Right from the start, there obviously was something different in the air, what with the new giant video screens, and in the stands, which were full. Hofstra’s hope is that ultimately there also will be a new banner on the wall, alongside the others that marked trips to the NCAA Tournament.
In other words, the Pride wants its season to have the same theme as the opening game: A great late show. Hofstra began in a 16-1 hole against Mount St. Mary’s but wound up leading by halftime and pulling away for a 79-61 win Friday night.
“We just believed in ourselves the whole way through,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, who overcame his own cold start to finish with 20 points. “They had us down 16-1 and all we did when we came to the bench was tell each other, ‘You’ve got to stay positive through the whole thing.’ That’s what we did.”
Especially in the second half, they drove strongly to the hoop against a team that played Villanova in the Big Dance the season before last. They also mixed outside shooting from Eli Pemberton and Desure Buie, who each had 18 points (15 and 13, respectively, in the second half) to thrill a sellout crowd of 4,645.
Pemberton said: “I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t nervous at all. I just know this group of guys that we have. When it was 16-1, I just kept the same face the whole time. I just knew.”
Joe Mihalich, beginning his sixth season as Hofstra coach, admitted that he was in fact nervous and acknowledged that as crazy at it sounds, the opener was a “must win” game. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a rougher start than that,” he said. “I thought the story was that we kept our poise, that we still believed in ourselves.”
Two blocks and five rebounds by Penn transfer Dan Dwyer got the Pride going early, offsetting a hot start from Mount St. Mary’s Jalen Gibbs (21 points total).
Atmosphere counts, too. That is Hofstra’s unspoken motif this season, mindful that a trip to March Madness can start building with ambiance on a night in early November. Thus, there are two 14-by-27-foot video screens, which replaced the old center-court scoreboard. Also, there are two auxiliary scoreboards, streaming video on the front of the scorer’s table and a new sound system.
Probably most important is a marketing push that brought a full house. “It’s something you dream about,” Mihalich said, sending kudos to the sales staff.
Wright-Foreman said, “We go against these [road] crowds that are the same way, but to have it at Hofstra was just amazing.”
The hope is that fans will look back on the opening-night finish as a big start. “We love our fans. It’s a beautiful thing when everyone comes to watch us play,” Pemberton said. “We want to put on a show.”
A late show suits them just fine.