Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hofstra 68, Yale 63 (Or: Can’t Find My Way Home)

Despondent after Rory's alma mater fell to Hofstra, the Gilmore girls headed to Luke's for some coffee and some crackling conversation.

So many people know where Gampel Pavilion is that nobody has to know how to get there. That’s right: The deep, Yogi Berra-esque thoughts flow freely when you’re driving around and around in the dark looking for the most identifiable building in the state­—don’t kid yourself, State Capitol or Mark Twain House, you guys are the junior varsity in Connecticut, no matter how fond Jeremy Kniffin is of the latter—yet can’t find a sign directing you to it.

There are more signs for the parking garages around Gampel Pavilion than for the building itself, which only houses a pair of programs that have won a combined seven national championships since 1995.

I’m not asking for neon lighting, or expecting the building to rise magically out of the tumbleweeds surrounding it, a la the casinos in the southeastern Connecticut, but c’mon. A helpful arrow here or there would be great.

Anyway, I apparently wasn’t the only one who had a hard time finding Gampel. Hofstra stumbled early against Yale in the first round of the Preseason NIT Monday and trailed by four with under six minutes left n the first half, but the Flying Dutchmen—no doubt inspired by my arrival, and given how many people were in the stands for the opener of the doubleheader, it’s quite conceivable anyone who walked through the door was noticed by the players on the court—surged back to beat those brainiacs, 68-63, and set up tonight’s upset win over 13th-ranked UConn…or, as I am already calling it, THE GREATEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED TO ME.

That date with destiny was alternately penned in indelible ink and endangered Monday in a game that provided the perfect summation of these Dutchmen: Individual performances and team-wide moments of brilliance and cohesiveness that get even sane, reasonable people thinking what if, followed by stretches in which the Dutchmen look every bit like a team that is one of the least experienced in the CAA.

Nathaniel Lester, three days removed from a quiet opener against Kansas, led the Dutchmen with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Halil Kanacevic followed up his double-double debut with eight points and a team-high nine boards.

Charles Jenkins scored eight of his 19 points in the final five minutes and single-handedly stemmed Yale rallies by hitting consecutive baskets that extended the lead to nine with 4:06 left as well as a driving layup in which he surged past and over three defenders to give the Dutchmen a 66-60 advantage with 45 seconds left.

Conversely, Greg Washington had 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks—but also fouled out for the second straight game, albeit in 23 minutes this time instead of nine like Friday. And Chaz Williams was mostly a non-factor with two points, two assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes, the least amount of time any of the seven Dutchmen played.

Collectively, the Dutchmen outscored Yale 34-13 over more than 14 minutes spanning the first and second halves in which they dominated the Elis on both ends of the floor. Seven of the Dutchmen’s first eight baskets in the second half were scored in the paint.

Life With Corny played perhaps the best defense I’ve ever seen out of him, forcing, on consecutive possessions, his man into hoisting a bad a shot with plenty of time left on the shot clock and a turnover. The Dutchmen’s big men collapsed down low and swarmed the undersized Elis.

And then it began to fall apart. There were communication issues on passes, ill-advised shots and ill-timed fouls as Yale’s desperation shift to the full-court press took the Dutchmen out of their rhythm. The Dutchmen opened the half by hitting nine of their first 11 shots, but went more than four minutes without a field goal after Miklos Szabo put them up 53-36 and were just 4-of-10 the rest of the way.

Such funks will have to be avoided in order for the Dutchmen to shock the world tonight against UConn, which displayed its mind-boggling athleticism and talent in the nightcap as it turned a one-point halftime lead over Colgate into a 14-point win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

If the Huskies continue to take their time rounding into form tonight, the Dutchmen could make things really interesting. On the other hand, if Hofstra gets off to another slow start and UConn is inspired into action by the stark raving mad rantings of coach Jim “Hooch” Calhoun (if you don’t get the reference, shame on you and start following me on Twitter!), well, it could be over in a hurry.

UConn is the obvious favorite here, but this is another game in which the Dutchmen have little to lose and a whole lot to gain. My minor blog bias can foresee a seismic evening in which the veterans and the newcomers alike mesh and play beyond their experience and make things really interesting in the final few minutes.

And what a glorious thing it would be to make dismissive UConn fans sweat, if only to ensure these thousands of annoying bandwagon jumpers never forget what level of basketball Hofstra plays.

The Poster Girl for why I never rooted for UConn arrived a few minutes after me and sat along the same row of bleacher seats. “Is Hofstra Division I?” she asked. Yes. We have uniforms and everything!

Generally speaking—and I was sitting next to an exception to the rule last night in Loyal Reader Matt, who still thinks the Field House is the best place to watch a basketball game—UConn fans are among the worst Johnny (and Jane) Come Latelys on the planet; abject fools who think the game was invented when UConn made the Elite Eight for the first time in 1990.

I guess I can’t blame the Poster Girl for her ignorance—she’s never lived in an era in which UConn basketball was synonymous with mediocrity and first-round NIT exits—but this front-running is a New England tradition unlike any other. Just check out all the pink Red Sox hats and all the Patriots fans who think Raymond Berry is a new flavor at Baskin Robbins.

One hundred and fifty miles to the southwest of Storrs, there may not be signs pointing people to Hofstra Arena, either. But a win tonight by the Dutchmen and maybe UConn fans will at least be able to pick out Hempstead on a map.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (explanation/homage coming soon, I swear)

3: Nathaniel Lester
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Halil Kanacevic

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

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