Justin Wright-Foreman took the largest leap in the nation in scoring points last season. Rokas Gustys finished fourth in the nation when it came to grabbing rebounds. And Eli Pemberton was a CAA All-Rookie honoree.
The Big Three are back for Hofstra, as is point guard Desure Buie after wrecking his knee after eight games last season. Some intriguing transfers and freshmen have joined them. So this team is hoping to contend in the CAA.
The season opener Friday night against Army of the Patriot League at Mack Sports Complex wasn’t easy, though. The jittery Pride struggled to shoot straight and defend the paint, and three players sat out their one-game suspensions for violating team rules, including Pemberton.
Still, Hofstra got 25 points from Wright-Foreman and 12 from Buie, including seven large ones in the final 3:12. So the Pride won, 77-74, despite shooting 39.7 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three-point range and being outscored 40-26 in the paint.
“I think it was a lot of first-game-jitter stuff,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “We fought through that. We have a saying and we stole it from [Celtics coach] Brad Stevens: ‘This game honors toughness.’ I think our guys were tough tonight.”
Hofstra owned a 41-33 rebounding edge and a 15-12 offensive rebounding edge over the Black Knights, who were paced by 6-9 Matt Wilson’s 17 points.
“I think the difference in the game was they did a terrific job on the offensive glass,” Army coach Jimmy Allen said.
The Black Knights led 68-67 when Wright-Foreman delivered a three-point play with 3:30 left. Next time down, Buie drilled a right-side three-pointer, and the Pride was up 73-68.
Army cut it to 73-72, but Tommy Funk missed the front end of a one-and-one for the tie and then missed a three. Grad transfer forward Joel Angus III grabbed his eighth rebound and Buie made two from the line with 22.5 seconds remaining for a three-point advantage.
Wright-Foreman, who went 9-for-25 from the floor, fouled Jordan Fox at the 10.4 mark, and his two free throws sliced it to 75-74. Buie got fouled at 7.5 and swished two more.
“I knew my team needed me in the second half,” Buie said. “I knew I had to step up and fill in a big role.”
Hofstra, a 15-17 team last season, led by as many as six in the first half before settling for a 37-36 edge at the break.
“We’re going to be really good,” said Wright-Foreman, a junior guard who improved from 1.6 points per game as a freshman to 18.1 as a sophomore. “They have us ranked fourth in the CAA. I think we’re a lot better than that.”