Hofstra trailed by as many as 18 in their season opener against Canisius, yet the claw away the winner from night one of the college basketball season. There was a point in the game where Canisius graduate transfer Malcolm McMillan outscored the Pride 18-15 with 9:02 left in the first half. However, the Pride offense reached it’s high octane status in the game’s final 10 minutes as they beat the Golden Griffins 96-85 in the win at the Mack Sports Complex.
Here are three Hofstra thoughts from the Pride’s season opening win.
Bernardi’s record-busting night – Junior Brian Bernardi said he told senior Ameen Tanksley in warmups that he might not miss tonight, senior Juan’ya Green heard it too, and the 6’2” shooter proved it throughout the second half.
The junior set a school record for three-pointers made in a game with 8, after his three from the right wing dropped in with 51.8 seconds remaining.
“I mean, every time I shoot I think it’s going in,” Bernardi said. “I have the ultimate confidence in myself to shoot because I’m in the gym shooting every day. I mean I have no doubt in myself that I’m going to miss, I’m going to make every shot I think I’m going to take.”
That proved true in the second half, where Bernardi made all five of his three-point tries. He tied his career-high, finishing with 26 points, a total he last achieved against Jackson State last season.
“There are guys that can shoot and there are shooters, Brian’s a shooter,” Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich said. “There’s a lot of guys that can shoot, but shooting is a mentality, it’s an attitude. I mean it’s an incredible thing when you think about that, I’m not trying to get all profound here, but there are shooters and there are guys that can shoot and he’s a shooter.”
Juan’ya Green found his groove – The senior that walked onto the court to start his final season did not appear to be the same Juan’ya Green that exited last season, or even the same one that has received plenty of preseason hype. He appeared to be playing at a different speed in the first half, the only problem was that his teammates were not at the same speed. The senior turned the ball over three times, missing passes to open teammates and scored just three points in the first half. Yet the 6’ senior turned it around in the second half, scoring 13 points, dishing out eight assists and no turnovers.
“We’ve been together for a long time, I’ve seen Juan’ya have some games where he just couldn’t get things going and he never responded the way he did tonight,” Mihalich said. “I mean Juan’ya, for the first 30 minutes, wasn’t the Juan’ya that we know. The last 10 was the best Juan’ya you’ve ever seen.”
Even though it wasn’t a night where the senior was the main scoring threat for the Pride, he found ways in the second half to attack. He picked off passes and converted them to layups. When heading in transition, he took what the defense gave him, which was sometimes dump off passes to bigs like Rokas Gustys and Denton Koon. However, when he finally made his first three-pointer of the season with 1:52 remaining int he game, it put the Pride up four and there was a sense of relief for the guard.
“I just told myself it’s about time,” Green said. “They kept telling me shoot the ball, one is going to go in and I hit the right one at the right time.”
That three-pointer effectively sealed the comeback for the Pride, who were down by as many as 18 at one point in the first half.
Pride show maturity by battling back – Hofstra could have easily folded against a red hot shooting Canisius in the first half. They could only watch as Malcolm McMillan seemingly outscored their entire team and put them down 18 as soon as halfway through the first half. However, the Pride did what they do best, score and score often to make their comeback. They mounted a 13-2 run after being down 18 to cut the lead to 10, then after a Phil Valenti three-pointer broke that, they mounted a 7-0 run closed by a layup in the lane by Ameen Tanksley. Hofstra closed the gap and over the final two minutes of the first half, the game felt in reach.
“That had loss written all over it,” Mihalich said. “I mean we were in trouble. We, because of the way we came out, that team built some confidence, they got some swag going.”
“I’ve been on these guys we’re an older team, a lot of seniors, older guys and these guys will tell you that doesn’t automatically make you mature.”
Yet the Pride did not give up, which Bernardi and Green admitted they might have at this point a year ago in a similar situation.
“I think, last year, as games like this would happen and we would fall and let the other team win, but this year we fought more and fought back and we stayed together,” Bernardi said.
Hofstra seemingly came back from the brink of disaster and found a way in the second half to bring the offense. They scored 51 second half points on 37 possessions, cut their turnover rate from the first half from 9 to 4 and managed to do it with balance. Every Hofstra player scored in the half except Justin Wright-Foreman, who was held scoreless in his collegiate debut. Yet the comeback bodes well for Mihalich and their team’s bright future.
“I mean that’s a win that can really pay dividends for us, because again it had disaster written all over it,” Mihalich said. “It had loss written all over it in the first half when we swam back, took control of the game in the second half they went back up by eight and we just never lost our composure. We believed in ourselves, we made plays and for 10 minutes these guys were a really, really good team that last 10 minutes.”
“That’s what winning teams do and if you’re going to have a really good year you got to have some wins like this one, where things aren’t going your way and you find a way to win. Now unfortunately it was the first game of the year, everybody wants to win by 50 the first game of the year, now we knew that wasn’t going to happen with that team, but it’s a win that can pay dividends for us.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.