Hofstra’s coach and players have been saying all along that their winning streak is something to be savored and enjoyed. The only problem in the first half Thursday night was that the opponent was having all the fun. The other side was having a joyride on offense.
All of that changed after intermission because Hofstra stayed true to its character. The Pride are tougher and better on defense this season, and in the second half against UNC Wilmington, they doubled up on toughness and doubled down on defense, turning a deficit into an 87-72 win, their 13th in a row.
“It makes us work harder,” Eli Pemberton said after leading Hofstra with 24 points.
He and his teammates are aware that every opponent knows about the Pride’s 16-3 record, 6-0 mark in the CAA and flawless record since Thanksgiving weekend. “Our coach talked about it in our last practice, actually our last few practices,” he said. “We’ve just got to embrace that.”
Justin Wright-Foreman, the player who makes the Pride go and brings NBA scouts to the Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, had an off game and still finished with 19 points. Like the team as a whole, he picked up the pace after halftime, scoring 15 points.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every night,” Wright-Foreman said before putting on workout shorts and a T-shirt to practice his shot on the arena court. “It’s our job to be ready for it every given night. It gives us more confidence. The 13-game winning streak, we just want to keep that going. We’ve just got a bunch of hungry guys in that locker room.”
It was a bunch of antsy guys in the room after the first 20 minutes, as they trailed by one after having been down by seven. “The coaches usually give us a couple minutes to talk amongst ourselves. We always talk about our difficulties in the first half,” Pemberton said. “We already knew the enemy.”
And that enemy was? “Our defense,” he said.
As coach Joe Mihalich put it, “For a team that can score points like I think we can, it’s really our defense that makes us a good team. They enjoyed playing against us in the first half.”
It hurt that the opposition was the team that had knocked the Pride out of the CAA Tournament last March. “I’m going to be honest, this is definitely personal,” Wright-Foreman said.
UNCW (7-12, 3-3) still has big man Devontae Cacok, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. But he got in foul trouble trying to keep up with the Pride and sat for a while.
Meanwhile, Hofstra tightened the screws on defense, going on an 18-2 run. That featured dynamic plays such as crisp interior passing from Desure Buie (11 points, seven assists, four steals) to Jacquil Taylor (12 rebounds, three blocks) to Tareq Coburn, who threw down a monster jam for two of his 15 points.
“Plays like that just get us going,” Pemberton said. “When that happens and we get going, playing hard, I don’t think anybody can stop us.”
Nobody has stopped them in the past 13 games.