Two weeks ago, I was heading home from Kingston, R.I. I had just watched Hofstra beat Cleveland State 63-53 in what basically amounted to a rock fight at the Legends Classic subregional at URI. It was a gutty, winning performance by a Pride team that took the Vikings best punch in the mouth and came back with multiple shots to their opponents' head. They outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded a team that had won road games at Vanderbilt and Kent State earlier in the season. Cleveland State hasn't lost a game since that loss to Hofstra.
As I drove back home to Long Island that night, savoring my victory burger and chocolate banana shake from the awesome Jake's Wayback Burgers in Mystic, Connecticut, I couldn't help but think about the possibilities with this Hofstra team. I had watched Bryant Crowder play his first two games of the season at Rhode Island. He gave them an inside scoring presence, height and serious attitude. The Pride now had a nine-deep rotation, with Steven Nwaukoni, Shemiye McLendon, Dwan McMillan and Crowder giving good contributions off the bench. And they had a legitimate big time scorer in Mike Moore.
But the next day, the struggles began for Hofstra in the final game of the Legends Classic. As I was following the game on my iPhone at my nephew's baptism in a church up in Wappinger Falls, they had a seven-point lead over Boston University with 10 minutes left. They proceeded to shoot 2-for-15 the rest of the way in losing to the Terriers 68-61. Starting point guard Steve Mejia injured his hamstring during the loss to BU, and Crowder was suspended again for violation of team rules.
But last Saturday, despite being down two players, Hofstra started out well at home against James Madison. They were up nine points at home on JMU with about 11 minutes left. But, again they hit a cold spell, going 1-for-8 from the field. They would lose to the Dukes 62-60 on a Humpty Hitchens jumper with three seconds left.
Then this Tuesday night, as I watched the Wagner streaming video feed at home, the Pride completely unraveled in the second half against the Seahawks, losing 58-43 to Team Hurley. What I thought two weeks ago was going to be a springboard to a season of success turned out to be the last win Hofstra had going into today. Hopefully home cooking would be the remedy to what ailed the Pride.
My son Matthew and I took our usual seats in Section 111, Row D. It turned out to be Hofstra Fan Appreciation Day and there were a ton of Boy Scouts in the building today. They came out on to the arena floor holding a giant American flag as the national anthem was beautifully sung. Matthew and I had a feeling of hope that this was this day that Hofstra turned the tide.
But that hope was quickly dashed as they struggled out of the gate. While the fans in my section stood at the request of the dance team until Hofstra scored a point, the Pride had three turnovers and missed their first three shots in the first nearly four minutes of the game. Amazingly, Hofstra was tied with Manhattan at two after a Moore jumper with 16:50 left. We could finally sit down.
But the Jaspers would then make us wish we had stayed standing, as they went on a 21-4 run over the next 7:45. Manhattan buried three three-pointers, and George Beamon hit an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Jaspers up 23-6 with nine minutes left in the first half. I sat in my seat dumbfounded as Matthew sat next to me showing his frustration.
But Hofstra finally found their shooting touch and went on a 14-2 run of their own over the next four minutes. Moore's jumper made the score 25-20 with 5:04 left, and the crowd was finally into the game. After a missed free throw by Manhattan's Liam McCabe Moran, Moore had a chance to cut it to two points, but his three-pointer rimmed in and out.
The Jaspers would respond with a 9-1 spurt to end the half. Hofstra would miss all seven of its shots and commit three turnovers in the last five minutes. The Pride would walk into the locker room down 34-21 at halftime.
A youth basketball team from Syosset was the halftime entertainment as they played split-squad half-court games. They handled the ball better than Manhattan and Hofstra, who had combined in the first half for 21 turnovers. Coach Mo Cassara was so upset at his team that they didn't go back onto the court until three minutes left before the start of the second half.
Unfortunately, the long halftime talk with his team didn't help the Pride. The Jaspers actually extended their lead to 15, 52-37, with a little less than eight-and-a-half minutes left. Things were looking bleak for the Pride, and I had not heard the Lions Den student section so quiet in such a long time.
However, the Pride didn't quit. Nathaniel Lester, who had been quiet for most of the game and spent a good part of the second half on the bench, came alive in the final few minutes. Lester and Moore keyed a 9-1 spurt over the next nearly two-and-a-half minutes. A Lester layup cut the lead to seven, 53-46 with six minutes left.
But just when it seemed Hofstra was on the verge of making it a game, Manhattan responded. Beamon buried a three-pointer, Emmy Andujar followed with a layup, and the Jaspers were up by 12, 58-46 with a little less than four minutes left.
The Pride would have one last mini-spurt in them. Lester would score five consecutive points and the lead again was cut to seven, 62-55 with three minutes left. But once again, the Jaspers responded. Rhamel Brown, who had his way inside in the second half for Manhattan, scored five of the next six points for the Jaspers. Manhattan was back up 68-55 with two minutes left and many of the 2,800 that were in attendance headed for the exits.
Very few people were left in the stands when the buzzer sounded on Manhattan's 68-59 win over Hofstra. Moore led all scorers with 20 points but he didn't have much help. Lester scored 11 points, but most of them came in the final few minutes of the game. Manhattan had much more balance, as Beamon had 14 points, while Brown had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Andujar and McCabe Moran each added 10 for the Jaspers.
Matthew and I made our way over to commiserate with Defiantly Dutch after the game. The Dutchman and I were both at a loss for words. The Pride had now lost four in a row, and both of us had to think about what good came out of the game. Finally, I said my goodbye to the Dutchman, as Matthew and I had to head home to meet up with my wife and younger son to get a Christmas tree.
Two weeks ago, I was driving home, enjoying a delicious meal, looking forward to what seemed to be a hopeful season. Tonight, I drove home dismayed and speechless. Hofstra got outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded by Manhattan. I was left wondering if my team was going to be able to turn their season around.
It's amazing how one's perception can change in the span of 14 days.
MANHATTAN 68, at HOFSTRA 59 12/10/2011
MANHATTAN 7-4 (2-0) -- P. Siva 6-11 1-3 16; E. Andujar 4-8 2-3 10; G. Beamon 4-8 4-5 14; L. McCabe-Moran 4-6 0-1 11; R. Brown 5-8 4-6 14; M. Alvarado 2-4 2-4 6; K. Brutus 2-6 0-0 5; D. Kates 1-4 0-0 2; R. Colonette 2-6 0-0 4; M. Koita 0-4 2-2 2; R. McCoy 0-1 0-0 0; D. Coulibaly 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-55 14-21 68. HOFSTRA 3-7 (0-1) -- M. Moore 5-15 8-8 20; D. McMillan 3-7 3-4 9; S. McLendon 3-12 0-0 9; N. Lester 4-9 3-4 11; M. Kone 2-2 0-0 4; S. Nwaukoni 2-5 2-2 6; D. Imes 0-4 0-0 0; M. Grogan 0-3 0-0 0; J. Good 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-57 16-18 59.
Three-point goals: MAN 6-12 (L. McCabe-Moran 3-4; G. Beamon 2-3; M. Koita 0-1; K. Brutus 1-2; E. Andujar 0-1; D. Kates 0-1), HOFS 5-19 (M. Moore 2-8; M. Grogan 0-3; S. McLendon 3-8); Rebounds: MAN 39 (R. Brown 11), HOFS 29 (N. Lester 8); Assists: MAN 16 (E. Andujar 5), HOFS 10 (D. McMillan 5); Total Fouls -- MAN 21, HOFS 22; Fouled Out: MAN-K. Brutus; HOFS-None.