Last night I had the strangest dream...the Dutchmen rode to Newark, in a chartered bus to find .500... (Honestly I just couldn't resist posting this epic cheese)
The Flying Dutchmen made CAA/America East/NAC/ECC/pick a conference any conference history last night by clinching the mythical ECC championship (we’re number one! We’re number one!) with an 82-69 victory over Delaware.
At no point in the last 17 years—in any of the above-listed conferences, all of which have featured Hofstra at some point—has a team surged from five games under .500 in league play to reach the break-even point at any time in the season. (Among CAA teams, Old Dominion and American came closest by recovering from 1-5 and 0-4 starts in 1999-2000 and 1996-97 to even their records at 5-5 before finishing below .500) The Dutchmen, 2-7 in the CAA a mere 21 days ago, are now 8-8 and the hottest team in the league.
Yet the most notable thing about the historic win was the routine nature of it. It was just…a win. It wasn’t spectacular, a la the Dutchmen’s two recent wins over UNC Wilmington. Nor was it unnecessarily stressful, like the first win over Delaware at the Arena Jan. 30. It wasn’t a Signature Win, like the victory over Drexel a week ago tonight. Nor was it even an eye-opening win like the 20-point victory at James Madison Feb. 3.
It was just a win—a good team doing what it has to do in order to dispatch of a struggling opponent in an efficient manner. The Dutchmen took the lead for good less than seven minutes into the first half and never allowed Delaware to get closer than six points over the final 30 minutes. The Dutchmen hit their first 15 free throws, finished 17-of-20 from the line and committed just seven turnovers, one shy of their season low.
How about that. After 28 games of bipolar basketball, the Dutchmen are NORMAL.
“It was good enough to win at Delaware on the road,” Tom Pecora said from the bus afterward. “I don’t think it was good enough to win at one of the premier teams on the road. We weren’t sharp enough defensively in the second half, though I think that might have been the byproduct of our ability to score the ball tonight.
“We wanted to [do] what a good team does in the sense of being able to go on the road and just find a way to win a game by double digits. The last three road wins have been at Madison, Wilmington and here. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you go on the road and win by double digits, you’re doing pretty well.”
The Dutchmen continue their scorching play on offense, scoring at least 75 points for the third straight game and for the fifth time in seven games overall. They scored 75 points just five times in the first 21 games. The Dutchmen have scored 75 points in three consecutives games under Pecora just 10 times (the last from Feb. 16-23, 2008) and haven’t enjoyed a sustained high powered stretch like this since scoring at least 75 points in five of the first six games of the 2006-07 season.
Charles Jenkins scored a game-high 30 points—the second time in three games he’s reached 30 points—and tied a career-high with five 3-pointers while setting a career-high with 10 attempts. Cornelius Vines once again channeled the spirit of Craig Hodges with five 3-pointers—including one apiece from the left, center and right of the arc in the first half—on his way to 18 points. It’s the first time this season Vines has scored in double figures in consecutive games. In addition, Life with Corny has as many 3-pointers in the last two games (12) as he did in the preceding 10 combined.
“He’s rolling and we’re going to keep him rolling,” Pecora said. “He’s playing with good confidence. With the exception of one miss, they rattled in and missed. We’re real pleased with [how he’s] shooting the ball.”
The Dutchmen displayed impressive resiliency in answering every threat by the Blue Hens, who shot 50 percent in the second half and 44 percent overall—the best mark by a Dutchmen opponent during this seven-game run—and once again overcoming foul trouble in the front court. Freshman David Imes was out with the flu and unavailable to spell Miklos Szabo, Greg Washington and Halil Kanacevic, all of whom played much of the second half with at least three fouls but still managed to combine for 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the final 20 minutes.
The one time Delaware pulled within six points in the second half (43-37 with 14:25 to play), Chaz Williams (who hit four of his final five shots after an 0-for-4 start and finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists) responded with a 3-pointer. The Blue Hens got as close as seven three more times, and every time the Dutchmen hit a basket on the next trip down the floor.
“We’re healthier, we’re more confident—I think we’ve really broken down the offense and simplified things, trimmed a lot of the fat off it,” Pecora said. “Some of the things we were doing we put by the wayside for now and we’re back to just featuring a few cuts against each team and really locking in and doing that what we think will work against whomever our opponent is. I think that simplifying the offense is giving them freedom—this stuff is coming naturally, there’s less for them to think about.”
The Dutchmen’s scorching play is giving plenty of people—not only inside the men’s basketball offices but also from Boston to Atlanta—a lot to think about. How much longer can this go? Can the Dutchmen, who have beaten just one winning team during this streak, make a statement in Boston next Tuesday against CAA co-leader Northeastern and enter the CAA Tournament as the team nobody wants to play?
“Us being able to fight back from 2-7 to 8-8 shows a great deal of resiliency,” Pecora said. “Now if we can finish it off and get a couple more wins and end up 10-8 in the conference, that would be a great accomplishment—as 9-9 would be.”