Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nebraska 62, Hofstra 47 (Or: In which the Dutchmen finally GEEEEEET OOOOOOOUT of haunted San Juan)

We ignored the signs, and the evil spirits bubbling out of puddles in San Juan the afternoon of July 6.

I should have seen this coming the morning of July 6, a mere 138 days before the Flying Dutchmen completed the wrong kind of sweep in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic by falling to Nebraska, 62-47. The moment my wife and I stepped off the cruise ship and into the town of San Juan—not kidding, no poetic license here, THE MOMENT we stepped off the cruise ship—the skies opened and unleashed a fury I haven’t seen since I was at Lollapalooza in 1992 (Google it, kids!).

We just figured it was a typical summer storm. No. It was our 1980s, we’re-living-in-a-haunted-house-but-too-dumb-to-take-the-hint moment. Puerto Rico was telling us, and anyone else either rooting or playing for Hofstra, to “Geeeeeeeet ooooooout.” But we stayed, and got drenched, and the Dutchmen didn’t cancel their trip, and it turned into a winless jaunt in which every loss was more demoralizing than the last.

The North Carolina loss was fine, not even those who broke Twitter with the #BEATUNC hashtags expected an upset win. The loss to Western Kentucky was one of the toughest of the Defiantly Dutch Era, but it wasn’t as discouraging as the cosmetically close loss Sunday.

The Dutchmen seemed completely gassed on both ends of the floor Sunday. Was it a hangover from Friday, the task of playing a third game in four days, the deadened atmosphere of an empty Coliseum at 9:30 AM local time or some combination thereof?

Whatever it was, it once again evoked memories of last year, when the depleted Dutchmen didn’t have the bodies to keep pace during their January slump and Charles Jenkins sometimes seemed burdened by the tasks of trying to create for everyone around him and serving as the only consistent offensive threat.

The Dutchmen jumped out to a 10-5 lead thanks to eight points, including two 3-pointers, from David Imes, in the first four minutes but were outscored 57-42 the rest of the way. Nebraska led by as many as 20 (53-33) with six minutes to play, which means over a 30-minute span, the Cornhuskers lapped the Dutchmen, 48-23.

Allowing 62 points for a second straight game looks good, but Nebraska’s 62 points were far more dominant than Western Kentucky’s. The bigger and deeper Cornhuskers toyed with the Dutchmen and shot better than 50 percent in each half and 54.8 percent overall.

Jenkins scored a game-high 15 points, but took just four shots in the first half and 10 overall—his fewest since Jan. 27 against UNC Wilmington, and that shouldn’t count since the Dutchmen won that game by 39. Jenkins took 13 or fewer shots four times in the Dutchmen’s first eight games in January, during which they went 1-7.

Mike Moore scored in double figures for the fourth straight game, but got his 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-5 from 3-point land. Imes tied his career high in the first four minutes, and then didn’t score again. Greg Washington had two points and has scored just six points in the three games. Shemiye McClendon, who scored in double figures in two of his first three games with the Dutchmen, was limited to three points.

It was a reminder that the Dutchmen are even less experienced than they were last season, when the seven-man rotation featured four players in their first or second year with the program. This year’s eight-man rotation has six players in their first or second year at Hofstra.

In other words: There may be more nights (or afternoons, or mornings) like Sunday over the next few weeks. The good news is this is happening in November, when the games are far less meaningful, and not during conference season in January. There’s plenty of time for players to shake a slump, get healthy and finally break free of the NCAA.

The more Moore and Imes play, the more consistent they will become. Dwan McMillan looked much steadier Sunday, when he had two assists and two turnovers and drew a couple charges. Jenkins will probably be able to count on one hand the number of times he shoots less than 15 times in a game

But as badly as Mo Cassara wants Nathaniel Lester back, there’s no guarantee he will return. And when Brad Kelleher does become eligible Dec. 11—assuming the NCAA doesn’t decide the pack of baseball cards he got for his 13th birthday qualifies as an impermissible benefit—he’ll be the oldest rookie in Hofstra basketball history (I don’t actually know if this is true but I’m assuming it) and the rotation’s ratio of veterans-to-newcomers will remain the same. And will Washington’s offensive funk last as long as it did last season, when he went 15 straight games—including the first nine of the conference season—without reaching double figures?

Maybe Sunday was to this season what the Drexel loss in Philadelphia Jan. 23 was to last season: Rock bottom and the point at which the Dutchmen begin an improbable climb to glory (that one’s for Tom Pecora, in case he’s reading). Perhaps getting away from the angry spirits of San Juan will be enough to repair the Dutchmen. But be prepared, in case it’s not.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Nebraska, 11/21)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Dwan McMillan

Charles Jenkins 12
Mike Moore 6
Shemiye McClendon 2
Greg Washington 2
Dwan McMillan 1
David Imes 1

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

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