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Hofstra falls just short of CAA title and NCAA Tournament bid

Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman covers his face in the

Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman covers his face in the final seconds against Northeastern in an NCAA college basketball game at the Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball championship, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in North Charleston, S.C. Northeastern defeated Hofstra 82-74. (AP Photo/Mic Smith) Credit: AP/Mic Smith

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — All along, all Hofstra wanted was a chance. It gave itself that with a record-breaking season and again with a stirring comeback in the second half Tuesday night. Chances were there, the Dance is not.

The Pride fell short of its dream to reach the NCAA Tournament, falling behind Northeastern early, catching up, then not having the extra gear to keep it going. With the 82-74 loss in the CAA Tournament final, they will settle for the NIT.

Justin Wright-Foreman’s 29 points were not enough to offset the long-range shooting of Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica, who made five three-pointers in the second half and took the wind out of Hofstra, which had rallied to tie after trailing by 16 at halftime. Looking back on it, the top-seeded and regular-season champion Pride realized that they had put themselves in too big a hole to start.

“You only get so many chances in life to do something like this. We had our chance and came up short,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “We have to deal with it, we have to own it. You’ve got to give credit to Northeastern. They were the better team tonight. They played two halves, we played one.”

Had it been more even at intermission, perhaps the Pride (27-7) would have had enough energy down the stretch to reach March Madness for the first time since 2001. But they scored only 26 in the first 20 minutes. Having filled up the nets all season, on Tuesday the team denied itself a chance to cut them down.

Justin Wright-Foreman, who carried the Pride to a school-record win total, scored 29 points and set a CAA single-season points record and moved into second place on Hofstra’s all-time scoring list. But that was no consolation. Only one other Hofstra player scored in double figures, Eli Pemberton with 15. That was no match for the five double-figure scorers for Northeastern (23-10), led by Pusica’s 21.

“We felt we still had a chance to win the game, but the basketball gods just weren’t on our side,” Pemberton said. “They played the right way two halves, we only played the right way for one. There’s really not too much to say on that.”

Still, when Jacquil Taylor sank two free throws with 9:13 left in the second half, it was 54-54 and it seemed like the Pride’s “refuse to lose” mantra was kicking in. The season had been filled with big efforts and dramatic endings, such as the time Wright-Foreman made a 40-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Northeastern in Hempstead.

“They’ve had an unbelievable year, a storybook year, really,” said Northeastern coach Bill Coen, a Port Jefferson High School graduate and the only Long Island native with a role in this game. “You look at the \[16\] consecutive wins, Justin Wright-Foreman is the player of the year. They’re really, really talented.”

But Northeastern has talent, too, with a roster strengthened by the return of Shawn Occeus after he missed much of the season with a foot injury. He had 11 points Tuesday and made the all-tournament team (as did Wright-Foreman and Taylor). “They made shots when they had to,” Mihalich said.

All year, it was Wright-Foreman who made the most and biggest shots. The senior was just about inconsolable. His teammates encouraged him, reminding him about the NIT.

“They told me to get ready for the next one, just stay positive. We have a game left. Something to look forward to,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be the leader I’ve been all year.”

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