Wednesday, January 20, 2010

George Mason 90, Hofstra 72 (Or: The pleasure of insomnia are ones Tom Pecora can’t avoid)

Tom Pecora won't be needing this for a few nights at least, so Ryan Pearson can have it.

Charles Jenkins buried his head in his jersey after he fouled out with 2:36 left, unable to watch the waning moments of the Flying Dutchmen’s 90-72 loss to Classless U. Tom Pecora, on the other hand, couldn’t take his eyes off what Jenkins refused to watch, nor forget what transpired in the prior 37 minutes and change.

“I will not sleep with a team giving up 90 points,” Pecora said.

If only that was the only thing turning Pecora into an insomniac. The latest most demoralizing loss of the season for the Dutchmen only deepened a funk that is threatening to reach historic proportions and turn into the worst of the Pecora Era.

The Dutchmen are 2-8 in their last 10 games and have lost four in a row for the first time since dropping five in a row in February 2003. They are 2-6 in CAA play, their worst mark through eight conference games since joining the league and their worst mark through eight conference games, regardless of league, since Jay Wright’s first year in 1994-95.

And they seem to be regressing by the day. The Dutchmen suffered their most lopsided conference loss of the season at the hands of the same team they almost beat in Fairfax 15 days earlier.

“We played this team two weeks ago,” Pecora said. “It was a tie game with a minute to go in their gym, which is the toughest atmosphere in the league to play in, as tough as anywhere to go and win. And they come in here…”

For the second straight Tuesday, the undermanned Dutchmen got into the type of fast-paced game they could not win and began running out of gas late in the first half. The Dutchmen took their lone lead at 15-13 a little more than six minutes in and tied the game for the last time at 22-22 with 7:39 left. They were outscored 16-8 to end the first half and got no closer than the halftime margin the rest of the way.

Last Tuesday against VCU, the Dutchmen took their last lead at 13-10 a little more than seven minutes into the first half and were outscored 18-6 to end the half as the Rams took a 40-25 lead. The Dutchmen didn’t get closer than seven in the second half.

Last night marked the first time ever the Dutchmen have given up 90 points in regulation to a CAA foe at home and only the second time it has happened since the Arena opened in 2000. It also marked the first time under Pecora the Dutchmen have allowed at least 80 points in regulation at home in consecutive games. The Dutchmen have given up 80 points four times in 10 home games this year. They gave up 80 points in regulation at home seven times in Pecora’s first eight seasons.

Pecora, who met the media without a player in tow, opened his press conference by declaring himself at fault for the slump, but spared no words in his critique of his team, particularly its veterans.

Miklos Szabo produced his third career double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but Cornelius Vines sat the entire second half after he told Pecora he wasn’t feeling confident. Nathaniel Lester had just two points (on 1-of-4 shooting) and two rebounds and Greg Washington was scoreless with five rebounds and three blocks in just 15 minutes—less than half the 34 minutes he played against William & Mary Saturday. Even Jenkins, who had 26 points, six assists and five steals, went without a rebound for the first time in his career.

“We played like a team [whose] personality is dominated by the freshmen, not a team that has five veterans,” Pecora said.

And so Pecora figured if the team is going to play like a bunch of freshmen, he may as well play a bunch of freshmen. Chaz Williams, who came off the bench for the second straight game as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain, played all 20 minutes in the second half, during which he scored 14 of his career high-tying 20 points. Yves Jules played 17 minutes in the second half—two fewer than the last two games combined and more than he’s played in all but three of the Dutchmen’s first 20 games—and certainly proved worthy of such time with aggressive play on both sides of the ball. Even walk-on Matt Grogan saw two minutes of action.

“We had two and three freshmen on the floor a lot tonight, and that could be the way it is for a while—develop them,” Pecora said.

Pecora dismissed the notion that so many near-misses—the Dutchmen had multiple-possession leads in the second half of four of their last seven defeats—has dragged his team down. The Dutchmen lost six games last season by at least 15 points but won the subsequent game five times.

“I’m not into feeling sorry for myself, I’m not into feeling sorry for them,” Pecora said. “They’ve got scholarships here. It’s $50,000 a year [snarky editor's note: But remember, the president says "it's a relatively inexpensive school"] to come be a college basketball player. It’s a wonderful life. And you’re asked to play hard when you get on the floor, work hard in the classroom and behave like a gentleman when you’re off the court. It’s not that much to do. There’s guys who would give their left arm to do that.

“So if they think this is tough—what are they going to do when they get into the real world and you lose a job like so many people have done already, or things happen to you in your life that send you for a tailspin? These guys can’t handle losing some close basketball games? When adversity strikes, the true man comes out.”

The task now for Pecora is to get the Dutchmen to return to what he considers true Hofstra basketball—40 passionate minutes in which the Dutchmen play the type of defense that has become the program’s trademark and treat every possession as if it’s the last one of the season. He’ll do that by dramatically increasing the intensity of practice, depleted roster and all. If he can’t sleep, the least he can do is make he’ll make sure his players are exhausted.

“That falls on me—that’s my job, that’s my job to get these guys [going],” Pecora said. “And if we’ve got to run and trip and dive and do all of that to play hard every night, I’ll lose that way. But I’m not going to lose where guys are not executing.

“We’ll have some spirited practices. Sometimes, when you’re down to seven guys….you change the way you practice. I’ve done that, and I shouldn’t have. I should have continued to just ride them in practice, ride them physically. I’m always on them to perform, but make our practices more physically grueling. And that’s what I’m going to need to do to get this team to play hard for a full 40 minutes, because they’ve lost their way.

“And that’s my fault. That’s me. I will do everything I need to do to get them there.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Stolen Pillows U., 1/19)
3: Miklos Szabo
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Chaz Williams

Charles Jenkins 35
Chaz Williams 21
Halil Kanacevic 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Miklos Szabo 12
Cornelius Vines 8
Greg Washington 8

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1 comment:

variaban said...

Any GMU fan will admit that the low blow a few years ago was just plain ol' dirty.
But in all honesty, if Coach L's biggest worry with his team is that one or two of them tried to take a pillow from a hotel then that's a good thing, especially with all the scandals that go on in college basketball nowadays.
GMU was just a down-right really good squad in 2006 and deserved the at-large.
Did Hofstra deserve one too? Sure. More than GMU, probably not. Your biggest wins that year were against GMU when they were #25 and then again in the CAA tournament.

Drexel got snubbed in 2007. These things happen, unfortunately they happen more to the "mid major" conferences more than the Big 6.