Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hofstra 62, New Hampshire 57 (Or: Lucky number seven)

That's right. she's back. A very excited Monica Geller lets us know how many consecutive shots New Hampshire missed with a chance to tie or take the lead Saturday.

Maybe it’s just my unbridled optimism and outrageous blog bias, but I didn’t believe the Flying Dutchmen were particularly lucky in winning four of their first eight games by five points or less. Good teams find ways to win close games and have players who define the cliché by raising their game when it matters most, such as Charles Jenkins did by scoring six points in the overtime period to lift the Dutchmen to a three-point overtime win over Western Michigan, by scoring the Dutchmen’s final eight points in the one-point win over East Tennessee State or by scoring the Dutchmen’s final six points in the four-point win over Manhattan.

And good teams capitalize on any little mistake an opponent makes in the final minutes of a tight contest, a la what the Dutchmen did in beating Manhattan, or they jump out to a big enough lead to be able to hold on despite a late surge, a la how Hofstra held on to edge Stony Brook by five.

But there is no spin I can come up with for the Dutchmen’s 62-57 win over New Hampshire Saturday. They were flat-out lucky.

Tom Pecora, on the other hand, was not lucky and spent most of the game sick in the locker room. Hope Pecora is feeling better, but if it’s any consolation (and it probably isn't), he didn’t miss anything he hasn’t already seen, particularly over the last three weeks. The Dutchmen struggled to put away an opponent after they opened a huge early lead, endured ice-cold stretches from the field, continued to be haunted by the lack of a true point guard and, despite opening the season with the lengthiest depth chart in years, continued to look as top-heavy as any team in the Pecora era.

On Saturday, the Dutchmen were lucky their flaws didn’t result in a loss in a game against a perennial bottom-feeder in the America East. UNH has enjoyed only two winning seasons in the last 25 years, the last of which occurred when it finished second in the NAC behind Scott Drapeau during Hofstra’s first season in the league in 1994-95—how’s that for a double dose of old-school?

And the Wildcats are the anti-Dutchmen—they’ve lost three in a row by five or less and four overall during a 3-7 startcould not seize the game, no matter how often Hofstra tried giving it away. The Dutchmen were up 17-1 seven minutes into the game yet fell behind by six points in the second half against a team that played just two upperclassmen.

That youth was on display after Greg Washington’s jumper gave the Dutchmen a 58-57 lead with 2:31 left. The Wildcats had six shots—SIX SHOTS!!—to take the lead over the next 135 seconds yet missed every one. Lucky.

Then, after Cornelius Vines hit two free throws with 12 seconds left—lucky too or just the law of averages evening out?—UNH had one more shot to tie the game, but Alvin Abreu missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left and Washington hit two free throws (no longer seems like luck, he’s 12-of-17 from the line this year) to seal it.

Seven shots to tie or take the lead in the last 2:31, seven misses. Greg Kihn was singing about the Dutchmen before any of the current players were born!

Will "Jeopardy" eventually summarize the Dutchmen's season?

In addition, trying to milk the clock with a late lead didn’t work for the second straight game: Hofstra took just two shots, both of which it missed, in the 2:19 between Washington’s go-ahead basket and Vines’ free throws. Against Iona last Tuesday, the Dutchmen were 1-for-5 after taking a three-point lead with 3:08 to play.

On the bright side, the victory Saturday would not have been possible if Jenkins hadn’t continued to prove the cliché correct and if “Gee Dubs”—who made his first start of the season—continued his rapid improvement. Jenkins battled early foul trouble and struggled for the fourth straight game, but chipped in just in time: He had nine of his 12 points during a four-minute stretch in which the Dutchmen turned a 45-42 deficit into a 51-49 lead.

Jenkins didn’t score again, but Washington scored six of his team-high 13 points over the remaining 4:57 as Hofstra held on. To have two sophomores—especially with such different games—developing into clutch go-to players is quite an enviable situation for Pecora and the Dutchmen.

But two players aren’t going to be enough for the next two months and two weeks. Who will have to emerge if the Dutchmen are to have the type of March we thought was possible earlier this month? We’ll try to figure that out tomorrow.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com.

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