JMU hands men's basketball its first home loss in overtime thriller
The Saturday, Feb. 23 game between Hofstra men’s basketball and James Madison University came down to the wire on Saturday afternoon, with the Dukes winning a 104-99 thriller in overtime. Played on Senior Day, the Pride came up just short in their bid to finish the season off with an undefeated record at home and give the seniors one last home victory.
Nevertheless, it was not to be. With the first 1,000 fans who arrived at the arena wearing Justin Wright-Foreman t-shirts, and a packed David S. Mack Sports Complex roaring all game long, the atmosphere was fitting for the classic the game turned out to be.
Of his home arena, Wright-Foreman said, “Words can’t describe. I’m just happy I got the opportunity to play here, in front of these great fans that we have.
In the last home game of his career, Wright-Foreman, who is a candidate for both the Haggerty Award (given to the top player in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area) and the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award (given to the best collegiate shooting guard) was on his game, per usual, scoring a team high 33 points on 12-18 shooting, including 6-10 from three. However, matching him bucket for bucket was Dukes guard Matt Lewis, who put up a career high 40 points on 11-22 shooting, including 6-9 from three – leaving his mark as the best player on the floor Saturday afternoon.
But before Wright-Foreman and Lewis’ winning efforts went back and forth, Hofstra’s recent trend of slow starts continued, as they came out flat to start the game and didn’t muster a single field goal the last six minutes of the first half. Defensively, however, Hofstra also didn’t hold its own, allowing a 50% JMU field goal percentage to push the Dukes out in front to an eight point halftime lead.
“You’ve just got to take it personal defensively,” said Mihalich. “You have to take it personal. And we didn’t. The last three games we didn’t guard. And we were really good guarding for the first 26 games. We’ve got to find it, because we’ve got it.”
“We just stopped playing defense,” Wright-Foreman said.
On Saturday, the Pride didn’t figure it out well enough nor fast enough. And on a day where they should have been playing inspired from the opening tip, Hofstra didn’t show it. For most of the game, they were out-hustled, failed to box out, and lacked energy, although they did turn it on in key stretches to get themselves back in the game.
Holding the Pride back in the early going was an inefficient outing from Desure Buie, Tareq Coburn and Jaquil Taylor. Both Buie and Coburn went 0-3 from the field with Buie also committing 3 turnovers, while Taylor committed another set of costly turnovers underneath the basket which eliminated scoring opportunities. Combined, these three scored 8 points in the first half, all by Taylor.
In addition to trailing 40-32 at the half. Hofstra went just 1-8 from the three point line failing to find any sort of rhythm. But coming out of the break, the Pride played some of their best basketball of the game. Coburn shook off his poor first half, scoring 11 points in the first few minutes of the second half, providing a necessary spark for his team.
“We had a chance to take control of this game, but I feel like we just didn’t do enough defensively. When you score as much as we did to start the second half, we should have taken control,” Mihalich said.
While Coburn was Hofstra’s spark plug, Wright-Foreman proved to be its steadying force once again. After Coburn’s surge, Hofstra’s star guard added three triples before looking into the crowd and throwing his hand down with attitude.
Desure Buie shook off a poor first half of his own, racking up an incredible 11 assists without a single turnover in the second half. His ability to make plays kept the Pride out in front for most of the second half. Whether it was kickouts for threes, or handoffs inside, Buie’s playmaking ability created efficient offense for the Pride in the second half.
After the Hofstra’s improved play, what unfolded down the stretch turned the game into a memorable one.
With less than a minute left and the game tied, Wright-Foreman drew the defense inside with him and kicked it out to Tareq Coburn who let it fly without hesitation. Bang.
After going scoreless in the first half, Coburn scored 14 huge points in the second half, including the biggest shot of the game to that point.
JMU guard Stuckey Mosley’s put back layup brought JMU back to within one, before Buie made two clutch free throws for Hofstra to push the lead back up to three. But, as had been the back and forth nature of this game, JMU brought it to within 1 again, this time on a nice layup by Dwight Wilson, for his 13th and 14th points of the game.
Buie followed up once again with two clutch free throws to put his team up 3, before JMU took the ball out with 3.8 seconds left, needing a three to tie the game and send it to overtime.
With a screen set to free JMU point guard Lewis in the back court, Lewis got possession of the ball, ran past the half court line and stopped just before the three-point line to pull up the potential game-tying shot with a defender right in his face.
In the ultimate pressure situation, the ball hit the bottom of the net. The Pride’s student section, who refer to themselves as the Lion’s Den, was stunned.
“Yeah, you know, we play a lot of zone, and it’s hard to trap out of the zone,” Mihalich said on the Pride’s defensive efforts at the end of regulation. “At the end of the day, I can show you the board in there. It says that one of our defensive keys is to guard one on one. And, like I said, you’ve got to take it personal. [Lewis] took turns. He scored on everybody. He just isolated, and they basically said, “we’re going to score on you.” And they did. So we’ve got to respond better.”
To start overtime, Wright-Foreman hit a three, as if to remind everyone who the nation’s third leading scorer is. With the bucket, Wright-Foreman also became the fourth leading scorer in Hofstra basketball history, yet another incredible achievement in his remarkable, historic career.
With Hofstra now leading 96-91, Stuckey Mosley made a three, while Wright-Foreman simultaneously fouled Greg Jones, awarding Jones two free throws on top of the already made three, which he converted.
Though it’s never a good time for a five-point possession, the Pride perhaps picked the worst time to give one up.
And to make matters worse, Lewis added a four-point play on the ensuing possession to go up 100-96, draining a three as the referee blew the whistle for a foul.
After JMU’s 9-0 run in a matter of moments, Wright-Foreman split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 100-97 with a minute left.
On the Pride’s ensuing possession, Greg Jones committed an over the back foul on Dan Dwyer, who calmly stepped to the line and made two huge free throws in order to bring the game within one at 100-99.
Lewis again got fouled driving to the basket, a call that left the Pride incredulous. After predictably making both free throws, JMU led 102-99. Hofstra had the ball down three, with 18.1 seconds left and their undefeated home record at stake.
It was Wright-Foreman’s turn to answer back and hit a game tying three of his own.
The storybook ending was there for the taking. But on this day, it was not to be written. The ball clanked off the rim. No good.
JMU got the rebound and iced the game with a pair of free throws. Just like that, Hofstra’s home record received its first blemish, with the Pride losing 104-99.
“Whether you’re winning sixteen in a row, or [if] you just lost two out of three, it’s all about the next game,” Mihalich said.
Ready for what’s to come, Wright-Foreman put it simply, “We’ve got to win the next two games, [against] Drexel and Delaware. That’s all that matters at this point,”
With the loss, Hofstra falls to 23-6 overall, and 13-3 in Colonial Athletic Association play, standing now just one game ahead of Northeastern for first place in the CAA. The Pride go on the road Thursday, Feb. 28 to face Drexel and wrap up their season on Saturday, March 2. at 4 p.m. against Delaware.
“It’s soul searching time right now,” Mihalich said. “We’re still a game up with two to go. I like being in this position, but right now we’ve figure it out. I believe in this team.”