Breathless was the best way to describe Hofstra’s feeling in the final seconds Saturday, when its lead had all but slipped away and scoring was scarce. As tense as it was, the Pride can tell you that breathless is a whole lot better than winless, which is what the team no longer is for this calendar year.
Hofstra made the right plays when it had to down the stretch and held on for a 78-73 home win over Northeastern, ending a six-game slide that had been close to reaching hyperventilating state.
“I think it gives us our confidence back. I think it lets us take a little breath and just relax now,” said point guard Deron Powers, who drove to the basket with the shot clock down to four seconds, made the basket, drew a foul and sank the free throw that gave Hofstra the breathing room of a five-point lead with 17.5 seconds remaining.
Not since New Year’s Eve had the Pride (10-11, 2-6 in the CAA) won a game, and the pressure was becoming heavy. It seemed as if the ball felt that way, too, as Hofstra went 7 minutes, 50 seconds without a field goal and saw its 16-point lead dwindle to four—two days after losing a game in which it led by 16.
In one of several key moments, guard Justin Wright-Foreman drove inside among bigger opponents and scored for a 68-62 lead with 3:18 remaining. Those were perhaps the most important two of the sophomore’s 30 points. “We just didn’t score. My mind was just, ‘Go get a bucket,’ ” Wright-Foreman said.
Wright-Foreman made 11 of 15 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers, and grabbed six rebounds. Through this season’s peaks and valleys, his emergence has been a constant thread. “Even last year, we knew he was a great scorer, and I think he has finally started to fill into that role as our scorer. I think he played great tonight doing that,” Powers said.
Northeastern coach Bill Coen, who played high school ball at Port Jefferson, said of Wright-Foreman, “He’s a tremendous scorer. He’s a three-range scorer: He can score on threes, he can take it to the rim and he’s got a mid-range game.”
TJ Williams had 25 points for Northeastern (12-8, 5-3), but Coen said his own team “dug ourselves such a hole that we needed to play a near-perfect half and we came up a stop or two short.”
Hofstra played better defense than it has in other games. It also received a boost from Brian Bernardi, who scored 16 points after a Friday pep talk from coach Joe Mihalich (“He took a deep breath,” the latter said).
Still, it came down to anxious moments. Alex Murphy (formerly of Duke and Florida) drew Northeastern within three with five seconds left and intentionally missed a free throw. Eli Pemberton was fouled in the resulting scramble and made two foul shots.
Time to exhale. “It’s an incredible relief,” Mihalich said. “I felt like we had been playing hard, not great all the time. We were making our mistakes, we had our bad stretches but, doggone, 44 seconds to go, down three at Wilmington . . . We had four of those six games like that. Now we can just take a deep breath and know we can win every time.”