To try and figure out which painful loss is the worst for a team is presumably the inverse of asking a parent to identify his or her favorite child. They all suck equally (the losses, that is, not the kids).
But if the Flying Dutchmen were to rank the defeats of 2009-10 in order of agony, their 73-66 loss Saturday to the College of Bill Lawrence would have to top the chart, such as it is.
Like they have so many times this season, the Dutchmen had that long-desired Signature Win in their grasp Saturday night. For the fifth time, the Dutchmen lost a game in which they enjoyed a multiple-possession lead in the second half. Yet as disappointing as it was to squander those leads against UConn (nine points with 9:10 left), St. John’s (seven points with 16:50 left), George Mason (six points with 7:52 left) and in the first game against William & Mary Jan. 2 (eight points with 14:31 left), this one really smarts.
The Dutchmen led the Fighting Lawrences by seven with 9:14 to play. Had they held on, it would have been quite the Signature Win, second in hypothetical impact behind only a victory over UConn.
This Signature Win would have come on the road against one of the CAA’s first place teams (it sounds grammatically incorrect, but it isn’t—look at the standings!), and while William & Mary’s RPI isn’t as high now as it was when it visited Hofstra Jan. 2, the win would have been even more impressive because the Fighting Lawrences have proven over the first two weeks of the conference schedule that their success in November and December was no fluke.
Instead, the Dutchmen’s midseason skid hit semi-historic levels. The Dutchmen’s seventh loss in nine games dropped them to 2-5 in the CAA and 9-10 overall. This is the first time since the 1981-82 season the Dutchmen have fallen under .500 in a season in which they were at least four games over .500.
The fateful final few minutes Saturday unfurled in frustratingly familiar fashion as the Dutchmen were unable to either maintain or extend the lead over the Fighting Lawrences nor come back once they fell behind. The Dutchmen finished the game in a 3-of-16 funk and missed 10 straight shots over a nearly eight-minute span, during which a six-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit.
Such a dry spell was uncannily similar to the losses against St. John’s and Mason. Four weeks ago yesterday, the Dutchmen missed their final 12 shots against the Red Storm, who turned a five-point deficit into a 12-point win with an 18-1 run over the final 6:57. And two weeks ago against the Patriots, the Dutchmen missed eight straight shots over more than five minutes as a four-point lead turned into a four-point deficit.
The common perception in the near-misses—perpetuated plenty here—is that Charles Jenkins tries to do too much as the Dutchmen flail down the stretch. But the late game offensive struggles have been a team effort in all five potential Signature Wins.
Jenkins, who finished with a team-high 19 points and two blocks while adding five assists and four rebounds. took eight of the Dutchmen’s final 16 shots Saturday and missed his final seven. He also took half the Dutchmen’s shots down the stretch against St. John’s and missed them all. He took five of the final 12 shots against UConn, six of the final 14 shots in the first William & Mary game and five of the final 14 shots against George Mason.
Expecting Jenkins to take a greater percentage of the shots is probably a bit unrealistic, yet nobody has consistently stepped up to lessen the pressure on him. Nathaniel Lester and Halil Kanacevic were both outstanding in the first half Saturday (Lester had eight points and seven rebounds while Kanacevic had 10 points and three rebounds) but quiet in the second half (Lester had one point and one rebound while Kanacevic had two points and three rebounds).
As much as the Dutchmen need someone to emerge as the Robin to Jenkins’ Batman (I can’t take credit for that analogy, it comes from WRHU’s Mike “Clay Buchholz” Leslie), Tom Pecora at this point would probably be happier to know the identity of his core beyond Jenkins and freshmen Chaz Williams (12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in his return from an ankle injury) and Halil Kanacevic.
Lester should be a part of it, but Saturday marked the fourth straight game in which he played less than 30 minutes. Greg Washington played a career-high 34 minutes but had just seven points and six rebounds. Miklos Szabo recorded just one foul but played only 15 minutes. Cornelius Vines had six assists and no turnovers—that’s right, Cornelius Vines had a perfect assist-to-turnover ratio—but was just 2-of-9 from the field.
There is, of course, a lot of time left in conference play, and we were reminded just yesterday how foolish it can be to prematurely bury a team. And the youthful and undermanned Dutchmen are the type of team that nobody is going to want to play come tournament time, when, presumably, some of the flaws will have been worked out and there will be several freshmen in the rotation who don’t know they’re supposed to be intimidated by the task of going to Virginia and winning four games in four days in foreign territory.
But that Signature Win that the Dutchmen have come so close to earning feels farther away than ever. And when the best-case scenario in the third week of January is playing Cinderella in March...well, it’s a pretty good sign the season has not unfolded as expected.
Sure, the Dutchmen were pegged as a middle-of-the-road team by outsiders, but internally, the expectations were much higher. There was a reason the Dutchmen played Kansas and in the preseason NIT this year and not last year, and it was because nobody in Hempstead expected the Dutchmen to get to the first weekend of March relying on the hope that someone someday has to beat the long odds and win on Monday as well as Friday.
But that’s where they are as February approaches, banking on a miracle in the long-term and, in the short term, hoping 2-5 doesn’t turn into 2-7 and wondering how long it’ll be before the next most demoralizing loss of the season takes place. Fortunately, the Dutchmen play George Mason tomorrow night. And nothing bad ever happens when the Dutchmen play George Mason.
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. College of Bill Lawrence, 1/16)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Chaz Williams
1: Halil Kanacevic
Charles Jenkins 33
Chaz Williams 20
Halil Kanacevic 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Miklos Szabo 9
Cornelius Vines 8
Greg Washington 8