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Desure Buie, Justin Wright-Foreman trigger key runs as Hofstra tops Drexel

Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman, who had 32 points, brings

Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman, who had 32 points, brings the ball up in the first half during an 88-76 victory over Drexel on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, at Mack Sports Complex. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

Trailing by two at halftime, Hofstra’s players had a few minutes for introspection in their locker room.

The Pride’s play in February has risen to a higher standard, but the first 20 minutes against Drexel had not met it. Point guard Desure Buie said in those moments Saturday, he and his teammates took “ownership” for that and resolved to do something about it.

What happened next was the first of two Pride stretches to behold in what would become an 88-76 Colonial Athletic Association win before 2,312 at Mack Sports Complex.

With Buie holding the defensive pedal to the metal, Hofstra erupted for a 22-5 run in the first 5:14 after intermission. He had nine points and a pair of steals that led to baskets in the run. Rokas Gustys had six points and six rebounds and Justin Wright-Foreman added a three-pointer and three assists. When Wright-Foreman collected a Buie strip and found him for a layup, Hofstra had a 54-39 lead.

The second great Hofstra stretch was more familiar: Wright-Foreman taking over at a pivotal moment. After the Dragons cut the margin to three with 6:01 to play, the junior guard had 10 points in a 12-4 run for a comfortable 79-68 lead with 2:13 left.

“When [Buie] stepped up defensively, we were all just behind him,” said Wright-Foreman, who had 32 points and six assists. “Defensively he stepped up big time . . . and the next thing you know, it was a trickle effect. We had deflections. I got a steal. Rok got rebounds. It just led to our offensive run.”

“Justin is . . . special,” said Buie, who had 13 points and three assists and tied a career high with four steals. “I know what he can do, but when he’s doing it, it’s just like, ‘He’s doing this? Real ly?’ It’s surprising every time. He’s just a great player.”

Eli Pemberton had 16 points and Gustys added 10 points (despite going 0-for-8 at the line) and 17 rebounds for the Pride (17-11, 10-6). Missouri transfer Tramaine Isabell had 29 points for Drexel (11-18, 5-11).

Hof stra has won five of its last seven, including an agonizing one-point loss to first-place Charleston.

“Our goal — we said it on Feb. 1 — was that if you want to be good in March, you have to be good in February, and I think we are,” Pride coach Joe Mihalich said. “We have the two losses but, man, we’re playing good. We can still play better . . . But there’s a good feeling right now about us.”

He believes moving Buie to the starting lineup set the Pride on this course.

“Everybody knows [Wright-Foreman) is the [fifth-]best scorer in the country. Everybody knows Rok is the [third-] best rebounder in the country. But our team changed when this guy started taking it over,” Mihalich said. “He’s made everybody better. That’s what great players do . . . You need a straw to stir the drink, and that’s what Desure does for us.”

Wright-Foreman and Buie were freshmen on the Hofstra team that lost the conference title game in overtime two years ago.

“We always have conversations about [2016]. We know we came up short,” Wright-Foreman said. “But to play in that game with this group? It would be special. It would be really special. That’s what we plan on getting to.”

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