By Ed Morrone
That was the sound of the lofty expectations that the media and fans had put on the Hofstra men's basketball team disappearing in the blink of an eye. After an astonishing 0-3 start to the season, one with so much preseason promise, the panic pedal was stepped on with a violent thud louder than the Lion's Den student section at home games.
But wait just a minute. This is college basketball and these things do happen, especially early on in the season (just ask Boston College, a preseason top 20 team that has already suffered embarrassing losses to Providence and Vermont in the season's first two weeks). Not that Hofstra is attempting to justify the slow start, but the team hasn't thrown in the towel after its sluggish beginning.
"I don't think we got down about it," head coach Tom Pecora says with conviction. "I mean look, we lost three very close games by a total of nine points. If the ball rolls in instead of out on a couple possessions then we're probably 3-0 and not 0-3."
Perhaps, but at the same time it's impossible to blame it all on bad luck with all of the major mistakes that were made in those three games. In the opener at Charlotte, the Pride dug itself in an 18-point halftime hole, only to rally back and miss nine free throws in a game it lost by six. In the two-point overtime loss at Manhattan, this time Hofstra missed 16 free throws and turned the ball over an eye-popping 27 times. At the first round of the Great Alaska Shootout (GAS) against Hawaii, the Pride botched nine more foul shots and were out-rebounded 38-29, mostly because of the absence of Chris Gadley (concussion) and Greg Washington (ruled ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse).
So after an 0-3 start, how does a team respond to all of the pundits and naysayers that come out of the woodwork?
"Maybe they're right, I don't know," Pecora said. But then the coach is quick to correct himself, saying, "It's a marathon, not a sprint and it's going to be about how we finish. If we finish the way we're capable of then people will forget about starting out 0-3."
And the fans won't let you believe it, but the Pride did rebound to win two games and finish fourth in the GAS. Granted the wins came rather unconvincingly against Marshall (a school more known for its football program) and Alaska-Anchroage (a Division-II school), but they acted as a stepping stone, one the team can turn into positive momentum over some very winnable upcoming games.
In the two wins, Antoine Agudio found his stroke and tallied a combined 47 points while sophomore Zygis Sestokas stepped up and buried six three-pointers in seven tries against Anchorage. The play of these two took some of the heat off of Loren Stokes, who may have been trying to do too much in the three losses, especially with the continuing shooting struggles of Carlos Rivera (a dismal 23.6 percent so far).
"It was real disappointing when we lost that first game [to Hawaii]," Sestokas said. "We were a little bit down but finally we found a way to win and that was the most important thing in that tournament."
The most important thing from this point will be taking the aforementioned winnable games. After six road games to start the season, the Pride will finally get its home opener Saturday against CAA foe Georgia State, a team Hofstra had no trouble with last season. From there it's two games against local rivals Stony Brook and St. Francis before a Dec. 22 showdown at No. 14 Syracuse.
"We know what we are capable of," Sestokas said. "I think we just had to prove it to ourselves."
Sestokas and the Pride better hope they have proved it to themselves because after three losses already, fans have a foot hanging above that panic pedal hoping they don't need to accelerate again this season.