Very sorry for the lack of a post about the loss to Mason. I got into a car accident on the way back from Virginia Monday night. I was sideswiped at 65 mph into another car and then spun across four lanes of 495 south of Baltimore before coming to a rest facing traffic in the breakdown lane. Somewhat miraculously, everything and everyone appears to be fine. And if I can ever process the Quentin Tarantino-esque weirdness that surrounded the 24 hours that began with my decision to go to Mason, I’ll blog about it.
The game against Towson (ahh! A Maryland school! Ahh!!!) is only a couple hours away, so I’m going to just completely rip off every writer ever by posting six quick thoughts about the Mason game. I’ll also predict that Litos is right in predicting a Dutchmen win, but wrong in expecting it to be fairly easy. This will be an ugly win, a la the Delaware win last Jan. 7 that ended a two-game losing streak and a stretch of four losses in five games.
1.) The transition is complete. Not only did Halil Kanacevic join fellow freshman Chaz Williams in the starting lineup, but the duo each established a new career high in points and were remarkably reliable at crunch time: The two combined to score 21 of the Dutchmen’s final 25 points. Williams scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and his first three baskets of the second half all tied the game or gave the Dutchmen the lead. Kanacevic had his second double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) and also went to the free throw line five times. Neither Miklos Szabo nor Greg Washington have gone to the line five times in game this season.
While Cornelius Vines should continue to play a steady role with the Dutchmen thanks to his defense and 3-point shooting ability (though he is just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc in his last five games), it might be time to declare it was nice knowing Szabo, who played just three minutes—his briefest cameo since he played two minutes against UNC Wilmington in the season finale last year, back when he was still recovering from a broken forearm—and had no points or rebounds. Szabo is limited offensively, where he has been unable to create anything from beyond two feet all year, and prone to overzealous fouls on defense. Maybe a visit from Towson, against whom Szabo had 22 points and eight rebounds Dec. 5, will provide a much-needed tonic.
And on both teams, the kids are all right: The Dutchmen and Patriots each had three freshmen on the floor much of the night. The two schools would have one helluva battle for the CAA crown in 2012 and 2013, if only Hofstra were still in the conference.
2.) Immaturity cost the Dutchmen another win. Not the feet-stomping, go-to-your-room variety of immaturity, but the collective inexperience of the roster reared its ugly head again in the second half as the Dutchmen could not extend their lead and bury Mason. A 7-0 run turned a 44-43 deficit into a 50-44 lead with 7:45 left, but the Dutchmen squandered two chances to turn the four-point lead into six or seven before Mason took the lead with 3:25 left. The Patriots would never trail again.
3.) Charles Jenkins is officially slumping again. Jenkins had an OK line—11 points, six rebounds, six assists—but shot just 33 percent (5-for-15) from the floor, the fourth time in his last seven games he has shot less than 40 percent. It’s not so much the stats suggesting another midseason slump for Jenkins as it is the sight of Jenkins driving the lane against two or three defenders, over and over and over again, and trying to do everything for the Dutchmen by creating something out of nothing. He did end the night by dishing to Kanacevic in the lane for a pair of baskets and then hitting a layup of his own, so maybe he’s snapping out of it. The skid is not as deep as it was a year ago, when, in the seven-game span that ended with the loss to Northeastern on the first Monday of January, Jenkins shot 33 percent (30-of-92). Jenkins is shooting 40 percent (41-of-103) over his last seven games. Of course, a year ago, the worst was yet to come: Jenkins shot 4-of-24 in the win over Delaware 52 weeks ago tonight.
4.) Nathaniel Lester is still inconsistent and Greg Washington is invisible. Lester had one of the quietest near double-doubles (nine points, nine rebounds) you’ll ever see. He missed a dunk and a layup and air-balled a 3-pointer during a 2-of-9 shooting performance. He did take six of the Dutchmen’s 14 free throw attempts, though, continuing another familiar trend. The Dutchmen, even with Kanacevic and Williams playing so well, can only go so far without Lester emerging as the second consistent veteran.
Washington, meanwhile, played just 15 minutes, his fewest since the opener against Kansas, but fouled out anyway and scored just two points and collected two rebounds before departing. He’s had two or fewer rebounds four times in 14 games, which is almost inconceivable given his 6-foot-10 frame. He doesn’t have the body to bang down low with the bigger men of the CAA and is far too often content with hoisting 15-foot jumpers instead of trying to convert under the basket. Kanacevic’s emergence might benefit Washington most, because it may allow him to hang on the perimeter on offense and swat away shots on defense. Still, he should be doing so much more for the Dutchmen.
5.) The Dutchmen are in much better shape than a year ago. Yeah, 1-2 in the CAA is 1-2 in the CAA, but last year, the Dutchmen were 1-2 after losing consecutive games to Drexel and Northeastern in which they never led. In addition, the roster was bogged down with six limited seniors and three junior college transfers who had yet to play to expectations. This 1-2—with two losses by a combined five points to upper echelon CAA teams and with a starting lineup comprised entirely of underclassmen, including two incredibly promising freshmen—is far less worrisome. The Dutchmen will still win 12 conference games.
6.) While George Mason is a two-word, 11-letter synonym for evil, the Patriot Center and Fairfax are great college basketball environments. Met my buddy with the tickets at Brion’s, a bar across the street from Patriot Center. The walls of Brion’s were covered with Mason memorabilia, advertisements promoted the ability to watch all televised Mason games at the bar and the bartenders and waitresses all sported Mason T-shirts. For all I know, all the memorabilia—which included Mason jerseys from decades back—was added after April 2006, but it was still pretty cool. And Patriot Center is a big-time environment, with some damn fine food (foot-long hot dogs, hello Sully Ray!!) and neat giveaways. I could have done without the “Ball Buster” afterward, though, and Mason fans remind me of Paul O’Neill and Kevin Youkilis: Every call against them is horsecrap and a sign that everyone is out to get them.
Still, if Hofstra is in the CAA next year and visits Mason, I recommend you go to the game. Just fly or take a train there.
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. George Mason, 1/4)
3: Chaz Williams
2: Halil Kanacevic
1: Charles Jenkins
Charles Jenkins 22
Nathaniel Lester 18
Chaz Williams 17
Halil Kanacevic 13
Greg Washington 8
Cornelius Vines 7
Miklos Szabo 5