NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — For more than three months, Hofstra played like a champion. It led the conference from wire to wire, which would not have mattered one bit had the Pride not really showed their winner’s heart for 11 minutes, 43 seconds Sunday afternoon.
That was how much time was left in the CAA Tournament quarterfinal when eighth-seeded James Madison tied the score. From there on, Hofstra stepped up and moved on with a 76-67 win that was as gratifying as it was intense.
“We just stayed together. We kept encouraging each other, pushing forward,” said Jacquil Taylor, who played the game of his life, at least his college life. He scored 16 points, shot 7-for-7, grabbed 11 rebounds (six offensive), blocked five shots and made two steals — all of which were needed because Justin Wright-Foreman was struggling.
Wright-Foreman did wind up leading the Pride (26-6) with 17 points (six shy of Matt Lewis’ game high), but he shot 5-for-16, including 1-for-5 on three-pointers.
“We’re just a bunch of hard-working individuals, very hungry, very gritty,” Wright-Foreman said. “It just shows you can’t just key on me every game because we have other players. They work extremely hard every game.”
In the previous two years, Hofstra left North Charleston Coliseum bitterly disappointed, having lost its first tournament game each time. A defeat Sunday, after a regular-season title, would have been equal parts devastating and embarrassing. The Pride did not let that happen against the Dukes (14-19), who had ruined Hofstra’s Senior Day in Hempstead last month.
“We found a way to win. That’s what we did all year long,” said coach Joe Mihalich, whose team will play Delaware on Monday night. “We have that refuse-to-lose, will-to-win quality that a lot of people talk about but some people have. We’re lucky enough to have it.”
The Pride actually found multiple ways to win, and needed every one. Jalen Ray scored 13 points off the bench, showing poise in shooting 4-for-6 from three-point range. His three-pointer, on a dish from Wright-Foreman, gave the Pride breathing room at 54-49 with 10:45 left.
“I just always stay calm. I’m just a laid-back, relaxed person. I always try to stay focused,” Ray said, adding that assistant coach Speedy Claxton “taught me how to find open shots, open spaces so I could be able to shoot the ball . . . We all have confidence, and we all have confidence in Justin that he’ll find us.”
Also important was the contribution of Tareq Coburn, who was shut out in the first half but made several huge plays after intermission. In a key 27-second span, he broke the 49-49 tie with a layup, then made a big block and rebound. The Pride never were tied again.
But perhaps most vital was Taylor, the 6-10 graduate transfer from Purdue. In an odd way, he may have been the team’s biggest difference- maker all season.
“A major impact,” Wright-Foreman said. “He has just been dominant inside. We’re grateful to have him.”
Taylor had the thrill of participating in the Sweet 16 last year in Boston, his hometown, but he could not recall when he had a game as impressive as this one was.
“I’m just glad for my teammates. They push me every day,” he said. “I’m glad for my coaches; they give me the opportunity. I’m glad to be here.”
And the conference’s top team is glad to still be playing.