HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — This time, the Towson Tigers wouldn’t let Colonial Athletic Conference Player of the Year candidate, senior guard Desure Buie, get on track and lead his Hofstra Pride back from an eight-point halftime deficit.
Not with Hofstra having a chance to celebrate at Towson’s expense.
Seeking its ninth straight win and its second consecutive outright regular-season CAA title, the first-place Pride (22-8, 13-4 CAA) was forced to keep the champagne on ice after the tougher and more physical Tigers (18-12, 11-6 CAA) bullied their way to a 76-65 upset win at the Mack Sports Complex on Thursday night.
In a reversal of Hofstra’s 75-67 win at Towson on Dec. 30 — in which Buie scored 16 of the Pride’s 22 points before adding 19 more in the second half and got to the line a season-high 15 times (making 11) to lead his team back from an eight-point halftime deficit — the Tigers led by the same margin at intermission, but held Buie to just six points on a season-worst 2-of-14 shooting performance, with no free throw attempts.
Although junior guard Tareq Coburn (game-high tying 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting) and sophomore forward Isaac Kante (20 points, making all but one of his 10 shots) combined for 15-of-20 shooting, the rest of the Pride shot just 7-for-36, counting Buie, senior guard Eli Pemberton (18 points on 5-for-17 shooting) and junior guard Jalen Ray (scoreless on five shots).
Rallying from an early 12-4 deficit, Towson closed the opening half by outscoring Hofstra, 39-23, to take a 43-35 lead into the locker room. Most of the Tigers’ damage came in paint (where Towson held a 42-20 advantage, including 28-6 in the first half) and off of its own misses, as the Pride was outscored 26-10 in second-chance points (including 20-3 in the first half) and was dominated on the glass, 49-26.
“It was our rebounding,” Mihalich admitted. “They had 24 offensive rebounds, 14 in the first half. Twenty of their points in the first half were on second-chance points. We said before the game, the best thing they do is miss a shot, so we had to [limit] them [to] one shot. We failed miserably in that category.”
Pemberton added, “They were more desperate. They wanted the ball more than us. That’s pretty much it. Twenty-four offensive rebounds, I don’t ever remember that happening to [our] team. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
Getting manhandled on the boards wasn’t the only pre-game goal that Hofstra failed to address.
“Coaches write too many things on the board, probably, myself included,” Mihalich said. “We went through everything that was on that board and we did nothing that we talked about on that board, not one thing. So, we got what we deserved.”
Other team goals on the board were to, “Win the 50-50 balls, not allow second shots and to be strong with the ball,” Mihalich said. “Every time there was a 50-50 situation, [Towson] came up with the ball… I thought that we weren’t able to get where we wanted to with the ball.
“They wanted it a little bit more than us tonight. Shame on us for that… that’s not good.”
Perhaps the best example of that was not only a second-chance basket, but a fifth-chance score, when in a span of 17 seconds late in the first half, the Tigers missed a jumper and then three straight layup attempts before a made layup by senior forward Brian Fobbs (21 points).
Moments later, Towson led, 39-31, despite having led for just under 3½ minutes while Hofstra had led for over 12½ by that point.
Starting the second half on a 7-2 run, the Pride got within 45-42, but never got closer as the Tigers (who moved into sole possession of third place) increased their lead to as much as 67-55, with 5:37 left. The margin never dipped below seven points the rest of the way.
Getting 24 points from its bench, while Hofstra’s bench didn’t attempt a shot, Towson’s three best plus-minus numbers came from its reserves — redshirt freshman guard Nicolas Timberlake (plus-23), freshman forward Charles Thompson (plus-19) and sophomore guard Jakigh Dottin (plus-17) — as the Tigers’ starters posted a pairs of minus-9s, a minus-6, a plus 7 and a plus-13.
With his confidence unshaken in Buie (who despite his other struggles, had a game-high nine assists and only two turnovers), Mihalich said of his point guard, “He was out of sorts tonight. He’s [in my opinion] the Player of the Year in the conference. Tonight, was just a bad night for him, that’s all. He’ll learn from this. If there’s anything you can count on, it’s Desure Buie.”
Pemberton added, “I think we all got good shots. It just wasn’t falling tonight. We haven’t seen a game like this from Desure all season. That’s our point guard. We’re gonna ride for him, regardless. He’s going to be there [and bounce back] Saturday, so we’re not going to worry about it.”
Saturday is when Hofstra (which has already clinched at least a share of the CAA regular-season title) will try again to secure the top seed in next month’s CAA tournament in Washington D.C. in its season finale at home, on Senior Day, against last-place James Madison.
Thinking of the Pride’s biggest goal — winning its first CAA tournament title and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years — Mihalich believes it will be far more beneficial to use the loss to the Tigers as motivation than for the Pride to quickly forget it.
“They were clearly the tougher team, they were the hungrier team, they were the better team and so, we’re gonna tip our hats to them and look at ourselves in the mirror, and decide that if we want to win a championship, we’ve got to learn from tonight,” he said.
“If we’re going to win a championship, tonight has to be one of the reasons why because it’s going to be about how we respond to this. They treated us like they were our big brothers.
“We’re not going to put this behind us. We’re going to keep talking about this game until hopefully, we can do something good in Washington, D.C. We have to keep this fresh in our minds. We can’t just burn the tape. We’re going to keep remembering this. If we respond the right way, this could be a reason that we get it together for Saturday and for Washington, D.C.”