Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hofstra Shows Their Pride and Mettle in a Road Win over Elon

Last Thursday evening, I was glued to my computer, watching the live stream of Hofstra vs. William and Mary go not one, not two, but three overtimes.   In the end, the Pride made more shots than the Tribe and held on for a 93-90 victory.   That meant two things to me.

One, Hofstra was now going to Elon Saturday still undefeated in the CAA at 4-0.

Two, I was going to be there at the Schar Center at Elon University to see my alma mater undefeated in conference playing for a chance to be 5-0.

I had decided about a week before the game to go.  All that was left was seeing if my long time color analyst, aka my older son Matthew would go with me.  That took all of a few minutes.  We decided to make it an overnight trip once the forecast came into view; winter storm watch with potential freezing rain.   The Winter Storm Watch for Burlington, North Carolina turned to a Winter Storm Warning on Friday.   Glad we were only staying two miles from the Schar Center.

Saturday was a day full of basketball.  My friend Brad, who held the Wofford all time free throw shooting percentage record until Fletcher Magee destroyed it, is an amazing man.  Not only he is a pediatrician, but someone who loves coaching.  We have coached baseball together for four years.   He coaches FIVE basketball church teams, including his daughter's church team, along with the 10U travel baseball team we coach together.  Brad somehow manages it though he occasionally gets his coaching assistants/friends, including yours truly, to head coach a game when he has a conflict. 

Matt played 6th/7th grade basketball last season with his friends.   When he moved up to 8th grade, many of his travel baseball team friends were only now in 7th grade (Matt's birthday is in July, so he's young for an 8th grader).   And Brad has so many players that he split the players into two teams, one of which has both his sons (one is a 7th grader and one is a 5th grader who's so good he plays with 6th and 7th graders).  So Matt's friends are equally split among the two teams.  Then we have the 8th/9th grade teams that I assistant coach for Brad.   So often on Saturdays, we are watching two 6th/7th grade games, then either watching or coaching the one 8th/9th grade team (I did that the Saturday prior) and Matt is playing in his game while I help coach from the bench.

Matt's game was the final game of the multi church game marathon for us.   And that was after Matt had South Carolina region band tryouts early in the morning (he plays the trombone). Matt's team played another very good team on Saturday.   We were down nine at the half but made some adjustments in the second half and rallied.  But we fell short 39-35.  Matt made two of his three shots from the field, including burying an early first half three pointer.  It was a fun game.

We had already brought our overnight bags with us and after we said goodbye to my wife and my younger son, Jonathan, we headed out for the slightly less than three hour trip to Elon University.  Elon is a private liberal arts college founded in 1889 and is located in Alamance County, North Carolina with about 6700 students. 

The Schar Center is a new 160,000 square foot facility that opened in August 2019.  It houses a practice court, as well as the arena, which seats about 5100.  It's named after two of the school's donors, one of whom is the founder and chair of the fifth largest homebuilding company in the nation.

We got there early and stayed in our car till about 6:00 PM, then headed to our seats.  You have to walk up a flight of stairs to enter the building.   When you walk into the Schar Center, you immediately notice that the arena has a large digital scoreboard on one of the end of the court.  It has a large concourse around the arena where concessions are located on the left and luxury boxes on the right.   The main seating area is the lower bowl.  It's pretty much the standard setup for any new arenas built in the past few decades.   However, Elon did a very nice job with the design. 

After getting some soft pretzels at a pretzel cart, we went over to the main concessions and along with two waters, I got a "Phoenix Dog" , a hot dog topped with barbecue, slaw and fried onions.  It's delicious.  Later, I got a "small" cup of mint chocolate chip from the Smitty's homemade ice cream stand.  As you can see that is not my definition of "small" ( a large is the same amount of ice cream in a large waffle cone) and I was very happy.

We got to our seats and within just a few minutes, Hofstra Head Coach Joe Mihalich came up to say hi.  It turns out besides the small contingent of Hofstra fans behind the Pride bench, Matt and I were likely the only two other Hofstra fans in the building.  And when we came to our seats, you could tell we were Hofstra fans by Matt's gold Hofstra jersey, which he got several years ago.  Coach Mihalich mentioned that he saw Matt's jersey and he wanted to come up to say hi.  He also noted that next time that we were going to go to a road game to contact them so he could leave us tickets.  This was again noted to me when Assistant AD Jay Artinian and Stephen Gorchov when they came by to say hi. 

OK, next time I'll ask for tickets.

Hofstra had entered the game on an eleven game winning streak after the triple overtime thriller and was the only undefeated team in conference at 4-0.  Elon was in last place in the CAA at 1-4 but had just come off a tough overtime loss at the Schar Center to Northeastern.  The Phoenix love shooting the three averaging ten three pointers per game.  And I was in the restroom, the restroom sound system was playing the Elon pre game show.  Elon head coach Matt Matheny was very confident and said he thought his offense would work well against Hofstra's matchup zone, despite Hofstra leading the CAA in three point field goal percentage defense.

Well, anything is possible in the CAA and last Saturday night showed that again.

The Pride jumped out quickly to a 7-0 lead.  Two layups by Jacquil Taylor sandwiched a Justin Wright Foreman three pointer.   But the Phoenix rose from the early seven point deficit and Steven Santa Ana and Tyler Seibring would combine to score Elon's first nine points.  A Seibring free throw would tie the game at nine.   Hofstra would answer and go back up five 16-11 after a Dan Dwyer layup. 

Twice Elon would come back to tie the game only to see Hofstra take the lead.  The Phoenix then finally took the lead 25-23 on a Seibring jumper.  Taylor would tie the game at 25 again with a dunk with 5:24 left in the half.   But the Phoenix would end the half on a 12-4 spurt, hitting five of six shots in that spurt including two three pointers.    The Phoenix had a 37-29 lead at the half.

After the brief 7-0 Hofstra lead, Elon did a very good job of moving the ball around against Hofstra's matchup zone.  I really thought Hofstra should have switched to man to man after halftime given the Phoenix shot 15 of 29 from the field in the first half.  Meanwhile Hofstra was too three point happy in the first half, shooting 4 of 13 from beyond the arc.  Also, they didn't do a very good job of getting Wright-Foreman the ball.  Despite leading the Pride with ten points, he had only seven field goal attempts, making four of them including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc.

 The Pride were on defense on our side of the court Hofstra came out in their matchup zone again in the second half.  Seibring hit the first basket of the second half to put the Phoenix up ten.  From there. Hofstra started chipping away.  First a 9-2 spurt cut the Elon lead to three, 41-38 as Hofstra drove the lane more getting three layups in that spurt.   Then after Elon was up 50-45,  the Pride again answered with a 7-0 run as Jalen Ray nailed a three pointer to put them up 52-50. 

After Federico Poser's three point play gave the Phoenix a 53-52 lead, Jacquil Taylor tied the game with a free throw.  Ray would then again nail a three pointer to put Hofstra up 56-53. Taylor would follow with a three point play of his own and a layup by Eli Pemberton capped a 9-0 Hofstra run to put them up eight 61-53.

The Pride had made the necessary second half adjustments working the ball inside.  Meanwhile on defense, Hofstra did a better job of extending their matchup zone and getting out on Elon's shooters.  The Pride still had an eight point lead 65-57 with a little under five and half minutes left in the game. 

But nothing is ever easy on the #CAAHoops road.   Elon would answer with a 7-0 run capped by a Seibring three pointer to cut the deficit to one, 65-64.  But Wright-Foreman drove the lane and then made a nice dish to Taylor for a dunk to put Hofstra up 67-64.   From there it was basically down to free throws.  And Hofstra, the leading free throw shooting team in the CAA, continued to excel from the line.  They would hit seven of their last eight free throw attempts to seal the hard earned victory 74-71.

Hofstra held Elon to 9 of 28 shooting in the second half, including an ugly 4 of 18 from beyond the arc.  Elon got their ten three pointers on the game, but it came with 28% shooting from beyond the arc, below Hofstra's CAA leading three point field goal percentage defense. Meanwhile Hofstra shot 46 percent from the field in the second half and a ridiculous 19 of 21 from the line after only attempting two free throws in the first half.

After we left the Schar Center, we made the nearly two and a half mile trip to the Best Western Plus in Burlington, North Carolina.  Little did I know until the next morning that the Hofstra team was staying there.   Jay Artinian walked by the breakfast room and said hi again.  We talked about any road win was a good win.   He had to run because they had to make their flight.    As I checked out, I told the hotel clerk that I didn't know Hofstra was staying there.   She said they were so quiet and well behaved, unlike a lot of other teams that stay there.   She said she told the coach as much earlier that morning.

Coach Mihalich had told me Saturday night that his team was a really good bunch of guys.  The hotel clerk confirmed that.   Turns out they are a really good basketball team that knows how to gut out a tough win.   That will serve them well as conference play only gets tougher.

And oh yeah, I hope to ask for tickets for the February 16th game at UNCW.

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