BOSTON – You can’t blame Joe Mihalich for feeling a little less than fully satisfied. There are no moral victories, especially for his team with what they have done thus far, and it’s not like this one wasn’t there for the taking. This was a game they could have won. And it’s a game which, had they won, would really set them up in a great place.
That’s not all lost, but this will go down as a missed opportunity.
“I guess it’s good that we’re frustrated, because we felt like tonight was gettable,” Mihalich said after Northeastern beat Hofstra 91-83 on Wednesday night. “We felt like the game could have gone either way, and to their credit, they won the game. We didn’t deserve to win.”
Wednesday night was the last game in a challenging stretch for the Pride. It was their sixth game away from home – five of them true road games – in their last seven. Four of their first five CAA games have come on the road, including three during the conference-opening stretch of four games in eight days. The Pride had won six straight coming into Wednesday night, and they lead the nation with seven true road wins. In other words, they had run a gauntlet, and had done it well.
Right around the corner from this is a chance to go home. The Pride could have gone home at 5-0 in CAA play and with three straight and six of the next eight games at home. They would have been in great position to run out to a lead in the conference, and while none of that would be guaranteed even if they won on Wednesday, the potential for it would be there. That may be part of Mihalich’s frustration, though a lot of it is from the game itself.
“That’s the frustrating thing,” said the second-year coach. “If we could have pulled this off, it would have meant we won four out of five road games in the league. We still did pretty darned good. I guess it’s good that we’re upset. I think most people would look at 4-1, when four of them were on the road, and say, ‘you know what, wow, you got through that and you only got one loss.’ A lot of people would take that.”
Not this coach, who has won championships. Not this team, with all it has going for it.
This is a team built to win the conference this season, with a veteran cast and arguably as much talent as any team in the conference. They are playing like it as well. Their 13-4 start is tied for the program’s best ever through 17 games. Even after Wednesday’s loss, they are in a three-way tie atop the CAA at 4-1. They lead the nation with seven road wins.
Hofstra can score plenty of points, and with the pace they try to play at, they might do that often. But Mihalich knows this team isn’t built to just out-score opponents. He wants them to score 90 points, but not lose, and not win a close shave such as a 90-88 score. He would rather they win 90-80, or 90-75, or by an even bigger margin. The defense was the problem on Wednesday night, even though the offense wasn’t so good in the second half as they shot just 35 percent to finish the night below 39 percent.
“We scored 83 points,” said Mihalich. “If you score 83 points, you should win. We missed some shots, but we scored 83 points.”
Ironically, the Pride’s shooting on Thursday is in line with their first four games in CAA play. Though they shoot about 45 percent from the field, including a little under 40 percent from long range, on the season, those numbers have dipped in early CAA play to under 39 percent and about 33 percent, respectively. It’s one more reason that defense will be important for this team, and one more indicator that they aren’t going to out-score opponents for a championship.
Mihalich not only spoke of defensive issues, but also paying attention to detail. A prime example was a play at the end of the first half. Northeastern had the ball with 4.7 seconds left at the last media timeout near the basket. Hofstra used its use-it-or-lose-it timeout once they saw the setup. Northeastern got the ball in, moved it around and got a layup for Scott Eatherton to close the half.
“A certain guy on our team missed an assignment, and it was an example of what I said about details,” said Mihalich. “We even had a chance to use our timeout. We told our guy they were going to do it, and (Eatherton) still caught the ball and made a layup.”
In making a quick turnaround from last season, which many expected given the transfers who sat out last season and are now eligible, Hofstra has been reliant on their newcomers. They get about three quarters of their production from players who are in their first season in a Hofstra uniform. While this team has been a pretty good defensive team thus far, on Wednesday night Northeastern shot nearly 64 percent from the field to win despite committing four more turnovers than the Pride. Offense was sure to come with fewer growing pains, and that has pretty much been the case. The defense appears to still have some.
Hofstra is 5-1 at home, so the upcoming home games offer a chance to really get some momentum going and make Wednesday night’s game a speed bump. It’s one they won’t dismiss, as the Huskies also figure to be among the conference title contenders and they still have to go to Hempstead in less than a month, but this gives them a chance to put together more wins. They are still set up in a good place, but Wednesday’s missed opportunity means they could be even better.