Tom Pecora would have had a nine-figure blockbuster on his hands last season if he charged admission every time he screened to the Flying Dutchmen the game film from their win over Towson in the CAA opener in December.
The Dutchmen authored another December performance against Towson that Pecora won’t mind re-watching Saturday, when they routed the Tigers 84-64 in—you guessed it—the CAA opener. But Pecora hopes this year’s win at Towson is just the start of something big and not a rare glimpse at potential that has to be viewed multiple times by a team struggling with confidence and consistency issues.
“As good as we’ve played,” Pecora said in his office Monday. “I think this year, we had greater balance. And we’re a different team when we get that kind of play in the front court.”
Charles Jenkins had his usual sterling game with 21 points, but the difference for the Dutchmen was the performance of their big men, particularly Miklos Szabo, whose job was in danger after an underperforming start to the season in which he averaged just 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in six games against Division I competition.
But Szabo responded Saturday with a career-high 22 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) as well as eight rebounds, his second-highest total of the season. “That’s the [way] Mike Szabo played when I was recruiting him, that’s why I was so excited about him,” Pecora said. “If he could ever be a guy who could gives us solid minutes and solid performances like that—it doesn’t have to be 22 and 9 every night, but if he can give us 15 and 8, he’ll be an all-conference player.”
Freshman Halil Kanacevic scored 10 points and added five rebounds while Greg Washington had eight points and seven rebounds. “Greg Washington is really becoming more consistent and the young guys coming off the bench did a good job,” Pecora said. “I think the key there was the balance, the inside and the outside.”
Almost as encouraging for the Dutchmen’s long-term outlook was the performance of Cornelius Vines, who scored eight points on 3-of-12 shooting but who collected a career-high six assists—the third straight game in which he matched or exceeded his previous career best—while committing no turnovers. He also tied his career high with three steals and played suffocating defense on Towson star Josh Thornton, who was limited to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“He didn’t get worried about his offense, he still wasn’t making shots but he took better shots and he didn’t lose focus of what his job was,” Pecora said. “And he knows, by locking up and defending Thornton and making Thornton do things that he doesn’t like to do—put the ball on the ground—he knew he was going to give us a better chance to win. So I thought it was really a good team win in that sense.”
And, Pecora hopes, a more sustainable one than last year’s 90-81 win at Towson. The Dutchmen had three players in double figures in that win as well, but Vines’ 21 points came largely from six 3-pointers, a type of performance he wouldn’t come close to matching the rest of the season. Washington had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first of two straight double-doubles, but he would record just one more double-double.
Even Jenkins, who had 24 points in the victory, was not immune from inconsistency as he struggled badly with his shot and his self-esteem during a 2-6 skid that immediately followed the eight-game winning streak.
In addition, the Towson win came in the middle of an eight-game winning streak that didn’t do much to determine the Dutchmen’s long-term prospects. The seven Division I foes Hofstra beat during that stretch finished a combined 90-127 last season.
This year’s Dutchmen, of course have played a far more rigorous schedule in which they’ve lost to two top 25 team (top-ranked Kansas and UConn) and to Charlotte, which handed Louisville its worst home loss under Rick Pitino in an 87-65 win Sunday.
So will the performance against Towson be more sustainable this year than last? “I hope so,” Pecora said with a laugh. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know I’ll be able to tell you Wednesday night.”