Thursday, December 30, 2010

Iona 87, Hofstra 62 (Or: I’ve seen Charles Jenkins angry. You won’t like Charles Jenkins when he’s angry)

Break free of your first half cage, Charles! (And please, fare better than the Incredible Hulk movies. Please.)

For three-plus years now, Charles Jenkins has been the kindly superstar. Unselfish and team-oriented, he has been a dream to coach for two coaches—except for the part where he is TOO unselfish and TOO team-oriented.

As anyone who has seen the second half of a Flying Dutchmen game this season can attest, Jenkins possesses the ability and willingness to carry the Dutchmen. Yet he spends the first half of games deferring to teammates and trying to create opportunities for them, which sounds great in theory but isn’t so great in reality because it means the best player on the court isn’t in position to score.

At least, that’s the way he was for the first 107 games of his career. The last 18, 19, 20, 21 or 22? Those will be entirely different stories.

“This is the last game you’ll see me be passive in the first half,” Jenkins said.

And not a moment too soon, judging by how the Dutchmen were manhandled, 87-62, by Iona last night in New Rochelle. It wasn’t Jenkins’ fault the Dutchmen were routed—he had a game-high 20 points—but another quiet first half put the Dutchmen into a hole from which they had little hope of escaping against the red-hot Gaels.

Jenkins had just five points on 1-of-3 shooting in the first half, which ended with the Dutchmen down 40-26. Mike Moore kept the Dutchmen afloat in the opening 20 minutes by scoring 11 of his 18 points and pulling down five of his team-high seven rebounds while Greg Washington (six points) and David Imes (four points) combined to shoot 5-of-8 from the field.

But guards Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon, identified by Mo Cassara as players who had to contribute in order for the Dutchmen to win, were 0-for-7 in the first half and 0-for-15 overall. Appropriately, the first and last shots of the game were misses by Kelleher.

By the time Jenkins got rolling in the second half, Iona was already putting the finishing touches on the blowout: Jenkins scored 11 straight points for Hofstra over a span of four-and-a-half minutes, during which Iona increased its lead from 16 to 17.

“We needed to get him some more shots tonight,” Cassara said. “Charles has got to keep moving. He didn’t get enough attempts for us to have a chance to win.”

Jenkins also shouldered plenty of the blame for the oddly dispassionate play of the Dutchmen, who suffered one of the most resounding defeats of the Defiantly Dutch Era. The 25-point margin of defeat was the Dutchmen’s worst at the hands of a non-BCS foe since falling by 36 to Xavier Dec. 14, 1996, their worst loss to a true mid-major program since a 30-point loss to Drexel Feb. 11, 1996 and their worst non-conference loss to mid-major program since a 35-point loss to Maine Jan. 11, 1994, way back when I was biding time at home and eagerly anticipating the first Happy Hour at Fezziwigs of the spring semester. Yes. It was a long time ago.

The Dutchmen never led as Iona shot a blistering 61.1 percent (not 10,000 percent, as some fool on Twitter may or may not have written), the best (or worst) performance by an opponent since at least the 2001-02 season. The Gaels got better as the game went along: They shot 58.3 percent in the first half and 63.3 percent in the second half, when they scored on a mind-boggling 24 of 35 possessions. Had the game been comprised of thirds, Iona may have scored 150 points.

Offensively, the Dutchmen scored 25 fewer points than the Gaels on two more shots. They were also outhustled throughout and seemed to lack a sense of urgency after playing Iona to a 13-13 tie in the first nine minutes.

“A lot of credit goes to Iona—they were the more aggressive team tonight,” Cassara said. “We didn’t do a good job executing our game plan on offense or defense. We were a step slow to the ball, we were beat to a lot of loose balls and 50/50 balls. They outhustled us tonight.”

“A big game like this—we’ve got a history with this program—for us to [lose] like this hurts,” Jenkins said. “Coach told us before the game that the tougher team was going to win. We weren’t the tougher team and it showed in the score.”

The optimistic way of looking at Wednesday is that the Dutchmen ran into the imperfect storm: An inexperienced and undermanned team (the Dutchmen played just seven players with Dwan McMillan and Yves Jules out due to illness) looked its age, so to speak, and had a little bit of post-blizzard, post-Christmas hangover against an opponent not lacking for motivation or focus after suffering an upset loss to Vermont seven days earlier.

But the realistic way of looking at things is this was absolutely not the effort the Dutchmen needed to produce with two formidable foes coming up as CAA play really begins next week. The Dutchmen visit sudden contender Drexel Monday before hosting our good friends George Mason, who lost a tough one (aww) to Dayton last night and will be primed to send my blood pressure through the roof in a visit to Hempstead Wednesday, so any more efforts like Wednesday night will leave the Dutchmen playing from behind in the league, just as they did the last three seasons.

Jenkins said he and Washington, the only four-year seniors on the roster, need to jolt the Dutchmen out of their funk between now and Monday. “We’ve got to get into them that we can’t be so passive,” Jenkins said. “This is our last 12th game of the season. We’ve got to develop a sense of urgency for our teammates.”

The switch has to be flipped on—for the Dutchmen and, especially, for Jenkins, who has to become The Man for 40 minutes a night for the next nine or 10 weeks. And if the switch doesn’t get flipped? The words Jenkins uttered as he exited the gym last night—intended to serve as a lesson to his younger teammates—will prove to be sadly prescient.

“This game simulates the way conference games can be.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Iona, 12/29)
3: Mike Moore
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 32
Mike Moore 16
Greg Washington 7
David Imes 7
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McClendon 2
Brad Kelleher 1
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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