Because if there was a Santa Claus then Cornelius Vines’ half-court shot as time expired would have finished circling around the rim and fallen in to send the game to overtime, where the Flying Dutchmen surely would have won…instead of rolling out to cap a gut-wrenching, this-wasn’t-the-way-anyone-on-the-Hofstra-bench-wanted-to-start-Christmas 67-64 loss.
I mean, isn’t Christmas the season of miracles? I’m not even asking for a real miracle, like world peace, or the repairing of America’s financial system, or my downstairs neighbors quitting smoking.
Isn’t Christmas the season of surprising joyous gifts? When I was 8 or 9, my best friend wanted an Atari. His mom said no, we’ll never have a video game system in this house, that stuff will rot your brain and ruin your attention span and eventually make you an adult who can’t concentrate on anything for more than four seconds at a time (OK, fine, it was 1981 or 1982, she didn’t say that).
Imagine his surprise when he ran to the tree Christmas morning and saw an Atari sitting there. His mom’s explanation? “The one time we lie in this family is Christmas Day.”
I’m sure, if I asked my mom to get me a game-tying, buzzer-beating half-court shot for Christmas, she’d say no, son, we don’t give out game-tying, buzzer-beating, half-court shots for Christmas. You’re going to get something you can use, like an easy out-of-conference schedule and another year without re-seating. And socks. Always socks.
But she would have gotten me that shot. All I wanted for Christmas was that shot to fall in. I mean, Iona got a 7-foot transfer from Louisville who pulled a Craig freakin' Hodges and drained a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left to give the Gaels the lead. So don’t we, as Hofstra fans, deserve Vines’ half-courter at the buzzer? All we do is get screwed. Even Charlie Brown got a functioning tree, eventually.
CAN’T ANYONE TELL ME WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT?
(It’s either blame the absence of Santa Claus or blame my wife, who spent the previous 24 hours begging for good things to happen to her sports teams because her birthday is today. First she just wanted the Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive by beating the Packers Monday. Winning a game her team had no business winning wasn’t enough, so come Tuesday afternoon, she just wanted the rumors of Mark Teixeira signing with the Yankees to be true. Hope you’re happy honey!)
Of course, the rational way to look at Tuesday is that Hofstra was due for a close loss after four wins by five points or less—and that the Flying Dutchmen earned that loss with a largely mediocre performance and by frittering away chance after chance to put the game away in the final two minutes.
Charles Jenkins failed to increase the lead to five when he missed a free throw with 1:01 left (shades of Antoine Agudio against George Mason in January). The Dutchmen lobbed four air balls—FOUR AIR BALLS—with a chance to extend the lead to four or five points on consecutive possessions before the aforementioned 7-footer, Jonathan Huffman, hit the 3-pointer. Then the Dutchmen turned the ball over trying to push it up court and the Gaels’ Devon Clarke swished a pair of free throws to set up Vines’ near-miracle.
But I don’t want to be rational, because what’s the fun in that? Before two minutes of hell, this looked like one of those pivotal season-defining victories. The Dutchmen, who led by eight with just over 13 minutes to play in the first half and led by seven with just under eight minutes left, were outscored 34-21 over the subsequent 22 minutes. When Iona took its first lead at 22-21, Tom Pecora responded by pulling the Northeastern maneuver and yanking his two best players, Jenkins and Vines, and keeping them bolted to the bench for the final 3:25 of the half (and earning a withering look from Jenkins in the process). Iona outscored the Dutchmen 28-10 in the paint and its reserves outscored the Hofstra bench 34-20—even though the Gaels had just an eight-man rotation.
Hofstra finally woke up midway through the second half and outrebounded Iona 17-6 over the final 8:41. The Dutchmen were in the bonus by the 13-minute mark but hit 10 of 13 free throws the rest of the way, a pretty good rate for a team that makes every free throw an adventure. And Jenkins, who was just 6-of-16 from the field, got hot at the right time by scoring six straight points to turn a 60-58 deficit into a 64-60 lead.
Yet it somehow slipped away. And now? Now, what would have seemed like a pretty nice Christmas present two months ago—an 8-3 record—feels vaguely disappointing. And if you’re one of the folks leaping off the bandwagon today, well, Pecora can’t blame you.
“We’re the worst 8-3 team in America,” Pecora told Newsday afterward. “We need to get mentally and physically tougher.”
By benching Jenkins and Vines (I’m almost sure it was the first time this year both players were on the bench with the outcome of the game still in doubt), Pecora proved he was willing to chance losing the game to teach a lesson. Whether that lesson is absorbed over the next 10 days will determine the direction of the Dutchmen’s season.
Email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org.