HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Entering the day with its first losing streak since the end of last season, and trailing again by a decent amount early in the second half on Saturday, the Hofstra Pride made sure it would get back to its winning ways in a key Colonial Athletic Association matchup with the Drexel Dragons at Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
After relinquishing a seven-point first-half lead and trailing by eight points with under 15 minutes left, junior guard Tareq Coburn scored 15 of his career-high 24 points and Hofstra (15-7, 6-3 CAA) clamped down on Drexel (12-10, 5-4 CAA) defensively to snap a two-game losing skid with a much-needed 72-59 win.
“A lot of hot and cold for us, a lot of good and bad,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “More good than bad, obviously. We go up [seven] in the first half and let that melt away, we come out really poorly in the second half — that’s a little bit of a concern, we’ve got to analyze that a little bit — and for some reason, we snapped out of it.”
Trailing 8-4 after three minutes, the Pride responded with a 14-3 run, to lead, 18-11 more than eight minutes later.
The Dragons scored the next seven points to tie the game, and after Hofstra answered with a 9-4 spurt to lead, 27-22, Drexel closed within 33-32 by halftime.
As Mihalich mentioned, his team initially had trouble after halftime as junior forward James Butler scored six of his team-high 21 points during an 11-2 run that gave the Dragons their biggest lead, 45-37, with 14:46 remaining.
But, Hofstra held Drexel to just 14 points the rest of the way while often turning defense into offense. Holding a modest 7-4 edge in points off turnovers in the first half, the Pride increased that advantage to an extremely helpful 14-0 after intermission.
Meanwhile, Coburn — who made all four of his 3-point attempts while his teammates went only 2-for-9 and the Dragons were just 3-for-16, behind the arc — hit a pair of 3s which bookended a 12-4 stretch that tied the game, 49-49, with 10:40 left.
After Drexel took its final lead (51-49) 44 seconds later, Hofstra changed its defense and scored 17 straight points over the next 7:23 to take a commanding 66-51 advantage before leading by as much as 68-52, with 2:23 to go.
“We had 11 stops in a row,” Mihalich noted of that pivotal stretch. “We mixed it up today. We usually play a lot more zone than man and we started out man-to-man and played man almost the entire first half. We had some good moments doing that.
“When it was time to switch it up and they started to figure out our man [defense], we went to the zone and our guys did a great job with their slides and their bumps, and it worked out good.”
Coburn added, “You’ve just got to go hard regardless of what defense you’re playing, you and your man, and you’ve got to help your teammates, too. We just fought.”
Along the same lines, Hofstra’s leading scorer and best defender, senior point guard Desure Buie (12 points on a rough 5-for-20 shooting day) said, “It doesn’t matter whether we play zone or man, you’ve still gotta guard the ball… we were soft and we changed that. We defended them well. We played aggressive [and] we forced some turnovers.”
With the Pride up 55-51, Coburn finally gave Hofstra the breathing room it needed. He drew a foul and made two free throws with 7:02 left before hitting a 3-pointer to push the lead to nine and scored on a runout off of a steal by Buie (who played in a school-record 129th career game, breaking a tie set by Charles Jenkins and Nathaniel Lester) to make it 64-51 with 5:04 remaining.
Coburn was also a big rebounding force with a team-high 12 boards (to cancel out the same from Martin), including a career-high seven on the offensive glass (only one fewer than Drexel).
“When we defend and rebound… it’s why we win a lot of games,” Mihalich said. “These guys responded. They were great.”
Mihalich, though, saved his biggest praise for Coburn, who his coach believes, needs to realize the level of impact he can have on the Pride more often.
“Tareq was just unbelievable today,” Mihalich said. “Everybody has a key role. The old expression, ‘Know your role, accept your role, perfect your role,’ and Tareq does that as good as anybody. Sometimes, I think Tareq forgets, himself, how important he is to our team and how significant he can be with his play.”
Coburn reminded himself of that after he scored just five points, shot 1-for-6 and grabbed only two rebounds in 24 minutes during a home loss to Delaware on Thursday night.
“Last game, I had a bad game,” admitted Coburn. “I wasn’t getting enough rebounds. So, I looked at some film and I pretty much studied reasons why I wasn’t getting offensive rebounds or why I wasn’t getting my shot off. So, I pretty much came into this game knowing what to do. We practiced really hard and I got it going for this game.”
This time, Coburn said it was his job to “just bring the energy.” He added, “It started off with defense, whether it was talking out loud or jumping, grabbing rebounds and keeping my teammates motivated. I knocked down some shots [and] played defense. I just tried to do anything I [could].”
Arriving at the midpoint of CAA play, the challenge now is for Hofstra to be consistent in one of the most unpredictable conferences in the nation after taking full advantage of a good day for the Pride around the league.
As Hofstra won at home, first-place William & Mary, CAA contender Charleston and defending champion Northeastern (which dropped into a fifth-place tie in the conference) were all upset at home, leaving the Pride in a three-way tie for second-place with Towson and Charleston, only one game behind William & Mary.
“It’s just one game at a time in this league,” Mihalich said. “It’s like a championship every time you play. It’s crazy, the results that are coming in… we’re just gonna keep our heads down, put the blinders on and on February 29th (the final day of the CAA regular season), they’re gonna tell us who to play, and we’re gonna see if we can be good in those three days in March (during the CAA tournament).”
Although the Pride pulled away for an easy win down the stretch on Saturday, that’s not something Mihalich expects to see that often in the ultra-competitive CAA, but his team is confident. “I still think going forward, there’s going to be a lot more close games than there are 13-point wins,” he said. “It’s just the way it’s going to be this year, and that’s fine. We’re ready for it… we think we can be good.”
In Hofstra’s penultimate road trip of the regular season next week, the Pride will face a team it beat by 27 points at home (Elon, on Jan. 4) and another it lost to by the same amount at home two days earlier (William & Mary, on Jan. 2).
“We’ve got great respect for both teams,” Mihalich said. “If you want to add one more little side note, when those two teams played each other, it was a one-point game (a 74-73 William & Mary win at Elon on Dec. 30).
“In this league, every game, whether you’re at Elon, at William & Mary, home against Elon, home against William & Mary, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to bring it that night. If you don’t, you could lose by 27. If you do, and they don’t, you could win by 27. So, we’re just going to try to give each of those teams the best version of ourselves.”
The CAA preseason favorite Pride certainly did that down the stretch against Drexel. If Hofstra can bottle that consistently enough the rest of the way, the season could end the way it hopes.