The difference for Hofstra from the first half to the second was night and day, rags to riches, low to high. Choose any description.
Coach Joe Mihalich worked on the latter theme, saying, “We had to look up to see a snake’s belly at halftime. But we responded.”
The entire Pride team raised its game to turn an 11-point halftime deficit into a 73-65 win over Delaware at Mack Sports Complex on Thursday night. No one did it more than Hunter Sabety of Oceanside, who has gone from Division III to Division I and had the college game of his life.
Filling in for injured center Rokas Gustys, Sabety — a transfer from Tufts who is listed at 6-9 and 290 pounds — had 14 points, 15 rebounds and enough strength to lift a team that needed a victory desperately.
“Hunter was big tonight,” said Justin Wright-Foreman, who led the team with 22 points, his eighth game of at least 20 this season. “He just stepped up to the plate. We just fed off him because he brought the energy to the game.”
It was the second game in a row that Gustys missed, which put Sabety in an unaccustomed leading role. He was ready.
“Me and Rok battle each other in practice every day, so I knew whenever I had the opportunity, I was going to be able to step up to the plate,” said the squad’s only Long Islander. “But everybody really did. The first half was pretty slow, but at halftime in the locker room, we really spoke to each other, really trying to get in each other’s head, saying it’s now or never.”
Hofstra (11-13, 3-8 in the CAA) was coming off two losses and was in a three-way tie with Delaware and Drexel for last place in the conference. In the first 20 minutes, its defense was porous and its offense was poor (29.6 percent). Wright-Foreman said that at halftime, “Chairs were flying.”
Performance spoke loudest after intermission. The Pride made seven of its first eight shots, boosted by a solid game by Eli Pemberton (10 of his 12 points in the second half) despite a swollen ankle.
No one, though, stood out more than Sabety, who earned his degree in December and will take graduate business courses the rest of this season and next. Sabety, who had a 48-point game against Massapequa and six triple-doubles during his senior year at Oceanside, augmented his first college double-double with three blocks and three steals.
He liked Tufts, but this is a different level. “I was playing some summer ball around here and I started talking to the coaches,’’ he said. “The opportunity arose and I took it. I took a swing. I always wanted to see what it was like to play D-I basketball. I love the coaching staff, I love the team, I love playing with the guys. I love being here now.”
On Thursday night, he took another swing and hit one out of the park.