Saturday, January 30, 2010

Of coach firings, apathy and taking care of business

Turns out the 2,525 who showed up at Hofstra Arena Wednesday saw more history than we realized. The Flying Dutchmen’s 93-54 win over UNC Wilmington—in which Greg Washington tied the school record for blocks with 10 and nearly recorded the first triple-double in school history as the Dutchmen set Tom Pecora Era records for first half points as well as largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent—also proved to be the final game at the helm for UNCW head coach Benny Moss, who was “reassigned” within the athletic department Thursday after he went 41-74 in three-plus seasons.

“Reassigned,” of course, is a nice way of saying he was fired, because nobody gets reassigned in the middle of the season. Seahawks beat writer Brian Mull has a really good synopsis of why and where the Moss Era went wrong here.

I’m going to assume this is the first time ever someone has been fired following a midseason game against Hofstra. I’m also going to assume that’ll never happen at Hofstra, because our beloved alma mater lacks both the powerful boosters—and to read between the lines of Mull’s breaking news story Thursday night and the coverage of the press conference Friday is to realize boosters were behind this—and the passionate fan base necessary to boot a coach out before the end of the season.

I’m sure there are people out there donating enough money to the program to have earned a powerful voice. But I think most of the people who would qualify as boosters are either dirt-poor by Pride Club standards (like me, the wife and Sully Ray and most of the handful of people who post at the Hofstra boards at the CAA Zone) or longtime friends of Tom Pecora, who has often spoke of how much fun it is coaching in front of those whom he knows so well.

So Pecora and the rest of his coaching brethren are safe, and for that we applaud apathy, because something is wrong when four of the five schools to make coaching changes at midseason are mid-majors (UNCW, Fordham, Penn and Dartmouth—that’s right, two Ivy League schools have booted coaches this year). For once, revel in the apathy surrounding Hofstra sports.

The Dutchmen this afternoon take on another team whose coach might be in some hot water, though I imagine Delaware’s Monte Ross will get at least another season given the mess he inherited from David Henderson (I love taking snarky shots at former Duke players and assistants!) and how this year went down the tubes when starting point guard Brian Johnson blew his knee out in a preseason practice.

A win today is essential if the Dutchmen hope to continue building momentum in the second half of the conference season and erasing the unpleasant memories of their 2-7 CAA start. One positive sign is that Washington both played and sounded like a veteran Wednesday night.

“It’s fun when you’re winning [but] this feeling’s going to be quick because tomorrow we get right back at it, back to business, get ready for Delaware,” Washington said.

I wouldn’t expect another rout—some of us blogger types were hanging out after the game Wednesday and figuring the Dutchmen are as likely to be in a one-possession rock fight in the final minutes as playing the second-stringers—but the Dutchmen should record their second straight win— (that’s a streak, you know!) even if there’s nothing historic about the margin of victory. Either way, follow us on Twitter throughout. I’ll see if I can drop a Mike Pegues reference.

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

Friday, January 29, 2010

When it comes to the HU-UD rivalry, the good ol’ days WERE always good and tomorrow IS as bad as it seems

When I go out to have a nice cold beer in the shade, I fondly recall the good ol' days of the Hofstra-Delaware rivalry.

If you’re tired of reading about me waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ days when Hofstra’s best rivalry was its one with Delaware—you know, just like I did here last February and here again last November—well, I hope you accept my advance apologies and choose to forgive me for going to the well once again.

But with Delaware coming to the Arena tomorrow afternoon, I can’t help but once again reflect back on the days when a game against the Blue Hens—in any sport—meant absolutely everything, and to wonder how soon until the final shovelful of dirt is tossed upon this once-great rivalry.

It can’t be said enough: Those of you too young to know about the passion of the Dutchmen-Blue Hens rivalry have no idea what you missed. You have no idea how great it was to have a true rival within driving distance, to be able to go to and fro within the same day, to spend the car ride down wondering what great things awaited and the ride back chewing over what could have been, or, occasionally, marveling at what actually happened.

And it wasn’t just in basketball and football (I won’t bore you again with tales of those great games of yesteryear). A quick perusal of Hofstra media guides reveals that there were plenty of memorable clashes in other sports as well.

Delaware prevented the Flying Dutchwomen basketball team from becoming the most unlikely NCAA participant of all-time in 1991. The Dutchwomen went 2-25 during the regular season but won two ECC tournament games to advance to the championship against Delaware, which held off the Dutchwomen in a 60-52 win.

The Flying Dutchwomen volleyball team lost to Delaware in the NAC championship match in 1994 but beat the Blue Hens in the title tilt each of the next two years. The Flying Dutchwomen softball team beat Delaware in the America East title game in 1998, outlasted the Blue Hens in 20 innings in a tournament game in 2000 and eked out a 2-1, 9-inning win in the CAA title game in 2004, the year the Dutchwomen came within one win of reaching the College World Series.

And in baseball, the Dutchmen’s last three trips to a conference tournament featured lopsided losses to Delaware—a 13-2 loss that ended the 2005 season, an 8-0 loss in the America East tournament in 1998 and a mind-boggling 27-2 loss that eliminated the Dutchmen from the 1996 NAC tournament. True story: Immediately thereafter, I wrote a blog blasting Delaware for being a bunch of big fat meanies.

Notice a familiar trend within the Hofstra-Delaware rivalry? Most of the memories took place before the two schools joined Drexel and Towson in bolting for the CAA in 2001. Turns out that the stars are as imperfectly aligned now as they were perfectly aligned back then.

Hofstra and Delaware are just two remote schools in a southern-based conference, not centrally located superpowers. David Henderson undid all of Mike Brey’s good work and Monte Ross has yet to clean up the mess: The Blue Hens, who lost star Brian Johnson to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and are just 6-15 (including 2-8 in the CAA) and well on their way to a sixth straight losing season.

The Dutchmen haven’t returned to the NCAA Tournament since Jay Wright departed after the second of back-to-back America East titles, and most people are out of patience and in no mood to hear about the complexities of the issue and why Tom Pecora has a far steeper hill to climb than Wright ever did. And while Delaware remained a national power in football and won the I-AA championship in 2003—nobody knows that, of course, just ask Stuart Rabinowitz—football at Hofstra was allowed to wither under the new president until he finally mercy killed it in December.

You missed how good it was back then and I know you’re missing it now, because really, no one has taken Delaware’s place as Hofstra’s archrival. I heard a whole lot more from George Mason fans last week than Hofstra fans last week, which says even less for Dutch Nation (snort) than it does Mason Nation. And if equal parts apathy and geography have rendered Mason just another foe, then what hope is there that the Dutchmen can enjoy a rivalry with a school south of Maryland such as Old Dominion?

Drexel and Northeastern are the closest things Hofstra has to a rival now, but again, while there’s a good amount of history there—especially with Drexel—and geographical proximity, it’s just not the same. All we can do is hope for another magical sequence of events that pits the Dutchmen against Drexel or Northeastern for basketball supremacy in the CAA—or wherever the schools happen to end up.

And whether that’s the A-10 or a conference started entirely from scratch, the overwhelming odds are the future home for Hofstra, Drexel and Northeastern won’t include Delaware, which, unlike the first three schools, is still a good fit with a CAA that clearly wants to be known as much for football as for basketball.

Soon—whether it’s next year or when the Big East blows up in 2014 and sets off a chain of events that will alter Division I as we know it—we’ll no longer be subjected to annual reminders of how good things used to be between Hofstra and Delaware. Which, given the unfortunate yet wholly avoidable deterioration of the rivalry, might actually be for the best.

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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hofstra 93, UNC Wilmington 54 (Or: Nothing’s gonna stop us now!)

The party begins as the usual sellout crowd at Hofstra Arena reacts to the Flying Dutchmen ending their five-game losing streak last night. (Aurimas Kieza and Carlos Rivera showed up too, in uniform, in hopes of changing the Dutchmen's fortunes!)

On a night filled with images that were previously unimaginable to even the most loyal and optimistic Flying Dutchmen fan, this one was the most gloriously incongruous of all: Cornelius Vines—his confidence now restored and sporting an ear-to-ear grin—jumping on the back of a similarly smiling Greg Washington and riding him all the way into the locker room shortly after the final buzzer.

It was the most symbolic image, as well, after Washington put the Dutchmen on his back and had the night of his life in leading the Dutchmen to a historic 93-54 rout of UNC Wilmington that snapped a five-game losing streak.

We interrupt this blog for a special message for those in the audience who give the rest of Mason Nation a bad name: Anyone who looks at the box score and figures the Dutchmen were piling on probably shouldn’t be logging on to the computer without adult assistance.

If Tom Pecora wanted to, the Dutchmen could have won this game by 59 points (that could never happen!). But they began draining the shot clock early in the second half and took their last 3-point attempt with 9:25 to go. Chaz Williams had a fast break opportunity with about 14 minutes left and slowed down to burn clock, earning a warm ovation from a Hofstra crowd that knows class when it sees it, and particularly when it doesn’t.

Charles Jenkins was out of the game before the eight-minute media timeout. Washington played a career-high 38 minutes but took his last shot with 12:54 left. The Dutchmen’s last nine shots were taken over a span of almost nine minutes and hoisted entirely by freshmen or reserves. Sometimes, one team is just 39 points better than the other, and that was the case Wednesday. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Vines (who had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds and was so relaxed in the second half that he slapped Pecora on the back on his way down the court), Washington and the rest of their teammates weren’t the only ones riding the wave of euphoria. An overflow crowd stormed the court, where grown men wept and strangers hugged.

The party eventually made its way to Hempstead Turnpike, where the scene made Bourbon Street Sunday night look like Main Street in Hampton Bays circa Christmas Eve. Honking cars were tipped over, fires raged and the mob broke into Shuart Stadium and carried out the goalposts, because, well, let’s face it, they are of no use there anymore.

And really, can you blame Dutch Nation (snort) for such an over-the-top celebration? The world last night is far different than the one we inhabited the last time the Dutchmen won Jan. 6. Back then, Massachusetts was still represented by two Democrats in the U.S. Senate. The Indianapolis Colts were on a two-game losing streak and the New Orleans Saints were on a three-game losing streak. America was spending money it didn’t have on a wretched looking flick called Avatar.

Look at the world now. With such unpredictability around us, is it any wonder we embrace something that reminds us of simpler times?

Of course, ironically—in that it’s not ironic at all—last night was reminiscent of just about nothing at all we’ve ever seen out of a Hofstra basketball team.

The Dutchmen scored a stunning 54 points in the first half, more than they’ve scored in four games alone this season and the most points the program has scored in the first half in the Pecora Era. The 93 points were the most the Dutchmen have scored in regulation since putting up 98 against James Madison Feb. 24, 2007 (when they scored a Pecora Era-record 56 points in the second half) and the most they’ve scored in regulation at home since racking up 98 against William & Mary Jan. 24, 2004.

Four days after they trailed Drexel by 30 points in the second half of a loss in Philadelphia, the Dutchmen led by as many as 32 in the first half and by as many as 42 in the second half on their way to the program’s most lopsided win since a 39-point victory over Northeastern Jan. 4, 2000.

“We were kidding around in practice and we just said ‘Look, we’re due. Eventually the ball’s going to start going in for us,’” Pecora said. “And if we get back to guarding and rebounding, we’ll be OK. So obviously I was very pleased with it. I thought it was a team win.”

Jenkins scored eight of his game-high 24 points on a single play a little more than halfway through the first half. That is not a misprint. Jenkins was intentionally fouled by Jeremy Basnight as he went in for a fast break layup. He hit the basket and the two free throws. UNC Wilmington coach Benny Moss argued the call and was tagged with a technical foul and Jenkins hit those two free throws. And then Jenkins scored on the subsequent possession.

The eight-point play capped a 23-4 run for the Dutchmen, extended their lead to 34-9 and officially buried the Seahawks. “That was all coach—coach let me shoot the free throws,” said Jenkins, who looked as if he was smiling for the first time in three weeks.

“Good thing you made the first two,” Pecora said. “I would have pulled your ass right off that line.”

The Dutchmen had five players score in double figures for the first time in almost four years (since the win over George Mason Feb. 23, 2006), and Nathaniel Lester finished with nine points and missed two shots at making it a historic six players with at least 10 points: Lester missed a free throw with 5:18 left and a layup as the shot clock wound down in the final minute.

In that game against Mason, the five double-digit scorers accounted for every Dutchmen point. Last night, they received 15 points from the other four players to appear in the game.

“I was very pleased it was distributed the way it was,” Pecora said. “That’s good for a lot of reasons. It obviously gives us some balance, but it also makes the feel good spread out. If it was a game where one or two guys got 30 and 40, I don’t know if our confidence would rise as much as it will now by us sharing the wealth and by us playing unselfish and by a number of guys feeling good about themselves coming out of this game.”

Nobody felt or looked any better than Washington, whose disappearance the last several weeks coincided with the Dutchmen’s fade. But he was brilliant from the opening tip Wednesday as he scored the Dutchmen’s first two baskets and exceeded his season average entering the game by scoring six points in the first 2:33. Washington went on to almost post the first triple-double in school history with 14 points, a record-tying 10 blocks and eight rebounds.

Washington’s effort on defense sparked a resurgent performance by the Dutchmen, who allowed just one Seahawks player to reach double digits after allowing an opponent to reach a career-high in points in three of the previous four games. The Dutchmen pulled down 30 defensive rebounds and outrebounded UNC Wilmington 41-30.

“The past five losses, I haven’t been shooting the ball well,” Washington said. “And it feels good when you’re making shots. Once you make the first show, you’re going to want to keep going and going. It helps [him on the] defensive end. It gets the team going and motivated.”

It was the first time Washington has scored in double figures since Nov. 24, a span of 15 games, and the first time he’s pulled down at least eight boards since recording a season-high 13 rebounds against Florida Atlantic Dec. 29, a span of eight games.

“Gregory’s the key to everything we do,” Pecora said. “He was laying out in the lounge before the game today and I popped my head in and I just said ‘What do you say? Let’s play like the old days here, like you were playing early in the year and late last year.’

“He needs to be that active. And now it’s a matter of doing it all the time. We have to be consistent. We have to play at a high level the rest of the way.”

Of course, some of the enthusiasm generated Wednesday must be tempered. This is the same UNC Wilmington that won three CAA titles last decade—tied for the most with VCU—in name only. The Seahawks are 2-13 on the road in CAA play the last two years, during which it has suffered the program’s eight most lopsided conference losses.

In terms of the Dutchmen’s standing in the CAA, all Wednesday did was solidify their status as the best of the conference’s Bowl Subdivision teams (major props to UNC Wilmington beat writer Brian Mull for that gem). But for a team whose confidence was shaken—if not shattered—by the five-game losing streak, the rout was the greatest tonic possible.

“I backed off them the last few days and I just said ‘Hey guys’—these two guys [Jenkins and Washington] and Mikey and Corn and Nat—‘take ownership,’” Pecora said. “And I let them know they could play a little bit and give them a little bit more confidence. I think they lost their confidence, and I was surprised by that. But it just goes to show you that you can play a game on Saturday where you’re down 30 in the second half and four days later play a game when you’re up 30 in the second half. So that’s how crazy college basketball can be.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. UNCW, 1/27)
3: Greg Washington
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Cornelius Vines

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 39
Chaz Williams 21
Halil Kanacevic 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Miklos Szabo 15
Greg Washington 11
Cornelius Vines 9
Yves Jules 1

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hofstra-UNC Wilmington: More exciting than a monster truck rally!

Hofstra and UNC Wilmington...going to overtime in Hempstead WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY!!!!

If you’re the bizarro world version of me and need to find a babysitter in order to go to the Arena tonight to watch the Flying Dutchmen take on UNC Wilmington (that is the most extreme of inside jokes, by the way), I suggest you lock the hard-working teenager in for four hours. The Dutchmen and the Seahawks have gone to overtime in Hempstead three times in the last four seasons, including a three-overtime classic in 2006. And the one year in which the two teams didn’t need overtime at Hofstra (2007), they needed two extra sessions in Wilmington.

Even if the game only goes 40 minutes, chances are it’ll be a nail-biter: The last seven games between the two schools at Hofstra have been decided by seven points or less, and that seven-pointer was last year’s overtime duel. The school should employ that old monster truck rally saying in trying to lure people to the Arena tonight: “You’ll pay for the entire seat—BUT YOU’LL ONLY NEED THE EDGE!!!!”

(Also, I enjoy watching the Seahawks and will miss them once Hofstra bolts the CAA, so this doesn’t bother me, but can anyone explain to me how Hofstra and UNC Wilmington—separated by roughly 3,000 miles—have played each other twice a year every year since the CAA expanded to 12 teams and went to the unbalanced schedule? Why do the Virginia-based schools take turns playing Hofstra just once a year while Hofstra plays an annual home-and-home with its second-most remote rival?)

This is the first game of the spring semester, so hopefully there are a few more people occupying entire seats, though the Dutchmen’s recent skid has me fearing most of the campus has forgotten the school even plays Division I basketball. Tonight also marks the beginning of the second half of the conference schedule, during which the Dutchmen will play six games against teams that were 3-6 or worse in the first half. So theoretically, at least, there will be plenty of opportunity for the Dutchmen to make an upward move, or at least solidify the seventh seed in the conference tournament.

But it’s hard to assume anything given how resoundingly the Dutchmen lost to Drexel Saturday—especially against a UNC Wilmington squad that once seemed to be on the edge of falling apart but which has since lost by two to ACC leader Virginia last Monday and snapped its own five-game losing streak by edging James Madison Saturday.

On the other hand—if not now, when? The Dutchmen finally get to be home for a week and are finally at something resembling full health. The Seahawks are not: Their star guard, Chad Tomko, continues to battle a nagging foot injury. And at some point soon the Dutchmen have to enjoy a game in which their layups fall in instead of rolling out.

Tom Pecora said yesterday he’s not giving up on his veterans, but I would be surprised if Nathaniel Lester is in the starting lineup tonight and I still think Yves Jules and David Imes—who will likely be back for the Delaware game Saturday—will end up getting a ton of minutes down the stretch at the expense of Lester, Cornelius Vines and/or Greg Washington.

Check out the UNCW perspective from Wilmington Star News beat writer Brian Mull (that’s right, kiddies, some teams in the CAA are covered, home AND away, by the local newspaper!), who, like me, has gotten into a car accident while on the road this season. And also check out his interview with some goofy ass Hofstra blogger. Seriously, thanks to Brian for the opportunity and for calling this blog “excellent.” Someone’s angling for a Colony Diner burger tonight!

Either way, don’t expect the Dutchmen to cover the 6 ½-point spread (for entertainment purposes only, as Mull says!), but they better win, because I’ve already got my victory Tweet lined up (John Sterling would approve). See you there. I’ll be the guy making dated taunts about Brett Blizzard.

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

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Tom Pecora

The Flying Dutchmen are in the midst of their longest losing streak in seven seasons and their worst conference start ever under Tom Pecora, but a casual “how are you?” directed at the coach yields an upbeat and positive answer.

Pecora said Tuesday the Dutchmen are still hopefully they’ll get the services of junior guard Brad Kelleher, who remains held hostage by the NCAA, and that the rest of the roster—particularly freshmen Chaz Williams and David Imes, who have been battling high ankle sprains—is getting healthier. He’s also pleased with the general effort and confident displayed by the Dutchmen and confident the second half of the conference season will be far better than the first.

“All you’ve got to do is find one win and then the whole world changes,” Pecora said. “It’s time for us to get on a little bit of a run here. Ten games left, six of the 10 at home. With the exception of Northeastern, we’re playing teams that we can move against, they’re all in our area [of the standings], so to speak. And I think those top schools are going to start beating each other up a little bit. And one or two of them will come down and meet the pack as the year goes on. So that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Here’s the rest of our Q&A in which Pecora discusses the Dutchmen’s slump and the issues facing the squad. Thanks as always to Pecora for his time and accessibility.


You sound optimistic.

Nobody died, you know? [laughs] Last year, some guys didn’t have good first halves and they had great second halves and that’s why we played well late going into the tournament, because Nathaniel Lester and Washington started playing well. They do that again—[and] Corny Vines has been playing better—we start getting some quality games out of those three guys, I think we’re going to be fine. And the expression ‘You’re never as bad as you think you are”—we’re really four wins away from being right where we thought we were. If we’re 13-8, we’d probably be saying ‘Hey, we’re right where we thought we’d be with this group and now it’s time to make our move.’ We’d be saying the same thing. We obviously had a plan and we had to change the plan with the issue with Brad and with a couple of the injuries and things like that. So we shall survive.

Do you think this has been an imperfect storm of sorts, between the Kelleher issue and the injuries and the schedule that had you alternating home and away games for the first nine games of this month?

Welcome to the CAA. To be quite honest, if Kelleher plays from the ninth game on, I don’t think a lot of this is the issue, because you’ve got a guy who’s going to play 30 minutes for you in the backcourt. You’ve got a veteran with the basketball late in games. But once again, it is what it is. You can only play the hand that’s dealt you.

Do you think those of us on the outside underestimated the value of last year’s senior class because it didn’t have overwhelming statistics?

Oh, very much so. I think it was leadership and toughness. I think it was Mike Davis Sabb’s locker room, which was a good thing. And I think that him and ‘Pittsy’ [Arminas Urbutis] and Dane [Johnson]—there were days they would just foul each other for two hours straight in practice. But you know what? That’s a good thing. It lends to that no lay up rule. It lends to that toughness. And I think we kind of hoped that that had translated to Mikey [Szabo] and to Greg Washington and to Nat. But we’re still working on it. I think Dave Imes is cut out of that cloth, and not having him on the court has hurt us because he’s probably our physically toughest baseline guy.

I met with all the veterans yesterday, I talked to them and said ‘It’s time for you guys to take ownership of this.’ As a coach, I can only get you so far. And I’ve said that in our best years. When we won 26 games, that locker room was owned by Carlos Rivera and Loren Stokes and that’s what got you over the top. And we missed them greatly the following year, not only the basketball ability but their leadership. And then last year it was Mike Davis Sabb and Darren Townes. They played really hard, those guys, and Pittsy and Dane, and it was their locker room and they led it. So I talk to the seniors all the time about your legacy is what your senior year is.

Do you think one win at some point these last few weeks would have changed everything?

Yeah, no doubt. I think the two losses that probably took their confidence—especially the young guys—was St. John’s, because it was a game we were winning and then at the end we gave it away, and then William & Mary the same thing. They had grown very accustomed to winning close games around here—we all have—and that was because of our great backcourt play and because of our toughness. We were just out-toughing people down the stretch.

Do you look to previous seasons in which you struggled as you try to come up with answers this year?

Well, sometimes. But I think the dynamics of teams are different. As coaches you always look within yourself first. Am I practicing them too hard? Are they tired? Are they prepared? They’re not making shots, let me chart every shot that’s taken. We do all of that. We’ve been getting some pretty good shots—I think we’re probably averaging four or five missed layups a game. So let’s make that one missed layup a game and then our record is drastically different, you know what I mean? So we look at all of those things, I think, but different teams have different chemistry and they have to be treated differently.

I think that’s one of the fun things and the challenge about coaching. It’s not fun when you’re going through a stretch like this, but the point is it makes you a better coach, and when adversity strikes, the true man comes out. So you get to see what people are made of. And they’re still sticking together, they’re still practicing hard, they’re still looking out for each other. So that means good things can still happen. If you’re in a situation like this and guys are finger pointing and making excuses and the team is breaking into factions, then you realize that you’ve got major problems. We’re not at that point, by a long stretch.

I was going to ask you how much self-examination a coach and his staff goes through at a time like this.

With tweezers. With a fine-tooth comb. I look at everything that we’re doing. I talk to our guys about our recruiting. I talk to them about the players we brought in. I talked to them about the players we’re looking to bring in. Are they going to solve the problem here and strengthen our weaknesses? So no one has gotten less sleep than me. Trust me on that one. And then probably second to me is my staff.

How much do you think the routine of getting back to school helps you guys do so well in February?

I think a lot has to do with getting students here [for] our home games. We get much more of a home court advantage when we’re in February. Generally, we’ve always drawn better in February with the students and people—football’s over, all that kind of stuff. Jets season is over. And then I kid around and say it’s probably because by February they’ve stopped listening to me.

How disappointing has this season been to you? I can’t imagine anyone expected to be 2-7 at this point.

Without a doubt, it’s disappointing. But [shoot], that’s life, man, Life’s not fair. So you just grind it out and you hope that good things happen. You keep working hard. We had different plans, you know? Guys were forced to play a ton of minutes that I really thought weren’t going to have to play many at all. I really thought that Chaz and Halil would be 20 minutes a game guys, 15 minutes a game guys, because Kelleher would take so many minutes in the backcourt and I thought it was going to be hard to take Washington and Lester off the court. And it’s been easy.

Do you envision playing the freshmen more down the stretch?

No, I want these guys to develop and I want—I expect—Vines and Washington and Lester to have big second halves now, finish strong the last 10 games of the year. And if they do that, we’ll be a different team. I haven’t thrown in the towel, not at all. That’s kind of what it would be, if you gave up on your veterans like that, you know what I mean? The veterans haven’t given up on us so I’m not going to give up on them.

Lastly, teams that start 2-7 or worse in conference play generally don’t fare much better in the second half. How do you keep from getting bogged down by the task ahead of you?

So we’ve got a chance to make history. I don’t think [those other teams had] our circumstances. They didn’t have Charles Jenkins and they didn’t lose—maybe they did lose their starting point guard, I don’t know the history of it. But I still think that there’s a lot of basketball left and we can still have an opportunity to make history and end up with a good record. I don’t know if we’ll end up with a winning record in the league—we have to, what, lose one game the rest of the way? But that doesn’t mean that we can’t go into the tournament [on a high note]. I think it’s going to be a mish-mosh, I still think we can end up [seeded] five, six, seven in the tournament and make a run at this thing if we’re healthy and we have people back.

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

Drexel 75, Hofstra 62 (Or: It’s all the same, only the names will change…everyday it seems the Dutchmen are wasting away)

Who knew New Jersey's second-best rock star was singing about Long Island college basketball way back in 1987?

To drive down Hempstead Turnpike Saturday night was to travel the bell curve of emotions experienced by Flying Dutchmen fans this season.

We drove to Miller’s Ale House, the restaurant where we watched the Dutchmen open the season against Kansas, to buy a gift card for Loyal Reader and former Vander Poel Hall roommate John, whose surprise 40th birthday party was Saturday night. (Happy Birthday dude, in your honor, I will sleep through my alarm this morning!)

Seventy-one nights earlier, the conversation and mood in the car during the drive to Miller’s was overflowingly optimistic. The Dutchmen could beat Kansas…they could beat UConn in the preseason NIT four days later…they could win the CAA Tournament in March…they could win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, it all seemed a bit outlandish, but it wasn’t stare-at-white-walls crazy, either. The Dutchmen wouldn’t open the season by visiting two of college basketball’s holiest places if big things weren’t possible, right?

Being in the car on a Saturday night also reminded me of three weeks earlier, when my wife and I hashed out the one-point loss to William & Mary while driving around the Island. She thought it was a sign of bad things to come. I worried it defined a season and perhaps an era, one in which the Dutchmen would master the near-miss. But still…it was early. The unbridled optimism was gone, but there was still plenty of sun visible behind the clouds.

Not anymore. There was no optimism in the car conversation Saturday night, no glimpses of the sun to be found a few hours after the Dutchmen fell to Drexel, 75-62, in a game that was absolutely nowhere near as close as the final score would indicate.

Unlike both William & Mary games and the first George Mason game, there was no second half lead, no possibility the Dutchmen could record that Signature Win the program has lacked the last several years. And they were not even competitive in defeat, unlike against Old Dominion or the last two home games against VCU and Mason.

The Dutchmen led once after the first media timeout of the afternoon, fell behind by double digits for good with a little more than six minutes left in the first half and were down by 30 (63-33) less than halfway through the second half before ending the game on a meaningless 29-12 run that made the final score cosmetically closer. They were down by 20 with 30 seconds left before scoring the final seven points, including five in the final five seconds on a 3-pointer by Chaz Williams and a layup by Nathaniel Lester following his steal of the inbounds pass.

It almost would have been better if the Dutchmen ended up suffering the worst conference loss of the Pecora Era (24 points at the hands of both Mason—hi new friends!—in 2009 and UNC Wilmington in 2002), because the final score might lull those who didn’t see the game into believing it was another fairly close loss for a team that seems to be one win away from getting over that proverbial and clich├ęd hump.

It wasn’t. It was a disaster. It IS a disaster—the worst season of the Defiantly Dutch Era.

The Dutchmen have lost five straight games for the first time since the 2002-03 season and are 2-7 at the halfway point of the CAA season, their worst mark through nine games under Pecora and the program’s worst record through nine conference games since Jay Wright’s first team was 1-8 in the North Atlantic Conference in 1994-95.

At least during those seasons, some hiccups and long losing streaks were to be expected. The ’94-95 team was transitioning to a new conference and adapting to a completely new coaching staff. The ’02-03 team was in its second year in the far more competitive CAA and played half that season with starters Rick Apodaca and Wendell Gibson suspended due to failed drug tests.

But this—whatever “this” is—wasn’t supposed to happen. The schedule was not upgraded with the expectation that the Dutchmen would be 2-7 and 9-12 by the time Super Bowl hype began. Teams that feature the preseason co-player of the year—and neither Wright’s first team nor Pecora’s second squad had anyone near the caliber of Charles Jenkins—are not supposed to be buried this early.

Maybe the high hopes of Nov. 13 were more tongue-in-cheek than realistic—even I, the world’s biggest Hofstra Homer, didn’t foresee an NCAA Tournament berth this year—but nobody’s worst-case scenario foresaw the Dutchmen sliding towards the basement at the halfway point of the conference season and facing an incredibly long and unlikely road back to respectability.

The presence of Jenkins and what appears to be a more forgiving second half schedule suggests the Dutchmen could turn this around fairly quickly and at least salvage a decent finish. And all this pessimism be damned, I know all it will take is consecutive wins for visions of a miraculous March run to begin dancing in my head.

But history is not on the Dutchmen’s side. Eighteen teams have opened conference play 2-7 or worse since the CAA began playing an 18-game conference schedule in 2001-02. Only one team—Towson in 2001-02—has played better than .500 in the second half. Those Tigers also recorded the best finish of the 18 clubs, but they finished seventh in what was then a 10-team league.

Since the CAA expanded to 12 teams in 2005-06, the highest finish for a team that began 2-7 or worse is ninth. And the teams that were 2-7 or worse at the halfway point have combined to win only five CAA Tournament games. Only one team—Towson last season—got as far as the semifinals.

And what, aside from Jenkins, is to indicate the Dutchmen will make history, or at the very least join Towson as a squad that somewhat turned its season around?

Their next three games, and six of their final nine conference tilts, are against teams that are currently 3-6 or worse. But the two teams that will visit Hempstead this week, UNC Wilmington and Delaware, are coming off victories, and after that the Dutchmen head to James Madison, which is presumably still located in Virginia, where the Dutchmen are 0-3 this year and 3-10 in the last three years. Oh well, at least the two lone regular season wins in that span were one-point decisions over James Madison.

In addition, the Dutchmen no longer look like on the cusp of a breakthrough, as they did earlier this month. This is a team that appears to be in the throes of a complete meltdown.

The Dutchmen shot 40 percent or less for the fourth time in five games Saturday, allowed the opponent to shoot better than 45 percent for the fourth straight game and allowed an opposing player to set a career high in points for the third time in those four games.

Jenkins scored 13 points, albeit on 3-of-10 shooting, and Miklos Szabo continued his resurgence with 14 points and five rebounds in a career-high 34 minutes. Szabo has played at least 32 minutes in three of the Dutchmen’s last four games after failing to exceed 31 minutes in any of his first 36 games at Hofstra.

But Cornelius Vines—who sat out the second half Tuesday after telling Pecora he lacked confidence—didn’t play at all Saturday, even though the Dutchmen are down to seven scholarship players, and juniors Lester and Greg Washington, who were supposed to comprise the Dutchmen’s core along with Jenkins, continued their inexplicable descent.

Lester played 24 minutes, fewest of the starters and the sixth straight game in which he has played fewer than 30 minutes. He played at least 30 minutes in 11 of the Dutchmen’s first 15 games. Washington had six points and six rebounds, but only two points and one rebound in the first half.

One minor positive about bottoming out—whether it finally happened Saturday or whether it’s yet to take place—is it will allow for more on-the-job auditions for freshmen such as Yves Jules and David Imes as Pecora finds out what he has for next year behind Jenkins and freshmen Williams and Halil Kanacevic. Imes is sidelined by a high ankle sprain but Jules played 23 minutes Saturday and scored a career-high eight points, including seven unanswered immediately after Drexel took its 30-point lead.

Things are so bad that we’ve got to gaze six hours south to our good friends in Mason Nation for some glimmers of hope. The Patriots are 8-1 and tied for first place with a starting lineup comprised of three sophomores and two juniors. So maybe the Dutchmen will make a dramatic leap forward next year with Jenkins and four underclassmen in the starting lineup. Of course, Mason's starters have the experience of reaching the CAA championship game and playing in a postseason tournament game, two luxuries that will almost surely continue to escape the Dutchmen this season.

Relying on George Mason for encouragement is no fun at all. But what choice do we have, after a drive down Hempstead Turnpike reminded us the 2009-10 Dutchmen are on the road to nowhere?

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Drexel, 1/23)
3: Miklos Szabo
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Yves Jules

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 37
Chaz Williams 21
Halil Kanacevic 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Miklos Szabo 15
Cornelius Vines 8
Greg Washington 8
Yves Jules 1

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A CAA tourney bye is out of reach, but that ECC crown is there for the taking!

No banner, no matter! The mythical ECC championship still counts to us! (Note to my newest fans: I am just kidding. It won't count to us.)

This has not been a good week to be a Flying Dutchmen fan. A once-promising season for the men’s basketball team has splintered apart, with each successive loss in a four-game losing streak more discouraging than the last. Mason Nation came into Hofstra Arena Tuesday, humiliated the Dutchmen and serenaded what consists of Dutch Nation (snort) out of its own building.

A loss today at Drexel—which didn’t trail the Dutchmen for a single second in sweeping the season series last year—and the Dutchmen will slip to depths not experienced since 2003, the last time the program endured a losing streak of at least five games. A loss today also means the rest of the season will be spent hoping to avoid the worst-case scenario: Being the “12” in the 5 vs. 12 game on the first day of the CAA Tournament.

Pushing the panic button too soon, or at least too vociferously? Not if the Dutchmen are on a five-game losing streak heading into games next week against UNC Wilmington and Delaware, each of whom begin play today in a tie for eighth place with the Dutchmen at 2-6.

But I don’t want to hit the panic button. I want to look on the bright side, a bright side that will exist even if the Dutchmen lose today. No matter what, the Dutchmen will still be in good shape to win the mythical East Coast Conference championship!!!

(For those readers who joined us this week and began paying attention to college basketball in March 2006, the East Coast Conference was formed in 1974 from the remains of the Middle Atlantic Conference and featured as members schools such as Saint Joseph’s, Temple, Rider and Bucknell before sizable defections finally forced the ECC to close its doors for good following the 1994 season. Four former ECC schools are part of the CAA: Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel and Towson)

The Dutchmen currently lead the mythical ECC standings by virtue of their sweep of Towson (again: Can we take them with us to wherever we end up next?) and could take a huge step towards the championship that isn’t really a championship by upsetting Drexel today. Here are the standings that aren’t really standings:

Hofstra 2-0
Delaware 1-1
Drexel 1-1
Towson 1-3

Wins today and next Saturday against Delaware would just about lock up the ECC for the Dutchmen. Of course, spending a couple graphs waxing about the possibility of winning a conference that doesn’t exist pretty much sums up the 2009-10 season thus far.

This really has been an imperfect storm for the Dutchmen, who have, in terms of caliber of competition and pacing, played a rigorous schedule this month. The four schools the Dutchmen have played that are not located in Towson enter today 26-6 in conference play, and both VCU and Mason played perhaps their best games of the conference season in routing the Dutchmen in Hempstead.

In addition, the Dutchmen’s first seven games this month went like this: Home-Virginia-home-Virginia-home-Virginia-home. Only one other team, James Madison, has alternated home and road games thus far, and even the Dukes finally get to play a second straight road contest today. And their road trip to Drexel and UNC Wilmington marks the first time they’ve left Virginia since Jan. 2.

At least today’s road trip is the shortest of the conference schedule for the Dutchmen, though the task of beginning to turn the season around doesn’t get any easier just down the Jersey Turnpike. Drexel is a tough place to win in the best of circumstances—the Dutchmen are 3-5 there under Tom Pecora—never mind during the Dragons’ Homecoming Weekend. What is up with that? Can you imagine going to a school that didn’t have a football team and had to have Homecoming in the winter? Geez, that sure would suck.

Still, while I fear this will be another close loss, I don’t have the hideously bad feeling I had all day Tuesday (seriously, I knew for hours it would be a crap burger of a day), mostly because I imagine a couple days of Pecora’s midseason boot camp will have the Dutchmen playing far more inspired this afternoon than they did four nights ago.

I’m also very curious to see today’s starting lineup. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Yves Jules is on the court at noon in place of Nathaniel Lester, if for no other reason than to give Lester a wake-up call.

Lester and Charles Jenkins are the only members of the opening night starting lineup who have yet to be benched for performance reasons, yet nobody has been a bigger disappointment this month than Lester, especially considering how well he played in the two games following Christmas. Jules did all the things Lester should do Tuesday—driving the lane and forcing the action despite being three inches shorter than Lester—and has earned a starting assignment as much as Lester has lost it.

I’m also wondering how much we’ll see of Cornelius Vines, whose reality show existence grew even more fascinating when he was benched for the second half Tuesday after he told Pecora he had no confidence. Vines lacking confidence is like me lacking bluster—inconceivable—but there you go, a shocking twist a couple weeks before sweeps season.

Vines’ state of mind and Pecora’s role in mending it, by the way, has been quite the subject of debate in our household the last few nights. I, being the world’s biggest fan of Pecora (I think I nudged ahead of Litos Wednesday), argued that Pecora would not have benched him if he didn’t think he was shot, at least for one night, and that this season has turned into an audition for next year so Pecora may as well see what he has in the freshmen, even if it is at the expense of a senior like Vines.

My wife believes the only way to boost Vines’ confidence would be to keep sending him out there with orders to shoot and that Pecora might have lost him forever Tuesday. We kept arguing back and forth until she finally declared “Nobody knows Corny like I do.” Honestly, there was no serviceable comeback to that, just more proof that I married way the hell up.

Anyway, while it’s the shortest road trip of the conference season, and while it’s always awesome beyond words to see Pecora and Bruiser Flint stalk the sidelines, this is one trip we won’t be making. Three weeks after the glorious car accident following the Mason game, I still choose to make the shorter and slightly less dangerous journey from my bedroom to the living room recliner. We’ll be tuning in at noon on MSG, and Hofstra is hosting a viewing party at Dave and Buster’s in Westbury if you’re interested.

Me, it’s easier to live Twitter these things when I’m not feeding my face full of wings and fries. Join us, won’t you? Don’t expect me to annoy Drexel Nation, though.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome, Mason Nation!

C'mon Mason Nation, let's hug it out. Our mascots suck too.

The great thing about being a sportswriter—even a lousy, unemployed one—in the 21st century is that you can know, in real-time, how much people think you suck. It sure beats the old days, when a dissatisfied sports fan had to type or—gasp—write a letter to the Local Sports Columnist.

I remember quite well the night North Carolina won the national championship in 1993. I was a huge Tar Heels fan growing up in Connecticut and I had cut out a column by late Hartford Courant writer Alan Greenberg in which he guaranteed UNC would not cut down the nets. So a few hours after Chris Webber called a timeout he didn’t have (which, given his shady past, is the single most suspicious thing I’ve ever seen in a sports game, but I digress), I sat down to write Greenberg the most withering letter ever.

Except it never sounded right. Attempt after attempt after attempt ended up shredded in the garbage can. It also occurred to me that even if I did write him a letter, the odds of it getting into his hands were fairly long, and the odds of it getting into the paper even longer. So I grew discouraged and finally just gave up and blasted cheesy-ass victory music while deciding how many hundreds of dollars to spend on championship swag.

Fortunately, 17 years later, passionate fans no longer have such hurdles to clear in order to correspond with writers. The newspaper as we knew it is dead. If you are writing a local writer or columnist, you are almost certainly reading him online and very likely responding to something called a blog post, not a story that landed in what remains of the newspaper.

The pen and paper has been replaced by the laptop computer. The letter to the columnist has been replaced by the email to the columnist, which saddens the Postal Service and nobody else. And the email to the columnist is by far the least popular option for a fan wishing to express his thoughts. He can discuss it on a message board, or communicate directly with the writer via 140-character missives on Twitter.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying thank you, Mason Nation, for making yesterday the biggest day of traffic I’ve ever had here. Who knew you guys were so eager to read what Tom Pecora had to say about his team following the 90-72 loss to Team Pour It On, or to learn how and why Hofstra killed football?

(There’s also plenty to be said about how a Hofstra rival is responsible for my biggest traffic day ever, none of which reflects well upon the size and scope of Dutch Nation, snort)

I heard from those who wondered what the fuss Tuesday night was all about…those who disagreed with the post but understood my disdain for Mason…those whose entire argument consisted of either “Ha ha, we made the Final Four and you didn’t!” or nuts jokes that ceased to be timely in March 2006…those who thought my blog was worthless and not worth reading and told people via Twitter to read it, mmmm, that’s good irony…and those who thought I was the product of crappy parenting and worse journalistic training, and agreed with Corporate America that I was unworthy of employment.

I heard from Mason grads and fans who wrote with equal parts passion and eloquence, and those who made me wonder if Freshman Comp is an elective at Mason. (“Employed” has only two es, not three, and Hofstra has a “t” in it) In their defense, some of the dumbest people I ever met shared a communications class with me at Hofstra. My wife says the same thing, and always nudges the person next to her, points at me and laughs when doing so.

So thank you, Mason Nation, for assuring I go at least one day without wondering if Bruce Springsteen wrote “Radio Nowhere” about bloggers. The only thing worse than being scorned is toiling in complete anonymity.

I welcome you, the fans of the green and gold, to this blue and gold corner of the Interwebs, where we sometimes discuss the CAA in general and even occasionally go a day without making a snarky comment directed at your coach or athletic director! Make yourself at home. We’ve got plenty of extra pillows for your comfort, and protective cups for all.

We’re not big fans of someone who has been here all night drinking the last of the soda on his way out the door, though. I know, I know: Your neighbors Bill and Mary don’t complain when you drink the last of the soda, and if you don’t want someone drinking all the soda, BUY MORE SODA!!!

Next year, when Team Makes Me Kick Stray Cat visits Long Island, I invite you to visit the local sights with me and partake of the local culture. I’ll take you to the pizzeria where my wife and I had our first date…the Costco where I once saw Long Island native and Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider…the restaurant Billy Joel was singing about in “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”…and of course the dock where Joey Buttafuoco parked “Double Trouble,” the boat in which he and Amy Fisher had many trysts. Hey I didn’t say it was GOOD culture.

We share a passion, albeit one directed at different schools, but I believe despite our inherent differences, we can all co-exist, find a middle ground and get along perfectly fine.

(God, we really had no idea just how horrible Rocky IV was, did we?)

In quasi-seriousness, the reaction to my post about how Mason is a big ol’ buncha meanies provided a good glimpse at the interesting modern day phenomenon of writers being subjected to the same instant criticism and analysis as the people and players they cover.

Just like ballplayers, managers, coaches and executives (ESPECIALLY executives), don’t believe for a single friggin’ split second any sportswriter who says he doesn’t read what is being said about him. He, like the people he covers, is full of crap. EVERYONE wants to know what everyone else is saying and writing about him. Everyone.

It reminds me of the big league pitcher who swore he never picked up a paper or turned on a 24-hour news network. “I didn’t even know we were at war with Iraq until someone at my apartment building told me,” he said. So of course a few weeks later I walk into the Mets locker room and there he is, reading the Daily News.

It would be hypocritical to be upset by the immediate forum that readers possess and foolish to pretend it doesn’t exist. If you expect thick skin in the people whom you cover and write about, the least you can do is possess it yourself.

This, too, was a perfect example of what your good friend and mine Mike Litos means when he writes about how differently we absorb and exchange information these days. The gatekeepers are gone. There are no walls between writer and audience. The old ways—in which we write and you read and rarely do the two sides ever interact—are dead and buried.

Interactivity is a must if we hope to survive, or at least deny reality a little longer. Even and especially, it turns out, when the “out there” Springsteen is singing about is Mason Nation.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

George Mason 90, Hofstra 72 (Or: The pleasure of insomnia are ones Tom Pecora can’t avoid)

Tom Pecora won't be needing this for a few nights at least, so Ryan Pearson can have it.

Charles Jenkins buried his head in his jersey after he fouled out with 2:36 left, unable to watch the waning moments of the Flying Dutchmen’s 90-72 loss to Classless U. Tom Pecora, on the other hand, couldn’t take his eyes off what Jenkins refused to watch, nor forget what transpired in the prior 37 minutes and change.

“I will not sleep with a team giving up 90 points,” Pecora said.

If only that was the only thing turning Pecora into an insomniac. The latest most demoralizing loss of the season for the Dutchmen only deepened a funk that is threatening to reach historic proportions and turn into the worst of the Pecora Era.

The Dutchmen are 2-8 in their last 10 games and have lost four in a row for the first time since dropping five in a row in February 2003. They are 2-6 in CAA play, their worst mark through eight conference games since joining the league and their worst mark through eight conference games, regardless of league, since Jay Wright’s first year in 1994-95.

And they seem to be regressing by the day. The Dutchmen suffered their most lopsided conference loss of the season at the hands of the same team they almost beat in Fairfax 15 days earlier.

“We played this team two weeks ago,” Pecora said. “It was a tie game with a minute to go in their gym, which is the toughest atmosphere in the league to play in, as tough as anywhere to go and win. And they come in here…”

For the second straight Tuesday, the undermanned Dutchmen got into the type of fast-paced game they could not win and began running out of gas late in the first half. The Dutchmen took their lone lead at 15-13 a little more than six minutes in and tied the game for the last time at 22-22 with 7:39 left. They were outscored 16-8 to end the first half and got no closer than the halftime margin the rest of the way.

Last Tuesday against VCU, the Dutchmen took their last lead at 13-10 a little more than seven minutes into the first half and were outscored 18-6 to end the half as the Rams took a 40-25 lead. The Dutchmen didn’t get closer than seven in the second half.

Last night marked the first time ever the Dutchmen have given up 90 points in regulation to a CAA foe at home and only the second time it has happened since the Arena opened in 2000. It also marked the first time under Pecora the Dutchmen have allowed at least 80 points in regulation at home in consecutive games. The Dutchmen have given up 80 points four times in 10 home games this year. They gave up 80 points in regulation at home seven times in Pecora’s first eight seasons.

Pecora, who met the media without a player in tow, opened his press conference by declaring himself at fault for the slump, but spared no words in his critique of his team, particularly its veterans.

Miklos Szabo produced his third career double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but Cornelius Vines sat the entire second half after he told Pecora he wasn’t feeling confident. Nathaniel Lester had just two points (on 1-of-4 shooting) and two rebounds and Greg Washington was scoreless with five rebounds and three blocks in just 15 minutes—less than half the 34 minutes he played against William & Mary Saturday. Even Jenkins, who had 26 points, six assists and five steals, went without a rebound for the first time in his career.

“We played like a team [whose] personality is dominated by the freshmen, not a team that has five veterans,” Pecora said.

And so Pecora figured if the team is going to play like a bunch of freshmen, he may as well play a bunch of freshmen. Chaz Williams, who came off the bench for the second straight game as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain, played all 20 minutes in the second half, during which he scored 14 of his career high-tying 20 points. Yves Jules played 17 minutes in the second half—two fewer than the last two games combined and more than he’s played in all but three of the Dutchmen’s first 20 games—and certainly proved worthy of such time with aggressive play on both sides of the ball. Even walk-on Matt Grogan saw two minutes of action.

“We had two and three freshmen on the floor a lot tonight, and that could be the way it is for a while—develop them,” Pecora said.

Pecora dismissed the notion that so many near-misses—the Dutchmen had multiple-possession leads in the second half of four of their last seven defeats—has dragged his team down. The Dutchmen lost six games last season by at least 15 points but won the subsequent game five times.

“I’m not into feeling sorry for myself, I’m not into feeling sorry for them,” Pecora said. “They’ve got scholarships here. It’s $50,000 a year [snarky editor's note: But remember, the president says "it's a relatively inexpensive school"] to come be a college basketball player. It’s a wonderful life. And you’re asked to play hard when you get on the floor, work hard in the classroom and behave like a gentleman when you’re off the court. It’s not that much to do. There’s guys who would give their left arm to do that.

“So if they think this is tough—what are they going to do when they get into the real world and you lose a job like so many people have done already, or things happen to you in your life that send you for a tailspin? These guys can’t handle losing some close basketball games? When adversity strikes, the true man comes out.”

The task now for Pecora is to get the Dutchmen to return to what he considers true Hofstra basketball—40 passionate minutes in which the Dutchmen play the type of defense that has become the program’s trademark and treat every possession as if it’s the last one of the season. He’ll do that by dramatically increasing the intensity of practice, depleted roster and all. If he can’t sleep, the least he can do is make he’ll make sure his players are exhausted.

“That falls on me—that’s my job, that’s my job to get these guys [going],” Pecora said. “And if we’ve got to run and trip and dive and do all of that to play hard every night, I’ll lose that way. But I’m not going to lose where guys are not executing.

“We’ll have some spirited practices. Sometimes, when you’re down to seven guys….you change the way you practice. I’ve done that, and I shouldn’t have. I should have continued to just ride them in practice, ride them physically. I’m always on them to perform, but make our practices more physically grueling. And that’s what I’m going to need to do to get this team to play hard for a full 40 minutes, because they’ve lost their way.

“And that’s my fault. That’s me. I will do everything I need to do to get them there.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Stolen Pillows U., 1/19)
3: Miklos Szabo
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Chaz Williams

SEASON STANDINGS
Charles Jenkins 35
Chaz Williams 21
Halil Kanacevic 18
Nathaniel Lester 18
Miklos Szabo 12
Cornelius Vines 8
Greg Washington 8

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

Mom always said it was foolish to hate a sports team, but she never saw George Mason play

Who knew there'd still be a use for this song after the spring of 1992? "Some say I've got a bad attitude, but that don't change the way I feel about GMU..."

The silly thing is I was beginning to wonder yesterday if I was just going through the motions with this whole disliking George Mason thing. Tony Skinn and the Great Screw Job will be four years old this spring, Skinn and his teammates are long gone, etc etc.

I’m sure, for every jackass who yells “TONY SKINN!!!!” during a game, there’s 10 perfectly reasonable fans. I even attended the game in Fairfax with four of those reasonable folk—two of whom are, like me, out-of-work sports writers with nary a clue what to do next and a third of whom had to finally leave the business he loved for something with, you know, a future. Tear off our alumni sweatshirts and our broken hearts all beat the same, or some philosophical crap like that.

Plus, how long can I really come up with new and hopefully amusing ways to express my contempt of Jim Larranaga and Tom O’Connor? At some point, I figured, it loses its luster and its edge, like a TV show that has gone on for too long (I’m looking at you, 24!), and maybe that time had come. We should never forget 2006 and we should always want to see Hofstra beat Mason 198-2, but how can you hate forever?

Turns out it’s pretty goddamn easy.

And I know exactly when I decided I could hate forever: Ryan Pearson figured it was pretty cool to hit a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left and Mason up 16 in its 90-72 victory last night.

This is no walk-on jacking threes because he’s excited to get some rare run in the final minute of a blowout. This is Ryan Pearson, who was one of three starters still on the court for Mason in the last couple minutes, despite that vaunted 11-man rotation at Larranaga’s disposal. And it would have been four if Mike Morrison hadn’t fouled out.

“That’s Mason,” Tom Pecora said afterward. “Their reputation precedes them.”

This is also the same Pearson, by the way, who was mouthing off to the Hofstra dance team throughout the second half. We sat right behind the home basket and we saw it happen, multiple times. Wonder no more why Pearson—who was suspended earlier this season for stealing hotel pillows, snicker snicker snort snort—somehow eluded the grasp of Pecora despite being from Long Island. It was no accident.

I know the response from the leather lungs: Mason wasn’t breaking any laws shooting threes that late. If you don’t want to lose by 18, play better. You sound like the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, it wasn’t cool when Northeastern dunked in the final seconds of a 25-point win over Mason 13 days ago and this isn’t the NFfreakingL, but I digress.

(And if you don’t like what I’m writing, a.) thanks for reading and b.) you can tell me how much I suck via email or Twitter. My favorite critic last night, by the way, was the Mason grad who misspelled Hofstra and said I’m an example of why not everyone should have a blog. If it makes you feel any better, guy, Corporate America agrees with you)

It’s crap, or a more appropriate four-letter word that serves as a synonym for crap, and it’s a classless act symbolic of the program. We know now that 2006 wasn’t an aberration—one thug taking out his frustration on a defenseless and innocent opponent. We now know what Mason is under Larranaga: A win-at-all-costs bully for whom winning big is not enough.

As one Hofstra athletic staffer said to me last night: In the end, it all evens out and it all comes out in the wash. And that’s why we want to see Hofstra beat Mason, and why nights like Tuesday are so goddamn frustrating even before Pearson drains a three in the final minute of a blowout.

Because the most maddening thing of all is we KNOW Mason gets the last word. That stupid flipping Final Four banner is hanging at the Patriot Center, and it doesn’t matter how the Patriots got it—doesn’t matter who punched who or who “wasn’t in the room when Mason’s candidacy was discussed”—they got it.

They’ve got the lazy national media eating out of their hand and on the search for the Next Mason, the next cuddly underdog story it can spoon feed the masses. Nobody wants to know, Mason fans least of all, that the cuddly underdog is a gangly mutt who bites and kicks and craps all over the rug.

But we know the truth. That and a ticket to a Hofstra game gets us a view of the 2006 NIT banner. Crap.

All we’ve got is one or two games a year, one or two games a year in which we can’t get back that NCAA Tournament berth that was stolen via backroom politicking but in which we can hope to glean a little bit of satisfaction from watching the smug smile disappear from Larranaga’s face.

Except it never happens. Hofstra beat Mason more in an 11-day span in 2006 than it has in the 1,416 days since. Last night’s loss was the Dutchmen’s fifth in a row to Mason, and every one has been a kick in the nuts. There will be no reliving the gory details, because if you’ve read this far, you either endured the losses with me or would take great pleasure in reading about them.

And so we hang on to believing in karma and cling to the theory that everything will even out and come out in the wash, because, well, what else can we do?

“I’m a big man,” Pecora said. “I know how to take a beating and I know how to give one. It’s a round world.”

Can’t wait for it to finally look spherical.

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