For Hofstra, February has gone out like a lion. Let the March Madness begin.
“We’ve been saying it all along. To be good in March, you’ve got to be good in February,” Pride coach Joe Mihalich said. “We’re thrilled with how the month of February has gone.”
Hofstra concluded the regular season on a four-game winning streak with an exciting 91-86 CAA victory over Towson on Saturday before a crowd of 3,052 at the Mack Sports Complex. The Pride improved to 19-11 overall, 12-6 in league play, clinched the No. 3 seed for the CAA Tournament that begins next Saturday in Charleston, S.C., and responded to Mihalich’s mantra to go 6-2 for the month.
“We wanted this to be a springboard win for the [CAA] tournament,” Mihalich said.
The Tigers (18-13, 8-10) pushed Hofstra to the brink, cutting a 13-point deficit to 76-74 with a 13-3 run. But the Pride showed the kind of late-game toughness required to perform March magic.
Desure Buie converted six-of-six free throws down the stretch, Justin Wright-Foreman hit a clutch jumper from the corner plus three free throws and Rokas Gustys made a key defensive play by drawing a charge. The latter maneuver, which fouled out a third Tigers’ starter, produced a brief emotional display by the 6-9, 260-pound senior, who may have played his final game at the Mack Sports Complex.
“I was pretty pumped for this game, but I didn’t want to get emotional because we had to get a win,” said Gustys, who was typically solid — 15 points, on 6-of-7 shooting, with eight rebounds.
Wright-Foreman scored 16 of his 27 points in the second half, including a long three-pointer that gave the Pride a 69-57 lead with 9:37 left. He also was effective in the transition game, registering five assists, three that led directly to dunks. Eli Pemberton had 15 points and Jalen Ray and Buie contributed 11 each to Hofstra’s balanced, explosive offense.
That more than offset a brilliant 36-point effort by Towson’s Zane Martin that included 7-of-14 from downtown. Martin drilled a pair of step-back threes in the final 21 seconds, the last one that made it 89-86 with 7.7 seconds left. But Wright-Foreman hit two free throws to ice it.
The Pride did a good job getting to the line but only a so-so job once it got there, making 26 of 40. “It’s just the way we play,” Mihalich said. “We attack the basket and we have a lot of guys who can score.”
The coach reserved his highest praise, however, for the guy who also does the dirty work — Gustys, who is 19 rebounds short of passing David Robinson (Navy) as the alltime CAA career rebound leader.
“No one rebounds like this guy. No one defends like this guy,” Mihalich said, getting emotional on a night when Gustys and the team’s two other seniors were honored before the game. “Scorers get the hype and the awards but rebounders and defenders get the wins. In four years here, he has made us winners. He has the heart of a lion.”