Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hofstra 69, Delaware 59 (Or: We’re streaking!)

In lieu of a terrible Presidents Day pun about Greg Washington, I continue with the Old School motif and offer you a picture of Sully Ray, who is trying to explain to his wife how he had to unwind from a day of Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond and celebrate the Flying Dutchmen's third straight win by going streaking behind Hofstra.

First things first: Do not attempt this at home. The wife and I had long planned to spend the weekend in Delaware (a sign you’ve married way up: your wife thinks two days in New-ARK centered around a two-hour basketball game is a great way to spend Valentine’s Day weekend), but Stuff kept Happening and it appeared as if we’d be home watching the game on TV.

Until 12:45 p.m., when I said screw it (or a similar two-word phrase) to Stuff Happening and decided we were going to the game. The wife, as she is wont to do, employed logic and said that’s impossible, it takes more than three hours to get down there and we’ll never make it. I said, much like a certain United States President, yes we can…with the caveat that if the Belt Parkway is a parking lot, we can always turn around.

Much heming and hawing followed until my wife walked into the living room sporting her 2001 America East tournament fleece. That’s her Golden Boy. She was done screwing around. It was time to go.

We left at 1:15. Two hours and 40 minutes of channeling Sammy Hagar circa 1984 later, we pulled into the Bob parking lot and had a panicked, horrified thought: What if they’re sold out?

They weren’t, but there was a guy in front of us channeling his Stewie Griffin and milking his purchase for all it was worth (for the love of God, guy, there were nearly 2,000 empty seats, you could have bought a ticket and sat just about anywhere you wanted) and ruining my plan to make it for opening tip. We asked for tickets behind the Hofstra bench, got Row D, figured that was pretty good and promptly learned it was a lot better than that.

Row D was actually three rows behind the Hofstra bench. Close enough to not only see Life With Corny spit into the wastebasket behind his chair, but for the wife to actually say “Eww. Gross.” Close enough to hear Charles Jenkins clap his hands at half-court after he hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer early in the second half. Close enough so that when Dane Johnson stood up, we couldn’t see a thing. (I’d hate to be that guy in a movie theatre. I think his new nickname is Down In Front) Close enough to not only read Tom Pecora’s lips, but actually hear every single word too. This just in: I think Quentin Tarantino would have enjoyed himself. (There’s absolutely no suitable-for-work scene of his to link, sorry) Or, as the wife said: “He’s more entertaining than I thought.”

All that and the Flying Dutchmen won their third in a row, 69-59. That’s right. Decided to go on the spur of the moment, made it there roughly on time, got great seats, Dutchmen win, post-game dinner at Cracker Barrel just inside the Jersey border, home by 11:30 to watch another crappy Saturday Night Live. Sometimes, life is like an episode of a 1980s TV show in which everything unfolds perfectly (except neither one of us was called out of the stands to play, maybe next time).

It wasn’t a thing of beauty—when is it?—but the victory Saturday was in some ways as encouraging as the win over Old Dominion last Tuesday. The Dutchmen didn’t lead wire to wire in this one—they trailed by seven early in the second half and led by only one before a 15-6 run over the final 3:14 made the final score look a lot less competitive than it was—and shot a miserable 2-for-17 over the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Yet even when the Dutchmen were misfiring—and they missed their first three shots from the field as well as their first two free throw attempts in the second half—there was an unusual calmness missing from other games in which the Dutchmen endured extended funks. It never felt, at least from three rows behind the visiting bench, that Hofstra was in danger of losing the game.

The easy explanation is it’s easy to be optimistic with the Dutchmen playing a sub-.500 team, but the Blue Hens have beaten three of the CAA’s top four teams at home. The truth is the Dutchmen are following the Pecora blueprint and playing better and with more confidence and cohesion in February (Hofstra is 35-10 in regular season games after Feb. 1 since the 2003-04 season) and utilizing the formula they’ll need to employ in order to make the CAA Tournament interesting.

Even when the Dutchmen struggle offensively, the defense is stingy enough to keep the game manageable. Delaware ended the first half on a 16-7 run but took just 10 shots in that span.

And lately, the Dutchmen have minimized their mistakes (they tied a season-low with 10 turnovers Saturday) and have been on the right side of the fine line between having a lot of scoring options and just enough guys to regularly rely upon. Jenkins and Nathaniel Lester have scored in double figures in each of the last three wins and have been joined by a different player in double digits each time—Arminas Urbutis against Towson, Darren Townes against Old Dominion and Greg Washington against Delaware.

Most importantly, a mix of sophomores and seniors have gelled and taken the pressure off the suddenly calm and steady Charles Jenkins. Sophomores Jenkins, Lester and Washington combined for 48 points Saturday and scored 35 of the Dutchmen’s 47 points in the second half, including the last 19.

Lester finished with 12 points and led the Dutchmen with nine boards, the team-best fifth time since Jan. 1 he’s led or shared the team lead in rebounding. The real revelation Saturday was Washington, who left me searching for appropriate President’s Day puns (all of which sucked and none of which will be foisted upon you) after he single-handedly sparked the late run that put the game away.

Washington, who had four fouls, re-entered the game with 3:34 left and the Dutchmen up one and scored the Dutchmen’s next three field goals—including two on short jumpers in the paint against Marc Egerson, who was also playing with four fouls and could do little to defend a player on whom he was giving up four inches—while also adding a steal that led to a Lester free throw.

Washington finished 5-of-6 from the field and drained three of the mid-range jumpers that used to make Pecora and the rest of us cringe. Not bad for 13 minutes.

Seniors Down In Front, Greg Johnson, Arminas Urbutis, Zygis Sestakos and Darren Townes combined for the other 21 points and generally played like Pecora has wanted them to play for weeks.

Down In Front, who seemed to be on the verge of irrelevancy, displayed some long-lost aggressiveness and fluidity down low in draining a pair of key hoops. Greg Johnson hit two early baskets and committed only one turnover in 25 minutes while Sestakos continued his resurgence by draining three 3-pointers, all of which put the Dutchmen ahead. Townes didn’t score and had as many fouls (three) as rebounds, but Urbutis contributed eight rebounds to offset a 1-of-7 night from the field.

Jenkins, meanwhile, capped off his best three-game stretch of the conference season by leading all players with 26 points and eight assists. He shot 9-of-18 overall and 5-of-7 in the second half, when he drained three buckets that either tied the game or put the Dutchmen ahead.

Jenkins has scored 65 points on 21-of-46 shooting in his last three games, during which he’s committed a Carlos Rivera-esque five turnovers in 92 minutes. If he keeps that up, and if he keeps getting a lot of help from a lot of different players, the Dutchmen will be one of the toughest outs in less than three weeks—even if the sheer number of tough outs ensures that multiple very good teams are going to go home after one or two games. More on that, sort of, in a bit.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

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