Friday, January 8, 2010

Hofstra 77, Towson 61 (Or: The Kids Are Alright)

Halil Kanacevic apparently wasn't the only freshmen exhausted Wednesday night.

The most revealing sequence of the Flying Dutchmen’s 77-61 win over Towson Wednesday took place in the final five minutes with the game well in hand. Towson’s Josh Brown missed a 3-pointer and a group of players tussled for the rebound. Halil Kanacevic emerged from a scrum of several players with his 10th board of the night as fellow phenom Chaz Williams went crashing to the floor.

Kanacevic, who had passed the ball to Cornelius Vines, paused and went back to help up Williams while Vines stopped in his tracks as well. Once Williams was back on his feet, Vines resumed moving up court.

The message: As the freshmen go, so go the Dutchmen.

Kanacevic and Williams were the Dutchmen’s top two scorers for the second straight game. Kanacevic, for the second straight game, established a new career high in points (18) and recorded a double-double. He also added a career-high five blocks. Williams cooled off after a red-hot first half in which he drained all four of his 3-pointers but still finished with 16 points, the fifth time in six games he’s scored at least 10 points.

“I think this is the first press conference we’ve had with both of the freshmen here,” Tom Pecora said as he sat down, flanked by Kanacevic and Williams. “I know it won’t be the last.”

They also were the Dutchmen’s most reliable players at the most pivotal time of the game. The freshmen combined to score 24 of the Dutchmen’s final 31 points of the first half, during which the Dutchmen twice came back from five-point deficits to take a 45-36 lead at intermission. Williams hit three of his 3-pointers during a 20-6 run that ended the half.

“I hope these two guys battle each other for rookie of the year in the conference,” Pecora said. “But for them to do that, we’ve got to win. And some nights, it’s going to take a little bit more than others.”

The Dutchmen would be in pretty good shape if they could bottle their performance Wednesday. In addition to the continued breakout of the freshmen, Charles Jenkins had 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and no turnovers while Vines (10 points, three rebounds) and Miklos Szabo (eight points, eight rebounds) and produced the type of numbers Pecora wants to see out of his lone seniors.

Of course, certain caveats apply, such as this is the last time the Dutchmen are scheduled to face Towson this season (and maybe ever, if Hofstra is successful in getting the hell out of the CAA). Towson brings the best out of the Dutchmen, offensively and otherwise: The Dutchmen are 15-5 against the Tigers since the two schools moved to the CAA and have scored 77 or more points eight times in the last 12 meetings.

Both Szabo and Vines have enjoyed their best games against Towson: Szabo had a career-high 22 points and added eight boards against the Tigers Dec. 5. He’s had as many as eight rebounds in a game just once in his other 13 games this year. Vines, meanwhile, had six 3-pointers against Towson and enjoyed the first of his three 20-point games with the Dutchmen in the first meeting between the teams last season (a career high he tied against UConn).

And as impressive as Kanacevic and Williams were Wednesday, they still had plenty of freshmen moments. Kanacevic appeared to be dragging for much of the game, so much that we thought he might actually get sick on the floor.

“I was kidding with Halil—he was dragging up and down the floor before he came out, like ‘Oh my God, I can’t run,’” Pecora said. “Then we go the ball [and] he pop shot a 3. I said ‘It’s amazing how much energy is in that round ball. It’s like an energy sphere.’”

Williams finished with three assists and seven turnovers, the fifth straight game in which he’s had at least as many turnovers as assists. In that span, he’s collected 12 assists while turning the ball over 27 times as his assist-to-turnover ratio, which was once just shy of 3:1, has fallen to just 1.43:1 (60/42).

“He got confused for a while there, he thought it was dodge ball,” Pecora said. “He had seven turnovers, you can’t do that. I just said to him ‘You’re a New York City guard. I was a bad New York City guard. You take pride in not turning the ball over. That’s one thing you don’t do.’ So they’re still [a] work in progress.”

If the growing pains are this promising, though, imagine what the final product might look like. “These guys are going to be here for the rest of this and three more years,” Pecora said. “So we’re excited about that. We’re very excited about [it].”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Towson 1/6)
3: Halil Kanacevic
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Chaz Williams

Charles Jenkins 24
Chaz Williams 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Halil Kanacevic 16
Greg Washington 8
Cornelius Vines 7
Miklos Szabo 5

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