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Hofstra's players look ahead to NIT, see the bright side

They dearly had hoped to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and believed they were headed that way when they erased a 16-point deficit in the second half against Northeastern, but they fell short.

Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman, second in Division I

Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman, second in Division I in scoring at 27.0 points per game, gets to display his skills for NBA scouts for at least one more game. Photo Credit: Lee S. Weissman/Lee S. Weissman

Hofstra’s players were back at practice Friday afternoon, hoisting jump shots, working out in the weight room and doing the heaviest lifting of all: raising their own spirits. What helped the most was knowing that they will have a game to play very soon.

For a couple of days, they had kept as far away from basketball as they could. They couldn’t stand to watch any of the many conference tournament games, feeling crushed after losing their own final against Northeastern on Tuesday in North Charleston, South Carolina. But they ultimately chose to do what they did throughout a record-breaking season, which is to concentrate on the next game, not the last one.

So they hit the mental reset button and started preparing for the NIT.

“It feels kind of weird because we lost. But it still is a good feeling overall. We’ve still got a lot of basketball to play,” said senior Justin Wright-Foreman, who drew national attention and NBA scouts’ interest while becoming the second-leading scorer in school history. “It shows how good of a team we are that we got close, but 'close’ always stinks when you’re on the receiving end of a loss. It still gives us motivation, going to the NIT, which is a prestigious tournament that we’re going to."

The Pride (27-7) earned the NIT bid by winning the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title. They dearly had hoped to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and believed they were headed that way when they erased a 16-point deficit in the second half against Northeastern, but they fell short.

Point guard Desure Buie said: “It’s been rough. I’ve just been numb. I don’t know how to feel. You don’t forget. You remember that feeling that you had, but you’ve got to go out there and give it all you’ve got. You’re still playing with your brothers, at the end of the day.”

Junior Eli Pemberton, who was the second-leading scorer all season and in the loss to Northeastern, said: “It’s hard to look at things in a positive perspective. But a lot of teams are done. About 200 teams have had to turn in their jerseys. So any extra time I get to spend with my brothers, especially Justin in his senior year, is still a great feeling.”

Still, the feelings are raw. Coach Joe Mihalich, who on Friday was named as a finalist for the Hugh Durham Award as the nation’s top mid-major coach, said: “These are normal feelings. It’s hard to watch basketball right now.”

Yet only three years ago, the Pride were in a similar position, having lost the CAA final in overtime. Then they played a strong game in the NIT, losing at the buzzer to George Washington. Mihalich said the group won’t have a formal viewing party as NCAA-bound teams do. It will be a more informal gathering with pizza, heros and excitement about playing a team such as Texas, Indiana or Georgetown.

“I really think the sting is going to eventually wear off,” Mihalich said. “And I know when we walk onto that floor, wherever it is, I know our guys are going to want to win and to love playing basketball.”

No one loves it more than Wright-Foreman, who was shooting on his own in the arena before practice Friday.

“Individually, it still gives me a chance to demonstrate my skills to the NBA scouts and pretty much everybody who doubted me all year,” said the finalist for the Jerry West Award as the nation’s top shooting guard.

More important is at least one more chance to lead his team, about which he did a paper for a course about a successful group dynamic. “This school gave me an opportunity to come in and be the player that I am,” he said.

Pointing to the “Hofstra” on his practice jersey, he added, “I couldn’t be prouder than to have this line on my chest.”    

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