Hofstra had set itself up for a perfect ending to a flawless home schedule. Emotions were high and deep on senior day and the first-place Pride were up by eight points in the second half. Then the lead, the feelings and the unbeaten home record all crashed.
A three-point lead disappeared at the buzzer in regulation and a five-point overtime edge evaporated in the blink of an eye. Hofstra could not get a defensive stop when it really needed one and left with a very imperfect home finale, a 104-99 loss to James Madison. It ended the home part of the season at 15-1 and stopped a home winning streak at 18.
“We didn’t bring it today. I think it’s about attitude and effort. We just didn’t have it from the start,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “We didn’t guard at all. You have to take it personally, defensively. And we didn’t.”
The Pride (23-6, 13-3) still are in position to win the CAA regular season title, with two road games remaining against Drexel and Delaware. But they have lost two of their past three games against opponents who are not among the league’s top teams and didn’t play very well — especially defensively — in the one game they did win in that stretch.
It was easy to assume Hofstra would snap out of it Saturday, what with a raucous crowd of 4,649 pouring its feelings toward the seniors, especially Justin Wright-Foreman, one of the school’s all-time top players who moved into fourth place on the team’s scoring list during his 33-point afternoon. Even with that boost, the Pride trailed by eight at halftime.
Tareq Coburn’s 11-point burst in the first 3:34 of the second half put a charge into the Mack Center — and was welcome for the junior who had been scoreless for the entire previous game and the whole first half — but that didn’t last. It was a nail-biter down the stretch, with James Madison (13-16, 6-10) getting the ball, down three, with 3.6 seconds left in regulation.
Mihalich called timeout to set up the defense, eschewing a deliberate foul, then saw Matt Lewis sink a long fallaway stunner for three of his 40 points as the clock ran out.
“We talked about what we wanted to do. We have a veteran team and we just didn’t execute. That’s my fault,” the coach said. “I wish we could have it over again, I wish we could have the foul, but we didn’t execute the way we should. He shouldn’t have got the ball on the run and he shouldn’t have gotten to where he could take a makeable shot.”
Hofstra didn’t execute well in overtime, either, allowing a five-point play (a foul after a three-pointer) and a four-point play (a foul on a three-pointer) on successive sequences.
“We stopped playing defense,” Wright-Foreman said. “We got to chilly and too relaxed.”
The high scorer and his coach both appeared to wipe away a tear or two in the pageantry before Wright-Foreman’s final home game.
“Words can’t describe,” the player said afterward, before signing autographs for youth league players and hugging family members and friends. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity to play here in front of these great fans that we have. Everybody welcomed me with open arms, and I appreciate everybody, from my teammates, the coaches, you [reporters].”
Mihalich said of the ceremony: “I was just trying not to cry. You go through all the emotions with these guys, you love them like sons, they do so much for you, you try to do all you can for them, and to see them walk out there and know that you’re not going to be with these guys much longer, it’s hard. It’s really hard, it’s really emotional.”