This will probably come as no surprise to anyone, since I run a blog in which I pay homage to Hofstra’s original nickname, but I’ve long been an overly nostalgic fellow. In fact, I earned some immediate ridicule from my future Loyal Readers by toting with me to campus in 1993 multiple AS SEEN ON TV!!!! ‘80s compilation CDs.
Looking back, I can’t blame anyone for making fun of me. I mean, it was 1993. The world was just getting re-acquainted with Meat Loaf. How could we pine for a time that was barely in the rear view mirror yet one whose music and movies already felt incredibly dated?
And really, how can you be nostalgic for a simpler time when simple is all you’ve known? I was 19 years old, too young to be bitter and jaded no matter how many copies of Editor and Publisher I read. Nothing horrible had happened in my life to provide the defining line between the good ol’ days and everything thereafter.
You can’t be 19 years old and get the poignancy of Alex Van Halen’s words—how meaningful it is to experience a moment in time that is reminiscent of an earlier and better one, even if it is nowhere near the real thing and even if it serves as a reminder that a long-gone era can never be relived.
Now, of course, things are different, both individually and collectively. Not a day goes by without my mind wandering back to the simpler days of 1989, or even 2007.
There’s a lot of daydreaming, too, by those who root for Hofstra athletics, and even those who have been there long enough to recall the halcyon days of a decade or so ago, which is why the Flying Dutchmen’s 77-67 win over former America East archrival Delaware Saturday (talk about burying the lede…if you’ve read this far, thanks!) was such a riveting experience.
The Hofstra Arena crowd of 4,019 made the type of noise so often lacking at on-campus basketball games and enjoyed the roller coaster ride on an afternoon in which victory was absolutely essential, and yet at some points perilously close to slipping out of reach.
“It was great to see the place rocking a little bit,” Tom Pecora said. “It was a great crowd, 4,000 people. I thought it was awesome. And that’s what we need—we need that home court advantage. And I think it helped us get over the top.”
Just as they were at the height of the Hofstra-Delaware rivalry, the Dutchmen were sparked by a Big East-caliber point guard who landed at Hofstra because his measurables didn’t measure up to Big East standards as well as a big-time scorer from the boroughs.
To see and hear Chaz Williams cap a sensational performance (18 points, eight rebounds and six assists) by bellowing to the rafters so loudly he could be heard several rows up in the stands was to recall Speedy Claxton authoring a similar performance (24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) before he pumped his fist and screamed in the waning seconds of the Dutchmen’s win over Delaware in the 2000 America East title game.
And Williams’ driving layup as the shot clock expired with 1:27 left—a basket that extended the Dutchmen’s lead to 68-62 and effectively finished the Blue Hens—was incredibly reminiscent of Jason Hernandez’ back-to-back jumpers that turned a four-point lead into an eight-point lead in the final three minutes of the 2001 title game rematch.
“It was similar to when—not on [that] level yet—but it was similar to when Speedy was here,” Pecora said. “I would go speak for Nike [about] attacking pressure defense. They’d say ‘Well, what did you do when you had Speedy Claxton?’ I said ‘We didn’t have to use any of this.’ And it’s getting like this with Chaz.”
Queens native Charles Jenkins, meanwhile, essayed the role of Brooklynite Norman Richardson almost to perfection by scoring 21 of his 27 points in the second half. He also had four boards and no assists. In the 2001 title game, Richardson scored 26 points—20 in the second half—while adding three boards and one assist.
“I want Charles Jenkins to get out of bed thinking about ‘How can I get a shot?’” Pecora said. “I want him to go to the bathroom saying he ain’t missing. It’s got to be all about him getting shots and its got to be all about Chaz knowing how to get him the shot.”
Of course, to truly compare Saturday to either of the America East championship games is foolish. The largest gathering at the Arena in almost three years (since a sellout crowd of 5,047 turned out for the Bracket Buster against Holy Cross) was there largely for Scout Day, and Hofstra will be lucky to turn 10 percent of the audience into repeat customers.
The Dutchmen and Blue Hens were fighting for seeding in the bottom half of the CAA, not the America East title. A defeat would have been almost unimaginably awful not because it would have cost the Dutchmen an NCAA Tournament berth but because to lose a game in which Hofstra ended up leading wire-to-wire would have been a crushing blow to a team whose confidence was almost shattered during a five-game losing streak as well as to a fan base searching for any reason to believe an unlikely Cinderella run can take place in March.
And never mind that the Dutchmen won despite a less-than-stellar performance, and that less-than-stellar was all that was needed against a Delaware program that has been down in the dumps for the better part of a decade.
Freshman Halil Kanacevic came off the bench to provide 16 points and six rebounds, which helped the Dutchmen overcome quiet nights from Miklos Szabo (two points and one rebound in 14 minutes), Cornelius Vines (scoreless in 33 minutes) and Greg Washington (who followed his epic game Wednesday with five points, six boards and three blocks in 35 minutes.)
The Dutchmen won even though they let the Blue Hens hang around and erase almost all of a 13-point second half lead. Delaware twice got within one point and trailed by three with 26 seconds left before the Dutchmen hit their final seven free throws.
“Are you going to beat the best teams in this league without having everybody playing at a high level? No, we’re not,” Pecora said. “So we’ve got to get more consistent and learn from this.”
But fretting over how much work the Dutchmen still have to do to and how far they are from their ultimate goal could wait. On Saturday night, all that mattered was it felt, for a little while, like it did back then. There was no anguishing over the end of football, no pondering the untenable situation CAA membership has become for Hofstra, no wishing the school had never left the America East. Even the final score inspired some nostalgia.
And in a sweet bit of serendipity, one of the players responsible for the fond memories of yesteryear was along for the trip back in time as well. Claxton, his NBA career all but over because of chronic knee woes, sat in his familiar courtside seat and watched Williams create the type of magic that he once spun so effortlessly, back before things got complicated.
“A good Saturday for college basketball” is what Pecora called it. Especially for those of us old enough to understand just how good Saturdays against Delaware used to be, and to need a reminder of it.