I had just watched Hofstra beat Cleveland State 63-53 in what basically amounted to a rock fight at the Legends Classic SubRegional at URI. It was a gutty, winning performance by a Pride team that took the Vikings best punch in the mouth and came back with multiple shots to their opponent's head. They outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded a team that had won road games at Vanderbilt and Kent State earlier in the season. Cleveland State hasn't lost a game since that loss to Hofstra.
As I drove back home to Long Island that night, savoring my victory burger and chocolate banana shake from the awesome Jake's Wayback Burgers in Mystic, Connecticut, I couldn't help but think about the possibilities with this Hofstra team. I had watched Bryant Crowder play his first two games of the season at Rhode Island. He gave them an inside scoring presence, height and serious attitude. The Pride now had a nine deep rotation, with Steven Nwaukoni, Shemiye McLendon, Dwan McMillan and Crowder giving good contributions off the bench. And they had a legitimate big time scorer in Mike Moore.
Even though they were only 3-3 after the win over the Vikings, the Pride had been competitive in all their games. They had the impressive win over LIU and a gut check win over St. Francis. They hung tough against a good Oregon State team in Corvallis. They lost by two to a Florida Atlantic team that had the best record in the Sun Belt last season. And they rallied after being down nineteen against Rhode Island to keep the game close against the Rams. I really thought the big win against Cleveland State was going to be the start of something special for the Pride.
But last Saturday, despite being down two players, Hofstra started out well at home against James Madison. They were up nine points at home on JMU with about eleven minutes left. But, again they hit a cold spell, going 1 of 8 from the field. They would lose to the Dukes 62-60 on a Humpty Hitchens jumper with three seconds left.
Then this Tuesday night, as I watched the Wagner streaming video feed at home, the Pride completely unraveled in the second half against the Seahawks, losing 58-43 to Team Hurley. What I thought two weeks ago was going to be a springboard to a season of success turned out to be the last win Hofstra had going into today. Hopefully home cooking would be the remedy to what ailed the Pride.
My son Matthew and I took our usual seats in Section 111, Row D. It turned out to be Hofstra Fan Appreciation Day and there were a ton of boy scouts in the building today. They came out on to the arena floor holding a giant American flag as the national anthem was beautifully sung. Matthew and I had a feeling of hope that this was this day that Hofstra turned the tide.
But the Jaspers would then make us wish we had stayed standing, as they went on a 21-4 run over the next seven minutes and forty five seconds. Manhattan buried three three pointers and George Beamon hit an old fashioned three point play to put the Jaspers up 23-6 with nine minutes left in the first half. I sat in my seat dumbfounded as Matthew sat next to me showing his frustration.
The Jaspers would respond with a 9-1 spurt to end the half. Hofstra would miss all seven of its shots and commit three turnovers in the last five minutes. The Pride would walk into the locker room down 34-21 at halftime.
Unfortunately the long half time talk with his team didn't help the Pride. The Jaspers actually extended their lead to fifteen, 52-37 with a little less than eight and a half minutes left . Things were looking bleak for the Pride and I had not heard the Lions Den student section so quiet in such a long time.
However, the Pride didn't quit. Nathaniel Lester, who had been quiet for most of the game and spent a good part of the second half on the bench, came alive in the final few minutes. Lester and Moore keyed a 9-1 spurt over the next nearly two and half minutes. A Lester layup cut the lead to seven, 53-46 with six minutes left.
But just when it seemed Hofstra was on the verge of making it a game, Manhattan responded. Beamon buried a three pointer and Emmy Andujar followed with a layup, and the Jaspers were up by twelve, 58-46 with a little less than four minutes left.
Very few people were left in the stands when the buzzer sounded on Manhattan's 68-59 win over Hofstra. Moore led all scorers with twenty points but he didn't have much help. Lester scored eleven points, but most of them came in the final few minutes of the game. Manhattan had much more balance as Beamon had fourteen points, while Brown had a double double with fourteen points and eleven rebounds. Andujar and McCabe Moran each added ten for the Jaspers.
Two weeks ago, I was driving home, enjoying a delicious meal, looking forward to what seemed to be a hopeful season. Tonight, I drove home dismayed and speechless. Hofstra got outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded by Manhattan. I was left wondering if my team was going to be able to turn their season around.
It's amazing how one's perception can change in the span of fourteen days.