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Desure Buie, Eli Pemberton, Joe Mihalich seek elusive CAA Tournament crown

Hofstra's Desure Buie, left, and fellow senior Eli

Hofstra's Desure Buie, left, and fellow senior Eli Pemberton thank the fans after playing their final game at the Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Credit: James Escher

Desure Buie can’t forget the pain of twice coming up short in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament final and walking off the court as another team celebrated a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The pain of looking around the locker room and seeing his teammates so heartbroken after coming so close to earning their spot in March Madness.

“I just know what it felt like to walk in that locker room, my teammates crying, some dudes that might never play college basketball again, those guys moving on in life,” Buie, a senior and first team All-CAA selection, said this past week. “You know what it felt like for them to be crying after coming up empty.”

Buie and his teammates hope  this finally will be the year that features tears of joy instead of sorrow.

After losing in the final in two of the previous four seasons and three times overall, Hofstra is confident that this is the group that will return the Pride to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.

The top-seeded Pride (23-8) will face No. 8 seed Drexel (14-18) at noon Sunday in the quarterfinals at Capital One Arena in Washington. Hofstra swept the regular-season matchup.

“You want to be noticed in history for something great. You could be a start of something or change something,” said Buie, who is averaging 18.5 points and 5.9 assists. “I’ve had a lot of people around campus saying, ‘Go get it done this year’ and those types of things. Knowing the gratitude around this, a lot of people want to see us win, so I think that would mean everything to us and to the campus and to the community.”

Hofstra has earned three CAA regular-season titles in the last five years.  The Pride lost in the final in 2007 before finally returning to the title game against North Carolina Wilmington in 2016 in coach Joe Mihalich’s third season. Last season, Hofstra trailed by 16 at halftime before tying it with roughly nine minutes left. Northeastern prevailed, 82-74.

“They stick with you more than the great wins,” Mihalich said of the losses. “It just stings, you think about it forever. You stare at the ceiling at night thinking if only we zigged right instead of zigging left, pass instead of shooting, you think of all those what-ifs. That’s what we sign up for. The first one here probably stings as much as any. Got to overtime, had the ball with five seconds to go. Wish we got a better shot off.”

Hofstra believes the experience gained from last year’s run to the title game should help this year’s team because that knowledge is so valuable in mid-major leagues. Teams with upperclassmen who have been through the grind before and know what it takes often are the ones that come out on top.

These Hofstra players recognize how vital each possession will be, and how one bad pass or turnover or forced shot could be the difference between triumph and defeat.

Perhaps a third title game under Mihalich can be the charm.

“I feel like Long Island, it’s been such a long time and it’s an amazing place, and with the guys, we love to represent Hofstra and Long Island,” said senior Eli Pemberton, recently named a second-team All-CAA selection after averaging 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. “Just trying to do something they haven’t done since 2001.”

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