HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The Hofstra Pride wondered how after losing its second-leading scorer in school history — NBA draft pick Justin Wright-Foreman — at the end of last season if anyone could possibly become that type of scorer for the Pride this year, even if it was only on occasion rather than in the consistent way in which Wright-Foreman got buckets.
Senior point guard Desure Buie is starting to answer that question in a surprising way.
Known far more for his abilities to set others up while locking opponents down defensively, Buie, who reached 20 points a mere three times in his first 107 career games (while never scoring more than 22 points in a game) entering this season, has suddenly become Hofstra’s leading scorer while scoring 20 points five times in 16 games this year, including three big scoring outbursts.
Posting a then-career-high 29 points in a win at UCLA on Nov. 21, then surpassing that with 35 points in a comeback victory at Towson on Dec. 30, Buie approached Wright-Foreman territory with a 44-point eruption to lead Hofstra to a 102-75 Colonial Athletic Association rout over the Elon Phoenix at the Mack Sports Complex on Saturday.
Buie’s effort ended just four points shy of the school-record-tying 48 points Wright-Foreman scored on the same court last season, a mark that was initially set 64 years earlier by Bill Thieben.
While breaking the game open with 11 points (including seven straight) during a decisive 13-4 second-half run, Buie became the 38th player in school history to reach 1,000 points. Those were just part of the dazzling 26 second-half points scored by Buie, who finished an efficient 15-for-19 from the floor, 6-for-8 from 3-point range, and a perfect 8-for-8 at the foul line.
Elon (4-12, 0-3 CAA) eclipsed its conference-leading average of 10.2 3-pointers made, with 13 3s, but thanks mainly to Buie’s accuracy from behind the arc, Hofstra (12-5, 3-1 CAA) matched that amount on a dozen fewer attempts, making half of its 26 3-point attempts.
With Buie leading the way, the Pride also shot a season-best 64.8 percent (35-for-54) overall.
Asked if he had ever envisioned Buie taking the type of quantum scoring leap he has made this season after what he had seen through Buie’s junior season, head coach Joe Mihalich answered flatly and candidly, “No.”
Buie appears to have astounded himself, as he smiled and shook his head from side to side seemingly in agreement with his coach’s response.
“That’s why this guy just continues to amaze me,” Mihalich continued. “I mean, this is one of the most incredible stories in all of Hofstra basketball. You run out of superlatives. This is a special guy.
“What he does on the court, what he does off the court, he’s three classes away from having his masters… but I’m going to stay on him to do something that we’ve got to get done, to try and climb up that ladder and cut down those nets (at the end of the CAA tournament in March) because I know that’s what’s really important to him and all [our] guys.”
Coming off a 27-point home loss to CAA rival William & Mary on Thursday night, in which Buie was held to 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting (while missing his first eight shots), the Phoenix once again provided the perfect cure for what ailed the Pride.
Last year, one game after Hofstra’s 16-game winning streak ended with a 14-point loss at Northeastern, the Pride returned home to record a 102-61 victory over Elon.
This time, Hofstra equaled the same scoring output to flip the script from a loss that Mihalich called “embarrassing” on Thursday.
“I’m obviously proud of our guys for bouncing back after the clunker we had the other night,” Mihalich said.
Getting ready to hit the road for its longest — and probably, toughest — CAA road trip of the season, with a game at North Carolina-Wilmington sandwiched between two likely conference title contenders, Northeastern and Charleston, the Pride desperately needed to get back on track against the Phoenix.
“We needed this, we really did,” Mihalich said. “Failure was not an option today heading into this three-game road trip… so, I’m glad we got this win.”
With Buie seated to his left at the post-game press conference, Mihalich added of his team’s 54-point swing over two games, “It’s the roller coaster of the season that we all deal with. Whenever you lose, it’s how you respond and that’s what I love about this team… I can’t say it enough, it’s because of this guy next to me. He’s the M.V.P. of the locker room every day.”
Reflecting on the loss to William & Mary and his new role this season as the primary force the rest of the roster looks to, Buie said, “Being the leader, you’ve got to deal with those things. But [Thursday night’s game was] over with. We had to move on. We had a great practice yesterday and it carried over to today.”
That was of particular importance after Mihalich blamed a bad New Year’s Day practice affecting Hofstra’s loss two nights earlier.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Buie said while trying to explain that defeat. “Thursday, it was just one of those games, I guess. The ball didn’t bounce my way and our team’s way. Today, I made a couple shots [early] and I tried to stay aggressive.”
Although the day ended up well for Hofstra, it didn’t begin that way, as freshman guard Hunter McIntosh made his first three 3-pointers to help stake Elon to a 13-4 lead 3:07 into the game, forcing Mihalich to call a timeout. However, McIntosh didn’t score again, missing his last six shots, including five from behind the arc.
“We had a little bit of a bad start,” Mihalich acknowledged before pivoting to Buie’s heroics. “[It was] the second game in a row we had to call the early timeout… but thanks to this guy sitting next to me, [we won]. It’s not just what he does on the court, it’s more about off the court. He just wasn’t going to let our guys stub our toes twice [in a row].”
The game’s next basket after McIntosh’s early 3-point flurry came on Buie’s first points, a 3-pointer. Closing the half by outscoring the Phoenix 43-20 (behind 18 points from Buie), the Pride led, 47-33, at halftime.
That margin was pushed to 17 before freshman forward Zac Ervin hit consecutive 3s to pull Elon to within 57-46, but Buie made five straight shots to give Hofstra a 70-50 lead with 13:09 left.
Elon got no closer than 18 points the rest of the way and Hofstra led by as much as 30 with 2:16 remaining.
Asked about his recent scoring prowess reaching new levels, Buie humbly answered, “Well, I wasn’t too focused on that. I realized [my ability to be able to score that much] a couple games ago, but I just [wanted] to win. We had a bad game last game. I thank Coach [Mihalich] for believing in me and for trusting in me out there, so I just played.”
The game getting so out of hand was probably the only thing that saved the Hofstra scoring record for Wright-Foreman and Thieben, as Buie’s final points came with 4:12 to go before the 5-11, 160-pound Bronx, N.Y. native was subbed out to an ovation with 2:48 left.
Just before that moment, Wright-Foreman liked a tweet mentioning Buie nearing the single-game Hofstra record.
After the game, Buie joked about Wright-Foreman, “He probably called me about five times already.”
Wright-Foreman wasn’t the only former Hofstra star interested in Buie’s pursuit of program scoring records.
Buie was asked if Pride assistant coach and former first-round NBA draft pick Craig “Speedy” Claxton — who recorded college career-highs with 40 points in consecutive games 20 years ago — was aware of Buie becoming the second Hofstra player since Claxton to reach that mark.
“Yeah, he definitely knew,” Buie said with a wry smile.
Mihalich jovially chimed in, “Did Speedy know? He kept saying, ‘Take him out.’ As [Buie] was getting close to 40, Speedy was saying, “Get him out. He’s tired.’”
Recalling Claxton teasing him about falling short of 40 points against Towson, Buie said, “Today, I just laughed at him.”
Suddenly, no one is laughing now at the thought of Buie becoming a major go-to scorer for Hofstra the rest of the season.