To the players at Hofstra, Elon is a four-letter word.
The Pride’s hope of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 — something they qualified to do last year by winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic halted college basketball — vanished in a hail of three-pointers on Monday night.
Eighth-seeded Elon made an even dozen from outside the three-point arc, burned fourth-seeded Hofstra with 18 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points and pulled away late for an 76-58 victory in a CAA Tournament semifinal in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
"[Elon’s] three-point shooting wasn’t surprising, but the offensive rebounds were," acting head coach Mike Farrelly said. "I can’t say our guys didn’t play hard, but I do think we were a half-step slow tonight."
The Phoenix (10-8) staggered the Pride early in the second half with a 19-3 run that concluded with three-pointers on three straight possessions. Ikenna Ndugba hit a three with 13:24 to play for a 52-42 Elon lead. The Phoenix got 13 of those 19 points at the end of possessions that included an offensive rebound.
The Pride (13-10) got within 55-54 on Caleb Burgess’ three-pointer with 8:10 to play, but Elon responded with a game-closing 21-4 run. The Pride missed 10 of 11 shots after closing to within one.
Elon has won seven straight after a seven-game losing streak. The Phoenix will try to win their fourth game in four nights and earn their first NCAA Division I bid in Tuesday’s championship game against Drexel, which beat Northeastern, 74-67, in the other semifinal.
Farrelly described his team as "very emotional" in the locker room — not only because the Pride didn’t get the ultimate prize of playing in the NCAAs last season but also because they’ve been without head coach Joe Mihalich, who is on a medical leave.
"Coach lives for this week, to do that final preparation whether we were the number one seed or the 10th seed," Farrelly said, choking back tears. "It was his time. It was the postseason. It’s when he ramped it up and he was at his best. [I’ve] tried to do my best to coach his team.
"He’s the guy that set the culture and carried it along and made this a championship-level program. To try and carry that on for him was important to me . . . I hope he’s proud."
Hofstra came into the tournament after a three-week layoff because of COVID-19 protocols after positive tests. At one point in the pause, Farrelly said none of the players touched a basketball for 10 days. Perhaps that was a factor in the Pride’s 38% shooting and why Hofstra couldn’t keep the Phoenix off the glass.
Jalen Ray had 20 points and shot 7-for-20 for the Pride. Burgess had 16 points and Isaac Kante added 10.
Darius Buford had 19 points and six assists, Ndugba added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Hunter Woods scored 14 points for Elon.
"Elon had a good plan for us and they executed their plan," Ray said. "We just couldn’t come together and get the win at the end. Hats off to Elon and good job."