Calling it a must-win would have been premature. But to say Saturday evening’s Hofstra men’s basketball game against Monmouth was a must-improve would be an understatement.
Three days after a stunning loss to underdog San Jose State, the Pride bounced back behind 17 points apiece from Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie to thump Monmouth, 94-74, in a non-conference game in front of 3,897 at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
“I don’t know if it’s time to say must-win, but it was a time to make sure we knew how to play the game,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said.
Losing 79-71 to an 18-point underdog in the season opener created a sense of urgency for Hofstra in a new era without program great Justin Wright-Foreman providing much of the offense.
After two intense days of practice — the specifics of which Mihalich wouldn’t elaborate on — six players scored in double-figures, the first time that’s happened since Dec. 13, 2016.
Isaac Kante had 15 points, Jalen Ray added 14 and Omar Silverio had 13 off the bench. Tareq Coburn contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t going offensively, so I had to get it going somehow,” Coburn said. “Whether it was defense, energy, rebounding, I just had to get my team going.”
Trailing 18-17 after Ray Salnave connected on a three-pointer for Monmouth (1-1) with 11:09 left in the first half, Hofstra came alive. Silverio’s contested three-pointer ignited a 34-6 run to end the half that gave Hofstra a 51-24 lead.
An efficient offense keyed the run, but it was complemented by a transition defense that frustrated Monmouth.
“One of our points of emphasis was our transition defense,” Mihalich said. “That team really tries to score quickly, and I thought it was really, really good. We made a couple mistakes, but I thought our transition defense was really good.”
George Papas’ two free throws cut Hofstra’s lead to 70-57 with 8:52 remaining, but the Pride’s insistence on driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line essentially won the game. Hofstra (1-1) made 27 of 35 free throws and Monmouth was 8-for-9.
“They were pressuring us, and the plan was to go by them and try to score,” Mihalich said.
Hofstra shot 29-for-55 from the field, including 9-for-18 from three-point range. Buie’s eight assists in the up-tempo offense are exactly what Mihalich needs from his point guard for the Pride to find prolonged success.
“I think I’ve been playing at this pace for two years now,” Buie said. “My freshman year, I was a little slow, but now they emphasize that I need to push the ball up more.”
Maybe there won’t be a go-to scorer on this team, but Mihalich said, “Anybody could be our leading scorer on any given night.”
He added, “We’re trying to find out who we are. It’s a whole new team. We have a lot of returners, but it’s still a whole new team.”