NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — For Hofstra, progress is measured in heartache. The Pride has made so many strides in stability and respectability that when it fell short of its lofty new goal, the coach and players were distraught.
“Our program is to the point now where we’re heartbroken about not winning a championship. Not too long ago, we were just trying to get five guys on the floor,” coach Joe Mihalich said Sunday night after the Pride lost to two-time defending champion North Carolina Wilmington, 93-88, in a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament quarterfinal.
It was not only that the Pride (19-12) had led by 12 in the first half and by eight at halftime before Jordon Talley led a rush and finished with a tournament record-tying 37 points. It was that Hofstra had built such a solid team and had such an uplifting season, with a series of last-second heroics. It had come a long way since Mihalich took over five years ago after a string of three coaches in three years and a rash of suspensions.
Just competing was a triumph back then. But the goal has changed and the prize now is to win the CAA Tournament, something Hofstra never has done. So it will go at least another year without reaching the NCAA Tournament, which it last made in 2001.
“I can’t even tell you,” Justin Wright-Foreman, the conference’s player of the year, said of the feeling after his 29 points were not enough. “We had a great group of guys. We all worked hard. It didn’t work out the way we planned.”
Wright-Foreman and Desure Buie answered Talley the best they could, but Buie, who had 20 points, missed a potential tying three-pointer with 13 seconds left. Two free throws by UNC Wilmington (11-20), and that was that. Hofstra was left to wonder how it was outscored 53-40 after halftime — even though Devontae Cacok, the nation’s leading rebounder, played only 20 minutes total because of foul trouble.
“It was a little of everything,” Mihalich said. “Too many second-chance points, we missed some key foul shots. They made the foul shots. The kid made some great, great shots, some deep shots.”
Talley and Cacok were on the team that beat Hof stra in the final two years ago. “We were here last year and the year before,’’ Talley said. “We know what it takes and we know in the CAA Tournament it’s going to be a game of runs.”
Rokas Gustys, the senior center around whom the Hofstra program has been built, fouled out with 46 seconds left. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Mihalich said he felt especially bad for Gustys, who still might have a chance to tie David Robinson’s CAA career rebounding record in one of the satellite postseason tournaments.
“Now we’re heartbroken and devastated when we don’t win championships,” Mihalich said. “That’s how we want to be.”
They just didn’t want it to hurt this much.