Halftime felt like rock bottom for Hofstra, which had lost eight of its last nine contests entering Thursday night and found itself trailing Delaware 35-24 at the intermission.
Hofstra, playing its second game in a row without star center Rokas Gustys, had just put up their fewest point in a first half this season. As the teams hit the locker rooms, it became a do or die moment for the Pride.
“I thought we were at rock bottom coming into the game,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “Then we had to look up to see a snake’s belly at halftime.”
In a moment cut from Space Jam, the Pride opened the second half looking like a new team, blitzing out on a 16-9 run to close within four just 3:20 into the frame. Seven minutes later, Hofstra’s momentum pushed that run to 33-11, swinging the Pride from an 11-point halftime deficit to an 11-point advantage with 9:44 to play.
The Blue Hens put in one final scare, closing within three on a Chivarsky Corbett three-point play with 4:27 remaining, but Hofstra was able to hang on late thanks to a pair of clutch jump shots from leading scorer Justin Wright-Foreman. The Pride held on to win 73-65, improving to 3-8 in CAA play.
“There’s no words for that,” Wright-Foreman said of the second half swing. “We went to the locker room, chairs were flying, but we got together and we really played as a team in the second half.”
Junior forward Hunter Sabety played a pivotal role in the Pride’s comeback. With Gustys sidelined, Sabety earned his second consecutive start and ended the night with his first double-double on 14 points and 15 rebounds, both personal bests at the Division I level.
“Me and Rokas battle each other in practice every day,” Sabety said of his relationship with Gustys and assuming his role in the frontcourt. “I knew whenever I had the opportunity I was going to be able to step up to the plate.”
A native of Oceanside, NY, Sabety returned to Long Island prior to the 2015-16 season after playing two years at Division III Tufts University where he averaged 14.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg. This year with the Pride, Sabety averages 4.1 ppg and 4.9 rpg in just 12 minutes per game, but in his two starts has averaged 12.5 ppg and 10 rpg.
Hofstra also benefitted from another hot night from Wright-Foreman, as the sophomore finished the night with a game-high 22 points, with 15 coming in the second half. It was Wright-Foreman’s fourth consecutive contest with 20 points or more, and his eighth such game this season.
“It’s what he does, he’s just gifted,” Mihalich said of Wright-Foreman’s scoring prowess. “There’s been some great scorers out on that floor – Charles Jenkins, Speedy Claxton – and he might be in that lineup. He hasn’t gotten there yet, but he just might be.”
The Pride also placed their three remaining starters in double figures, led by freshman Eli Pemberton who returned from an ankle injury which held him out of the team’s last contest against Elon. Pemberton posted 12 points while Deron Powers and Brian Bernardi added 11 and 10 respectively.
Delaware, which dropped its 14th consecutive CAA road game and sixth in a row against the Pride, was led by freshman Ryan Daly with 15. Redshirt sophomore Darian Bryant added 11.
After Thurday’s slate of games, the Pride sit alone in eighth place in the CAA standings, three games behind Towson and Northeastern, who are tied for fifth place. With seven games remaining, Hofstra must catch one of those squads to avoid a bottom-four finish and the fate of playing on the first night of the conference tournament come March.
The Pride will have ample opportunity to move up in the standings, as they host 2-9 Drexel on Saturday evening followed by road contests at both Towson and Northeastern next week.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.