When the basketballs rose for the opening tips in CAA play Thursday night, the top seven teams in the standings were basically stuck in a traffic jam, all standing within a margin of two games.
Hofstra stood one game back of the leaders, Northeastern and William & Mary, and Northeastern happened to be the Pride’s opponent at the Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
The evening would’ve ended with Hofstra in a four-way tie for first at the midpoint of the conference race if the Pride could’ve won. But the Huskies outplayed Hofstra in every way, posting an 81-67 win behind 16 points apiece from Shawn Occeus and Vasa Pusica and 14 apiece from Anthony Green and Bolden Brace.
So Northeastern is alone in first after improving to 7-2 and 14-7 overall. The Pride is tied for fourth after dropping to 5-4 and 12-9 overall.
“Everything kind of points to one of those years where at the end there’s going to be a bunch of teams with the same record and a lot of ties,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said.
Back in Boston on Jan. 2, the Pride edged the Huskies 71-70. Rokas Gustys, who delivered a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double in the rematch, said, “Maybe because we beat them at their place, they played harder and were more motivated to play against us here.”
No maybes about it.
“I thought last time Hofstra really played harder than us,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “First and foremost, our goal was to play harder tonight and give ourselves a chance.”
The Huskies began the second half with a six-point lead and opened with a 10-5 burst to make it 46-35. Donnell Greshman Jr. hit a pair of threes to fuel the run.
The Pride countered with their own run. Justin Wright-Foreman provided highlights, nailing three free throws after being fouled behind the arc and following that up by driving for two. Gustys then dunked off a turnover.
Suddenly, it was down to 57-52 with 9:04 left. Jalen Ray could’ve cut it to two, but his three was off the mark.
The Pride, which was outrebounded 40-25 and shot 39.1 percent from the field, couldn’t convert two more shots before Occeus canned a three. Hofstra couldn’t get the deficit below seven in the final seven minutes.
“We’re not happy with anything,” Mihalich said when asked about the effort level.
Wright-Foreman, who entered as the nation’s fifth-leading scorer at 25.1 points per game, finished with 20 but shot just 6-for-21. He was 3-for-10 at the break, when the Pride trailed 36-30.
“Honestly, I just really couldn’t hit shots,” Wright-Foreman said. “It wasn’t really anything they were doing.”