Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Florida Atlantic 63, Hofstra 59 (Or: Living on the edge)

There's something wrong with the Dutchmen today, I don't know what it is... (I also don't know why I keep quoting and posting Aerosmith, which hasn't released a good album--Google it, DC!--since Pump, even though I am oddly nostalgic for these Get A Grip videos. Note to self: Shut up and get to the damn blog entry already, dude!)

The crowd of 2,514 at Hofstra Arena knew it was watching history repeat itself as the Flying Dutchmen strolled off the court for the final media timeout Saturday afternoon. Sure, this comeback got going a little later than anticipated, but it was finally happening again and the Dutchmen, who forced Florida Atlantic into a five-second call leading into the timeout, had the momentum even though they were trailing the Owls by three.

Nobody knew how the Dutchmen would make up the final shred of deficit, but whether it was on a driving basket by Charles Jenkins or a 3-pointer by Mike Moore or a timely bucket from an unlikely source such as Greg Washington, Dwan McMillan or Yves Jules, it would happen. The Dutchmen would win their fifth in a row by completing a second half comeback for the fourth time. And afterward, Mo Cassara would be flanked by a smiling Jenkins and the other man of the hour, and Cassara would say the Dutchmen are a work in progress that is learning how to win, even if it’s an imperfect process.

Yet it never happened. Despite closing the gap to a single possession four times in the final five minutes and crawling within a point twice, the Dutchmen never grabbed the lead and fell to Florida Atlantic, 63-59.

And so instead of smiles and the recitation of positive-thinking mantras, there was the unfamiliar sight of Cassara taking a seat at the podium for the post-game press conference and silently staring down at the boxscore, all the while rubbing his forehead as if it were a bottle that would unleash a genie that would change the numbers on the page beneath him.

Cassara couldn’t be blamed for wondering just how some of the boxscore added up to a loss. The Dutchmen limited an opponent to 63 points or less for the seventh time in nine games. Jenkins was a beast again, scoring 32 points on a red-hot 9-of-14 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3-point land and 11-of-12 from the free throw line. Florida Atlantic, meanwhile, took just 15 shots and scored only 24 points in the second half.

“If you look at this boxscore and you say ‘Geez, we held Florida Atlantic to 24 points in the second half,’ I’d say we probably would have won the game,” Cassara said.

But there were also plenty of other parts of the boxscore that made Cassara cringe. Not only was Jenkins the only Dutchmen in double figures, but the rest of the team shot a combined 10-of-33, including 2-of-14 from beyond the arc.

Washington, who had three of the Dutchmen’s six blocks, scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, but he made his last basket before the first media timeout of the first half and took his last shot with 13:57 to play in the first half. Moore, who has been able to contribute in other areas even when his shot isn’t falling, had his worst game in a Hofstra uniform (eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-8 from 3-point land, with four rebounds, two assists and two turnovers) just three days after his best.

“We’ve got to do a little better job getting other guys shots,” Cassara said. “Certainly Charles is carrying the load offensively, but as they start to double team him and take things away, we’ve got to do a better job as a group being able to move the ball and get the other guys shots.

“Greg got off to a good start tonight and then we didn’t get him any looks after that. Mike did not have a good night tonight and really didn’t have his feet underneath him and unfortunately didn’t make some shots. We have another guy on the wing that’s making some shots, we’re a tough team to beat. He’s got to do a better job making shots for us and ultimately making some plays.”

David Imes delivered a resounding dunk for the Dutchmen’s first points, and scored just two more points the rest of the game and sat for the final 8:33. Dwan McMillan had three assists and just one turnover, the third time in four games he has had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, but had just three points on 1-of-5 shooting. And while Jules provided a second half spark on defense for the second straight game, the Dutchmen bench—including Brad Kelleher, who finally made his debut, apparently the NCAA didn’t decide to tack on a few extra games for kicks and giggles—combined to shoot just 1-of-10 and had as many fouls (seven) as it did points and rebounds combined.

The Dutchmen were also dominated on the boards by the undersized Owls, who enjoyed a 30-21 advantage. It was the third loss this season in which the Dutchmen have been outrebounded by at least eight. Imes and Moore shared the team lead with four rebounds, a total exceeded by four Florida Atlantic players.

“That certainly isn’t going to make me sleep very well tonight,” Cassara said. “I thought [Florida Atlantic] scrapped and clawed and—I don’t want to say they outhustled us, but they were quicker to the ball tonight. And we were a little slow to the ball, we got a little passive, and that’s something that we have to learn [from]. We got a little complacent.”

That complacency was particularly evident in the first half, when the Dutchmen were outscored 24-8 in the final 11 minutes as they entered halftime down 39-30. “I think in the first half they just out-toughed us—they got to all the 50/50 balls and they made big plays to get rebounds,” Jenkins said. “That kind of came back to bite us in the back a little bit.”

The Dutchmen got as close as four just once in the first 12 minutes of the second half before an 8-2 run in which three different players (Moore, Jules and Jenkins) had baskets finally made it a one-point game at 55-54 with 5:23 left. But this time, the opponent buckled but didn’t topple over.

Florida Atlantic hit seven of its 15 second half shots, including all three 3-point attempts, and stymied the Dutchmen by draining at least three shot clock buzzer beaters. The Dutchmen missed their final five shots from the field over the final three minutes and, unlike against Binghamton, failed to take advantage when the Owls missed potential game-sealing free throws in the waning seconds.

“The second part of the first half, we really lost control of the game and didn’t have a good pace at all,” Cassara said. “We continue to put ourselves in a hole in the first half and tonight we weren’t able to come back and make enough plays to win at the end.”

And because of that, the upbeat words were flowing from the mouth of the opposing coach. “When you deal with young people, you have to ride their emotional highs and their emotional lows,” said Mike Jarvis, whose team beat Mississippi State and South Florida before knocking off the Dutchmen. “When a team is going up, you better ride it, because they’re probably going to go up for a little bit longer. When they’re going down, man, you’re in trouble.”

Before Saturday, the Dutchmen were trending up. But their four-game winning streak was of the fast food variety: It was tasty and filling, but while the victory over Rider was extremely impressive, how nutritional were come-from-behind wins over Wagner, Towson and Binghamton?

Now that the winning streak is over, Cassara has to make sure the loss Saturday doesn’t begin the type of post-exams trouble that enveloped the Dutchmen the last two years, when they lost two of their final three non-conference games before losing their first two CAA games in January.

“We got a little complacent, I think,” Cassara said. “This is the first time this team has had a string of success. We won four games in a row and probably had a little bit of a false impression of how good we are. We were a little flat and slow tonight and that’s something that we have to analyze and certainly get better at.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Florida Atlantic, 12/11)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Yves Jules

Charles Jenkins 25
Mike Moore 8
Greg Washington 6
David Imes 6
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McClendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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