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Hofstra battles, but suffers another close CAA loss

Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich watches his team

Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich watches his team compete during the first half of an NCAA men's basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, at Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead. Credit: Lee S Weissman / Lee S. Weissman

The Kings of Heartache were at it again Saturday.

Hofstra has turned losing the close ones into some sort of warped art form. The Pride already had lost six demoralizing Colonial Athletic Association contests: two in overtime, two by four points and two by six points. And with a chance to change the story line in its final home game, the Pride instead added another link to a chain of crushing defeats.

Hofstra chased after first-place UNC Wilmington all afternoon but couldn’t quite catch the high-scoring Seahawks. Twice in the final 4:28, it cut the margin to one point. Twice in the final 1:02, the Pride had the ball with a chance to tie the score. But in the end, Hofstra was on the raw end of an 83-76 loss before 2,611 at Mack Sports Complex.

It came on the heels of Thursday’s four-point loss to second-place Charleston.

“You can’t play any harder than we played. You can’t get any closer than we got in the last two games,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “It’s been one-possession games against the two best teams in the league.”

“We always come up short,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, whose 23 points gave him nine straight 20-point games. “We’re in games. We start off the first half slow, the second half we start coming back and then we fall short at the end. These [last] two games we should turn things around . . . We have to get these two and go to the [conference] tournament.”

In the final 62 seconds, Hofstra (13-16, 5-11) allowed UNCW (24-5, 13-3) to score on two offensive rebounds. Down 76-75, the Pride let the Seahawks’ C.J. Bryce put back his own miss with 1:02 to play. And down 77-76, Hofstra let Chris Flemmings tip in Bryce’s miss with 33 seconds to go.

On the ensuing possession, Wright-Foreman drove and had his shot blocked by Flemmings. Rokas Gustys collected the offensive rebound and found Brian Bernardi open behind the top of the three-point arc. Bernardi missed for the fifth time in six attempts and Flemmings got the rebound.

“Brian got a good look,” Mihalich said. “Even though the play wasn’t orchestrated to get a three, Brian got a good look and it just didn’t get in.”

For Hofstra, Eli Pemberton had 17 points, Deron Powers added 15 and Gustys had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his 10th double-double. Flemmings had 27 points and Bryce 23 for UNCW.

Despite losing four key players after a pair of 20-win seasons, Hofstra had designs on a special season. Then came the trend of heartbreaking losses. The last shot, as Mihalich often says, is “winning three games in March” at the CAA Tournament.

The last four teams in the standings don’t get a quarterfinal bye, and though Hofstra still has a shot at the last bye, it needs to win two road games and get help from others. Having to win four games in four nights instead of three in three nights means a higher degree of difficulty.

“Sure, it’s tougher. There’s no doubt about that,” Mihalich said. “I’ve seen it happen. One of my [Niagara] teams went to the finals and lost to a team that had to play four games. You get a little momentum and feel good about yourself and take one game at a time.

“We believe in ourselves. We know we can beat anybody in the league.”

Knowing it is one thing, but the Pride still needs to do it.

New York Sports