The emotions of this day, a two-hour-plus celebration of the Hofstra seniors along with the second straight Colonial Athletic Association title they delivered, kept resulting in tears.
For senior Eli Pemberton, who scored a career-best 35 points, the tears came when he took the floor at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex for the last time.
“I was fine at the beginning of the day and then that just happened,” Pemberton said. “I’m just grateful I’m here. I chose the right school.”
For coach Joe Mihalich, that moment occurred during his news conference. Mihalich seemed to cut an answer short while the moment registered with him, and moments later, as Pemberton addressed his grand day, Mihalich wiped away tears.
“We’re more than a team,” he said. “It’s not just about the basketball and the winning.”
For the three Hofstra seniors and their coach, Saturday will be a day to remember forever. The Pride (23-8, 14-4) clinched the program’s third CAA regular-season championship by dominating James Madison, 97-81, and became the sixth team to win consecutive outright CAA regular-season titles.
Hofstra — which will face Drexel or UNC Wilmington in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals next Sunday in Washington — also set a program record by hitting 20 three-pointers.
The senior trio of Pemberton, Desure Buie (who had 26 points) and Connor Klementowicz were honored before and after the game, receiving flowers and framed jerseys. Each addressed the crowd after the game.
“There won’t be another home for me again. Long Island, it made a man out of me early,” Pemberton said. “I learned so much here.”
The senior class has helped establish Hofstra as a CAA power. The Pride have won all three of those regular-season titles in the last five years and have a legitimate chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000-01.
Pemberton scored Hofstra’s first nine points to set the tone for a half that ended with a 61-33 lead, and he and Buie hit a combined 12 three-pointers. Buie broke the program record when he hit Hofstra’s 18th trey with 12:29 remaining.
“Hofstra, I love this place. I love my coaches, I love my teammates,” said Buie, the program’s leader in games played. “This thing means everything to me.”
In the final minutes, as fans chanted for Klementowicz — a former walk-on who was given a scholarship earlier this season — Mihalich had him replace Pemberton, whom he greeted with a big bear hug as the fans roared.
Buie exited the game shortly after that to another loud ovation and accompanying bear hug.
“Everything about this school has made me who I am today,” Klementowicz said. “I started for a Division I school for a championship game. What else could you ask for?”
The Pride’s two previous stints as the CAA Tournament's top seed ended with a loss in the final. Hofstra hopes the third time is the charm.
“It feels good,” Pemberton said of two straight titles. “It will feel better in 10 days if we get one more.”