Hofstra dreaming big amid win streak that just won’t stop

Hofstra dreaming big amid win streak that just won’t stop

A camera crew waits for practice to end. There is a second. And a third. Seven weeks have passed without a loss. Hempstead Turnpike suddenly intersects with Broadway.

“It’s starting to get a little overwhelming,” Hofstra senior Justin Wright-Foreman said of the increased attention. “I try not to pay too much attention, but everybody’s coming now. It’s all right, though. It’s cool.

“But we can’t just act like we’re another basketball team anymore. We’re more than that.”

This Pride team could become more than any Hofstra team that’s preceded it.

Since suffering a two-point overtime loss at VCU on Nov. 24, Hofstra (16-3, 6-0) has won 13 straight and sidled up behind the nation’s only undefeated teams (Michigan, Virginia) to build the country’s third-longest winning streak.

It is the school’s second-longest win streak in more than five decades. It is the result of their best-ever start in CAA play — 14 straight home wins and of a pace set to eclipse the program’s all-time, single-season win mark (26).

The streak has elevated Hofstra to 57th in the all-important NET rankings, surrounded by power conference teams. It has placed the Pride at No. 5 in the Mid-Major Top 25, and slotted as a 12-seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology.

It is the longest such ride Joe Mihalich has experienced in 21 seasons as a head coach — six at Hofstra — and a trip he never expected to take.

“Michigan, Virginia, Hofstra, look at that, pretty good company,” Mihalich said with a laugh. “But with that comes added expectations. [Teams] can’t wait to get here, and knock us down off that perch. You gotta know that. You gotta be ready for that. You gotta welcome that, and work harder.

“You might as well enjoy it. My wife keeps telling me, you have a lot of years, where, shoot, somebody else makes those shots, and someone else had the streak. We haven’t let it be the elephant in the room. You might as well talk about it. It’s a social-media-crazed world we live in. You pick your phone up, you’re gonna see something about the streak.”

The drought matters far more.

Nearly 18 years have passed since Hofstra last went dancing, since Jay Wright led the school to its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

In 2016, Mihalich’s team won 24 games and a share of the regular-season league title, but the Pride blew a double-digit lead in the second half of the conference championship game and lost in overtime.

“I’m not sure if that team wasn’t more talented, but I’m not so sure that this team isn’t even better chemistry-wise,” Mihalich said. “We got guys who work hard, and are doing an unbelievable job with their roles, and we have great leadership. All the intangibles are there.

“I’ve got no problem saying this — I thought we’d have a good team this year. I didn’t think we’d be this good. The reason we’re this good is because the chemistry’s really good. You’ve got to be glad when it happens because it doesn’t happen every year.”

Few years see the return of the reigning conference player of the year (Wright-Foreman), doubling as the nation’s third-leading scorer, or a wingman averaging double-digit points since he was a freshman (Eli Pemberton), or a respected senior running the point (Desure Buie), or a rotation hitting nearly 40 percent of 3-pointers.

Jacquil Taylor sensed the potential after transferring from a Purdue team that reached the Sweet 16 and compiled a 19-game win streak.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got here and saw them, I’m like, this team’s actually really good, and no one talks about them,” Taylor said. “Maybe it’s because of the conference, but that doesn’t matter. These are really good players. Some people just don’t know about them.

“We’re off to a great start, but we’re not as good as we can be.”

This season’s three losses came on the road against teams currently projected to play in the NCAA Tournament. Each felt avoidable.

The Pride were in front of Marshall in the final minutes of a four-point loss. They led now-No. 19 Maryland in the second half. They were one shot from silencing VCU’s sold-out crowd.

“We’ve gotten better with every game,” Wright-Foreman said. “We just can’t get too fat and happy about it.”

They can’t.

Even if they are curious how long the streak will live, their only concern is if the drought finally dies.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake here,” Wright-Foreman said. “It’s really special here, but we still have a lot more to go. We’re trying to do something this school hasn’t done in a while.

“I just want to see where this team can go.”

Games of the Week

Hofstra vs. Charleston (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
The Pride look like the team to beat in the CAA, but the defending champion Cougars remain the tallest hurdle to Hofstra’s long-awaited NCAA Tournament return. To claim the conference tournament in March, the Pride will have to win three games in Charleston, and likely have to go through the home team.

St. John’s at Butler (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)
The Red Storm are in solid shape after ending a two-game slide, but the four upcoming road games in their next five contests could determine if they’ll go dancing. The Bulldogs, another potential tournament team, have won four straight at home against the Johnnies, each by at least 20 points.

Seton Hall vs. DePaul (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Pirates’ surprisingly strong season is quickly sinking to preseason expectations, with three losses in their past four games. Seton Hall has enough quality wins to absorb its one-point loss at DePaul, but another defeat to the Big East’s perennial punching bag could be fatal to its tourney hopes.

Local Power Poll

1. St. John’s

Record: 15-3, 3-3
Up next: Saturday (4:30 p.m.) at Butler

2. Seton Hall

Record: 12-6, 3-3
Up next: Saturday (8 p.m.) vs. DePaul

3. Hofstra

Record: 16-3, 6-0
Up next: Saturday (4 p.m.) vs. Charleston

4. Stony Brook

Record: 15-3, 3-0
Up next: Saturday (1 p.m.) at Maine

5. Rutgers

Record: 8-9, 1-6
Up next: Monday (8 p.m.) vs. Nebraska

6. NJIT

Record: 13-5, 1-2
Up next: Saturday (4 p.m.) vs. Jacksonville

7. Fordham

Record: 9-8, 0-4
Up next: Saturday (7 p.m.) at George Mason

8. St. Francis Brooklyn

Record: 10-7, 2-2
Up next: Saturday (4 p.m.) vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

9. Wagner

Record: 8-7, 3-1
Up next: Saturday (4 p.m.) vs. Mount St. Mary’s

10. LIU Brooklyn

Record: 8-8, 2-2
Up next: Saturday (4:30 p.m.) vs. Fairleigh Dickinson

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