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Hofstra looks to final four games for strength

Hofstra guard Stephen Nwaukoni attempts a free throw

Hofstra guard Stephen Nwaukoni attempts a free throw during a game against South Dakota State. (Nov. 16, 2012) (Credit: Steven Ryan)

There are many places Hofstra can look to for motivation to succeed in Friday's CAA first-round game against ninth-seeded UNC-Wilmington.

One place the No. 8 Pride, who square off against UNCW at 7:00 p.m., can look to is how they finished the regular season. Hofstra (9-22) dropped three of its final four games. But the three losses came by a total of 15 points, including an 81-77 setback to top-seeded Delaware. Hofstra, which fell, 86-79, to the Blue Hens in their first meeting, held a second-half lead in two of its final three loses.

There’s no consolation in losing, but Hofstra’s recent propensity for playing the top CAA teams close could serve as a confidence boost. Hofstra beat James Madison in its season finale.

“[The season] finished up in a three-game stretch where we played the three best teams. We played Delaware, Towson and William and Mary,” Pride coach Joe Mihalich said. “We were in every game, so it gave is some hope and it gave us some excitement for this weekend coming up. Beating James Madison the last game of the year is another reason why we feel good about this weekend.”

Hofstra can also go back 20 years into its program history for inspiration. The 1993-1994 team finished the regular 6-20, but won three games to capture the East Coast Conference title.

Upshaw, Mihalich and Dion Nesmith spoke with Newsday's Steve Marcus about it earlier this week.

If the Pride makes a run in the CAA tournament and uses it as a launching point for 2014-2015, Mihalich said it would be due, in part, to the foundation set by graduate student Zeke Upshaw (19.6 ppg, 4.2 reb) and senior Steven Nwaukoni (5.8 ppg, 8.4 reb).   

“Steve was a returning player and ended up with over 700 rebounds, which is an awful lot of rebounds,” Mihalich said.

Upshaw’s season has been one for the record books.  

“Zeke just had a masterful year… one of those great, great college basketball stories,” said Mihalich. “He hardly plays for three years at one school, graduates, comes [here] and has an all-conference kind of year.

“To see those guys walk across the coach with their parents you can’t help to get a little emotional. It reminds you how of lucky you are to be a coach. It reminds you of why we coach, because you get to be with kids like that…It was a sad day, yet it was a good day.”   

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