Hofstra beats Fairleigh Dickinson, 80-58; Louisville next

Hofstra's Darren Payen slam dunks the ball during

Hofstra's Darren Payen slam dunks the ball during a game against Fairleigh Dickinson. (Nov. 10, 2013) (Credit: George A. Faella)

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A thorough, balanced, solid win Sunday was just what Hofstra needed, considering what Tuesday has in store: a game at defending national champion Louisville.

The players will be able to pack confidence from an 80-58 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson as they head into uncharted territory. Coach Joe Mihalich is the only one who knows what to expect.

Six years ago, when he was coaching Niagara, his team played Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. "I think they beat us at the buzzer by 40,'' Mihalich said of the 107-67 defeat. With that in mind, he wanted to make sure that the Pride didn't head south with an 0-2 record. "Failure was not an option today, that's for sure,'' he said.

Nor was it a real possibility, what with freshman Jamall Robinson (15 points) leading four Hofstra players in double figures, with Moussa Kone scoring 14 and grabbing 12 rebounds, with reserve forward Darren Payen (12 points) going 6-for-6 from the floor, with the Pride withstanding the foul trouble of its two most experienced players, transfers Dion Nesmith (14 points) and Zeke Upshaw. "We got a little something from everybody,'' Mihalich said.

Most of all, Hofstra got a boost, not only for Tuesday but for hundreds of tomorrows. It was the first victory in a new era after an arrest- and suspension-filled 2012-13. After an opening loss Friday night, the team needed something on which to build.

"We have a new staff, we have a whole bunch of new teammates, the offense is different, the defense is different,'' said Kone, a junior who never will forget that Mihalich said he will be forever grateful to the handful of veteran players who decided to stay rather than flee the rubble.

"I felt like that was amazing, coming from him,'' Kone said. "To be honest, I didn't know who was going to come until the day he came. When he did, I was actually excited to play the next season. I wasn't going to go anywhere. I'm going to stay with Hofstra for the rest of my career; stay here, build on and make sure Hofstra is a better squad.''

Hofstra clearly was better than smaller Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday. Its zone defense and whippet offense built a 50-27 lead at halftime, with Payen, another returnee, scoring all of his points before intermission.

Now the Pride faces a team that it watched on TV in the Final Four. "I look at it as an opportunity to get the team better,'' Robinson said.

Mihalich added, "I think Louisville will be favored.''

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