Monday, February 2, 2009

VCU 66, Hofstra 62 (Or: The Maynor Rules)

Noted weatherman Phil Connors understands that every day is the same when Eric Maynor is going against the Flying Dutchmen. He just hopes Charles Jenkins doesn't begin to re-live the same day over and over and over again, too.

The best part about being a sports fan is the excuse to be completely irrational about anything at all involving your favorite team. Living by clich├ęs is for those who play and coach the games. It’s OK for the rest of us to get too high and too low. Fan is short for fanatic and fanatics aren’t on an even keel all the time, or some of the time, or only a little bit of the time.

Along those lines, I entered a bizarro world Saturday, when the VCU Eric Maynors came back to beat the Flying Dutchmen, 66-62, at the Arena. I took a rare foray into rationality and left the ranting and raving to the rest of the DD brain trust. No names here (cough, the wife and Sully Ray, cough cough), but they were furious about how Maynor gets away with everything, how he should just skip the NBA and head straight to Springfield, MA and how Charles Jenkins is single-handedly ruining the Dutchmen.

After Saturday, I understand the equal parts anger and adulation directed at Maynor, who scored 33 points in his fifth 30-point effort of the season. The few times I’d seen Maynor on TV the last two seasons (we were on vacation when VCU played at Hofstra last January), I wondered if he was the player who was so good he could—and would—sleepwalk for the first half before turning it on in the second half.

I am here today to report that I was, once again, wrong.

The Dutchmen—and Jenkins in particular—harassed Maynor in the first half Saturday, when he was just 2-of-8 from the field, did most of his damage from the free throw line (7-of-7) and was so annoyed by the Dutchmen’s physical, suffocating defense that he made it clear to the refs he should have been awarded a few more trips to the line.

Yet the multi-possession lead the Dutchmen maintained for most of the first half never felt safe. To actually see Maynor in person is to understand why his second halves are so much better than his first. As well as the Dutchmen were defending Maynor, it never seemed as if it was sustainable. And if he could score 11 points while not doing much of anything, what could he do once he finally got some daylight? At some point, he was going to go on a run and single-handedly turn the deficit into a lead.

And he did. Twice.

Maynor scored nine unanswered points in just 86 seconds to give the Rams a 48-46 lead with 10:54 left. Then with the game tied 58-58, Maynor scored six straight points over a span of 2:34 to give the Rams a lead they’d never come close to relinquishing. That was it offensively for Maynor, who scored 22 points in the second half, but he cemented the victory down the stretch by continuing to drape an exhausted Jenkins and giving him no open looks from outside.

It’s a helpless feeling, watching a player dominate your team in such swift and seemingly effortless fashion. So we convince ourselves that he’s not really that great, that he’s good but that he wouldn’t be as good if the rules weren’t different for him—if the refs and The Powers That Be (many CAA fans believe the role of David Stern is being played today, and everyday for that matter, by Tom Yeager) weren’t determined to make sure he and his team win.

Maynor took 13 foul shots Saturday, nearly half as many as the Dutchmen shot combined (28). He’s a little too dramatic, always milking his landings for maximum effect during collisions and tie-ups in the paint and even managing to dominate when he feels like crap. Sound familiar? It’s not fair.

This all leaves normally sane people muttering about conspiracies and how Maynor can do no wrong, even when he does, and how he should be a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. I don’t know if he’s a lottery pick, but he’s good. Really good. Maybe even the best player Hofstra’s ever faced on an annual basis in the Defiantly Dutch era. When he’s on, there’s nothing you can do except watch and marvel, come to understand why he’s got an entire website devoted to him and grow increasingly grateful that he’s graduating this year. Maybe we’ll all be lucky and he’ll sign a free agent contract on, oh, Feb. 28.


Oh yeah. This is a blog about the Flying Dutchmen, isn’t it?

It’s tough to lose a game in to the conference favorites after enjoying a 12-point first half lead and holding a lead for more than 30 minutes overall, but there was plenty to be encouraged about Saturday. Such sentiments, by the way, led the wife to wonder if I’d been kidnapped and deprogrammed by aliens.

But the Dutchmen displayed plenty of resiliency against VCU in taking the lead four different times after Maynor’s first run of the second half. The Dutchmen also had a pretty good game plan to beat VCU—neutralize Larry Sanders, who had almost as many fouls (four) as points (six), control the game down low and force the Rams to rely entirely on Maynor.

The Dutchmen forced 17 turnovers (11 in the first half), out-rebounded the Rams 38-36, outscored them 22-18 in the paint and held a 12-11 edge in second chance points. They also enjoyed a 20-7 edge in bench points, indicating that perhaps that extra depth will come in very handy if they face the Rams with no rest on the Sunday or Monday of the CAA tournament.

Nathaniel Lester (check out the 11:52 am entry on VCU’s in-game blog for an amusing line about the formality of his first name) still appears too tentative at times on offense and shot just 3-of-11 from the field, but he scored 12 points—his third straight double-digit effort; he didn’t exceed single digits in any of his first 19 games—in a season-high 38 minutes and led the Dutchmen with seven rebounds, the fourth time in 11 games he’s led or shared the team lead in boards.

Greg Washington played a season-high 30 minutes, the fourth straight game his minutes have increased. Tony Dennison continued to emerge as a reliable option on offense, particularly in the second half. He scored nine points in just 17 minutes, the fifth straight game he’s scored at least nine points. He reached that mark just six times in his first 17 games. Dennison scored seven points in the second half and has scored 44 second half points in his last five games.

Every bucket in the second half was big: His lay-up with 12:43 left gave Hofstra a seven-point lead for the final time, his 3-pointer with 6:31 to go gave the Dutchmen a 55-53 lead and his lay-up a little more than two minutes later extended the lead to 58-55. Dennison also displayed rare smiles—and by rare smiles, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy smile before—after the first and third baskets of the second half.

Speaking of confidence, or the possible lack thereof, the one worrisome aspect of Saturday is Jenkins. Chuckie seemed to be back after hitting the game-winning jumper against James Madison and scoring a career-high 33 points against UNC-Wilmington in consecutive games, but he looked as frustrated and overwhelmed as he was exhausted in shooting just 5-of-23 against the Rams.

Jenkins, who managed to score 22 points thanks to a 10-of-12 performance from the line, missed his first four shots of the game, his last four shots of the first half and his last six shots of the game. His five field goals came in bunches: He went 3-for-5 after the 0-for-5 stretch to open the game and 2-for-4 after missing his first two shots of the second half.

The Dutchmen, whether coincidentally or not, took on his personality at the end and appeared gassed in the final five minutes. Dennison’s last basket was the last one made by the Dutchmen, who missed their last seven shots, committed three key turnovers in that span and burned two timeouts in a single possession down 64-60 with less than 1:30 left.

Losing to VCU, even after leading most of the way, isn’t terrible—not even the most optimistic blogger could reasonably expect to beat both VCU and Mason in a four-day span. And Jenkins was by far the best option to defend Maynor, so it’s understandable he had to bear the burden on both sides of the ball.

But Jenkins’ ability to shake this one off—and if you saw him scream “What the [expletive]?” and shake his hands as he gazed skyward after he missed a free throw late in the second half, well, you’re probably a bit worried too about him being able to leave this one in Hempstead—could be the difference between victory and defeat tomorrow night, when the Dutchmen better beat Mason. Oh yes. I’m irrational about that. More on that in the morning.

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