Saturday, November 17, 2018

JP's 5 Thoughts: Seton Hall edged by Saint Louis in Prudential Center debut

Quincy McKnight was one of three Pirates with double-figure point totals as Seton Hall fell two points short against Saint Louis Saturday night in Prudential Center opener. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

NEWARK, NJ -- Well, it wasn't pretty, and in the end, it wasn't a win, either.

In a game that featured very little flow (12 combined assists, including four by Seton Hall, against 61 free throws shot), the Pirates couldn't complete a comeback down the stretch, dropping a 66-64 decision to a Saint Louis team that was picked to win the Atlantic 10 this year.

Here are the five thoughts:

1. Final Possession Blues

Seton Hall was only down one point when Myles Powell hit a long three with eleven seconds left, and down two with about eight ticks left when Saint Louis' Dion Wiley clanged the second of two free throws. Quincy McKnight brought the ball up, and with Powell well-covered, he drove around his man. Help came from the high side, leaving Sandro Mamukelashvili open near the top of the key. McKnight then found him for a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, but the shot was too strong, ending the game.

There's always debate when situations like this arise at the end of games (go for two and the tie, or the win - drive inside to score, or kick out), but McKnight made the right decision - Saint Louis' game plan all night was to make life hell for Powell, and they weren't going to let him sniff the ball. Option two for McKnight was drive the ball, which he did, and if the help didn't come, he likely would have scored or at the very least drawn a foul.

But it did, and rather than force it himself, he gave Mamukelashvili a really solid, step-in look at a three-pointer. The fact that he missed the shot shouldn't have a bearing on the decision to pass to the open man, something that Kevin Willard confirmed in his postgame press conference.

Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, and it didn't for Seton Hall tonight against a good team.

2. McKnights Like These

One of the biggest positives tonight was the play of the Pirates' lead guard. After struggling to find his stride against Wagner and Nebraska, the Sacred Heart transfer scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. His plus-minus of plus-9 was the best on the team, and not only that, he harassed the Billikens' guards all night on, particularly point guard Tramaine Isabell, who fouled out in the second half thanks to two charges McKnight drew on him.

"It was definitely a big confidence booster," he said afterwards of his individual play. "Just getting back into my groove, playing how I'm used to playing. I was struggling a little bit, but I definitely feel good after this game."

"I really liked the way he was aggressive in the second half," Willard added. "For him, it's all about getting used to a different level of competition, a different level of intensity. I like the way he responded."

Such a game from him, especially on defense, can only help the Pirates moving forward.

3. Pow-Pow-Pow-Pow

It was a rough night, however, for Myles Powell. The Pirates' leading offensive weapon was harassed all night long by the Saint Louis guards. He saw double-teams when he brought the ball around screens, was face-guarded (where the defender focuses on solely the player they're guarding in spite of the ball) by several different opponents, and when he was able to find a little daylight to shoot the ball, he was well-contested. All of it resulted in just two shots attempted in the first half, and while he did end up with a team-high 16 points, he had to really work for them (4-for-13 from the floor).

"The defender wasn't even looking at the ball in the first half," a frustrated Powell said. "It seemed they were just subbing in three, four guys just to guard me."

Because of the forced roster turnover due to the limited-time nature of college itself, everyone's always constantly in search of players who can step into great roles from year to year. It's a constant refrain for every college coach in any sport. As brilliant as Powell was last year, he was never the biggest focus of a game plan like he was tonight.

"This is all new for him," Willard said. "He didn't get face-guarded (before), he didn't get double-teamed off pick-and-rolls, and this is all a big learning process for him to be aggressive from the start. The more he sees (how teams are defending him), the more he'll recognize it, and the more he'll realize what to do."  

4. What Went Wrong?

The Pirates fell behind in the first half when their defense lapsed after a solid start. Wiley in particular (17 points off the bench, 3-for-3 from deep) keyed the Billikens' spurt ahead, and they held a comfortable margin for most of the middle 20 minutes. 

Seton Hall, as they are wont to do, went on a run to chip away, upping their defense, turning it into offense, and getting back in it. They had cut the Saint Louis lead to 54-50 at the under-8 media timeout, but this is where the offense stalled and where the game was ultimately lost - the Pirates' first three possessions after the media break resulted in zero points, their first five resulted in just one point, and down the stretch of the game, the Pirates made just two field goals over a nearly seven and-a-half minute span before Powell's aforementioned three-pointer cut it to one.

And even with that, the Pirates still nearly made a comeback as Saint Louis didn't exactly shine in the execution department thanks to improved defensive resolve on the part of the Hall. But it's hard to come back without made baskets, and they had the looks to keep the tides moving in their favor, but could not convert.

5. Better In November...

...than in February for these types of games. Seton Hall has a daunting non-conference schedule, and this was one of the games that makes it challenging. But while their record stands at 1-2 for the first time since the 1998-99 season, there is plenty of basketball left to play, and Willard feels that his crew will improve as the year goes along.

"Beating teams by 40 didn't teach us anything," Willard commented. "I think these games are going to teach us more about this group and let this group learn more than anything else. Everyone's got to be a little patient with this group - they work hard enough that I like where they're going. I'm not happy with the results, but I have a lot of confidence that this group will continue to get better."

Seton Hall's season next sees them travel out to California for the Wooden Legacy, taking on Grand Canyon University on Thanksgiving night, with Hawai'i or Utah due up after that.

Kevin Willard quote book: Saint Louis

On the game's final possession, where Sandro Mamukelashvili's three-point attempt for the win bounced off the rim:
"I actually thought Q (Quincy McKnight) pushed it, jump-stopped, found an open guy and got an open shot, so I was happy."

On the difference in the game:
"We've done this twice now...we did it at Nebraska, too. I thought we were in a really good mindset defensively, I thought we were doing a really good job early in the half, and we had two major breakdowns with No. 4, (Dion) Wiley. The only thing we told our guys to do was not let that guy shoot, and he got two threes, and it kind of just -- they've been struggling to shoot -- it really gave them a lot of life. It gave them a big boost because they were really struggling to score, and he popped two, and the next thing you know, we didn't react well."

On Myles Powell and getting more shots:
"He's gotta get a little bit more used to -- this is all new for him -- he didn't get face-guarded last year. He didn't get double-teamed off pick-and-rolls, and this is all a big learning process of him being aggressive from the start. He's just not used to doing that right now, and the more he sees it, the more he's going to get used to it and the more he'll be able to recognize and understand what he's got to do."

On Taurean Thompson only playing six minutes:
"We're trying to figure out, most importantly -- not offensively, he did some good things and everybody missed some layups -- I'm trying to match him up with somebody that can help him defensively. He's really worked hard at it, he's gotten much better in the three weeks. It's just a matter of trying to get him to match up, put him on the floor with someone that can really help him defensively, whether it's either Mike (Nzei) or Sandro, but then it's not just those two. I've gotta try to get other guys around him that can help him defensively. He hasn't grasped everything we're doing yet, and he eventually will, but until he does, that's a work in progress."

On how much McKnight can aid Seton Hall's growth:
"I think Q has to -- I really like the way he was aggressive in the second half -- again, for him, it's him getting used to a different level of competition, a different level of intensity. I really like the way he responded in the second half, I thought he was good and aggressive. One of our biggest issues on offense is we're not making more than one or two passes right now, and guys are a little bit antsy to try and do something, and it's causing us some trouble."

On what he needs to see heading into the Wooden Legacy tournament:
"I'm looking forward to getting out there. I say that now, but I'm looking forward to getting out there and kind of getting these guys away from everything and giving them a chance to kind of maybe give them a little change of scenery, a change of pace, change of practice, and most importantly, get games under our belt. I think the more games we get under our belt, the better this group is going to get. This group's gonna get a lot better. I like the way they compete, I like the way they're working. It's just a matter of getting a little bit more confidence as a group."

On Seton Hall's non-conference schedule:
"Ask me after Anaheim or after Louisville. The only game I'm not happy about is the Nebraska game. I didn't schedule that game, I don't know why they shipped us out there. Beating teams by 40 obviously didn't teach us anything. We won by 40 in our first opening night, and obviously that didn't teach us anything. I think these games are going to teach us more about this group and let this group learn more than anything else. If you play nine teams and you're beating everybody by 40, and then all of a sudden you're playing somebody and you can't win a game, either way, it doesn't matter."

On Seton Hall's pace of learning and whether it is on par with what he'd like to see:
"Not yet, but that's with inexperienced teams, everybody's gotta be a little patient. Everybody's got to be patient with this group. They work hard enough. I like where they're going. I don't like the results, obviously, but I have a lot of confidence that this group will continue to work and continue to get better."

On how to get Myles Cale going:
"I've gotta get Myles to really focus on being our defensive stopper. I think that's one of the things that he has a great ability to do, and I've gotta get him to be a guy that can really defend for us. He'll get it offensively, he's a talented enough kid."

On creating turnovers:
"I was really happy with the way we created turnovers, but we didn't capitalize off those. There were too many turnovers where we just didn't get a chance to kind of finish off those. Either we turned it off or we didn't take a good enough shot, but that kind of shows me that they're working, that they're creating those turnovers. We're not capitalizing off that, and that's probably the next phase of getting better, capitalizing off good defense and off working hard."

Friday, November 16, 2018

UConn takes down No. 15 Syracuse at MSG for Hurley's first signature win

Jalen Adams (4), Christian Vital (1) and Tyler Polley (12) celebrate as UConn earned first win over ranked opponent since 2016, defeating No. 15 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by UConn Athletics)

By Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

NEW YORK – Perhaps it’s poetic that Dan Hurley’s first signature win as head coach of the UConn Huskies came in Madison Square Garden – a building in which UConn has formed so many signature moments – against an opponent the Huskies have stared down in so many signature matchups.

Perhaps that’s just sports.

Hurley’s Huskies did indeed pick up their first eye-opening win of the season Thursday evening, when they unseated 15th-ranked Syracuse, 83-76, in the opening round of the 2K Empire Classic, thanks to a balanced effort in which five Huskies scored in double figures for the first time since February 2017.

“It’s been six or seven hard months together,” Hurley said of his early time with the program. “We’ve been getting after it pretty good and these guys have bought all the way in.”

Redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert, whose last two seasons have been cut short due to shoulder injuries which required surgery, flirted with a triple-double while posting 16 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Gilbert connected on four of five three-point attempts on the evening, including a dagger triple from well beyond NBA range that pushed the UConn lead to seven with just 2:26 to play.
“First of all, I’d like to thank my surgeon,” Gilbert joked after the game. “I just felt comfortable in myself. My teammates and coaches give me confidence every day I step on the court.”
Senior Jalen Adams followed with a trey of his own on the next possession to put the decision beyond all doubt. Adams matched Gilbert for the team lead with 16 points, and added eight boards for good measure.
“We’ve all got the right mindset,” Adams noted as the biggest change in the program since Hurley’s takeover. “Everything we do is to win, whether that’s off the court or on it. Once you’ve got a whole group of players and coaches all connected with one common goal, it’s just a whole difference in energy and vibe whenever we’re together.”
Senior forward Eric Cobb has been an unexpected bright spot for Hurley’s squad this season. After posting a career-high eight points last time out against UMKC, he broke out for his first career double-double on 13 points and 13 rebounds. Cobb’s first bucket of the night with 7:38 remaining in the first half broke a 20-all tie and came followed by a wave imploring the Husky faithful to make some noise. They obliged, and UConn never trailed again.
“Eric is a very skilled guy,” Hurley said of his forward. “He’s a really good big, and you saw the full display of what he can do offensively. Eric is a guy who can really catapult this year into some real things professionally, and he certainly looked the part tonight.”
Graduate guard Tarin Smith added 14 points and six assists, while junior Christian Vital rounded out the UConn scoring with a season-high 11 points.
Hurley’s sworn duty since taking over the reins in Storrs on March 22 has been to rejuvenate one of college basketball’s great bluebloods. UConn has posted a disappointing 30-35 record over the last two seasons. That’s a far cry from the success enjoyed even a year prior with a 25-11 campaign during the 2015-16 season. Oh, and don’t forget that last NCAA National Championship, earned just five seasons ago with a squad that finished 32-8 overall.
It may be a bit soon to declare UConn officially back from the brink, but Thursday’s decisive win over longtime Big East rival Syracuse surely awoke some warm memories in the hearts of Huskies fans. It also marked the first time the Huskies took down a nationally ranked opponent since 2016.
Hurley’s method of motivation is uniquely verbal, and while not made for everyone, it undoubtedly yields results. Hurley’s coaching record speaks for itself: 38-23 in two seasons at Wagner College, 113-82 with a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons with Rhode Island. Now 3-0 in his first season at UConn, it has thus far been the perfect match at the perfect time for Hurley and his inherited players.
“It didn’t take that long,” Cobb said of the process buying into Hurley’s system. “From the jump, we saw where Coach was coming from with the intensity. It ran through the team and rubbed off on the players.”

“Having a great coach coming in to lead us, I just think it’s a perfect matchup,” Adams added. “His personality connects perfectly with a lot of our personalities.”

There is no telling how bright Hurley’s star will burn at UConn, but one thing is certain: he already has his Huskies on the right path. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

St. John's rolls into Rutgers in search of 3-0 start

With Sedee Keita out after knee surgery, Marvin Clark becomes primary option for St. John's down low, beginning with Friday night's trip to Rutgers. (Photo by the New York Post)

In search of a 3-0 start for the second consecutive season, St. John's heads into its first road trip of the year -- a deceptive journey to Rutgers for the Red Storm's annual Gavitt Tipoff Games appearance -- bent, but not broken.

South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita, who had been counted on to provide stability and a formidable rim protection alongside Marvin Clark II, has been placed on the shelf, having undergone knee surgery in the wake of last Friday's win over Bowling Green that will cost him approximately four to six weeks. The loss has forced Clark to act as the interior anchor for a guard-oriented team that will likely place a greater emphasis on spacing the floor with junior college arrival LJ Figueroa at the four spot, but head coach Chris Mullin is unfazed by the look his lineup will possess, instead focused on the production of his remaining troops in what could be a hostile road environment.

"We've played Marvin at the five a lot," he said, drawing on the majority of last season's lineups where Clark was in a similar position alongside the now-departed Bashir Ahmed. "When we play with our versatile, small lineup, we have to rebound the ball and be active, get deflections, and play to our strengths. We have to go out there and dictate the tempo, play aggressive, and the biggest thing is rebounding the ball."

"We have guys capable of doing that. If they do, we'll be in good shape."

The St. John's backcourt of Shamorie Ponds, Mustapha Heron and Justin Simon, the first two in that trio having scored 20 or more points against Bowling Green last week -- Ponds has started his junior year with back-to-back 20-point games -- poses an advantage over a younger Rutgers guard stable, but the edge on paper is half the battle. The Scarlet Knights have steamrolled Fairleigh Dickinson and Drexel en route to starting 2-0, and a trademark of Steve Pikiell's teams over the years is the ability to remain in every game, something that his Stony Brook units gained national notoriety for doing. The key for the Red Storm, besides attacking the basket against the likes of seven-foot Shaq Doorson among others, is to play through mistakes and remain in the moment as a cohesive outfit.

"We've got a bunch of new guys, and the only way we're going to get better is playing," said Clark. "We can practice, but at the end of the day, when we step in between the lines is really when we have to get better."

"It's our first true road test, so it's definitely an opportunity. Every game is a statement game, especially for our program. It doesn't matter if it's Bowling Green or Rutgers. It's going to be a challenge, but I think we'll definitely be ready to accept that challenge."

Monday, November 12, 2018

LIU Brooklyn WBB vs. Army Photo Gallery

Photos from LIU Brooklyn's 57-42 loss to Army West Point on November 9, 2018:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

LIU Brooklyn vs. Brown Photo Gallery

Photos from LIU Brooklyn's 83-81 victory over Brown, on November 9, 2018:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Quinnipiac's long-distance call to Rigoni continues to yield massive payoff

Jacob Rigoni looks to shoot Quinnipiac back into MAAC contention as a sophomore. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)
When Jacob Rigoni takes the floor for Quinnipiac Saturday night against defending national champion Villanova, he’ll be a little closer to home.
Emphasis on “a little.”
You see, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia is about 150 miles from Quinnipiac’s campus in Hamden, Connecticut but you’d have to travel approximately 10,500 more to wind up at Rigoni’s home in Adelaide, Australia.
Rigoni was a pleasant surprise for a rebuilding Bobcat squad last season under new head coach Baker Dunleavy. As a freshman in 2017-18, he averaged 9.8 points per game while setting himself apart as one of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s top three-point shooters. Rigoni averaged over 50 percent from behind the arc for a majority of his rookie campaign before ending the year at 45.5 percent, second-best in the MAAC and among the top 50 nationally. His 75 made three-pointers rank second on Quinnipiac’s Division I single-season list.
“I would say he was the biggest surprise,” Dunleavy said of Rigoni’s freshman year impact. “I knew he was a good player and I knew that one day he would be able to play at that level, but I wasn’t sure that he would have the confidence to get it done right away.”
“It’s a different role,” the 6-foot-6 Rigoni added of his perimeter play. “Back home I didn’t take as many threes as I probably took here, but it’s just the mindset of knowing that if my shot’s there, that’s the shot I’ve got to take.”
For Rigoni to wind up at Quinnipiac, Dunleavy had to break one of his own rules mere months into his first stint as a head coach.
“My goal was to not recruit any guys that I hadn’t seen play live in person,” Dunleavy said. “But I had a really trusted source coaching here in the United States at a higher level refer his tape to me, basically saying ‘I don’t know if he’s a need and fit for us, but at your level I think he’d be tremendous.’”
Due in large part to a lack of depth from outgoing transfers after the coaching change, Rigoni was pressed into action early and often, more than most freshmen at the Division I level. Rigoni appeared in all 33 of the Bobcats’ games last season, starting 14 of their final 15 to finish out the year.
Making the move to Division I basketball is a huge adjustment to any new collegiate player, but to make that change while living halfway around the world for the first time in one’s life adds an entirely new wrinkle to the equation.
“I think because you know you’re going to be here for so long, you’re just excited to be here,” Rigoni said, shirking thoughts of homesickness. “The toughest part is the ups and downs of the season. Sometimes when you’re down a little bit, you look at the negative side of things.”
After joining the Bobcats in the summer of 2017, Rigoni did not have an opportunity to return to Australia until this past May. His closest ties to home came from the occasional phone conversation and a well-timed Christmas visit from his parents during which they were able to see Jacob play in person a handful of times.
Rigoni’s breakout game came in the heart of New York City last December, when he notched a season-high 20 points while shooting 4-for-6 from three-point range in a thrilling 89-87 win over Columbia. Fellow freshman Rich Kelly led all scorers with 22 in that contest, and from then on out, the two became a tight pair.
“His family has done a lot for me; they’ve probably been my family away from home,” Rigoni said of Kelly. “We’ve had each others’ backs through the ups and downs of our freshman year. We both really believe in each other and I think we’re going to do some special things together.”
Much like Rigoni, Kelly was thrown into the fire last season. As the team’s primary point guard, Kelly’s test was even stiffer as he was tasked with starting all but one of Quinnipiac’s games all season, leading the squad with 34.2 minutes per game. However, going through those struggles last season will hopefully benefit both moving forward into their sophomore campaigns.
“I thought both of those guys at their own time hit mental and physical walls and pushed through them to where they both played very well at the end of the year,” Dunleavy said of the duo. “I think that’s natural for a first-year player. We can work on as many drills as we want, but there’s nothing that can help a guy develop more than just being thrown out there in really difficult situations.”
There are few situations more difficult than facing the defending national champions to open your season, but when Dunleavy stands across the court coaching against his mentor Jay Wright for the first time on Saturday, the chance he took on Rigoni will be one well worth the risk.

Defense, veteran leadership carry Iona to win in opener

E.J. Crawford's 14 points led Iona as Gaels opened third straight MAAC championship defense with gritty victory over Albany. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Much had been made of Iona's latest roster overhaul this offseason, with only two incumbent players from last season's third consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship-winning outfit serving as the latest dose of misdirected criticism for one of the true mid-major dynasties in the college basketball landscape of recent years.

The names have changed, the faces have changed, and the method of victory -- compared to some of the shootouts of the past -- may have also changed, but the result remained the same Friday night.

After allowing the visiting Albany Great Danes to get out to an 11-1 head start that soon became a 25-10 advantage with just over six minutes remaining in the first half, the Gaels gradually and methodically chipped away at the chasm on the scoreboard, seizing control down the stretch to prevail, downing the one-time America East Conference power in a 72-68 war of attrition inside the Hynes Athletics Center.

"I'm really proud of my team tonight," head coach Tim Cluess remarked as Iona saw four of its players post double-digit point totals, paced by 14 markers from junior forward E.J. Crawford. "They fought back from a large deficit early on and they showed real heart, and I was really happy to see them compete at that level. We have a lot of growing to do, obviously, on both sides of the court and getting used to each other, but I did like what I saw in them being tough enough to gut it out."

The toughness revealed itself early and often on a damp Friday evening just north of the New York city limits, as Albany landed a haymaker on Iona's championship jaw, scoring eleven unanswered points after Crawford's free throw to break a scoreless draw. Iona's deficit remained a double-digit hole for almost the entire opening stanza, until a 16-2 run punctuated by back-to-back three-pointers from freshman Andrija Ristanovic pulled the Gaels within one point before the Great Danes got a triple from Australian forward Cameron Healy to take a 30-26 lead into the intermission. But even in the face of being outplayed in the initial proceedings, the message within the walls that have seen five NCAA Tournament teams develop over time was one of calmness and faith.

"We just had to keep our heads," said Rickey McGill, who rebounded from a sluggish start to come one assist shy of a double-double, tallying 12 points in the process, including a key five-point swing in the second half that helped Iona establish control. "It wasn't nothing bad. Everybody's new to each other, so we were trying to get the feel of everybody and just had to keep going hard, and that's what we did."

Iona responded in the second half by placing Albany squarely on its heels, ramping up the pressure on the defensive end to force 22 turnovers on the night and outplay the Danes at the style head coach Will Brown has honed to near-perfection in the Capital Region, taking the lead for the first time since the opening minutes when Ben Perez drained a three to put the Gaels ahead by two, at 46-44, with just over eleven minutes to play. Albany fought back to retake a three-point advantage, but an 8-0 run capped off by a McGill jumper, followed by a steal and long-distance shot from the senior point guard, gave the hosts a lead that would not be relinquished.

"I just played my game," McGill said. "I don't get down on myself. It's my last year, so I'm trying to compete every day, compete every game. That's what I gotta do to lead my team, hit the big shots."

Perez and fellow junior college transfer Tajuan Agee each recorded 10 points to join elder statesmen McGill and Crawford as Iona's most productive performers. For Albany, Ahmad Clark's 21 points led all scorers as the junior hopes to fill the void left by former program mainstays Joe Cremo and David Nichols, each of whom transferred during the offseason, landing at Villanova and Florida State, respectively.

"For us coming in here, it was about learning what we have," said Brown. "I'm proud of Ahmad, because he's really grown from a year ago. He just wasn't given an opportunity last year because David played so many minutes, and every time he got on the floor last year, he was trying to prove to me -- and I get it -- that he should be on the floor, and he tried to do it by making big plays all the time. I think now, he's in a comfort zone, he knows I trust him, he's got a lot of confidence in his ability, and now I'm happy for him. He was awesome in our two scrimmages, and it carried over to the game tonight. He's only going to get better, but he was as good as anybody in the game tonight, in my opinion."

The positives to be gleaned were felt just as much in the winning locker room, where Cluess was impressed with two things in particular: The defensive effort -- something for which his teams have been wrongfully maligned in the past -- and the maturation of Crawford as an interior player.

"He has (grown up)," Cluess said of Crawford. "I think a year ago or two years ago, if he'd shot from the three-point line like this, he'd end up with two or three points, so his game has changed so much now that he can drive the ball, he can post you up. And he wants to. I really like the diversity that's coming around in his game, and a lot of it's due to the physical condition and how much he's worked on his body."

"I think our defensive intensity and our pressure helped us out a lot. I think we got a couple of turnovers, we got out off some rebounds and got down the court better. I thought we moved the ball, attacked the rim, and did a lot of things that were good. We just have to worry about ourselves a little bit now. We know that we're going to play some really good teams in this stretch, but it's about us getting better right now so we can be where we want to be as the season moves along. I think we have room for a lot of upside."

Hofstra erases 15-point deficit to win season opener going away

Justin Wright-Foreman's 20 points led all scorers as Hofstra overcame 16-1 deficit to defeat Mount St. Mary's in season opener. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Vincent Simone (@VTSimone)

HEMPSTEAD, NY -- Justin Wright-Foreman hoped his senior season would present an opportunity to become a more vocal leader. 

He just didn’t expect that desire to be tested so suddenly.

Hofstra kicked off its 2018-19 season Friday on the back end of a sold-out doubleheader after the women’s team fell earlier in the evening, and for a while, it appeared the men’s team would share the same fate.

The Pride experienced what can only be described as a “this really can’t be happening” start, as an inexperienced Mount St. Mary’s squad  picked last of ten in the Northeast Conference preseason coaches’ poll and three days removed from a 105-55 drubbing at NC State  jumped out to an improbable 12-0 lead.

The Mount extended its advantage to 16-1 with 12:24 on the clock in the first half, but that 15-point lead would prove to be its high water mark for the evening. Spurred on by Wright-Foreman, junior guard Eli Pemberton and newly-added Penn transfer Dan Dwyer, the Pride pulled off an impressive about-face to take a 31-28 advantage into halftime.

“I just know this group of guys that we have,” said Pemberton, who coolly claimed there wasn’t a moment of panic through that horrid start. “I know these guys got my back and I’ve got theirs, and that’s why I wasn’t worried at 16-1. I kept the same face the whole time. I just knew.”

“We just believed in ourselves the whole way through,” Wright-Foreman added. “They had us down 16-1 and all we did when we came to the bench was tell each other we have to stay positive and stay optimistic through the whole thing.”

Hofstra carried its momentum through the break, kicking off the second half on a 15-7 run. A later 21-5 Pride swing pushed the decision beyond all doubt as Hofstra’s lead ballooned to 67-48 with 8:18 remaining.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a rougher start than that,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “I thought the story was that we kept our poise, that we still believed in ourselves. We knew that we could overcome that, that we could – possession by possession – win the battle and swim back. We did, and I’m really proud of our guys for keeping their poise and their composure.”

That poise was evident in Hofstra’s second half shooting. The Pride rebounded from a 36.7 percent effort in the first half to connect on 53 percent of their attempts in the latter stanza.

Wright-Foreman enters this season with lofty expectations both publicly and personally. The owner of a 24.4 point-per-game average a season ago – good for fifth in the nation – Wright-Foreman is already squarely in the public eye as one of the premier scoring talents in all of college basketball. Friday’s season-opener just happened to provide the senior with an opportunity to test his leadership skills as well.

“He knows he’s a confident guy; he’s the most confident guy I’ve ever coached,” Mihalich said of Wright-Foreman. “He knew we’d be okay. Just his body language and the way he acted, it’s contagious and the guys knew it. He’s the guy we look to.”

Wright-Foreman capped the evening with a well-rounded line of 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Pemberton and redshirt junior point guard Desure Buie supported their captain with 18 points apiece, with Buie tacking on five assists of his own.

Sophomore Jalen Gibbs led the Mount St. Mary’s attack for the second time in as many games. The Drake transfer capped the night with a game-high 21 points. Graduate guard and Texas Southern transfer K.J. Scott added 14, while redshirt freshman Nana Opoku hit double-figures for the first time in his career with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Hofstra continues a packed start to the season with a quick trip to Marshall on Sunday, after which the Pride will meet North Carolina A&T and visit Maryland all within a week.

Friday, November 9, 2018

LIU Brooklyn vs. College of New Rochelle Photo Gallery

Photos from LIU Brooklyn's 109-76 victory over the College of New Rochelle, on November 6, 2018:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)