You wouldn't wish the season Hofstra's basketball team has endured on your worst enemy. The Pride had to fight past a scandal in which four players, including two starters, were kicked out of school after allegations of theft. Transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel never made it onto the court because of health problems, and starter Stephen Nwaukoni missed the past three games and is headed for surgery.
So, pardon coach Mo Cassara if he got a little emotional while paying tribute to seniors David Imes, Stevie Mejia and Matt Grogan after the Pride lost a 57-56 heartbreaker to Delaware in the home finale Wednesday night at Mack Sports Complex.
"I'm really proud of these three guys," Cassara said at the postgame news conference. "As anybody who follows our program knows, it's been a challenging year on so many levels. These guys come to practice every day, work hard, their chins are up, and they continue to battle.
"[Delaware] is the second-place team in the league. Our kids continue to battle. A lot of teams with our record and all the things we've been through would probably not compete the way we did tonight, and that's a credit to these three guys."
Moussa Kone, starting in place of Nwaukoni, led Hofstra (7-23, 4-13 CAA) with 18 points and five rebounds. Mejia added 16 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Imes had 10 points and seven rebounds. Devon Saddler topped Delaware (17-13, 12-5) with 19 points and got support from Jarvis Threatt (12) and Kyle Anderson (10).
When Imes buried a three-pointer with 41.1 seconds left to cut the Blue Hens' lead to 55-53, it was anybody's game. But with only a six-second differential between the shot clock and game clock, Cassara chose not to pressure the ball high. Saddler ran 33 seconds off the clock before missing a drive, and as luck would have it for Hofstra, Delaware's Anderson was in position for the putback and a 57-53 lead. That rendered Mejia's ending three-pointer meaningless.
"We have a chance to get a stop and potentially tie the game or win it," Cassara said. "We were right there. If we got a stop and a rebound, we'd have an opportunity to get a shot. I didn't want to give them an easy basket or create a foul. I wanted our defense set.
"We played a great defensive possession and forced Saddler into an incredibly tough shot. But we didn't come up with the rebound."
It was the sixth straight Delaware game decided by two points or less, and the Blue Hens won five of them. But Hofstra gets a rematch in the first round of the CAA Tournament March 9 in Richmond, Va. "We want to stay positive," Cassara said, "and go down and beat them."