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Over my first 24 years of Hofstra basketball fandom, I witnessed championship game wins and losses, buzzer-beating victories and defeats and all sorts of impressive individual performances. So to declare I was seeing or experiencing something I’d never seen or experienced before? That was a bit of hyperbolic phrasing that could only be reserved for the truly rare and unique.
Unfortunately, I realized those standards were being met 57 weeks ago tomorrow, as I tried to avoid steering my car into a parked vehicle on the side of the street while reaching into the back seat to try and calm down my six-year-old daughter, who was kicking the front seat with such ferocity that both my wife and I jolted forward numerous times.
At some point before the most forceful kicks, my wife and I made the unprecedented executive decision to not go to a Hofstra game — and a big one at at that, with the Pride unbeaten in CAA play and putting its nine-game winning streak on the line against rival Northeastern — even though we were already on our way. We didn’t think we had a choice as Molly’s meltdown, which began while trying to pry her away from her best friend’s house and started to escalate once she’d realized she’d forgotten a favorite toy.
Of course, her anger wasn’t rooted in something as seemingly simple as the end of a play date or a toy left behind. It had been a few weeks since we told her the truth about Grammy — my wife’s mother and the only grandparent Molly saw on a regular basis. Grammy had pancreatic cancer, and she wasn’t getting better. Molly is a bright kid who already knew something was amiss, and we figured it was best to be honest about what was happening.
It’s hard enough to deal with such realities as adults, never mind as a six-year-old, and over the next few weeks, our normally easy-going daughter began experiencing regular meltdowns. These were set off by the most routine of things — a spilled bowl of cereal, the lack of a desirable dining option or a request to finish homework — triggering her fears and worries about Grammy.
Never did these meltdowns seem as loud or as hopeless as they appeared as we neared our block a few minutes before tipoff last Jan. 5. We made it inside, where Molly was sequestered in her bedroom, my wife went into our bedroom and I splayed out on the recliner in the living room.
Eventually, because I’m me, I fired up the Hofstra game on my laptop. Shortly thereafter, Molly walked out of her room and went to visit my wife. I eventually joined them, with my laptop in tow because, well, I’m me. We had calmer conversations, and agreed, once again, to try and take deep breaths and think through our feelings whenever tensions arose, and to talk about the feelings that Grammy’s illness engendered in all of us.
I don’t know if it was the search for some normalcy, or if it was the little voice that’s been residing in the back of my head since the first weekend of March 1994, when I passed up a chance to cover the then-Flying Dutchmen in the East Coast Conference tournament because I had tickets to see Bryan Adams in concert. The Dutchmen, who were 6-20 in the regular season, won three games in as many days to win the championship and send legendary coach Butch van Breda Kolff out a winner. I saw Adams and Sting perform “All For Love” together for the first time ever. I chose poorly.
Ever since then, I wonder what I might miss if I don’t go to a Hofstra game (or any sporting event, for that matter). And as we laid there, I realized it was almost halftime, and we had time to make it for most of the second half, and…
“Do you guys want to try to go to the game?”
We got into the car and headed towards campus. We arrived around the midway point of the second half, and promptly saw Hofstra fall behind. By the under-8 timeout, which didn’t arrive until there was just 4:23 left, the Pride was down 70-61. Oh well. At least we were all getting along better, and had salvaged something from the day by getting out of the house.
But then Justin Wright-Foreman went into cheat-code mode. A 3-pointer out of the under-8 timeout. Two empty trips for Northeastern followed by a pair of free throws by Wright-Foreman. Another fruitless possession for the Huskies, two more free throws for Wright-Foreman. A fourth straight scoreless possession by Northeastern and two free throws by Jacquil Taylor to tie the game at 70-70.
Northeastern turned the ball over on the next trip and Wright-Foreman drained two more free throws to give Hofstra a 72-70 lead with 1:28 left. Taylor fouled Anthony Green, who ended the Huskies’ drought with two free throws.
Wright-Foreman missed two jumpers on the Pride’s subsequent possession and Bolden Brace missed a 3-pointer for Northeastern. But Donnell Gresham corralled the rebound and the Huskies called timeout with 18 seconds left.
Moments later, their best player, Vasa Pusica, hoisted a 3-pointer from the top of the key through the outstretched arms of Wright-Foreman and Jalen Ray. It bounced off the back of the rim and to Taylor, who tapped the ball to Wright-Foreman, who received it at the foul line with two seconds left. Three long strides and dribbles got him over half court and to the end of the Hofstra logo. In full sprint, Wright-Foreman lofted a shot just before the buzzer. From my seats behind the Hofstra basket I moved a few feet to my left, trying to will the shot in.
For the second time in a couple hours, everyone was yelling and screaming without any real idea of what was coming out of their mouths. This time, Molly blocked her ears.
It wasn’t the first buzzer-beater we’d seen in person, and it wasn't even the first one we’d seen hoisted from 35 feet or so by a future NBA draftee. Charles Jenkins beat William & Mary in similar fashion on Feb. 15, 2011.
But Wright-Foreman’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave him 42 points — the most points by a player in any game ever played at the David S. Mack Sports & Exhibition Complex. We’d never seen anything like it.
Nor had we ever needed anything like it. My wife leaned in to be heard over the din.
“I’m so glad we came,” she said, as we hugged.
Half an hour or so later, Wright-Foreman mingled with fans on the court. I didn’t go into detail, but I told him, as Molly laid on the court beneath him, that we almost didn’t come because we’d had a bad day.
“Well, Molly, your Dad never would have let you hear the end of that one,” Wright-Foreman said.
The night ended happily for everyone, but it couldn’t stave off the inevitability of my mother-in-law’s health situation. While Molly’s meltdowns grew less frequent and less ferocious, Grammy’s health continued to deteriorate until she died at home the morning of March 3.
Nine days later, we received a reminder sports can’t always pen the distracting feel-good moment we desire when Northeastern outlasted Hofstra, 82-74, in the CAA Championship game.
But every time Hofstra hosts Northeastern — as the Pride does Saturday — I will always be reminded of and cherish the much-needed feel-good ending Wright-Foreman generated for my family on Jan. 5, 2019.
While writing this story, I went into my Facebook direct messages to read the exchange I had with my mother-in-law a few hours after the dramatic win. She was mostly bemused by my sports obsessions, but there, waiting for me when I got home, was a clip she’d sent me of Wright-Foreman’s game-winning shot.
“yayyyyyyyyy,” I wrote, because I am a very skilled communicator.
“I watched it 3 x. Amazing.”
“YOU WATCHED IT THREE TIMES?!?!?!”
“Yes. Cause I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
She wasn’t alone.