Hofstra’s magic touch at the end of games apparently applies only to the last second.
So when Justin Wright-Foreman dramatically hit a step-back three-pointer to give the Pride a one-point lead and bring the crowd at Mack Sports Complex noisily to its feet, the real story was the clock: There still were 16.9 seconds left.
That was more than enough time for the College of Charleston to call timeout and set up a play. The Cougars got the ball into the hands of 6-7 forward Jarrell Brantley, who backed into position for a close-range bank shot with 3.9 seconds left that gave the visitors an 86-85 victory Saturday night in a duel for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“A heartbreaker,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said after the Pride fell to 7-5 in the CAA and 14-10 overall. Charleston improved to 9-3, 18-6.
Wright-Foreman scored 23 points and Eli Pemberton had 20. Grant Riller led the Cougars with 24 and Brantley had 23.
“Two great teams going head to head, toe to toe,” Mihalich said. “They made one more play. That’s why it stings.”
Hofstra, which has won two games on buzzer-beaters and forced overtime with another last-second shot that led to a victory, didn’t have enough geography or the time to do it again.
After Brantley’s dagger, the Pride turned the ball over in the backcourt and quickly fouled Joe Chealey. He missed the first one with 1.2 seconds left and elected to miss the second one on purpose to run out the clock. Hofstra caught a break, however, when the rebound caromed off a Cougar and out of bounds.
But without any timeouts left, Hofstra had to try a Hail Mary pass from under its own basket. Pemberton’s first attempt to inbound was knocked down, leaving seven-tenths of a second for a desperation heave. That pass was intercepted, and Charleston beat Hofstra for a second time.
“We know we’re right there. We can win this league,” said Mihalich, alluding to the conference tournament in March. “But so can six other teams. We were real good. We just needed one more bucket.”
Wright-Foreman wasn’t on the make-a-bucket list for a long stretch. He went more than 16 minutes without scoring and was 3-for-12 from the field until midway through the second half. Then the nation’s fourth-leading scorer got hot. He nailed a pull-up jumper for a 62-61 lead with 10:24 left and followed that with a shake-and-bake move that freed him for a three-pointer. He gave Hofstra a 74-69 lead with a long one from beyond the arc with 6:16 left.
Wright-Foreman made five of his last eight shots to finish 8-for-20. “My shots weren’t falling, but my job is to make shots,” he said. “I just found my rhythm and my teammates got me the ball in the right spots.”
So did the Cougars. They clawed to within 82-81 with 1:37 left and took the lead on Chealey’s right-wing trey with 33.9 seconds left. Wright-Foreman delivered from downtown, but the Pride couldn’t handle Brantley.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Mihalich said. “He’s too strong for a guy his size to handle and too quick for a guy bigger than him. He can take you down low and he can take you outside.”
He took the Pride to the depths of despair and disappointed a loud crowd of 2,508. “It’s all about how are we going to deal with a tough loss,” Mihalich said. “We’ll be angry, I know that. I’m not going to sleep tonight.”