Life With Corny turns into a team leader during sweeps month. Coincidence? I think not.
The closest thing to a crisis moment in another wire-to-wire Flying Dutchmen victory arrived at the eight-minute media timeout of the second half Monday. Tom Pecora looked to his bench for a veteran presence to calm a lineup that featured two freshmen—and found Cornelius Vines.
You know, the guy with the million-mile-a-minute motor. The guy who engenders enough drama on the court for his very own reality show. The guy who was on the wrong end of many a withering stare last season from Pecora and ended the season on the bench. The guy who inspired Pecora to utter this all-time quote: “It’s nice to have to take a little air out of the tire instead of having to pump it up all the time.”
Yup. That Cornelius Vines.
And guess what? It worked like a charm. Vines hit consecutive 3-pointers to end any hope Elon had of a miracle comeback and the Flying Dutchmen cruised to a 70-46 win in front of 737 true, loyal fans (do not get me going on that) in the consolation round of the Preseason NIT Monday. The Dutchmen will host Charlotte—which beat Yale 88-74 in the opening game of the doubleheader Monday—in their final NIT game tonight no earlier than 7 p.m.
“Cornelius made big shots, that’s what he does,” Pecora said. “[Elon closed] to 19 and we had the kiddie corps out there [and] they’re driving me crazy. But he made the plays he needed to [make]. I said to the three freshmen: ‘Look who’s on the floor with you. These are the guys who have got to make plays for us.’ And they did a good job of that.”
Vines led the Dutchmen with 17 points, though he collected them in a decidedly un-Vines way. The two 3-pointers he hit late in the second half were his only ones of the game as Vines drove the lane with regularity and took eight of his 14 shots from inside the 3-point line. He took just 11 2-point shots in the first four games. In addition, Monday marked just the fourth time in 35 career games Vines has taken more than 50 percent of his shots from inside the arc.
“Just coming in and trying to get everybody together—be patient and just run the offense when he put me back out there,” Vines said.
Of course, as Pecora then reminded Vines, there was still a little of the familiar Life With Corny out there. “Still shot 2-for-6,” Pecora said as Vines grinned. “That’s a good answer. 2-for-6, it wasn’t like you were 4-for-6.”
While Vines was the offensive key Monday, another player whom Pecora shuffled in and out of the lineup last year starred on the defensive end. Greg Washington earned the coaching staff’s defensive player of the game honors by leading the Dutchmen with seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Overall, the Dutchmen outrebounded Elon 39-26, limited the Phoenix to 35 percent shooting—including 22 percent from 3-point land—and had nine steals while allowing just one theft.
“Greg Washington did a great job—I thought he played with tremendous energy, blocking shots, steals, but also getting people where they needed to be on the floor,” Pecora said.
Despite the easy win, Pecora was not as pleased with the consistency of the rest of the Dutchmen, who hit six straight shots and nine of 11 during a game-opening 23-5 run and expanded the lead to 31 eight minutes into the second half before Elon’s 12-0 run forced Pecora to put Vines back in the game.
The “kiddie corps” that drove Pecora crazy seems likely to get a tongue-lashing before tonight’s first tip. Pecora didn’t identify the targets of his ire but said he told two freshmen that he would “…deal with them in the morning.”
For what it’s worth, Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic each had the worst games of their brief careers. Williams played fewer minutes (16) than any Dutchmen except walk-on Matt Grogan but had more turnovers (four) than points (two) or assists (three). Kanacevic set season lows in both points (five) and rebounds (four) while fellow freshman Yves Jules scored four points in 23 minutes.
“I was happy with some of the things we did, but we call it ‘fools gold’—you don’t want to think this effort is going to be a good enough effort to beat the best teams that we play the rest of the year,” Pecora said. “And it wasn’t. So we’ve got to build off that.
“Look, you’re happy about it, but you say ‘What do we gotta do to get better and how are we going to reach the goals that we have set for the year?’ And playing like this isn’t going to do it.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Elon 11/23)
3: Greg Washington
2: Cornelius Vines
1: Miklos Szabo
Nathaniel Lester 7
Charles Jenkins 6
Cornelius Vines 4
Chaz Williams 4
Halil Kanacevic 4
Greg Washington 3
Miklos Szabo 2