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Hofstra men's basketball loses early lead, falls in season opener to San Jose State

Hofstra Pride guard Jalen Ray (20) goes airborne

Hofstra Pride guard Jalen Ray (20) goes airborne on San Jose State Spartans forward Ralph Agee (35) during the first half on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 at Hofstra. Credit: Lee S. Weissman/Lee S. Weissman

There are two versions of this season. The one where Hofstra loses to San Jose State, runs the same offense, continues to miss their shots, gets victimized by their stagnant zone defense, and lives the nightmare of being ranked first preseason and then coming nowhere close.

And then there’s the one where they learn.

Either way, it’s going to be awhile before the sting of Wednesday night’s loss fades away. The Pride, picked first in the conference in a CAA preseason coaches’ poll, came into the evening heavy favorites over the Spartans who went 4-27 last season. Instead, Hofstra lost, 79-71, in their season opener at the Mack Sports Complex, smacking up against a 24-8 run late in the second half and losing what was once an eight-point lead with seven minutes to go.

“We got what we deserve,” said coach Joe Mihalich, frustrated with what he said was his team’s lack of toughness. “It’s funny. You get picked before the season, there’s nothing good about that…What do we have to be overconfident about? We didn’t beat anybody this year. We were zero and zero, and now we’re last place in our league. We’re zero and one.”

“This could be the best thing to happen to us all year, or, you know — we’ve got to learn and change our ways.”

Hofstra was outrebounded 47-33, shot 42.6 percent, and only went to the line seven times, going 5-for-7. Not a source of strength, their bench was outscored 35-2.

And the world without Justin Wright-Foreman — the Hofstra superstar who’s now with the Utah Jazz — seemed a lot bleaker than it did just a few hours prior. Their shooting went cold when they couldn’t afford it, and their 2-3 zone was no match for the Spartans sharpshooters, led by Richard Washington, who at one point scored 10 straight.

“He’s not here anymore,” Mihalich said of Foreman. “He’s not coming back. And if we play the right way, we should be good enough to win in this league…I think these guys welcome that challenge.”

Eli Pemberton, the heir apparent, scored a team-high 23 points. The Spartans’ Washington also scored 23, and Craig LeCesne had 11 rebounds and 19 points. San Jose had three blocks and three steals.

Hofstra led 61-53 with 7:07 left in the game before completely dismantling. The Spartans scored the next seven in less than two minutes thanks to a well-balanced attack highlighted by Brae Ivey’s three. Seneca Knight’s steal led to Washington’s layup to get San Jose to within 61-60. Hofstra surged, the Spartans clawed back, and Pemberton’s three with 3:32 left put Hofstra up 69-67 with 3:32 to go. It was the last lead the Pride would have.

Washington hit back-to-back corner threes, both uncontested, and another from the right wing plus a free throw for his personal 10-0 run. That put San Jose up eight with 15 seconds to go.

“It’s about having fight,” Mihalich said. “It’s about hating to lose. It’s attitude and effort. And you can control these things. You can’t control how bad you shoot. You’re going to have bad shooting nights…It’s all the intangibles and it’s about looking in the mirror and deciding who we are, who we want to be.”

The path could easily diverge here, and now the Pride has to choose which version of this season will be their reality.

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