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Beaten at buzzer last season, Hofstra refocusing over summer

Hofstra's Ameen Tanksley, right, chats with head coach

Hofstra's Ameen Tanksley, right, chats with head coach Joe Mihalich during an informal men's basketball team workout at the team's practice facility on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Credit: James Escher

The Popeye's and Checkers near the Hofstra campus have lost maybe their most loyal 6-foot-5 customer.

Neither fast food joint did anything to alter Ameen Tanksley's eating habits, other than continuing to offer a vast selection of items. Tanksley, a senior guard/forward for the Pride, used to frequent those spots when he got hungry late at night. "That's the only thing that's open," he said during a summer shootaround Wednesday morning.


"I just go to sleep," he said.

The reformed diet -- less greasy, fried food and more salads and starches -- is one way Tanksley and his Hofstra teammates are responding to a disappointing and heartbreaking end to the 2014-15 season.

After a 13-4 start, Hofstra lost 10 of its last 17 games, the last coming as an 85-81 setback against Vermont in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. The Pride was in the CBI as a reward for its solid 20-14 season, but they had set out with the preseason goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

That was the disappointment's root.

The heartbreak manifested in Daniel Dixon's buzzer-beating three-pointer that lifted William & Mary past Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals. (Northeastern earned the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance.)

"Most definitely we were heartbroken," said Tanksley, who averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and shot 39.8 percent from three-point range last year.

Joe Mihalich, entering his third year as Hofstra's head coach, said he is still searching for answers as to why Hofstra faded in last season's second half. Perhaps, he said, his team's lack of depth wore down his key players. Only 10 members of the team were able to practice.

"Even in practice, Juan'ya Green never came off the floor," Mihalich said, referring to his then-junior guard who averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Another possibility, Mihalich and several of his players said, was that the Pride was unprepared physically.

"I think that's kind of the reason we lost some games," Green said. "The teams out-toughed us in games we lost."

So Mihalich encouraged Green, Tanksley and a handful of other players to eat better during the offseason and to hit the gym, with the goal of getting stronger and improving their flexibility.

"Look at Ameen," said Mihalich, as Tanksley shot on a nearby hoop, "he's probably put about 10 pounds of muscle on already."

Hofstra last earned an NCAA Tournament bid in 2001. The Pride lost Dion Nesmith and Moussa Kone from last year's team, but they return their top three scorers in Green, Tanksley and Brian Bernardi (11.6 points per game, 40.4 percent from long range). That has encouraged Mihalich to set high expectations for the 2015-16 season. "The goal is to be the best team in the league come March," he said.

Green and Tanksley, who followed Mihalich to Hofstra from Niagara, know they have one last chance to bring the Pride back to college basketball's biggest stage. The manner in which they are pursuing that goal has rubbed off on younger teammates.

"How they're dealing with the situation is really inspiring me to push harder," freshman guard Justin Wright-Foreman said. "They worked so hard after that [buzzer-beater]."

Said Tanksley, "I want to be in the best shape of my life since it's my last go-around."

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