Hofstra began its final home stand of the season in disappointing fashion, with a 76-72 loss to the College of Charleston Thursday night at the Mack Sports Complex.
Charleston, which got the better of Hofstra 77-71 in their first meeting January 7, were led by redshirt junior Joe Chealey’s 18 points. Chealey, who leads the Cougars with 16.7 ppg, previously posted a career-high 31 in the first meeting with the Pride.
Hofstra led by as many as five after a Rokas Gustys layup with 3:54 remaining in the first half, but Charleston closed the opening frame on a 14-3 run to take a six point advantage into the locker rooms.
A 10-0 Cougar run midway through the second stanza pushed their lead to 15 – the largest of the night – with 8:41 left to play, but an ensuing 18-6 Hofstra rally pulled the Pride within three with just over two minutes remaining.
Hofstra got within one on a Brian Bernardi corner three with 16 seconds on the clock, and after Chealey made one of two from the opposing free throw line, the Pride had an opportunity to tie or take the lead on one final possession.
Justin Wright-Foreman – who paced the Pride with 26 points – was the one to take the shot. The sophomore’s straight-on 3-point attempt wobbled well short of the basket. It appeared Charleston’s Nick Harris clipped Wright-Foreman on the wrist as he released the ball, but the play went without a whistle.
Here are three thoughts from Thursday night in Hempstead:
No-Foul Frustration – Hofstra’s final possession left plenty of bitter feelings in the air after the final horn. Head coach Joe Mihalich rushed through the handshake line before most of the Charleston players could even line up, as the Pride contingent left the court in a daze.
Before having a chance to review the video himself, Mihalich left the determination of what occurred up to Wright-Foreman. The sophomore produced his eight consecutive 20-point performance, but was adamant he had been obstructed on the final play.
“I got fouled,” Wright-Foreman said. “He clearly hit me on my wrist.”
This was far from the first time Hofstra had been left with a bitter taste in its mouth after a close loss. The Pride, who fell to 5-10 in league play, have dropped four league games by a combined 11 points including both overtime contests they have found themselves in this year.
“Eliminate a couple of bonehead plays here and there, do a little better job of guarding the basketball, and we’re going to be on the right side of close [games],” Mihalich added. “We had a stretch in January where whatever could go wrong went wrong, and that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to deal with that.”
Gustys Back In The Fold – Following a four game absence, Hofstra’s star forward Rokas Gustys returned from a lower body injury in the Pride’s 74-64 win over Northeastern last time out. The junior recorded just two points in that contest, but took a big step forward with a 16-point, 12-rebound line Thursday night.
“It’s good to have this guy back,” Mihalich said after the game while patting Gustys on the back.
Despite his final line, Gustys had moments of frustration throughout the night, kicked off by a reach-in foul just 26 seconds into the game. A few minutes later, he narrowly avoided a technical foul after arguing an out-of-bounds call, instead receiving a word from the referee.
“I missed four games and it’s just been frustrating trying to get back,” Gustys said. “Last game I couldn’t finish and it was a little frustrating. In practice I was trying to finish as much as possible.”
After averaging a double-double on 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game last season, Gustys has struggled in his junior campaign. His scoring has dipped nearly five points to 8.8 per game, and averaged 12.0 boards per contest.
However, the 6-9 centerpiece of Hofstra’s frontcourt is no doubt a difference maker when on the court, and if the Pride are to make a run in the conference tournament, Gustys is sure to play a major role.
Opportunity Lost – Just minutes after Hofstra’s comeback against Charleston feel short, Northeastern fell by one to league-leader UNCW. With just three games remaining in the regular season, Hofstra trails Northeastern by two games for the final first-round bye in the conference tournament.
The Pride do own the tiebreaker over the Huskies by virtue of earning the season sweep, but Hofstra closes out their home stand Saturday afternoon against UNCW before embarking on a road trip at William & Mary and James Madison (who the Pride now trail by a game as well) to end the year.
By failing to pull within a game of the Huskies, Hofstra has left little room for error down the stretch if they want to avoid the extra game in the tournament. However, Northeastern does play Charleston on Saturday before closing with trips to Elon and UNCW, so a glimmer of hope remains.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.