Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 Hofstra hoops moments of the ‘00s (Or: In which the Best of the Decade lists officially jumps the shark)

I bet you Casey Kasem never read a Long Distance Dedication quite like the one I'd have for Tom O'Connor!

Nothing has ever made me feel as old as thumbing through the best of the ‘00s edition of Billboard the other night at the bookstore. I fancy myself a sponge of pop culture, and I grew up listening religiously to the American Top 40 and getting kicked out of the only drug store in the area that carried Billboard (yeah, well, what’s Brooks Drugs now? Rite Aid! Take that, karma!). Name an album or single from the ‘80s, or even the ‘90s, and I’m pretty sure I can tell you its peak position on the charts.

(Along those lines, the following acts better hurry it the hell up and record a Top 40 single between now and midnight in order to become artists with hits in four different decades: Styx, The Eagles, Heart, Cheap Trick, Journey, Genesis, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Billy Joel.)

So imagine how I felt Monday, reading about artists I didn’t recognize and songs I’d never heard and formats in which I’d never purchased an album or a song. Now I know what it’s like to be Abe Simpson: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.”

It was all very depressing so I decided to feel semi-relevant again by revisiting the only thing that hasn’t passed me by: Hofstra hoops. That’s right, with the final minutes of the decade evaporating, I’ve decided to jump on the best of the ‘00s bandwagon!

Below you’ll find the top 10 moments of the decade in Hofstra basketball. Later tonight I’ll have something on the worst moments of the decade in basketball as well as the best and worst of the decade in the rest of Hofstra sports. One more post and I’ll get to 200 for the year, which is a pretty cool, round number considering I took off almost all of April, May, June and July.

Anyway, hope you enjoy, and hope your New Year’s Eve is a safe one and your 2010 a happy one. Thanks as always for visiting here and making this project so fulfilling for me. Tune in tomorrow as we kick off a new decade by getting right into the flow with the reboot of CAA season.

1.) Hofstra wins the 2000 America East title: Nothing like the first time, even though the second straight title was even more satisfying. A storybook season is capped when the Dutchmen come back from an eight-point second half deficit to beat Delaware at the brand-new Hofstra Arena. My favorite image, perhaps of the decade: The typically non-expressive Speedy Claxton—who cemented his status as the best player in program history by lifting the Dutchmen to the NCAA Tournament in his senior season—pumping his fists and smiling as he walks down the court to take some insurance free throws in the final seconds.

2.) Hofstra wins the 2001 America East title: The Dutchmen were the pre-season favorites, and the pressure upon them and the size of the target on their collective back increased with each successive victory—18 in a row to end the season, including a second straight A-East championship game win over Delaware. But a team loaded with veteran talent (four seniors in the starting lineup, including 1,000-point scorers Hernandez, Norman Richardson and Roberto Gittens) and determined to prove itself following the graduation of Claxton was more than up to the task. The Dutchmen’s four regular season losses were by five points or less. “We could have won 25 in a row,” Jason Hernandez said earlier this month. “If we lost [the A-East title game], we would have felt like we failed.”

3.) Hofstra beats St. Joseph’s, 77-75, Mar. 20, 2006, in the second round of the NIT: Actually my favorite game of the decade, but you can’t put an NIT win over victories that catapulted the Dutchmen into the NCAA Tournament. The Dutchmen trailed for much of the second half in the unfriendly bandbox of Alumni Fieldhouse, came back to take a three-point lead in the waning seconds and then had to go to overtime when Abdulai Jalloh drained three free throws with five seconds left. The Dutchmen raced out to a five-point lead in the overtime, but St. Joe’s responded with an 8-0 run to take a 75-72 lead before Loren Stokes and Aurimas Kieza (who had fouled Jalloh at the end of regulation) scored the final five points. St. Joe’s missed a 3-pointer as time expired, and I’m not sure there are words in the English language to describe the euphoria and relief we all felt as that ball bounced harmlessly away. This was a game Hofstra just never wins, but it did. And it proved just how erroneous and misguided the NCAA Selection Committee was in overlooking Hofstra for an at-large bid. One NIT win was a fluke, two meant the Dutchmen belonged in the field of 65. Take that, Tom O’Connor.

4.) Hofstra beats George Mason twice in an 11-day span, 2006. Hey! Speaking of America’s worst athletic director! The Dutchmen dominated no. 25 George Mason at home Feb. 23, but the more impressive victory was recorded in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament Mar. 5, when the Dutchmen went into Mason’s backyard and came back from a six-point halftime deficit to trounce the Patriots 58-49, and advance to the championship game. Of course, Mason got the last laugh when thug Tony Skinn punched Loren Stokes in the nuts in the final minute, thereby weakening Hofstra for the title contest against UNC Wilmington. But hey, Jim Larranaga, that Great Leader of Men, suspended Skinn for a game, the same penalty he’d later hand down to two kids for stealing pillows from a hotel room. That’ll teach him!

5.) Pecora stays at Hofstra, April 2006: I figured Pecora was gone for sure after Hofstra surged on to the national stage following The Great Screw Job and the trip to the NIT Final Eight. Seton Hall came calling, but Pecora quickly reached agreement with Hofstra on a long-term contract extension. I don’t think people realize how good they’ve got it here with Pecora, who, as someone who was here from day one of the Jay Wright Era, takes—wait for it!!—great pride in the emergence of Hofstra and has a far greater personal stake in the program’s fortunes than anyone who could ever succeed him.

6.) Hofstra beats James Madison in three overtimes, Feb. 18, 2009: For personal reasons—my wife’s grandmother had died that morning and we weren’t sure we were going to the game until just before opening tip—this was probably the best, most riveting regular season game I’ve ever seen at the Arena, even if it surely drove Pecora crazy.

7.) Loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Mar. 15, 2001: The 13-point final margin of defeat doesn’t indicate just how deep a scare the Flying Dutchmen threw into the Bruins. The Dutchmen led by four at the half, by six with less than 13 minutes left and still led at the eight-minute media timeout in the second half, at which point I screwed with the karma and took a picture of the scoreboard. Nice job, Me! My future wife and I were already wondering how to stay an extra two days in Greensboro with no money at all to our names, but there would be no second-round game against Utah State, just a long-ass bus ride back to Hofstra.

8.) The entire America East tournament, 2001: As noted in no. 2, Hofstra was the target all year, and the several thousand fans at Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center adopted Hofstra’s first two tournament opponents—Vermont and Maine—as their own, since a upset loss by Hofstra would allow Delaware to host the title game. Rooting for the most despised team in the joint was quite a feeling for those of us who remembered when most fans correlated Hofstra with an easy win. Things felt awfully dicey as Maine raced out to a sizable lead in the first half of the semifinal. But order was restored in the second half, the Dutchmen won and six days later hundreds of Delaware fans went home from Hempstead unhappy. This is me pointing at you, a la Nelson Muntz.

9.) Hofstra beats Maine 67-64 to clinch first place in the America East, Feb. 20, 2000: A near-sellout crowd of 4,729 shows up to the Arena and Claxton doesn’t disappoint on Senior Day as he scores 32 points, including five in a game-ending 9-0 run, as the Dutchmen stormed back to seal the top seed in the upcoming America East tournament. For the first time ever, Hofstra felt like the big time.

10.) Kieza drains a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Hofstra past Old Dominion, 65-63, Feb. 2, 2006: The first sign that 2005-06 was going to be something special? Kieza drained his shot from the top of the key in traffic to set off a wild celebration, or at least as wild a celebration as a crowd of 2,907 at Hofstra can muster.

Coming later tonight: The worst moments of the decade, as well as the best and the worst of the decade for the rest of Hofstra sports.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One moment I think you forgot was the feb 2009 game at UNCW where Tony Dennison stole the ball and while falling down under the basket fed Arminas Urbutis for a buzzer beating layup.