The kiddie corps didn’t drive Tom Pecora crazy Tuesday night, but the veterans did.
Pecora said before the season that the Dutchmen would be in trouble if the team didn’t take on the personality of its holdovers, and so it was that Cornelius Vines and Miklos Szabo ended up in his crosshairs after the Dutchmen’s lapses in defensive intensity and a second half shooting slump resulted in an 80-72 loss to Charlotte in the final consolation round game of the Preseason NIT in front of another embarrassingly low crowd of 783 at the Arena.
“When you have five new guys, everyday is a new experience,” Pecora said. “And everyday is a learning experience. So you add tonight to the list.”
Pecora praised the Dutchmen Monday for their tenacity on defense against Elon, but Charlotte and its inside combination of 6-foot-8 Chris Braswell and 6-foot-6 Boston College transfer Shamari Spears provided a far greater challenge. The duo combined for 41 points on 15-of-22 shooting while Braswell pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for the Rams, who outrebounded the Dutchmen 45-36. It was only the second time this season and the 13th time in 39 games dating back to last season that the Dutchmen have been outrebounded.
Spears, in particular, gave the Dutchmen fits: He hit his first four shots of the game, including a 3-pointer, and scored 17 points in the first half before the Dutchmen managed to limit him in the second half. But even with Chaz Williams stepping into help Greg Washington collapse on him, Spears was able to dish the ball back out to the perimeter and create opportunities for the Rams.
The potency of Braswell and Spears also stretched the Dutchmen’s already-thin rotation beyond its breaking point. Szabo, Washington, Nathaniel Lester and Halil Kanacevic all had two fouls by halftime and Szabo, Lester and Kanacevic all picked up their third fouls by the first media timeout of the second half.
The Dutchmen only suited up eight players with David Imes still recovering from an ankle injury and the NCAA continuing to twiddle its thumbs with Brad Kelleher, who apparently committed a greater sin in playing with some pros in Australia than Kentucky’s John Wall did in accepting “travel benefits” from an AAU coach who just also happened to be a sports agent.
“The defensive discipline is more just knowing when you can’t pick up a silly [foul], because we need the bodies on the floor,” Pecora said. “I thought we [had] pretty good effort, but we’re also coming off playing two teams that are nowhere near as talented or as athletic, and I think that we had to raise the bar with our defensive effort. And we didn’t get it.”
Pecora found plenty to critique in the first half but was hopeful the Dutchmen would pull out the victory when they went into the half leading 41-39. But the Dutchmen went cold from the floor in the final 20 minutes, during which they shot just 32 percent (12-of-38), including 13 percent from 3-point land (2-of-15). It was the second-worst half of the season for the Dutchmen, who shot 23 percent in the first half against UConn eight days ago.
The Dutchmen’s top two scorers Tuesday, Washington and Charles Jenkins, shot a combined 8-of-14 in the second half. The rest of the team was just 4-of-24, including 1-for-8 after a Jenkins jumper pulled the Dutchmen within 71-67 with 2:43 left. Included in that stretch was a potential game-tying 3-pointer by Lester that was halfway down the basket before it rimmed out.
Vines, a night removed from perhaps his most complete game in a Hofstra uniform, was 0-for-7 from 3-point land in the second half and finished with just three points in 36 minutes. It wasn’t a completely lost night for Vines, who had seven rebounds (one shy of his career high) and was his usual rabble-rousing self with Spears, with whom he exchanged words after Spears fouled Washington midway through the second half. A minute or so later, Vines went over to Spears and offered his hand, but Spears refused to shake it as Jenkins sarcastically clapped his hands at Spears.
Szabo, meanwhile, had seven points and only two rebounds overall and was just 1-of-3 with no rebounds in nine minutes in the second half
“Not much from our seniors,” Pecora said.
Vines and Szabo, a pair of junior college transfers who were part-time starters last year in their first season with the Dutchmen, have struggled to find consistency in the first two weeks of the season. Vines has played more than 30 minutes and scored six or fewer points three times while Szabo has one double-double but has also recorded four or fewer rebounds in a game three times.
“[Vines] might have taken one or two ill-advised [shots],” Pecora said. “He was just trying to do too much. He missed a 3 and then fouled a guy in the backcourt. It’s not lack of effort, but as a senior, you’ve got to have a little more poise and understand the game will come to you.
“And then they shot 33 free throws in our building. We shot 18. They had a much better post presence than we did. So our post guys have got to step up a little bit.”
The Dutchmen’s troubles on the boards and from the floor overshadowed a typically solid game by Jenkins and the continued breakout of Washington. Jenkins was limited to nine points in each of the last two games due to the injury he suffered against Farmingdale and the lopsided nature of the win over Elon, but he racked up 25 points and committed just one turnover in 40 minutes Tuesday. Washington scored a career-high 18 points and led the Dutchmen with nine points and three blocks in a season-high 31 minutes. Williams added 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes.
“These two guys put up numbers,” Pecora said as he was flanked by Washington and Jenkins in the interview room. “But there are other things that have to take place. We’re not a two-man team.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Charlotte 11/24)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Chaz Williams