The Hofstra Pride men’s basketball team has long awaited a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. Heck, they have barely had chances just go on a CAA Tournament run in March. The last time the Pride made the Big Dance was 14 years ago, way back in 2001. The last time they made the CAA Tournament Semifinals was back in 2011 when Charles Jenkins was on the team. This year’s Hofstra team will try and rewrite history.
The Pride ran away from JMU Saturday afternoon in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals in Baltimore, 74-57. It was all Pride in the second half after a back and forth affair in the first half. They led the Dukes 39-33 at halftime. Coach Joe Mihalich’s team outscored JMU 35-24 in the final 20 minutes to move on to the CAA Semifinals Sunday afternoon against William & Mary at Royal Farms Arena.
“We haven’t been tough every game this year…but we were certainly tough today,” Mihalich said. “All week long we weren’t talking about x’s and o’s. We were talking about attitude, effort, and toughness, and all those intangibles. If you’re going to win a championship, you need that.”
Mihalich’s All-CAA first-team guard Juan’ya Green has proven to be one of the best passers in the country and the heart and soul of the team. Green had multiple highlight reel no-look assists that got the Pride easy buckets all day long. The junior guard finished with 10 points, eight assists, and four rebounds.
“Coach always says when Juan’ya gets the ball, be ready to catch it,” senior Moussa Kone said. “He’s going to find you when you’re open.”
Another key contributor and another guy that played under Mihalich at Niagra also was Ameen Tanksley, who finished with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Only fitting that Mihalich’s dyanmic duo finished on the All-CAA first and second team, respectively, and led the way in scoring for the Pride this season.
Kone made sure his college career didn’t end just yet, leading Hofstra with 18 points and 11 rebounds, including one highlight reel dunk. He’s got at least one more game left for the Pride before he likely chooses to take his talents to play professionally somewhere overseas.
“I was trying to get my teammates riled up and get hyped for this game,” Kone said. “It’s win or go home so you got to get up for that.”
Center Rokas Gustys has been a bit inconsistent all season, but picked the right time to have one of his best games of his college career, finishing with 11 points and five boards along with two steals and a block. The Pride dominated in the paint, outscoring the Dukes, 46-28.
“It was a credit to our guards for making some great plays,” Mihalich said.
Amazingly enough, Hofstra has only made one CAA Championship Game and that came back in 2006 where they fell to UNCW, 78-67. This team has a chance to get there for just the second time in school history if they can get past the No. 1 team in the conference, William & Mary. It’s taken a couple years for Mihalich to turn this program around from a couple dark years that featured an abundance of issues off the court that brought the basketball team to an all-time low. Those days seem long gone as the former Niagra coach has brought in his own regime.
The season comes down to a pivotal battle Sunday as the Pride face the Tribe at 2:30pm in a game televised on NBC Sports Network. William & Mary defeated Elon in their quarterfinal matchup Saturday, 72-59. This is the first time in their school history finishing as the top team in the CAA. They are also looking to get to their first NCAA Tournament in program history. A lot is on the line in what should be a thrilling matchup between two teams that are led by their offenses. The Pride were 18th in the nation, averaging 78.1 PPG. William & Mary was 46th, averaging 73.2. This one could be a shootout with a trip to the CAA Championship Monday night on the line. Buckle up folks.