When a game becomes tense, it is only human nature for players to worry about losing.
“Our guys don’t do that,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “They only think about winning.”
And, 14 times in a row, winning is all they have done.
The Pride withstood a charge in the second half by defending Colonial Athletic Association champion Charleston, then hung on and pulled away for an 86-72 victory that had the whole college basketball nation thinking about Hofstra winning.
When the Pride left the court Saturday, they knew they had — at worst — the second-longest streak in the country. It became the longest when Virginia lost to Duke, 72-70. Michigan had lost to Wisconsin, 64-54, before Hofstra took the court.
“We’re extremely proud of what we’ve got going on here,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, who had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists despite the usual relentless defensive pressure he faces every game. “This is a tremendous opportunity that we’re on. We’ve got to keep riding this wave that we’re on. Like Coach said, the chemistry is great, both on and off the court. We’ve just got to keep at it.”
The results have been off the charts for the Pride, who are 17-3 overall and 7-0 in the CAA, their best start in their 18 seasons in the conference.
“I think we just like being the hunted,” said emerging standout Eli Pemberton, who again led Hofstra in scoring, this time with 26 points. “There’s no secret. We know we’re the hunted now. I think we like it. I like it.”
Hofstra doesn’t rate its games, it just tries to win them. But this one possibly meant as much as any of the previous 13 in a streak that started after Thanksgiving weekend.
It is not just a figure of speech to say that the road to the conference title — and The Big Dance — goes through Charleston. The conference tournament is held there, and there is no doubt that the host school will be tough to beat.
Charleston (14-6, 3-4) still has preseason all-CAA players Grant Riller (24 points) and Jarrell Brantley (19). They helped the visitors twice come within a point in the second half.
The real point is that Hofstra always had an answer. If it wasn’t Wright-Foreman, a potential NBA player, and Pemberton, it was Jacquil Taylor, the 6-10 transfer from Purdue who had 16 points and three blocks, and sophomore guard Jalen Ray, who shot 4-for-5 from three-point range, scored 14 points in 25 minutes and played strong defense.
“I think the star of the game today was Jalen,” Mihalich said. “Jalen made big shots when we needed them. He had a lot of guts, a lot of courage. We needed somebody to give us a boost and he did.”
Extra depth is one of the factors that makes this season’s Hofstra team different from those of the past few years. Its confidence is another. This group, with its 14-game winning streak, is a topic of conversation from coast to coast.
“It could end on Thursday. But you might as well talk about it,” Mihalich said. “Our goal wasn’t to win 14 in a row. Our goal is to be good in March, to climb up the ladder and cut down the nets. But you might as well have fun with it. Everybody else is talking about it.”