By March, both teams hope to be on Big Dance brackets from coast to coast. For now, though, it was a matter of gaining the edge from Inwood to Montauk, Sands Point to Orient Point. Hofstra officially is the Pride of Nassau-Suffolk, having defeated Stony Brook, 71-64, Wednesday in the Battle of Long Island.
In a matchup between hot teams with significant hopes, Hofstra surged ahead midway through the first half and made big plays down the stretch. Most of those were by Pride star Justin Wright-Foreman, who made two key baskets, two free throws and a big assist in the closing minutes.
Hofstra, the visitor, also made the most of 16 points from Tareq Coburn and its own stout zone defense. Among other things, the latter held Stony Brook (10-3) standout Akwasi Yeboah to 15 points, nine below his average. The crowd at Island Federal Credit Union Arena did appreciate the moves and poise of freshman guard Miles Latimer, who had 22 points.
“This is just a wonderful experience to be around. This atmosphere, especially with this long rivalry that we have, it’s just incredible and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Wright-Foreman said. “They’re tough, they were on a little hot streak.”
But the Pride (9-3) was better most of the way, especially in the closing moments when Wright-Foreman took over. Hofstra’s lead had been whittled to four before Wright-Foreman made a precise dish to big man Jacquil Taylor with 53 seconds left to make the score 67-61.
“They’re a good team,” Latimer said. “I felt like they were very similar to us, the way they can space the floor and they have a big man in the middle. So, I feel like they were two similar teams going at it. At the end of the day, it was just who played harder.”
What gave this year’s renewal more juice — perhaps more than it ever has had — is that both teams have good record with several eye-catching wins. Each recognizes that the other has a legitimate shot to win its conference title and thus qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“They’ve got a phenomenal player, he’ll probably play in the NBA, in Justin Wright-Foreman,” Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals said of the Pride, which was coming off a 30-point drubbing of Manhattan.
Wright-Foreman, thinking back three seasons, said, “It definitely boosts our confidence. They went to the Big Dance and we didn’t. They beat a couple of great teams. So going into conference play this is definitely going to keep the ball rolling for us.”
The game will help Stony Brook, too, as it shoots for an America East title. “Every possession matters. That’s something that I’d really emphasize for all of us,” Latimer said. “Plays in the first half that you think, oh we can get that back. But every possession matters.’
But this night meant more for the team that is on top of the hill on Long Island. “Great win. We beat a hot team,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “At the end of the year, they’re going to have 20 wins, they’re going to be a postseason team. Hopefully at the end of the year, we’re going to look back and say this was a real good win for us.”