The Pride ended the 2019–20 season on top, earning the number one seed in the CAA tournament and defeating Drexel, Delaware, and Northeastern to earn their first-ever CAA title. After the Pride avenged a CAA tournament finals loss to the Huskies the season prior and earned their first March Madness bid since 2001, the pandemic cut their dreams short.
This year the Pride will be without two players who keyed that championship season: senior guards Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton. Buie, who was honored as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after contributing a team-high 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the title game, led the Pride in points and assists during the regular season. Pemberton, who joined Buie on the all-tournament team after contributing 19 points and seven rebounds of his own in the championship game, was second on the team in scoring, playmaking, and rebounding.
Fortunately for the Pride, there is a lot to like about their returners. Jalen Ray, who joined Buie and Pemberton on the all-tournament team last year and was a preseason All-CAA honorable mention, notched 12 points per game last year while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc and adding over a steal per game. Coburn, a preseason All-CAA honorable mention alongside Ray, likewise averaged double figures and nearly 40% from downtown last season. If Hofstra wants to live up to its number-one preseason rank, Ray and Coburn must justify the hype.
However, the biggest returning star for the Pride is senior forward and preseason first teamer Isaac Kante. The 6’7” Kante, the lone big man in last year’s four-guard starting lineup, led the team in rebounding with eight boards per contest. He added 11 points a night as well on a CAA-best 66 percent shooting clip. Kante is expected to take over as the focal point for the Pride in Buie and Pemberton’s stead.
Among Hofstra’s additions, one player to watch is junior guard Shawndarius Cowart, who was named to the All-Panhandle Conference First Team at Pensacola State last year after contributing a well-rounded 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals per game. The Pride could use his defensive prowess and playmaking to offset their departures.
Bottom Line: With defending CAA champion Hostra receiving preseason number one rank despite the departure of their two top scorers, in the words of Joe Mihalich, ‘it’s time to prove ‘em right.’ Senior backcourt mates Coburn and Ray provide an experienced duo that can fill the gap left by Buie and Pemberton, while Kante provides a strong scoring and rebounding presence in the middle. If this trio takes a step forward and newcomers like Cowart provide a boost, there’s no shortage of reasons to believe that the Pride can repeat as CAA champs.
WASHINGTON — Before the swarming zone defense, before
the frantic scrambles for offensive rebounds, before the drives and the
kickouts and the one-on-one brilliance, Tuesday night’s game was about
The Northeastern Huskies knew it better than anybody. Two
years ago, after locking up a share of the CAA regular-season title, battling
their way to the conference championship, and building a 17-point lead in the
second half, the Huskies slowly collapsed as the Charleston Cougars clawed their
way to an overtime victory.
The Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies went home.
That loss stayed with the Huskies. It fueled them. As they
embarked on their 2018–19 season, they focused on a singular goal: returning to
the championship game and seizing the moment that had slipped through their
fingers. After exacting revenge on Charleston in the semifinal, the Huskies did
just that, knocking off the Hofstra Pride, 82–74, to win the March Madness
berth they’d dreamed of for a year. It was vengeance, and it felt fantastic.
The Huskies went to the NCAA Tournament. The Pride went
But on Tuesday night, in a rematch with the Pride, the
Huskies found out what the other end of vengeance feels like. In a remarkably
close, ludicrously energetic championship game, the Huskies fell to the Pride,
The Pride are going to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are
“It’s tough,” a visibly choked-up Max Boursiquot said after
the game. “It’s called March Madness for a reason.”
“That feeling of losing and then coming back the next year
and having another opportunity is a special feeling,” Bolden Brace added. “You
don’t get that unless you lose . . . They played with an edge and played with
that desire to win and I think they deserve it.”
Though Hofstra was coming off blowout wins over Drexel and
Delaware, it was Northeastern that struck first, running up an early lead thanks
to aggressive drives. Sometimes those drives yielded layups, other times they yielded
open threes off the catch for Husky guards who filled to the corner when
Hofstra shifted to protect the paint. With his team trailing 10–3, Hofstra head
coach Joe Mihalich called for time.
While the scoring came more evenly after that, the Huskies
continued to earn quality looks. Hofstra famously plays a matchup zone, a
combination of zone and man-to-man principles that allows for pressuring
ballhandlers on the perimeter without the draining effort of man defense. The
Huskies, who struggled against zone defenses in their other CAA Tournament
games against Towson and Elon, countered by repeatedly entering the ball to
small-ball center Max Boursiquot near the foul line, warping the zone and freeing
up cutting and kickout opportunities. The Huskies’ threes were finally falling,
they hustled to every rebound and loose ball, and held the Pride at bay.
But the squad with the best regular-season record couldn’t
be subdued indefinitely, and when Husky point guard Tyson Walker aggravated a
left shoulder injury and went to the bench, the Pride seized the momentum and
sent their fans into a frenzy. Walker returned but struggled, finishing with
just four points.
“When he started the second half he just didn’t look right
to me, just didn’t look his normal competitive self,” Northeastern head coach
Bill Coen noted. “I gotta give him a world of credit just for going out there
and trying. His competitiveness, his grit and determination, and his toughness are
really admirable . . . that was a physical game and he put himself out there
and put himself on the line for the team and the program.”
After a few minutes of hanging around and trading buckets,
Hofstra finally drew even. Three Jalen Ray free throws were bookended by two
eerily similar sequences in which a Hofstra guard drove into the paint and had
a layup blocked, only for his teammates to secure the rebound and nail a three
as the shot clock ran down. The upshot of these three mediocre possessions:
Guilien Smith, not to be outdone, let the Pride have the
lead for all of 18 seconds.
By this point the energy in the building was palpable. Each
team sensed the audible footsteps of the other and the gradual ticking of the
clock, and boosted their energy accordingly. It didn’t matter that their
workload — three playoff games in three days — was unprecedented in their
schedules this season; they played like their jerseys had been set ablaze.
“The way we summoned that energy was just playing together
and using each other and feeding off each other’s energy,” Brace said. “When
somebody was down, I think there was always someone there to pick them up, and
I think that just goes to show you how good of a team we were this year.”
A turnaround jumper from Shaq Walters afforded the Huskies a two-point halftime edge, far narrower than their double-digit halftime margins in their last two games. But that was the only real constant for much of the game: neither team could free itself from the other. For a 23-minute stretch spanning both halves, neither team built a lead greater than five points.
There was plenty for the Huskies to be happy about at the
break. Boursiquot, Walters, and Brace all had at least five points and three
rebounds, and all of them were shooting efficiently. On the opposite side of
the box score, Eli Pemberton decidedly wasn’t; he’d missed eight of his 11 shots
amid excellent pressure from Walters and Smith.
But there were also deficiencies that allowed the Pride to
close the gap. Roland, the conference’s leading scorer, had shot the ball just
three times. Hofstra pulled down six more offensive rebounds than Northeastern
and netted 10 second-chance points to the Huskies’ none. Isaac Kante, the lone
man in the middle on a team built around guards, snatched 10 rebounds.
The second half began with promise, as Brace knocked down a
catch-and-shoot three from the corner. Brace often played with hesitation this
season, opting for ball fakes, halfhearted drives, and slow-moving handoffs
instead of relying on his elite perimeter shooting. That version of him
completely vanished in the CAA Tournament, as he performed with the conviction,
determination, and leadership of a senior who didn’t want to play his last
Desure Buie didn’t want to play his last game either. While
his scoring buoyed the Pride all night, it was his passing that turned heads,
excited fans, and catalyzed the Hofstra run. He began with a quick first step
around Walker, which forced Walters to help off Pemberton. Without looking,
Buie wrapped a magnificent bounce pass around his head to a now-wide open
Pemberton in the corner, who finished off the play to retake the lead.
Just seconds later, Buie snuck up behind Boursiquot and
jabbed the ball loose. On the ensuing two-on-one, Walters planned his chase-down
block, timing his approach and jump to meet Buie at the rim. But with the level
of grace and smarts Buie has shown this year, he wasn’t about to be on anyone’s
highlight reel. Instead he added to his own and forced Coen to call timeout.
The Pride looked poised to pull away and the Huskies needed
an energy boost. And did Max Boursiquot ever respond.
Boursiquot has been anything and everything the Huskies needed to turn around a season marked by an unrealistic number of close, disappointing losses. He provides shooting, passing, positional versatility, perimeter and post defense, rebounding, and, most importantly, energy. He treats every rebound and loose ball as if it’s his birthright.
Right out of the timeout, Boursiquot, under duress, threw a picture-perfect cross-court pass to Roland for a triple. When Roland missed a three the next trip down, Boursiquot bodied Kante — who outweighs him by about 30 pounds — to snatch the rebound, received a pass at the top of the arc, and beat Kante with a right-to-left crossover and first step so quick that he seemed to teleport from the perimeter to the block. Even when he stumbled and lost the ball on a drive, Boursiquot grabbed it from Kante and threw a spot-on pass to a teammate — all while sitting on the floor.
When Boursiquot’s offense forced Mihalich to call timeout, his
message to Kante in the huddle was simple: we need to defend Max Boursiquot
because he’s killing us.
That said, Kante had his way offensively with Boursiquot on
a handful of possessions. Kante would establish deep position, earning himself either
an easy layup off a feed or an offensive rebound when a perimeter shot clanged
off the iron. Though Boursiquot enjoyed slightly greater success when fronting
Kante to deny him the ball, the Pride forward still posted a preposterous nine
points and 15 rebounds. He had as many offensive rebounds (six) as the entire
But it was not Kante that governed play down the stretch. It
Buie had an admirable campaign a year ago, but was considered
the third offensive option behind Pemberton and two-time CAA Player of the Year
Justin Wright-Foreman. After Boursiquot and Roland each picked up their fourth
foul and headed to the bench with 5:23 to play, and with Hofstra’s other top
scorers — Pemberton and Jalen Ray — not shooting efficiently, Buie seized his
He began with a tough, drifting, pullup long two, a
difficult shot with low value. He made it anyway. As Northeastern’s offense
sputtered amid suffocating on-ball pressure from the Pride, Buie stretched the lead
to nine with a quick drive, a pump fake to get Guilien Smith in the air, and a
strong finish through contact.
With less than two minutes left and the shot clock ticking
down on a stagnant Hofstra possession, Buie sized up a top-notch defender in
Guilien Smith, threw him a few crossovers, and fired up a contested three when
the dribbles failed to earn him a sliver of separation.
Buie wound up on the floor. The ball wound up in the bucket.
Despite Roland’s impressive drifting three a short while
later, Buie’s bucket proved the dagger. The Huskies’ second-half fouling had
put the Pride in the double bonus, so the Huskies couldn’t get lucky with the
Pride missing the front end of one-and-ones. They could only watch as the Pride
made every one of their free throws.
The Pride had their first March Madness berth since 2001.
They also had their revenge.
“It is awfully sweet,” Mihalich said after the on-court
celebration, his undone blue tie still hanging from his neck. “Not just because
we won. It’s something to be really proud of. We beat a bunch of champions. The
championship went through them.”
“This feeling is everything,” Ray said. “This has been our
mission since day one . . . this time we completed our mission.”
“We came up about 20 minutes short,” Coen said. “I thought
we played a really strong first half, very competitive game overall, and these
guys played their hearts out. But in the end I thought it was a little bit too
much Desure Buie.”
With 19 seconds to play and the outcome no longer in doubt,
both coaches opted for a platoon swap. While the Hofstra players enjoyed the
applause, cheers, and adulation of a jubilant fan section, the Huskies filed
off the court and into the waiting embrace of Bill Coen. The moment was
especially poignant for Brace, Roland, and Smith, who ended their college
careers on a brutal loss.
“I thanked those guys for their unwavering commitment
to Northeastern University, to this program, all their hard work and
dedication,” Coen said, his voice breaking a bit. “So much goes unseen — the
long days in the weight room, long days of training, hours of practice, hours
of individual time, hours of watching tape. It’s a commitment, and that group
was a special group.
“Bo has played in three CAA Championship games in his four
years; he’s made an incredible mark on this program. Jordan has made an
incredible mark on this program. And I think if you asked every player on our
team, maybe the favorite teammate in the locker room is Guilien Smith. In a
short time he’s made an incredible impact in terms of relationships, and
ultimately that’s what this whole experience is all about.
“You’d love to win championships each and every year, but .
. . what lasts is the mutual respect that you earn by giving your best. And
when you do that, whether you win or lose, nobody can take that from you for
the rest of your life. These guys will share a bond because they know they gave
it up for each other, and that’s the real championship in my mind.”
Led by Justin Wright-Foreman and his second-straight CAA Player of the Year season, the Hofstra Pride were a force to be reckoned with in 2018–19. A 16-game winning streak — the longest in the nation before Northeastern ended it on February 2 — helped Hofstra secure the CAA regular season crown before a loss to the Huskies in the CAA Championship game ended their season.
Wright-Foreman has carried the
Pride the past few seasons, but he’s gone — off to compete in the NBA and
G-League on a two-way contract after being drafted 53rd overall by the Utah
Jazz. Now, reigning CAA Coach of the Year Joe Mihalich faces the challenge of
replacing 27 ppg (second in the nation) of scoring and the bevy of other
contributions the lethal lefty brought to his squad. Hofstra is also losing
grad transfer Jacquil Taylor, their starting center and defensive anchor.
Despite the major losses, the
Pride still have plenty of talent. Headlining their 2019–20 crew is All-CAA second
team senior guard Eli Pemberton, who averaged 15 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3
assists per game on 45 percent shooting (35 percent from three) last season.
The 6’5” guard has been a consistent scoring option behind Wright-Foreman
throughout his career and finally has the chance to be top dog. An all-around
scorer with playmaking upside, Pemberton will be the key to Hofstra’s success.
Also returning is senior guard
Desure Buie, the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Buie’s 82 steals
last season led the CAA, and it wasn’t even close; the next highest in the
conference was JMU’s Darius Banks with 56. His defense will be invaluable for
the Pride in a conference full of dynamic guards.
Other notable returnees include senior
Tareq Coburn and junior Jalen Ray, a pair of sharpshooting guards. Coburn
started 25 games last season and shot 43 percent from behind the arc on 3.4
attempts per game, while Ray came off the bench and contributed his own 39
percent from three on 3.7 attempts. The two combined for 16 points per game and
are poised to build on those numbers with Wright-Foreman’s departure.
The big question mark for the Pride is their frontcourt. After losing Taylor (6’10”), Dan Dwyer (6’8”), and Matija Radovic (6’7”), they’re left with little experience at the four and five spots. Of the four players on their current roster over 6’6” tall, 6’8” Stafford Trueheart’s 11 minutes per game in 2018 lead the way.
Bottom Line: Losing Wright-Foreman is going to hurt. It’ll take some time for Hofstra to adjust, but the Pride still have more than enough talent to compete in the CAA. If Pemberton rises to the challenge as their primary option and they can scavenge serviceable minutes from their big men, there’s no reason to think Hofstra won’t be back in the title hunt this season.