Hofstra’s push for the school’s first NCAA men’s basketball tournament bid in nearly two decades is not slowing down following the graduation of the nation’s second-leading scorer.
The Pride were tabbed the preseason favorites capture the Colonial Athletic Association title despite no longer having the services of star guard Justin Wright-Foreman, who was drafted by Utah Jazz in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft. The lofty expectations follow a season that ended just short of Hofstra’s goal when the Pride were tripped up by Northeastern in the CAA Championship with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
“We had an incredible year last year and we came up one game short,” said seventh-year Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich. “It certainly motivates us.”
After reaching the doorstep of March Madness, Hofstra was selected for the National Invitational Tournament for the second time in four years. The Pride gave ACC foe North Carolina State a competitive battle in the first round of the NIT before a national television audience on ESPN2 in an 84-78 loss.
Mihalich is looking for senior guard Eli Pemberton to account for much of the lost scoring left behind by Wright-Foreman as the Connecticut native looks to build off a big junior season in which he ranked second on the team with 15 points per game. Pemberton, who garnered first team preseason All-CAA honors, entered his final season in a Hofstra uniform with 1,383 career points including 155 three-pointers to rank 11th all-time in program history.
Senior Desure Buie brings added veteran leadership to the backcourt following a breakthrough junior campaign where he earned CAA Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named to the All-CAA Third Team. He ranks 10th in Hofstra history with 348 career assists and was the team’s leading scorer with 19 points in an 86-71 loss at Bucknell on Nov. 13.
The Pride’s guard-heavy lineup also features three-point shooting threats Tariq Coburn and Jalen Ray. Coburn shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc last year after transferring from St. Bonaventure. Ray connected on 51 three-pointers off the bench as a sophomore last year and has emerged as a starter this season.
Georgia transfer Isaac Kante will look to give Hofstra an inside presence to complement the Pride’s multiple perimeter options. The 6-7 Kante provides a scoring presence in the paint to go along with his ability to dominate on the boards.
“We have a team with great balance,” Mihalich said. “We have a lot of guys who can score.”
Hofstra boasts plenty of scoring punch off the bench led by University of Rhode Island transfer Omar Silverio, who scored 13 points in a 94-74 win against Monmouth on Nov. 9. The 6-3 guard was a standout high school player at St. Raymond in the Bronx where he averaged 21 points a game.
Senior forward Stafford Trueheart is expected to be another big contributor in Hofstra’s rotation once he makes his way back from an early-season injury. The 6-8 Trueheart started nine games last year and tallied 14 points in Hofstra’s first round NIT loss to NC State.
Hofstra is in the midst of a challenging non-conference schedule that includes a West Coast trip to powerhouse UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego. A Florida trip follows for a neutral site game against Holy Cross in Dec. 1 before a challenging road test at St. Bonaventure on Dec. 7. The Pride return home to host Stony Brook on Dec. 10 in a battle for Long Island bragging rights before traveling to Princeton Dec. 19 and Manhattan on Dec. 22.
The home CAA schedule commences on Jan. 2 against league rival William & Mary and versus Elon two days later. The Mack Sports Complex will also be the site of a CAA finals rematch against Northeastern on Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. and versus the preseason number two pick College of Charleston on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.
The season tipped off with a disappointing 79-71 opening night loss to San Jose State on Nov. 6 before Hofstra rebounded three days later in a 94-74 blowout of Monmouth. Mihalich said he hopes the down performance in the opener in which the Pride were out-rebounded by 14 and let an eight point lead slip away in the final seven minutes serves as a teachable moment for the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign.
“We learned you can’t just show up,” he said. “I think the guys learned how not to play against San Jose State and the right way to play against Monmouth.”