HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — The Hofstra Pride seemed to be well on its way toward an easy win over its Long Island rival, the Stony Brook Seawolves, until Hofstra went as cold as the chilly, fanless Mack Sports Complex while a 23-point second-half lead nearly vanished.
That’s when the Pride (2-2) was recused from a pair of polar opposite sources — a veteran who will be counted on heavily in Hofstra’s pursuit of defending the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles the Pride won last year, and the other, a newcomer who made the first basket of his college career.
After a blowout-in-the-making became a one-possession game on two different occasions with time winding down, senior guard Jalen Ray (10 points, five assists) twice hit key jumpers to put the Pride up by five points before an unlikely hero, freshman Serbian guard Vukasin Masic, came off the bench to extend a Hofstra lead to the same margin in the final minute.
Thanks to those efforts, Hofstra barely hung on for a 72-67 win over Stony Brook (1-3) on Wednesday night without fans in attendance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The victory was Nassau County’s representatives’ fourth straight over Stony Brook and seventh in the past eight meetings with its neighbors from the next Long Island county over (Suffolk County), improving the Pride’s dominant all-time record to a commanding 24-5 against the Seawolves, including 13-4 with both schools in Division I.
Each team had four players in double figures, with senior guard Tareq Coburn leading Hofstra with 19 points (and eight rebounds) and redshirt sophomore forward Frankie Policelli pacing Stony Brook with 16 points (and six rebounds).
Complementing Coburn, junior forward Isaac Kante (15 points, eight rebounds) and sophomore guard Caleb Burgess (career-high 12 points, game-best six assists) helped Hofstra build a sizable first-half lead and then add to it after halftime.
Kante had two straight baskets during a run of 11 consecutive points that gave the Pride a 19-8 lead 5:19 into the game. Hofstra extended that margin to as much as 15 points twice later in the half before settling for a 42-29 edge by halftime.
Coburn was the only double-digit scorer in the half, with 11 points, coming off a career-high 28 points in an eight-point home loss to Iona on Saturday.
Acting head coach Mike Farrelly (filling in for head coach Joe Mihalich, who is on leave for health reasons), noted of Coburn, “He’s really keeping people honest because he’s driving the ball really well. I think last year, on the scouting report, you would have said, ‘Just make sure Coburn doesn’t catch and shoot a 3’ and you can’t do that anymore. He’s a much more well-rounded player this year. He’s showing a lot more versatility.”
A jumper and two 3s from Coburn fueled an 18-8 start (capped by a Ray jumper) to the second half to push Hofstra’s lead to 60-37 with 14:02 left.
That advantage seemed insurmountable with the Pride shooting 52.4 percent (22-for-42) and the Seawolves just 30 percent (12-for-40) by that point.
But Stony Brook scored the next 14 points as Hofstra missed six shots in a row, going 6:55 before its next basket (a Kante layup off of an assist from Coburn, to lead 62-51). That cold spell reached 11 of 12 misses as Stony Brook was in the midst of going 8-for-17 to complete a 22-2 spurt and get within 62-59 with 3:08 remaining.
Moments earlier, after a clean look on a 3 rimmed out on a play that was run for Coburn, Ray let Farrelly know with his own look that it was his time as the game hung precariously in the balance.
“I kind of got that look from him,” Farrelly recalled. “We ran a play to get Tareq a shot [that he missed] and Jalen looked over at me, and I said, ‘It’s time to go to Jalen here.’ As much as we want to get [the ball] to Isaac [and] to Tareq, it was time for Jalen to get the ball and he’s going to come up big in those situations.”
Sure enough, he did.
A pull-up jumper with 2:41 left gave the Pride some slight breathing room at 64-59 before a dunk 23 seconds later brought the Seawolves back to within three again.
With 1:26 left, Ray drained another pull-up jumper to make 66-61.
“It was big,” said Farrelly. “That’s what we expect out of Jalen. He’s been Mr. Clutch over the course of his career… he made some of our biggest shots in the CAA championship [last year].”
Ray said, “Later in the game, I know the team looked to me to make big plays, and I made a couple pull-ups. I love stepping up in big moments. I like being that player for your team to make plays when they count on you. I just learned from previous years, at times like that, you have to maintain your composure and just slow the game down.”
While Ray’s prior collegiate experience helped him come through down the stretch, Masic leaned on his earlier foreign experience to get Hofstra to the finish line.
Although high-energy freshman forward Kvonn Cramer has mainly been a bright spot over his early college career, his free throw shooting has been a liability. Farrelly thus opted to go with what appeared to be a questionable move at the time, subbing Masic — who has only played 12 minutes this season, including five against Stony Brook and who had started 0-for-6 in his career — in for Cramer between two made Stony Brook free throws with 59.3 seconds left.
“I put in Masic for ball handling and free throw shooting,” Farrelly explained. “That gave us four guards versus their pressure or better foul shooting if they tried to lengthen the game. Cramer is a fantastic player but not a great free throw shooter at this point. Masic hasn’t played much yet but certainly has no fear so I didn’t doubt he would be fine out there.”
Masic rewarded Farrelly’s surprise move, picking a great time to score the first points of his college career on a smooth left baseline, teardrop jumper to move Hofstra’s lead to 68-63 with 31.7 seconds left.
“It shows the confidence the kid has to be able to make that play in a key spot,” Farrelly said. “He’s a really experienced player [with] all of his overseas experience, and we certainly have really high hopes for him.”
Policelli brought Stony Brook within three points one last time on two free throws, but he missed a 3-pointer in between two free throws from Burgess and two more from Kante, which put the Pride up, 72-65.
While an easy win would’ve been preferable, Farrelly found some future redeeming value about losing most of the big lead should Hofstra find itself in similar situations later this season.
“We will be referencing this game in the future,” he said. “The last two days we spoke about how every possession matters — the first possession of the game, the last possession, up 20, down 20, we have to play the same way every possession. We did not do that in the second half versus Iona and we didn’t do it tonight, but we got closer to the ultimate goal of playing the right way for all 40 minutes.”
Before talking basketball, Farrelly began his postgame press conference call with a message to Dr. Susan Poser, who earlier the same day, became Hofstra’s first female president.
“First and foremost,” Farrelly said, “a warm Hofstra welcome to Dr. Poser, our new president — it got announced this morning. I’m glad we got a victory to start your tenure off.”
A fitting remark during a time of new events at Hofstra. A new president and a head coach in a new role winning his second career game, helped by a freshman scoring his first career points when they were needed the most.