HACKENSACK, N.J. - As hard as it was to comprehend, it was simple to describe. Hofstra had its worst game of the season Sunday, allowing Fairleigh Dickinson point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. to move freely and effortlessly. "We let him feel good,'' said Pride coach Joe Mihalich, who could not say the same for himself.
Mihalich felt awful after the 86-67 loss, talking to his players for nearly a half-hour.
"We didn't have it today,'' he said once he finally left the locker room, which raised the inevitable next question: Why? "For the life of me,'' he said, "I don't know.''
This was expected to be a rocky season for Hofstra (4-10), what with a new coach and a makeshift roster coming off a season of losses and suspensions. Still, the team figured it could count on being aggressive and attentive, especially against an opponent that has been one of the lower-ranked teams in all of Division I in recent seasons.
Even defending national champion Louisville did not score as many points in the first half against Hofstra as Fairleigh Dickinson (4-10) did Sunday (49). Twenty came from Sanders, a 5-11 senior who is averaging 18.8 points. He finished with 31.
"He was coming off screens and we weren't really containing him the way we wanted to. He just did whatever he wanted,'' said Hofstra freshman guard Jamall Robinson (11 points). When Sanders didn't shoot, he passed to teammates such as Mustafa Jones, who made three consecutive three-pointers as FDU went up by 23 in the second half. "We just weren't fully there,'' Robinson said. "We weren't ready to play.''
Limiting Sanders was one of the priorities Mihalich and staff listed before the game. "I could take you in there and show you the board, the things we wrote on there, that we needed to do,'' Mihalich said. "It was almost like we did the opposite.''
To be fair, FDU has beaten Rutgers and Seton Hall this season. Then again, it was no match for Hofstra in Hempstead in an 80-58 loss Nov. 10.
Regardless of Zeke Upshaw's 22 points, Mihalich really found no positives Sunday, except this: "Maybe to know what it feels like at the top, you've got to know what it feels like at the bottom.''
At least the Pride goes into its Colonial Athletic Association opener at Delaware on Wednesday with an 0-0 league record.
"We've got to go back to the lab and work,'' Robinson said. But as Mihalich said, "If we play the way we did today, we won't beat anybody, that's for sure.''