For nearly two decades, Hofstra University has failed to make an appearance in the NCAA March Madness tournament.
This year the team made it, only to have the tournament canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich touted his players’ success this season.
“These guys work their tails off every day, and I couldn’t be more proud to have coached them,” he said.
Last Wednesday, NCAA officials said the crowds in the tournament would be restricted to solely family members and loved ones due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. The next day, officials cited the health and safety of players and coaches as the reason for canceling the tournament.
“I never thought it would get canceled,” Mihalich told The New York Post on Thursday. “The range of emotions, we’re just devastated. This is the first time in 19 years our university is going to the tournament and the euphoria quickly becomes heartbreak.”
A victory last Tuesday gave Hofstra its first conference championship since joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001-2. The team’s last tournament appearance came one year before, when it lost to UCLA 61-48 in the first round.
The Hofstra Pride’s 70-61 win over Northeastern on Tuesday came a year after losing to the same team in the same situation. Senior forward Elijah Pemberton said he and the rest of his teammates were waiting for this moment all season long.
“All before the game I was listening to ‘The Payback’ by James Brown,” Pemberton said. “We knew what we had to do, and we loved that we did it against [Northeastern]. Nobody on this team forgot about last year.”
Pemberton said he and the rest of the team wanted to win to bring a conference championship back to Long Island.
“Long Island deserves this, and it was only right that we were the ones that brought it back for them,” Pemberton said. “Thank you to all the fans who have been with us for the last four years.”
Pemberton and fellow senior Desure Buie led the charge throughout the season, which resulted in a 26-8 overall record.
Buie led the Pride in scoring, 18.2, and assists, 5.9, per game throughout the year. Pemberton was not far behind Buie, scoring 17.6 points, and hauling in 5.9 rebounds per game.
Mihalich, who has coached the Pride since 2013, touted the play of the two seniors once the team arrived back in Hempstead last Wednesday afternoon.
“Those are two hungry guys,” Mihalich said. “But what Desure did [Tuesday] night kicked his impact on Hofstra basketball up so much. In the last five minutes of the game, he just took over and put himself in an elite category at Hofstra.”
Buie finished with a game-high 20 points Tuesday night, nine of which came in the last five minutes of regulation. The Bronx native said those dwindling minutes seemed like an eternity to him.
“That was the longest few minutes of my entire life,” Buie chuckled. “I would look up, and what felt like five minutes was really 15 seconds.”
Buie, Pemberton, and junior guard Jalen Ray were named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Tournament Team. Buie was named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It just shows what type of player Desure is,” Mihalich said. “He, Elijah, Jalen, everyone knew what the heartbreak last year was like, and none of those guys were going to let that happen again.”
Though the Pride will have to wait until next year to repeat as conference champions and participate in March Madness, Mihalich shined some optimism on the situation during an interview with WFAN radio on Friday.
“We’re in the world of sports and athletics,” Mihalich said. “’I’ve heard somebody say we’re in the toy section of the department store of life. Let’s make sure everyone is healthy and the world can go on as we know it.”