Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Davidson 61, Hofstra 52 (Or: The New York state of mind is not a very good one)

Even Long Island's own Billy Joel is ready to take aim at the Flying Dutchmen after back-to-back losses in the Holiday Festival.

Bob McKillop wasn’t very comfortable coaching against Hofstra and one of his protégés, Tom Pecora, during the consolation game of the Holiday Festival Monday night. So after Davidson beat the Flying Dutchmen, 61-52, in front of tumbleweeds, McKillop was only too happy to immediately revert back to the familiar role of dispensing advice to the fans of the school from which he graduated and the head coach to whom he gave his first job.

“Nothing’s as good as it seems, nothing’s as bad as it seems,” McKillop said. “Somewhere in between is reality. I heard Lou Holtz say that once, and boy it’s ever so true. As I walked the streets of New York last night at 2 o’clock after that loss, now I’ll be walking the streets of New York at 2 o’clock in a different frame of mind.”

For the second straight year, the Christmas frame of mind is not good around the Flying Dutchmen, who, once again, enter the holiday with a two-game losing streak that has negated much or all of the goodwill and positive momentum created during the first four weeks of the non-conference schedule.

The natives are restless with Pecora, who was almost rendered speechless Monday after the Dutchmen played in strangely dispassionate fashion until a too-little, too-late burst of energy in the final seven minutes. The Dutchmen tied the score six times but never led (the first time this season they’ve failed to lead in a game), were outrebounded 47-34 and took just five free throws, their fewest attempts since Feb. 2, 2006 against Old Dominion.

As disgusted as he was Monday, Pecora was neither surprised by the outcome nor likely to head out for a post-midnight stroll to try and figure out what went wrong, “I had individual meetings with all the guys today, and coming out of the meetings afterward, I met with my staff [and] I said ‘We’re going to have a rough time tonight’ because from the neck up, we’re not in a good place,” Pecora said. “We’ve got guys who have lost a little bit of confidence. We’ve got guys who are not playing with the energy that they need to play with, night in and night out.”

Pecora sounded more proactive than ever Monday, willing and ready to revamp his approach and overhaul the rotation after a game in which the two best players on the court for the Dutchmen were, by far, freshmen Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams.

Kanacevic had 10 points and led the Dutchmen with nine rebounds and a career-high four blocks while Williams, who made his first start, set career highs and led the Dutchmen with 14 points in 38 minutes.

“We’re in a transition right now as a team,” Pecora said. “I thought our young guys, Chaz and Halil Kanacevic, played with great energy. I was disappointed in our veterans. I didn’t think they played with much of a sense of urgency. I don’t make excuses, but maybe they were emotionally or physically drained from last night [the 72-60 loss to St. John’s], such a big game.

“I don’t buy that. You’ve only got so many in you and you’ve got to play every game like they’re going to put the balls away at midnight and you’re never going to play the game again.”

The basketballs won’t disappear anytime soon for the Dutchmen: Pecora said he originally planned to give the team Tuesday off but that it would practice every day until Christmas.

“And depending how I feel, maybe Christmas night,” Pecora said. “And then we’re just gonna keep practicing until we get better. And if we go down and we win a game in Florida the right way and we start playing the right way, maybe we’ll get a day off. We’re on break so I don’t have to take any days off. And I love practice.”

So does the person whom the Dutchmen have to worry about following in McKillop’s footsteps and wandering the streets searching for answers. Charles Jenkins had a second straight subpar game Monday, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, and seems to be falling into a trying-to-do-everything funk for the second straight year—even if Pecora played semantics in saying this season is different than last.

“I think last year he was tired because he was coming in every night and shooting and I had to take the key away and tell him ‘You can’t come in the gym anymore at night,’” Pecora said. “I think he was leg weary last year. I think this is more of him just feeling responsibility, the trickle-down. We’re not getting a lot from the seniors. He knows that.”

But he knew that last year, too, when he was the youngest player on the roster but also someone whose talent demanded he become the leader of a team with six role-playing seniors and three juniors who were all new to the program. As December morphed into January, Jenkins seemed overwhelmed by the duality of his tasks and endured a nine-game stretch in which he shot just 27 percent from the field (35-for-129) as the Dutchmen went 3-6.

Serving as a leader now, as a junior and the most experienced player on the team, is a far more natural experience for Jenkins, but the challenges are just as plentiful. He is literally the middle man in this transition, the only holdover who is assured of being part of the next Dutchmen core, yet he must also boost the likes of seniors Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines, both of whom seem on the verge of slipping out of the rotation, as well as fellow juniors Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, each of whom has yet to play to expectations this year.

Lester’s block with 7:15 left jump-started a 15-9 run that pulled the Dutchmen within five with just over a minute to play, but he scored a season-low two points Monday, the fifth straight game he has fallen short of double figures, and pulled down four rebounds, only the fifth time this year he’s had fewer than five boards. He also played just 18 minutes, the second time in the last three games he’d played fewer than 20 minutes. He played at least 26 minutes in each of the Dutchmen’s first 10 games.

The 6-foot-10 Washington, meanwhile, remained a non-factor underneath with just four points and two rebounds. It was the third time this year Washington has recorded two or fewer rebounds in a game.

Very recent history suggests Jenkins (who earned first-team All-CAA honors last year despite his midseason swoon) and the Dutchmen (who won 21 games last year with a team that was not nearly as talented as this one) will emerge from their slumps in plenty of time to salvage the season. But very recent history—as well as Monday night—also suggests the path there will be a painful one.

“Think about it, man,” Pecora said. “You’re 18, you’re 20, whatever it is, you’re playing at Madison Square Garden. If you can’t go out and play your ass off, then something’s really, really wrong. So it’s my job to figure out what that is and to come up with a game plan.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Davidson 12/21)
3: Halil Kanacevic
2: Chaz Williams
1: Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins 19
Chaz Williams 12
Nathaniel Lester 12
Halil Kanacevic 10
Greg Washington 7
Cornelius Vines 7
Miklos Szabo 5

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