Hofstra men’s basketball coach Joe Mihalich is currently in his sixth season as head coach of the Pride, and while he had already brought back a winning culture to the program, this team may be his best to date.
“I think the pieces fit together here better than any other year,” said Mihalich. “We have really good players. We have a star in Justin Wright-Foreman. We have a costar in Elijah Pemberton. We have a terrific point guard. We have real good shooters. And really, the harmony between these guys is the best ever.”
Hofstra currently sits on top of the CAA Conference, sitting as the clear favorite to capture the regular season title. Even if they lose one or two games down the stretch, they are in good position to have the highest seed when they play in the CAA tournament in Charleston. Mihalich credits the team’s bond to their climb to the top.
“I think the biggest key to our success is that it’s been a close-knit team,” said Mihalich. “It’s not just about the talent. We have talent. But what it comes down to is that we play well together, we work well together. The team really likes each other.”
As of Feb. 1, the Pride has a 16-game winning streak, which sits alone as the longest active streak in the NCAA on the Division-I level. They are among the top 10 schools in the nation in win percentage and among the top 25 in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
“It’s amazing,” said Mihalich. “It’s an incredible feeling and we’re just trying to enjoy it as much as we can. I tell my guys that these things don’t happen a lot. They happen very, very rarely. So, we’re trying to enjoy it knowing that it could be over in the very next game.”
Wright-Foreman, a senior, has been the best player in the conference this season and is in the running to win back-to-back CAA Player of the Year awards after winning in the 2017-18 season. He averages 26 points and 3.5 assists per game this season, improving on last year’s numbers. Pemberton may not get the spotlight as much as Wright-Foreman, but he’s had a huge impact in games including some crucial game-winning shots.
“Coaching them is a coach’s dream,” said Mihalich. “Coaching guys like Wright-Foreman and all these guys is great because they love the game. They really work hard and have incredible attitudes because they want to get better all the time. They’re also incredibly competitive and hate to lose.”
For Mihalich, the game that has defined their season thus far was the Jan. 5 game against Northwestern at home. With 4:30 on the clock, Hofstra was done by nine points and rallied to win it with a buzzer-beater shot by Wright-Foreman, sending the Mack Sports Complex into chaos and setting the stage to their unstoppable month.
“I mean, they were the best team in the league and we still found a way to win the game,” said Mihalich.
Hofstra is trying to earn its first berth into the NCAA Tournament since the 2001 season, back when now-Villanova-head coach Jay Wright led the Pride to back-to-back tournament appearances. Mihalich did coach his former team, Niagara, to the big dance, so he has been in this position before.
“We have to get better,” said Mihalich. “If we like what’s going on now and we want it to continue, we’re going to have to work even harder. They have to understand that we can be better because we are the hunted now. Everybody wants to get us now.”
Regardless of how the next few months play out, Mihalich earned one big milestone he can look back fondly on his 100th victory as the head coach of Hofstra Pride. For a school that has waited for the team’s return to the biggest stage in March, they are hoping for many more out of him.
“I’m very proud of my success here,” said Mihalich. “I am blessed to be the coach here. It’s an incredible place. I’m honored to be a head coach at a fine institution like Hofstra. I’m glad we can be successful here because if we are, everyone benefits.”