part of it and really proud that we won the game… our guys just believed in themselves. They didn’t panic, they kept great poise… and just toughed it out.”
As for resuming the Battle of Long Island, each head coach said the matchup always has a more special significance than a typical early season, non-conference matchup.
“It does, because the schools are close together,” Ford said.
Mihalich agreed, “It feels a little different to me.”
Ford added, “The reality is it has not been a very competitive series if you go through the history. We’ve played them close the last few years and had chances, but have not come out on top.”
Both coaches hope for an even better environment for the series in the future.
“You want it to be something where everyone on Long Island gets excited about college hoops in December because it’s easy in March when it’s conference championship time,” Ford said.
Mihalich added, “I wish some more people would come and enjoy it. We had a good crowd, but it would be nice to have even more people come and make it feel [even more] like a cross-town rivalry game.”
In the meantime, Mihalich was just thankful to have his travel-weary team finally off the road and finding a way to recover from a bad loss with a win in the midst of a three-game shooting dip.
“It seemed like a year, let alone about a month,” Mihalich said of the extended time spent without playing a home game.
“Good to be back home against a team like Stony Brook,” he added. “It’s a cross-town rivalry game, a bragging rights game and we’re proud to say that this time, we were able to sneak by.”
Now that the Pride, the Colonial Athletic Association preseason favorite, is back from its long, winding trip, it’ll have a chance to catch its collective breath with only two more non-conference games — on the road, at nearby Princeton, and at home, against Manhattan — over the next 17 days before starting conference play at James Madison on Dec. 28.
Hofstra hopes to rediscover its lost shooting touch before then. But it’s also comforting for the Pride to know that when its shots don’t fall, that Hofstra is capable of finding other ways to win.