In an earlier article this season, I wrote about why the Pride have lost so many games this season. Turnovers and two point field goal percentage defense have been their achilles heels for the most part. Still, having seen in person this team beat several good teams is what makes it most frustrating. I am sure that many fellow Hofstra fans probably have felt the same frustration this season
But there was a glimmer of hope last Saturday evening as my friend Tieff and I stood outside the entrance to the Spiro Sports Center Gym on the campus of Wagner College before the LIU-Wagner game. We were listening to the end of the Hofstra-James Madison game on my WRHU app for the IPhone. The Pride had led most of the way until losing the lead late. It was like the story line to many of their games this season; lead for a good part of the game only to lose at the end. But Steve Mejia, who had struggled all season in part due to injury, hit a three point play with six seconds left to give Hofstra their first conference win of the season; a 71-69 win over JMU.
My son Matthew and I took our usual seats. It was another free give away night as we were each given coffee mugs. I don't have to worry about my six year old son drinking coffee for a while. He was content to have his pre game ritual of a pretzel and a bottle of water.
If the Pride were going to build upon their success from Saturday night, they would have to do so against the first place Patriots, who had only lost one conference game entering last night's contest. Mason Nation was in full force as they filled the entire section behind their bench. Have a first place team, will travel.
But it was Hofstra that came out looking like the best team in conference. The Pride went out to a 9-0 lead, looking aggressive and confident. Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester combined to score the Pride's first nine points as Hofstra looked sharp on offense.
That's because during this season, Hofstra had started out strong in several games, building big leads, only to hit an ice cold stretch and allow their opponents back in the game. In a recent game vs. Northeastern, Hofstra scored the first nine points of the game as well, only to see the Huskies score the next twelve points. Northeastern would end up winning a nailbiter 64-62.
Sure enough, the Pride's shooting went frigid as they went without a field goal for almost six minutes. Little by little, Mason cut into the lead. But the Patriots' shooting was equally as arctic. Over the first twenty minutes, George Mason would be four of twenty three from the field.
What kept the Patriots in the game though was their foul shooting, especially from Jonathan Arledge. Mason, who came into the game with the second most free throw attempts and the second most free throws made, went eleven of thirteen from the free throw line, with Arledge a perfect six for six from the charity stripe. The eleven free throws accounted for nearly fifty eight percent of their points in the first half.
Though Hofstra was not shooting well and not careful with the ball, they were playing hard as they always do. Poor Stephen Nwaukoni crashed to the floor during several rebound attempts. I thought on the third time they were going to have to carry him back to the bench. But with help from his teammates he kept getting back up and stayed in the game.
The first half mercifully ended with Hofstra holding a 20-19 lead. Despite shooting seventeen percent and turning the ball over eleven times, George Mason was amazingly down one point at the half, thanks to defense, rebounding and free throw shooting. The teams combined for twenty turnovers and twenty fouls in the first half. Hofstra shot only eight of twenty three from the field and was only two of five from the free throw line.
But as I noted, despite their record, the Pride have played hard all season. And Hofstra rallied, scoring eight straight points over the next two and a half minutes. David Imes nailed a three pointer from the left corner and the game was tied at thirty eight with a little more than eight minutes left. The crowd was finally into the game. Then the fans had even more reason to cheer as Mike Moore's three pointer gave Hofstra their first lead of the second half, 41-40.
But George Mason would respond with a Sherrod Wright jumper and one. Wright would hit his free throw to put the Patriots up one, 51-50. Free throws would be the deciding factor down the stretch. And as fate would have it, just like all conference season, Hofstra missed four open jumpers in the last ninety seconds in the game. Four more Patriots free throws would seal Hofstra's fate. After Shemiye McLendon's layup was blocked with Mike Morrison, George Mason ran out the clock. Another close game, 55-50. Another close loss for the Pride.
Moore, the leading scorer in the CAA, led all scorers with eighteen points. Lester added twelve points for Hofstra. Pearson, the third leading scorer in the CAA, only had seven points on the night. But the Mason bench had his back. Reserve guard Sherrod Wright led the Patriots with fifteen points while Arledge added ten points. George Mason's bench outscored Hofstra's bench 36-6.
just show them the boxscore of this game.
As we made our way out of the arena, I was at a loss for words. It was now Hofstra's seventh loss in conference decided by six points or less. Matthew however was not a loss for words. He expressed his frustration over how Hofstra was beating a first place team. All I could do was say "I know. I know." When we got home, my wife had made brownies. Sometimes, even at your lowest point, inspiration strikes. I cut a brownie from the tray, put it in a bowl and put moose tracks ice cream on top.
As I started writing this article, I had my comfort food. Another close game. Another close loss.