It was a game that had everybody in Royal Farms Arena either standing or on the edge of their seat. Twists and turns, lead changes, clutch shots, loose balls…you name it. Hofstra and William & Mary played one of the great games in CAA history Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, with the Tribe defeating Hofstra 92-91 in a thrilling double overtime buzzer-beating affair.
The game featured everything that defines March Madness. It also featured everything that defines heartbreak for Hofstra.
“I don’t know what to say. There was a lot of emotional guys in that locker room,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said. “You knew in the middle of the second half someone was going to have a broken heart today. Unfortunately it was us.”
Senior Moussa Kone missed a hook shot in the final seconds of regulation that would have won the game. Freshman Rokas Gustys missed two free throws in the final 10 seconds of overtime that would have won it for the Pride. After Kone made one of two free throws with eight seconds to go in double overtime, the Tribe would find the guy who was third in the nation in three-point field goal percentage wide open in the corner. Daniel Dixon drilled a three with less than second to go to lead William & Mary to the CAA Championship Game, and send Hofstra packing.
It’s hard to argue Sunday’s loss being the most heartbreaking loss in the program’s history.
“It was hard to stand in front of them and tell them how proud you are of them when their hearts are broken,” Mihalich said. “We ask these kids to give everything they have on the floor…heart and soul, and they did that.”
The refs had their mouths on the whistle all day long, which sadly is always the case for Hofstra in the CAA Tournament. The Pride were called for 29 fouls with 19 of them called in the second half and the overtimes. Putting that aside, they still had every chance in the world to win this game and advance to just their second CAA Championship Game in program history. Missed free throws will always come back to bite you, and that’s exactly what happened to Mihalich’s team. The Pride were 13 of 25 from the stripe, good for an abysmal 52%. You can’t win missing that many free throws. The Hofstra squad wasted many opportunities to win the game.
The emotion from Mihalich and his players following the game was apparent. The faces of Juan’ya Green and Dion Nesmith in the post-game press conference told the story. Clearly, there were plenty of tears. Nesmith fouled out in overtime after having the best game of his Hofstra career, finishing with 21 points in what will turn out to be his last game of his collegiate career.
“When I went out with the fouls, they just picked me up on the bench,” said Nesmith, the graduate student. “I wouldn’t trade these guys for anyone else.”
Nesmith was a pivotal part of this team with his ability to drive, knock down the open shot, and defend with the best of them.
“Who played harder than Dion? There were a lot of guys that may have matched it, but nobody played harder than he did,” Mihalich said. “He’s a coaches’ dream.”
Green led the Pride with 26 points to go along with seven assists and four steals. The junior guard is going to be the star once again for Hofstra next season.
“We should always remember this feeling,” Green said. “When the game comes next year, we should play much harder and not make mistakes.”
While falling just short of the CAA Finals, the Pride truly played their heart out. The determination in their eyes throughout the contest was just as apparent as the disappointment when the final buzzer sounded. When Dixon knocked down the three, you saw their hearts sink to the floor. It’s a loss that may just fuel the fire into a program that has finally turned the corner from some dark days.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” Mihalich said. “It’s an experience that will make these guys stronger, tougher, and better.”
The Pride are no longer a pushover in the CAA. This team has a bright future, and Sunday’s effort against the best team in the conference showed the world that as many tuned into the game late, hoping the Pride would get a step away from going to the NCAA Tournament for just the fifth time in school history.
“We’re a team that is playing for championships now,” Mihalich said. “That’s what we want to be. We played like a championship team today.”
Hofstra could have a shot at potentially playing in the NIT. If not, then perhaps the CBI postseason tournament. They didn’t achieve their ultimate goal, but winning 20 games after winning just 17 in the past two seasons, and 27 in the past three- is not too shabby. With a couple of good recruits coming in, next March could be the one we see the battle-tested Pride reach the promised land for the first time in a decade.