Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hofstra 74, Towson 62 (Or: I told you so, I told you I-I-I told you so…)

While not nearly as good-looking as the author of the "I told you so" dance, I still strutted my stuff after my prediction of a double-digit win by Hofstra came true!

Every time he speaks about the Flying Dutchmen, Mo Cassara reminds his listeners they are a work in progress and cautions there’s still a lot of work to be done. And almost every time certain know-it-all (snort) bloggers write about the Dutchmen, we remind our readers that it’s dangerous to read too much into non-conference results.

All of which remains true. But still: How can anyone who watched (or, err, listened to) the last three Dutchmen games not be excited at what is transpiring?

The Dutchmen produced another workmanlike, fundamentally excellent and unified win Saturday by coming back from a five-point halftime deficit to beat Towson, 74-62, in the CAA opener in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 3,417 at the Arena.

“Certainly very pleased with the win tonight, but I think I’m more pleased about our effort in the second half,” Cassara said after he became the winningest coach in CAA history, a distinction he will hold at least another three weeks! “We’re continuing to get better and we’re starting to learn how to win and I think we took another step forward tonight in learning how to win games.”

The win was the third in a row for the Dutchmen as well as the third straight time they delivered a suffocating defensive performance late in the second half to turn a tie game into a victory and the fifth straight game in which they have allowed exactly 62 or 63 points.

The second half run against Towson was more impressive than the ones against Wagner and Rider. The Dutchmen put the brakes to a back-and-forth contest and took running-and-gunning Towson out of its game by outscoring the Tigers 17-5 over the final 6:34 and holding them scoreless from the field (0-for-4) while forcing four turnovers.

Towson took 19 shots in the first 13:26 and hit four of five shots, including all three 3-point attempts, over a span of more than three minutes in turning a 50-46 deficit into a 57-57 tie before the Dutchmen began a game-deciding run that was fueled not by Charles Jenkins but by everyone else.

Jenkins had his usual outstanding game (26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point land, with five assists and four steals) but his role over the final few minutes was equal parts set-up man (he had two of his assists) and closer: His 3-poiner with 2:15 left gave the Dutchmen their biggest lead of the day at 71-58 and ended any Towson hopes.

David Imes finished with his second double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in three games, which didn’t seem possible after a tough first half and after he spent nearly five minutes on the bench early in the second half and re-entered the game with just five points and five rebounds with just over 12 minutes to play. But Imes scored five straight points to break the 57-57 tie and capped it by draining a jumper immediately after he missed a dunk.

“It tells me that he can’t dunk, number one,” Cassara said with a laugh. “And number two, I give him a lot of credit for staying with it. That was really one of the big turning points, not only for our team but also for Dave, because I think six months ago, a year ago or even a couple weeks ago, he might have let that miss really affect him. But he stepped up and made a big shot.”

Imes was joined on the bench for that second half spell by Dwan McMillan, who was pulled by Cassara after he lofted an air ball from beyond the 3-point line that Cassara called “atrocious.” McMillan had four of his 10 points, two of his five assists and the last of his five steals following his return and finished the game without a turnover. The Dutchmen committed just six turnovers, increasing their total over the last four games to 36. They committed 35 in the first two games in Puerto Rico and 48 in their first three games overall.

Mike Moore, who collected 15 points despite shooting just 4-of-12, had both his rebounds and half of his four assists during the run while also sinking the Dutchmen’s last basket, a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Greg Washington, who had just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, picked up two of his eight rebounds and the last of his five blocks over the final 6:34 while also causing at least two of the Tigers’ turnovers.

“Greg doesn’t show up big in the boxscore as far as scoring, but he really was a big key to us winning the game tonight,” Cassara said. “His effort on the defensive end changed a bunch of shots. He blocked five shots and they had a couple travels down there at the end where his defensive positioning was great. He missed some easy shots, but he didn’t put his head down. He went down and he kept fighting and I’m really proud of him.”

There were plenty of other encouraging signs for the Dutchmen. While the starting five was on the floor for the final 9:44 and finished with at least 30 minutes apiece for the second straight game, reserves Shemiye McLendon and Yves Jules each hit pivotal 3-pointers while Stephen Nwaukoni and Roland Brown (making his first appearance since the Western Kentucky game, a span of 15 days) provided valuable minutes when Washington was in foul trouble in the first half.

The Dutchmen were also a perfect 12-of-12 from the line, which was the first time the program took that many free throws without a miss in at least two decades. The Dutchmen were 11-of-11 in a game against American during the 1996-97 season and 9-of-9 against Stetson in 1990-91.

The Dutchmen are doing the little things, getting contributions from everyone and displaying an ability to survive a team’s best flurry and put it away in the waning minutes (the Dutchmen outscored Rider 19-9 in the final 10:09 last Monday and outscored Wagner 15-11 in the final 6:11 November 26). Sure it’s early, but what’s there not to like?

“I think now, when you start to string a couple wins together—we had three losses coming out of Puerto Rico and we played fairly well at certain times—but now we have three wins and we’ve got another player on our side a little bit, which is confidence,” Cassara said. “I think we took a little step forward in gaining some confidence tonight as a group.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Towson, 12/4)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: David Imes
1: Dwan McMillan

Charles Jenkins 19
David Imes 6
Mike Moore 6
Dwan McMillan 5
Greg Washington 3
Shemiye McClendon 2
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

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