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)
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
1.) If Iona doesn’t win the MAAC, I’ll eat my hat. And my hat is filthy. The Gaels were clearly prepared for the Dutchmen to focus on Mike Glover—who even in a fairly quiet half, has 11 points and six rebounds—and are red-hot from everywhere else on the floor. Iona is shooting 58.3 percent (14-of-24), including 4-of-9 from 3-point land, and is on pace for its usual 80 points, which has to be difficult for defense-first coach Mo Cassara to stomach. Expect to see some Yves Jules—the Dutchmen’s Mariano Rivera—in the second half as the Dutchmen try to contain the Gaels enough to mount a comeback.
2.) This was one game in which the Dutchmen couldn’t afford another first half funk, but it happened: It was 13-13 shortly after the under-12 timeout, which is the type of pace the Dutchmen needed to play to win, but Iona went on a 15-2 run in the blink of an eye. Nothing they can do about it now, but expect Cassara and Co. to spend a lot of time figuring out how to avoid this type of slump next week against Drexel and George Mason.
3.) Mike Moore is a really, really good player when viewed from press row. He looks pretty good from the seats, too, but he has been by far the Dutchmen’s best player tonight, displaying both an outside shooting touch and a lightning-fast first step when he dashes into the lane for a layup. This one would be over without Moore’s contributions (a team-high 11 points, on 4-of-10 shooting, as well as a team-high five boards).
4.) Their Jenkins has scored as many points as our Jenkins (five). Obviously that can’t continue. Look for Charles Jenkins to take control, and fast, after a rough first half in which he took just four shots. The Dutchmen will need Jenkins and Moore to mimic their performance against Binghamton three weeks ago tonight to have a shot.
5.) The Dutchmen are in decent shape in terms of foul trouble: Only David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni have two fouls. The bigs have also contributed offensively: Imes has four points on 2-of-3 shooting and Greg Washington has six points on 3-of-5 shooting. But defense—from everyone—will determine whether or not the Dutchmen come back and head home with the win.
1.) The Dutchmen end their non-conference schedule by facing the best player they will see all year. Iona forward Mike Glover—a Seton Hall transfer who was pursued by Tim Welsh during his aborted stint as head coach—is an absolute beast who should lift Iona to the NCAA Tournament. Glover ranks in the top 20 nationally in both points (21.7) and rebounds (10.4). He’s the type of guy for whom it is almost acceptable to say “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” Almost. Because that’s a terrible cliché. Anyway, the best way to beat Iona might be to let Glover go nuts and try to shut everyone else down. Expect the Dutchmen to throw all their big men at Glover and for everyone to get in on the action as Mo Cassara tries to ration the 25 fouls he has at his disposal with Greg Washington, David Imes, Stephen Nwaukoni, Paul Bilbo and Roland Brown.
2.) Of course, saying the Dutchmen should shut everyone else down is far easier said than done. Iona is the best team the Dutchmen have faced since North Carolina. The Gaels have four players who are averaging at least 10 points per game and their point guard, Scott Machado, leads the nation in assists (8.1 per game). Iona averages 79.9 points per game and has scored lower than 70 just once. The Dutchmen, of course, have held nine of 11 opponents below 63 points, so something’s got to give. One place that might determine the game: The perimeter. Iona shoots just 34.4 percent from 3-point land, and limiting the damage the Gaels do beyond the arc will go a long way towards improving the Dutchmen’s chances.
3.) In Guards We Trust. Iona is giving up an average of 74.1 points per game. Washington and Imes are probably going to have a tough time getting going against Glover, so this is going to be a night in which the Dutchmen need Mike Moore, Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon to continue complementing Charles Jenkins’ outside shooting.
4.) Exams are over but the tests are just beginning. The Dutchmen have had a mostly unimposing schedule since returning from Puerto Rico, which is fine given all the new pieces that needed time to gel. The Dutchmen have won a lot (7-1 since Puerto Rico), gained some confidence and defined their rotation. But now we find out just how good the Dutchmen are and how good they can be as they prepare for a monstrous seven-day stretch in which they will face Iona as well as surprising Drexel and perennial power George Mason in their first two real CAA games. The Dutchmen don’t have to win tonight, but a good showing on the road against a big-time foe is necessary.
5.) Mo Cassara won’t lack for motivational material tonight. We’re not much for gambling here at DD (except for fantasy football whoo whoo!), but a little birdie tells us the Dutchmen are 10 ½ point underdogs at Iona. That seems more than a bit high, even if Iona is outscoring the Dutchmen by an average of 10.7 points per game. Expect Cassara to have the Dutchmen lathered up into an us against the world frenzy by 7:30.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In which I rely on finely-aged 29-year-old Christmas cheese to express my gratitude and wish a Merry Christmas to the DD readership
So much early '80s awesomeness here. Google absolutely everything, DC!!!!
This blog has exceeded my expectations almost from the moment I began writing it in August 2008. I was shocked when one of the people to stumble across it in those early weeks was the person who inspired it, your good friend and mine Mike Litos.
I never thought I’d do anything more than wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days and deliver armchair observations of the current Dutchmen from my longtime seats, mostly because I figured a ranting and raving lunatic who spends all his time ignoring Hofstra’s real nickname would never be welcome to do anything else. Yet despite all my foibles, the powers that be at Hofstra grant me season credentials and access, for which I am eternally grateful, and act as if they like the sight of me, for which I think they should win an Academy Award.
I never thought there would be a way to broaden my audience via something called a Twitter, but there is, even if I spend half my time opining about non-Hofstra stuff like baseball and football and Scrubs and generally displaying a foul mouth. I never thought I’d find a bunch of like-minded people who think the best way to procrastinate is by discussing the CAA and coming up with Airplane! lines and John Waite songs that are relevant to the league, but what do you know, there are.
But I have never been as floored by the scope of the blog as I have been over the last two weeks, when friends met and unmet alike gave me a boost during what threatened to become the worst experience of my life.
When I got news 16 days ago that my Dad was being hospitalized in Connecticut after two days of rapidly declining health, I wrote those fellow procrastinators, because I had to share the news with someone after texting my wife and I didn’t know where else to turn. Within minutes, I received a phone call from Mo Cassara, who is an even better person than he is a coach. Cassara was in Binghamton getting ready for that night’s game. I asked what was up and he said he wanted to offer his best thoughts about my Dad.
“How did you know about that?” I asked.
“I’ve got my sources,” he said.
When my brother-in-law called me in the afternoon to tell me that my Dad’s brain scan revealed masses, I barely had the strength to do anything other than inform the fellow procrastinators, all of whom offered kindly thoughts and prayers. The next morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I woke up to a similarly themed text from Jack Hayes.
We got some great news two weeks ago yesterday, when further tests revealed that there were abscesses, not tumors, on my Dad’s brain and that he had meningitis. How often is THAT good news?
Over the next couple days, I received numerous supportive messages via a variety of mediums. And the first three people I saw at the Florida Atlantic game Dec. 11—director of ticket sales Mike Neely, Loyal Reader Jojogunne and Bitter Blogging Rival Gary Moore—all asked how my Dad was doing.
People have continued to express support and good wishes for my Dad, who is still in the hospital and will be there at least through the weekend. Never has spending Christmas afternoon at Hartford Hospital sounded so good. I went to the Flying Dutchwomen’s game against Hartford Wednesday, and afterward, coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey and point guard Nicole Capurso—whom I’d met a combined total of twice before this week—asked me how my Dad was doing.
I have long used my journalistic training as an excuse for my cynical nature and have allowed some tough personal and professional breaks over the last three years to further feed my pessimistic outlook on life, but the last couple weeks have been a much-needed reminder of the kindness that lies within the vast majority of the population.
I can’t tell you how much it means to me, or how inspiring it is, that people who know me solely through a byline or an online persona or a shared interest in Hofstra and/or mid-major basketball would take time out of their day to think good thoughts about my Dad, whom they don’t know at all. As Litos always says: We have it better. There is a community here that I could never come close to approximating covering Super Duper Big Baseball Team, as well as a basic human decency to those that I write about that the aforementioned SDBBT so often lacks.
I have long viewed the event that inspired me to start Defiantly Dutch—losing my job via email Feb. 27, 2008—as the first domino to fall in a sequence of events that forever changed my outlook on life. And that remains irrevocably true. But I had no idea 1,031 days ago that, in ways I couldn’t yet comprehend, losing my job would be one of the best things that could ever happen to me, as well. Thank you all for reminding me how much I have to be grateful this Christmas, and may this be a season in which all your holiday wishes come true. Including, of course, all those about the NCAA Tournament.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Hofstra 71, Holy Cross 56 (Or: On the 3rd day before Xmas our Flying Dutchmen gave to us: 3 double-digit scorers, 2 big runs & a win over Holy Cross)
This would have been much better last year, when Our Man Corny could have been Alvin and Tom Pecora could have been David Seville. "OK everybody let's try it again. Corny...Corny...CORNY!!!" "OK!!!"
Mo Cassara is going upstate to spend the holiday with his family. But the Flying Dutchmen didn’t need to know that Wednesday afternoon.
“Coach challenged us today,” Charles Jenkins said Wednesday night. “One of the things he told us: ‘If we don’t play hard, we’ve got to practice [today]. So I guess that kind of sparked us.”
“I told them I didn’t have anywhere to go,” Cassara said with a grin.
Cassara doesn’t have to worry about his bluff being called after the Dutchmen almost pulled off their second straight wire-to-wire win in beating Holy Cross, 71-56, in front of 2,436 people at Hofstra Arena who were smart enough to stay the hell away from the malls.
“Certainly pleased that we found a way to win today,” Cassara said. “These are always challenging games for coaches and for players to get through. A long week of exams, campus is empty, dining halls empty and everybody’s kind of ready to go home for some family time. It was a tough game but I thought we came out [and] we did some good things and found a way to win.”
Despite the lopsided final score, the victory—the Dutchmen’s first in their pre-Christmas finale of the Jenkins Era—wasn’t a thing of beauty. The Dutchmen won even though Jenkins had a quiet game by his standards—13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, his fewest points since Jan. 23 at Drexel and his fewest shots in a game in which he was not injured since he took just four shots against Charlotte Dec. 15, 2007. That was so long ago that Antoine Agudio, who took in the game Wednesday behind the Hofstra bench and received a nice ovation when he was introduced, was still playing for the Dutchmen.
It was only the 12th time Jenkins has taken less than 10 shots in 106 games at Hofstra and only the fourth time in the last three seasons. Ironically, in that it’s not ironic at all, Jenkins began his career by taking just seven shots against Holy Cross in Worcester Nov. 10, 2007.
Jenkins being Jenkins, he still managed to fill up the box score even on an uneventful night: He had six rebounds and two blocks as well as five assists and a steal in a team-high 36 minutes.
Still, both Jenkins and Cassara seemed something less than thrilled with the performance. “Just OK,” a grinning Cassara said of Jenkins’ line as Jenkins sat stoically next to him.
“We have to do a better job in some stretches of making sure we get Charles some looks, because, as you know, if we get him enough looks, he’s going to score enough points,” Cassara said. “And we didn’t do a great job of that tonight. Tonight’s the first night where I thought we didn’t get him some of the shots that he needed to get.”
Fortunately for the Dutchmen, they didn’t need vintage Jenkins to handle Holy Cross. The Dutchmen used a 16-0 run in the first half to turn their only deficit of the game into a 24-10 lead and a 21-7 second half run to expand a five-point lead—the Dutchmen’s smallest since the beginning of their first half run—to a game-high 19.
Both surges were keyed by players other than Jenkins. Shemiye McLendon began the first half run by hitting three straight 3-pointers—his only baskets of the game—in a span of 2:09. The second half run began when David Imes drained two free throws after he drew a foul putting back a Mike Moore miss and then took a pass under the baseline and muscled his way in for a layup.
Imes finished with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and added five rebounds despite playing just 22 minutes due to early foul trouble. He had just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting with 11 rebounds in his last three games.
“It was big for Dave’s confidence,” Cassara said. “He got to the free throw line, made a couple of free throws. We need to continue to develop him, but I thought he was battling in there [and] made a couple tough shots for us.”
Moore, who had a game-high 15 points in becoming the first player other than Jenkins to lead the Dutchmen in scoring since Our Man Corny did it against UNC Wilmington Feb. 13, finished what Imes started by draining three of his four second half 3-pointers over a five-minute span, the last of which gave the Dutchmen a 64-45 lead.
Moore has scored in double figures in eight of 11 games this year and four of his last five after back-to-back single digit performances against Wagner and Rider. He’s also 14-of-29 from 3-point land in his last four games after going just 8-of-28 beyond the arc in his first seven games.
“Everyday Charles texts me, Coach texts me—they just tell me to remain confident,” Moore said, “I had a little shooting slump at the beginning of the season, but it’s coming along now.
“I think I fell into my role the last couple games. Before, I was trying to pick my spots. I’m just going to play basketball and just try to assist. A lot of defenses are shading towards Charles, so I’m going to take advantage.”
McLendon and Moore weren’t the only ones to step up in place of Jenkins. Seven players scored at least six points, including Greg Washington, who had eight points—matching his season high against a Division I opponent—on 4-of-6 shooting despite fouling out after playing just 13 minutes. Dwan McMillan was just 2-of-6 from the field in scoring six points but had seven assists and only one turnover. Brad Kelleher had seven points, including his first 3-pointer at home, while Stephen Nwaukoni had a team-high seven rebounds in 20 minutes.
Defensively, the Dutchmen limited Holy Cross to 34.6 percent shooting and held an opponent to 63 points or less for the ninth time in 11 games. They allowed 63 points or less just 12 times in 34 games last year.
“Shemiye [in] the first half, we went through a little bit of a dead period there, he comes in, hits some big threes and really gave us a big lift,” Cassara said. “Mike hit a couple big threes for us in the second half. So we’re continuing to find guys that can make difficult shots for us. And I really thought David Imes and Greg Washington did a much job offensively tonight. They gave us a nice lift.”
The Dutchmen gave themselves a nice lift right into Christmas the last two games, during which they trailed for just 30 seconds in dispatching of Manhattan and Holy Cross. It’s tough to read too much into wins over a pair of teams that are a combined 3-18, but in their last three pre-Christmas games, the Dutchmen didn’t exactly fall to future NCAA foes in Rhode Island (21-12 in 2007-08), Iona (12-19 in 2008-09) and Davidson (16-15 in 2009-10). And Cassara and the Dutchmen have seen enough in the non-conference schedule to remain confident there is something here that will, at the very least, make the CAA season compelling.
“We’ve got some things that we’ve got to continue to work on,” Cassara said. “The thing I’m most pleased with is, again, we hold a team under 60 points. So our defense continues to keep us in games. If we continue to play that way, we’re going to have some success heading into the New Year.
“We’ve won, what, six of our last seven games? Really, other than about a five- or 10-minute stretch at the end of the first half of Florida Atlantic, I think we could have won all those games. I’m pleased that the guys continue to learn, I’m pleased that they continue to absorb stuff.”
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
1.) The Dutchmen are up double digits despite getting just five points from Charles Jenkins. That’s a very bad sign if you’re Holy Cross. Jenkins has been his usual involved self, though, setting up teammates and playing outstanding defense. He even swatted a shot two rows up into the stands behind the home basket and sent a group of kids scattering. This time next year, those kids will be telling their friends about how NBAer Charles Jenkins almost hit them with a ball.
2.) Shemiye McLendon put up quite a case for three-star honors by draining three straight 3-pointers to turn a 10-8 deficit into a 17-10 lead. The Dutchmen haven’t led by less than seven since then, though Holy Cross has hung around with a 12-10 run to end the half. It’ll be a positive sign for the Dutchmen if they can keep Holy Cross from lingering in the second half.
3.) Foul trouble for Greg Washington (two) and David Imes (three) has forced Mo Cassara to get creative. Stephen Nwaukoni continues to develop with a bunch of boards and a basket and even Paul Bilbo saw some time late in the half. Expect a lot of four-guard lineups in the second half.
4.) The Dutchmen are red-hot from the field, shooting 14-of-28 overall and 4-of-6 from 3-point land. Eight players have already gotten into the boxscore. If the Dutchmen stay anywhere near this hot, it’ll be a rout.
5.) The Hofstra Dance Team performed to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Epic win.
1.) Can this game be swapped with next Wednesday’s tilt against Iona? While the Flying Dutchmen can’t overlook Holy Cross (more on that in a moment), the Crusaders are 1-8 and an opponent the Dutchmen should beat. Iona, though, is an imposing matchup in the final non-conference game of the calendar year thanks to three-time defending MAAC player of the week Michael Glover dominating the inside. It’s always nice to go into the conference season with a stress-free victory. That said…
2.) …there’s advantages too to playing a winnable game just before Christmas. The Dutchmen have lost their last game before Christmas in each of the last three years and began the New Year in a funk every time. The 2007-08 team, which lost to Rhode Island on Dec. 22, went on to lose both games in the Holiday Festival before dropping four of its first five CAA games in January. The 2008-09 team lost to Iona on Dec. 23 in the midst of a 2-6 stretch. And last year’s team lost to Davidson in the Holiday Festival consolation game Dec. 21, beat Florida Atlantic eight days later and then lost six of its first seven January games against CAA foes. Those previous three teams all had flaws that probably would have cropped up even with a pre-Christmas win. But still, with such an inexperienced team beyond seniors Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington, it can’t hurt to win tonight.
3.) Don’t underestimate Holy Cross. Ahh, there it is. This is the second straight time the Dutchmen will face a reeling opponent, though Holy Cross is coming off its first win of the year. On paper, the Dutchmen are clear favorites: The Crusaders average just 63 points per game and are shooting a mere 29.9 percent from 3-point land, but we all know what happened two weeks ago tonight when Binghamton, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the country, put up 85 on the Dutchmen and would have won if it could have hit free throws at the end of regulation. It would be a good sign for the Dutchmen’s development if they could finally take control tonight from start to finish.
4.) Washington and David Imes need to be a bigger part of things on both ends of the floor. One thing Holy Cross does have in its favor is height: Two starters are 6-foot-8 or taller and 6-foot-9 Andrew Keister is averaging 11.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, so the Dutchmen will need Imes and Washington to be a presence tonight. Imes has hit the wall lately (3-of-11 from the field with 11 rebounds in his last three games), which is understandable for someone who is basically in his first full season of college basketball. But Washington is having another quiet December (4.5 points and six rebounds in four games). He has just 10 points in his last two games, during which he hasn’t recorded an offensive rebound. One or both players has to step up in order for the Dutchmen to thrive against the Crusaders.
5.) In Guards We Trust, the sequel? We were this close to using that as the headline for Monday’s Manhattan recap, but decided we needed to see the trio of Jenkins, Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher fill up the basket at least one more time. But the Manhattan win was very encouraging for those who have hoped Moore and/or Kelleher could give Jenkins the wingman he’s lacked the last three years, and a similar performance tonight would raise hopes for the CAA season. If Jenkins/Moore/Kelleher is a reasonable facsimile of Loren Stokes/Carlos Rivera/Antonie Agudio, then things get very interesting.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
1.) How will the Dutchmen respond after a week off for exams? The Dutchmen dropped a heartbreaker to Florida Atlantic a week ago today and slumped badly after exams the last two years. Mo Cassara wasn’t happy after the FAU loss and indicated this was the type of loss the Dutchmen needed in order to refocus them after a four-game winning streak that may not have been indicative of how good they already are. The week off was likely a good thing for Cassara, who got his most extended practice time with the Dutchmen since the preseason. We’ll find out tonight if the week off did the trick for the Dutchmen.
2.) Don’t underestimate Manhattan. The Jaspers are 2-8 after an eight-game losing streak, but the Dutchmen learned just how dangerous a desperate team can be 10 days ago in Binghamton, when it took every ounce of energy and five minutes of overtime to edge the Bearcats, 87-84. Like Binghamton, Manhattan struggles to score—the Jaspers have scored 60 points or less seven times—but the Dutchmen don’t need a reminder of how quickly that can change. The Dutchmen need to get off to a fast start and keep the pressure on instead of relenting late in the first half as they have done so often this season.
3.) What becomes of David Imes, Mike Moore and Greg Washington? Imes and Moore have occasionally looked like the Robin to Charles Jenkins’ Batman this season, but they were both invisible last Saturday. Any legitimate hopes of contending in the CAA rest on somebody—anybody—taking some pressure off Jenkins. It’ll be interesting to see if Moore rediscovered his shooting touch or if Imes and/or Washington can take advantage of a smallish Manhattan squad that features just one player taller than 6-foot-6 in its rotation.
4.) Will Yves Jules be rewarded for his stellar second half defensive play with a place in the first half rotation? It won’t be a punishment if Jules doesn’t see the floor until the second half—Cassara loves the energy he brings late in the game. But given the trouble the Dutchmen have had keeping teams at bay in the final 10 minutes of the first half, don’t be surprised at all if Jules sees heavy minutes tonight.
5.) Will the second time around be better for Brad Kelleher? Figures. The poor guy finally plays in a game after 10,000 days in NCAA gulag, then gets another seven off. Kelleher might be rusty again tonight, but the Dutchmen need to see what they have in him the rest of the month before the CAA season really kicks in. Expect him to see at least 20 minutes tonight.
5b.) How quickly will Charles Jenkins score his 2,000th career point? Very quickly. Before the first TV timeout. So I better stop typing and get in the car so I don’t miss it.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
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!)
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.”
Saturday, December 11, 2010
1.) The Dutchmen do not make things easy on themselves. They were in control for most of the first half before Florida Atlantic ended it on an 18-4 run to take a 39-30 lead. The Dutchmen just went south defensively, allowing both open 3s and easy putbacks. This is the third straight game and the fourth time in five games since Puerto Rico that the Dutchmen have been down at the half. They’ve won every time, but at some point the first half lulls will come back to haunt Hofstra.
2.) Charles Jenkins picked up where he left off Wednesday by scoring 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point land. One of the misses was a desperation heave as time expired. He needs 24 points to get to 2,000 for his career, who wants to wager he makes it in this half?
3.) David Imes and Greg Washington looked as if they were going to dominate in the early minutes but went quiet on offense and were victimized for easy buckets down low. The Dutchmen will need one or both of them to turn it back on to turn back the Owls.
4.) Brad Kelleher looked a little rusty and overexcited, understandably enough, but played most of the final nine minutes. He was in a lineup both with and without starting point guard Dwan McMillan, who has struggled in going scoreless from the field, committing two turnovers and getting whistled for two fouls.
5.) The Dutchmen will need another big effort from someone off the bench in order to win the game. Stephan Nwaukoni has two fouls, so keep an eye on Kelleher or Shemiye McLendon.
1.) Brad Kelleher is free! He probably won’t start, but expect him to get 15-20 minutes off the bench right away. And if you’re reading this on your Blackberry or what not—cheer like hell when he enters the game.
2.) Imagine if Charles Jenkins has a big first half. Jenkins scored 33 of his 40 points after halftime in Wednesday’s epic win over Binghamton, which continued a season-long trend of taking over on offense in the second half. One of these days he’ll be in control from the opening tip. Imagine how high the scoreboard will go when he does. Why not today?
3.) The defense will not rest today. Lost in the hubbub of the big win Wednesday was the fact Binghamton, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the nation, utterly shredded the Dutchmen defense from start to finish. Mo Cassara—pardon the pun—prides himself on stingy defense, and Wednesday marked the first time in six games the Dutchmen allowed more than 63 points. He surely stressed defense in practices Thursday and Friday.
4.) No wait, Brad Kelleher is not free. The NCAA just suspended him another four games for not allowing the guy to the right of him at the bowling alley to go first, way back in 2002.
4b.) Don’t sleep on Florida Atlantic. The Dutchmen are 5-0 all-time against the Owls, but Florida Atlantic has recorded back-to-back “Red Line Upsets” (thank you Mid-Majority) this year over Mississippi State and South Florida. The Owls allow just 68.2 points per game—0.7 points less than the Dutchmen—and average 10.1 turnovers per game, so this is a matchup of similar styles.
5.) Look for a big bounce back game from David Imes, who struggled badly from the opening tip against Binghamton. He’s too good to have two straight duds and he’ll play a big role against a Florida Atlantic team that doesn’t feature a starter taller than 6-foot-8.
5b.) No, really, Brad Kelleher is free. Finally.
Back when Ozzy was merely hard to understand and Zakk Wylde's hair was only a little long!
Back when Ozzy was merely hard to understand and Zakk Wylde's hair was only a little long!
I’m not saying I’m an obvious Hofstra homer, but if Dick Vitale ever stumbled across this website, he’d tell me to tone it down, baybee. But since Hofstra has been kind enough to grant me a credential to basketball games, I follow the same rules I lived by back during my pre-Defiantly Dutch days: No rooting in the press box, err, on press row, err, in my longtime seats.
Today, though, when Brad Kelleher finally makes his Division I debut after 20,305,210 days on the sideline (give or take 20 million) and about as many appeals to the buttheads that run the NCAA, I will break the rules, and I will put down my notebook and cell phone and whatever else I happen to be carrying, stand up and applaud. And I encourage you all to join me in giving Kelleher the type of ovation and making the type of noise the Arena has rarely if ever heard.
Even on a team filled with compelling stories, Kelleher’s is unique. After all, he’s waited hundreds of practices, 42 games and three head coaches for today’s opportunity. Stand up and cheer for him today.
Fortunately, though, my advice may not be necessary. Major credit to Hofstra for making Kelleher’s debut the focal point of the marketing for today’s game and to Kelleher himself for penning a Letter to the Editor that appeared in The Chronicle this week.
And major credit also goes to Hofstra—and that Tweeting/Facebooking machine Mo Cassara—for building a real buzz not just about today’s game but about the Flying Dutchmen in general. The Dutchmen have drawn an average of 3,229 fans to the first three home games. Last year’s first three scheduled home games (I’m discounting the Preseason NIT games though I shouldn’t) drew an average crowd of 2,626. Hopefully the gap between this year and last year keeps growing today.
A few other quick Bits and Bytes as we get ready for this afternoon:
—Bless modern technology. On the way to Connecticut Wednesday night, the much better half and I listened to the Flying Dutchmen’s epic 89-85 overtime win over Binghamton—on her cell phone. Talk about driving while distracted. It was incredible to listen to Charles Jenkins take over a game like few, if any players ever have at Hofstra in scoring 33 of his career-high 40 points after halftime, including the Dutchmen’s final 15 of regulation. I swear, it was like 1 on 5 out there.
Well, actually, it was 2 on 5. Mike Moore finally had the breakout game everyone has been waiting for, and it ended up being the most overshadowed 28-point effort of all-time. I haven’t had time to look this up, but I can’t imagine there have been many games like this in which two people accounted for so much of the boxscore:
Jenkins/Moore: 23-39 FG, 8-14 3-PT, 14-18 FTs, 68 pts, 8 assists, 3 TOs
Rest of team: 8-24 FG, 1-4 3-PT, 4-7 FTs, 21 pts, 2 assists, 9 TOs
Fun fact: Jenkins’ 40-point effort was the first by a Hofstra player since Speedy Claxton against Maine during the 1999-2000 season. The second-leading scorer that night was Norman Richardson, with a mere 19.
—The Binghamton game is one of those games where it felt as good to win as it would have felt bad to lose. Binghamton entered Wednesday as one of the lowest-scoring teams in Division I and in the midst of what is surely going to be a season-long punishment for selling its soul in exchange for an NCAA Tournament berth in 2009.
It was shaping up as a rare breather for the Dutchmen, a chance to get Jenkins some pine time in the final 10 minutes and for little-used bench players such as Paul Bilbo, Roland Brown and Matt Grogan to get some run. It, of course, turned into something a lot more suspenseful than that, but at least the Dutchmen won and kept building momentum. A loss would have been as demoralizing as the Western Kentucky defeat.
—And because we’re all about consistency here, the three stars from Wednesday night (no suspense here!):
—Jenkins’ brilliant effort earned him a feature story in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “New York’s Best College Player.” Duh.
—Lastly, while I congratulate Hofstra on closing a record sponsorship deal with W.B. Mason, I wish someone had thought twice—or at least consulted with me—before agreeing to let the office supplier sponsor the new lounge at court level. The official name will be the “W.B. Mason Pride Lounge.” Read that a couple times. That’s right. Our official lounge will feature the word “MASON” followed immediately by “PRIDE.” Why must I be mocked at every turn?
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
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!
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.”
Saturday, December 4, 2010
1.) The pace favors Hofstra but Towson is lights out from the field. The Tigers are also solving the zone, converting both down low and hitting from outside. The Dutchmen will have to figure out a way to cool off the Tigers in order to leave here with the victory.
2.) Greg Washington is having an inspired game (four rebounds, three blocks, two steals, two points) but picked up his third foul with 1:15 left. He’ll need to be a factor in the second half, though his absence has been lessened by the presence of Roland Brown, who has given the Dutchmen some solid minutes in his first action in 15 days.
3.) Mike Moore is 2-for-8 from the field but hasn’t taken a bad shot yet. Dwan McMillan is enjoying another excellent game at the point with four points, three steals and a rebound.
4.) Good sign: The Dutchmen are down five and Charles Jenkins only has seven points. Another big second half is likely in the offing.
5.) The Dutchmen have been summarized by these 20 minutes: Flashes of brilliance followed by hiccups. David Imes scored both his baskets on putbacks that were a matter of sheer will, but his untimely pass in the waning seconds led to Towson’s buzzer-beating basket. And as well as Washington and Imes have played down low, Towson has still gotten too many easy buckets down there. These final 20 minutes will be another learning experience as the Dutchmen try to come back at home in the second half.
1.) This is a matchup of lean teams. Hofstra has a well-defined eight-man rotation while Towson has only played eight men all year. Expect another battle of marathon men.
2.) This will also be another good test for a quickly emerging Dutchmen defense. Towson, which averages 76.2 points per game, is shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from 3-point land and has four players averaging in double digits, is even more robust offensively than Rider was entering Monday night’s tilt. Towson has also rung up a season-high on two opponents (Coppin State and Buffalo). But Hofstra has been outstanding defensively, limiting everyone but North Carolina to 63 points or less. Towson is more likely than not to exceed that total, but if this one plays in the low 70s, Hofstra wins.
3.) Towson power forward and reigning CAA rebounding and blocked shots champion Robert Nwankwo is out for the first semester due to academic issues, which robs fans of a tasty matchup with fellow All-Defensive player Greg Washington but gives the Dutchmen the obvious advantage down low. Towson has only one starter taller than 6-foot-7 and only one player taller than 6-foot-8. We always declare Washington has to have a big game, but look for David Imes to assert himself early and often.
4.) The CAA opener served as a coming-out party for Cornelius Vines (six 3-pointers) and Greg Washington (a double-double) in 2008 and Miklos Szabo (a career-high 22 points) last year. The guy to watch today: Mike Moore. The Fordham transfer is shooting just 33 percent overall and 27.3 percent from 3-point land, down markedly from his Fordham averages of 38.4 percent and 32.5 percent, respectively. The only game in which he came close to hitting 50 percent of his shots, both overall and from beyond the arc, was against Wagner, when Moore hit both 3-point attempts before heading to the bench with foul trouble. Moore, who ranks second on the Dutchmen with 6.0 rebounds per game, has been an asset even when quiet from the field, but he’s too good to stay quiet for too much longer.
5.) We haven’t done a whole lot of predicting here this year, and it’s always risky to look towards history in a college basketball matchup—especially when one of the teams is basically brand-new, a la Hofstra this year—but this is a game the Dutchmen should win by double digits, even if that big ol’ meanie Mike Litos picks Towson. The Tigers are an interesting team this year, and a 15-point second half comeback against Western Michigan in their last game opened some eyes, but we’ve yet to see them handle prosperity very well and Pat Kennedy, in the last year of his deal and working for a new athletic director, remains the CAA head coach most likely to get Benny Mossed this year. In addition, the track record of these two teams in the CAA opener—Hofstra won by a season-high 20 points in 2008 and racked up another 20-point win last year—suggests a big afternoon ahead for the Dutchmen. Hofstra will be in first place and Mo Cassara will be the winningest coach ever in CAA play by 7 pm!
Friday, December 3, 2010
Collector's items, one year later.
One year ago today, Hofstra announced that, after fielding a football team for 69 years and sending dozens of players to the pros, it was ending the program so that it could “…reinvest those resources into new academic programs and need-based scholarships.” We thought, on the anniversary of the decision, it would be appropriate to take a look some of those most affected: The players, the former players, the administration and even the teams Hofstra used to play and the conference it left behind.
An hour or so after James Madison makes national headlines Sept. 11 by shocking Virginia Tech, 21-16, Luke Bonus—a captain on the last Flying Dutchman football team—stands outside the entrance of Jack Coffey Field at Fordham University. Forty-nine weeks earlier, Bonus collected nine tackles in helping the Dutchmen beat seventh-ranked James Madison, 24-17, at Shuart Stadium. It was the most impressive win of the Dave Cohen Era and it infused coaches and players alike with a strut rarely seen since the days of Joe Gardi.
The only player to collect more tackles than Bonus that October afternoon was Chris Edmond, who had 11 stops. He’s now playing for Rhode Island, along with Steve Probst, who shared time at quarterback in the upset over James Madison. There are three other former Dutchmen suiting up for Fordham (Carlton Koonce and Nick Talbert) or Rhode Island (Billy Morgan) and Bonus is there, along with a handful of other ex-teammates who graduated last year, to watch and support their younger ex-teammates.
He is, not surprisingly, well aware of James Madison’s upset win, and smirks at the incongruity of it all. How could a team good enough to beat James Madison—a team that is good enough to beat Virginia Tech—no longer exist? His contempt for the decision is apparent, but so, too, is his passion for the school: He and his friends are all wearing Hofstra apparel.
Is it defiance? A measure of solidarity with the players and coaches whose lives were turned upside down Dec. 3, 2009? Or an implied acknowledgment of just how complicated this all is, how hard it is to blame and loathe an entire school for actions executed by a select few?
Bonus, apparently, is not the only one wrestling with such questions. A few hours later, Probst and Edmond walk into the interview room at Fordham along with their new coach, Joe Trainor. Probst is wearing a gray Hofstra Athletics T-shirt.
The famously competitive Probst is not in much of a mood to talk, not after his fourth down pass into the end zone was broken up with one second left as Fordham escaped with a 27-25 win, but he fields a handful of questions about his transfer to Rhode Island and being back in the Long Island area.
“Offensively, coach [Chris] Pincince, he knew our offensive coordinator at Hofstra and it’s the exact same offense,” Probst said. “Coach Trainor has made the transition really easy for me and Chris.”
Probst said he saw Bonus and his ex-teammates during as he and his new teammates walked into the stadium from their locker room. “It was good,” he said. “I miss all those guys. It was really good. Anybody who plays this sport knows a team is like a second family, which is awesome.”
Probst’s patience is finally exhausted when he’s asked if, upon learning of James Madison’s win earlier in the day, he thought of Hofstra’s upset of the Dukes. “Doesn’t matter—it’s in the past, the whole Hofstra thing is in the past, and quite frankly, I’m really tired of hearing about it,” Probst said. “I’m at Rhode Island to play for Rhode Island. Yeah, I love the Hofstra guys, I love the coaches, I loved everything about Hofstra, my first school, but quite frankly, it’s over. I play for Rhode Island.”
Fordham, armed with a rich alumni base, more than a century of tradition and an aggressive administration looking to upgrade a I-AA program when so many are looking at a downgrade, was already well-positioned to survive the latest upheaval within the I-AA ranks. The parking lot across from Coffey Field was filled with tailgaters Sept. 11, and in one row of cars, the license plates read, in order from left to right: Michigan-Texas-Connecticut-Massachusetts-New Jersey-New Hampshire.
And Hofstra’s decision further benefited Fordham, both on the field and at the gate. But there was no celebration last Dec. 3 in the office of Fordham head coach Tom Masella, who, more than just about anybody else, understood the range of emotions the likes of Probst, Edmond and the rest of the former Dutchmen were experiencing.
Masella was nearing the end of his second season as the head coach at Boston University in 1997 when president John Silber announced the program would cease to exist at the conclusion of the schedule. While Silber’s contempt for football was well-known—and it is interesting to note that Stuart Rabinowitz listed Boston U. among the schools he wanted Hofstra to stand alongside during his interview with Mike Francesa last Dec. 3—the timing of the decision was shocking because Boston U. was just three years removed from the second of back-to-back appearances in the I-AA playoffs and four years removed from an unbeaten regular season.
“It’s a devastating day, for a lot of reasons,” Masella said. “In my case, I thought I was going to be at BU for a long, long time. And when you feel the rug’s been pulled out from underneath you, it hurts. It hurts personally, but it hurts because you recruited some kids under the assumption that they were going to be playing football and getting a great education. So it’s a painful thing.
“I-AA football is something that has to be supported by the alumni and it has to be supported by the administration. And fortunately here at Fordham, both do. And that’s a good thing.”
Masella recognized that trying to woo players who figured their recruitment days were complete the moment they committed to Hofstra was a delicate procedure. “I was very sensitive to it, because I had been through it,” Masella said. “I think you have to give players space. It’s hard to recruit. You’re selling them on your program and they’re still hung up on where they are and saying ‘Well, I already made this decision once.’ So you understand what kids go through.
“We ended up getting two Hofstra guys, and it took a long time, and I don’t know if they are comfortable being a part of it. Hopefully, one day they will and will say ‘You know what? It worked out for us.’”
Two weeks later, on an warm night in Stony Brook, former Hofstra wide receiver Anthony Nelson is walking out of the visitors locker room after catching six passes for a team-high 97 yards in helping his new school, UMass, to a hard-earned 26-21 win over the upstart Seawolves, whose roster features former Hofstra backfield mates Brock Jackolski and Miguel Maysonet.
Opposing former teammates—Nelson, Jackolski and Maysonet all embraced at midfield after the game—and donning the uniform of the team Hofstra beat in its last football game was a bit weird for Nelson, but he’s gotten over the uncertainty and the anger he felt following the demise of football at Hofstra. Well, most of it, anyway.
“At first I was extremely bitter, just because of, I guess, the way the message was delivered to us,” Nelson said. “I wish they could have gone about it in a different way. I wish they could have been a little bit more honest with us. I still don’t think to this day that they are 100 percent honest.
“If you look at the Division I level schools, there are 119, and I think only about 17 turn a profit. So everyone’s taking a loss. And [Hofstra] want[s] to say it’s for a financial issue. I wish the head guy over there would have just said ‘Hey, look, we just don’t want football.’”
Also wishing he could have an audience with Rabinowitz is Vin Pisano.
For every Wayne Chrebet or Marques Colston there are hundreds of Vin Pisanos—very good players who toiled in anonymity at Hofstra and whose post-career aspirations never included professional football, but whose experiences at Hofstra were just as shaped and defined by their days on the gridiron as their more famous ex-teammates.
Few people had a better vantage point of the surrealistic climb of Hofstra football in the early 1990s than Pisano, a two-year starter at defensive tackle whose 1994 media guide biography identified him as the strongest player on the Flying Dutchmen roster.
“I learned what it means to be committed to something, to put your heart and soul into something and to literally, when I was there, build something from the ground floor up,” Pisano said at halftime of the Stony Brook-UMass game.
He was a freshman backup in 1990, when the Dutchmen opened their final season of Division III play with 12 straight wins before falling in the national semifinals. He was a redshirt sophomore on that long flight home from Montana after the Dutchmen ended their second season at Division I-AA with a 50-6 loss to the most powerful program in the land. And Pisano played in his final game Nov. 12, 1994, when Chrebet caught five touchdown passes from Carlos Garay as the Dutchmen—who finished the season ranked 22nd in the country—saw their unlikely pursuit of a I-AA playoff berth ended with a 41-41 tie in a game that ranks as one of the greatest Hofstra has ever played in any sport.
“My work ethic, everything I put into practice as a professional today, I learned through football,” Pisano said. “I learned the discipline. I learned the hard work. I got a great education from Hofstra—I’ve always said that, always been happy about the education that I got—but I can honestly tell you the things I learned on the football field and from the guys around me and from the coaches, that’s the stuff that has really carried me through my life and really made me who I am today.”
After graduation, Pisano got his master’s at the University of San Diego (another Division I-AA school) before returning to the Island and becoming the director of guidance in the Harborfields School District. He also turned into perhaps the most publicly passionate of the Hofstra football alumni: Pisano bought season tickets at Hofstra, embarked upon numerous road trips per season and posted about the team and the program on message boards devoted to Hofstra, the CAA and Division I-AA football.
Like many football alumni and fans, Pisano had an uneasy feeling about the future of the program over the final few seasons, when publicity for the program seemed to be at an all-time low and Rabinowitz’ passion for football, or lack thereof, became ever more apparent. But he was still shocked to get the call a year ago today from his former position coach, Bryant defensive coordinator Greg Gigantino, who learned the news just minutes after he left Harborfields following a recruiting visit.
“I literally—my heart sunk down to the bottom of my chest,” Pisano said.
Pisano stopped writing checks to Hofstra and made no secret of his disgust on the message boards. He switched allegiances to Stony Brook and purchased season tickets at LaValle Stadium, where he sits in the second deck at midfield—a perfect vantage point for a former player.
“It’s just a lot of fun to come out and look at the strategy—you watch things a little bit differently than the casual fan,” Pisano said. “You see some of the smaller things: The line play, the guy that holds up the blocks rather than the guy making the tackles. It’s exciting. It’s a great level of football. You see a lot of great talent. It’s just fun to come out and see the pads popping and kind of wish you were back out there.”
That annual melancholy was compounded this fall, when Pisano tried but couldn’t generate the same passion for Stony Brook, where he has done some post-graduate work, as he had for Hofstra.
“It’s different—I mean, it’s nice, it gives me my football fill, I get to see some of the Hofstra guys that were kind of left orphaned after Hofstra killed their program,” Pisano said. “I’ve gotten a professional degree from here, so it’s kind of interesting to root as kind of an alumni. But it’s not the same. I didn’t put the same heart and passion into wearing Stony Brook colors, like I did when I suited up every Saturday wearing the Hofstra blue and gold.”
CAA commissioner Tom Yeager is sitting in an airport Thursday afternoon, in a weird sort of purgatory that only a commissioner could really understand. He is on his way to the Villanova-Stephen F. Austin playoff game in Texas, one of four games featuring CAA schools, yet he is discussing the imminent departure of at least one CAA member and the possibility that the best I-AA conference in the land is headed for more tumult.
Rhode Island, which is a member of the CAA only in football, announced Nov. 22 it would leave the CAA in 2013 for the Northeast Conference, where the maximum amount of scholarships is 40. Fellow northern-based and football-only members UMass and Villanova, meanwhile, are pondering moves to Division I-A and the Mid-American Conference and the Big East, respectively.
The possibility of losing multiple members, while not one Yeager enjoys, is less traumatic now than a year ago, when there was an element of shock to the decisions at Northeastern and, particularly, Hofstra. In addition, the fledgling programs at Old Dominion and Georgia State will begin CAA play in the next two years.
“We have been through it before last year,” Yeager said. “You have a little more experience in what you need to do and to kind of sit down and sort that stuff out.”
But Yeager also knows the dominoes have not finished falling. Should UMass and Villanova follow Rhode Island out the door, the only CAA football schools north of Delaware would be New Hampshire and Maine. Given the rapid demise of I-AA football in the northeast—Northeastern and Hofstra were the ninth and 10th schools in the region to drop I-AA programs this century—it is not too early to wonder about the long-term survival of the sport in the area and, conceivably, the sport in the CAA as well. Might the best I-AA football league in the land soon be fighting for its survival, much like the entire conference was before it lured Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel and Towson from the America East in 2001?
“It’s the biggest challenge this week,” Yeager said with a chuckle, referring to the football issues. “I think any commissioner would tell you that membership issues are always difficult. The things that are going on nationally around conference membership keeps all of us on our toes and up at night, scribbling scenarios one, two, three four and five kind of things.
“But that’s an occupational hazard that’s become part of the commissioner’s job responsibilities in the last decade and probably will continue to be for a while. I don’t think it’s over.”
As the athletic director at Hofstra, Jack Hayes has absorbed his share of criticism over the past year. He understands it is part of the job as the most visible symbol of Hofstra athletics and takes little of it personally.
He doesn’t argue that last year wasn’t a great year for Hofstra athletics and that the departure of Tom Pecora, the second-winningest coach in program history, for 2-26 Fordham—which, in what may or may not be a wild coincidence, fired Dereck Whittenberg mere hours after Hofstra dropped football—followed by the Tim Welsh debacle and the dual departures of Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams further fueled the frustrations of a fan base already reeling from the football decision.
However, the one thing with which he takes umbrage is the idea the demise of football at Hofstra marked the beginning of the end of athletics at the school. “I can understand the frustration,” Hayes said yesterday. “But to then assume or make statements that it’s going to lead to other things—first of all, it’s very unfair to the coaches and the student-athletes of those 17 sports. But beyond that, it’s totally inaccurate.”
On and off the field, Hayes believes the athletic department is positioned for success. The men’s and women’s basketball teams each advanced to postseason tournaments last year and are picked to finish in the top half of the CAA this year. The administration is thrilled with enthusiastic new coach Mo Cassara, who has inked what appears to be a promising freshman class for next year.
The men’s lacrosse team earned an at-large bid to the CAA Tournament and the women’s lacrosse team lost in the CAA finals. This fall, the women’s soccer team won a school-record 18 straight games, earned the first national ranking in school history and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where it beat UConn in the first round. And the men’s soccer team, which was 11th in the CAA shortly after the midway point of the season, reached the conference finals.
In October, Hofstra entered a corporate partnership—the largest of its kind in school history—with Capital One Bank and Hayes said another lucrative agreement is in the works. Renovations continue taking place at Hofstra Arena, where the Basketball Traditions Project was just unveiled this week, and the locker rooms and workout facilities around campus—including inside the former football home at Margiotta Hall—have been upgraded.
The Pride Club did take a hit when football donors pulled their support, but Hayes said that since that money went to a program that no longer exists, the bottom line is not affected.
“Certainly, we anticipated that those who had contributed to football and supported football would no longer be engaged in our athletic program,” Hayes said. “We anticipated that. But the support for the remaining 17 sports has been outstanding and contributions for capital projects continue to come in at high levels.”
Still, there has been an undeniable effort by Hofstra to try and soften the anger created by the football decision. New Pride Club president E. David Woycik’s slogan for the next two years is “THE PAST IS THEN AND THE FUTURE IS NOW.”
“All we could ever say to those individuals is that we understand their disappointment but we hope that they will support Hofstra,” Hayes said. “And if that takes time, then hopefully during that time they will continue to see winning programs, they will continue to see men and women graduate from Hofstra who participated in athletics that are outstanding representatives of this university. Hopefully those will be the types of things that bring people back in the long-term.”
There also appears to be an image makeover underway for Rabinowitz, whose lack of attendance at Hofstra sporting events is noted by fans of all teams. The men’s basketball media guide features a photo of Rabinowitz with Cassara in the Arena. The photo of Pecora and Rabinowitz in last year’s media guide was the same one that appeared in the 2001 edition—the first year at the school for both men.
In addition, the news release announcing the naming of Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester as team captains was accompanied by a photo of the three seniors, Cassara and Rabinowitz in which Rabinowitz was holding a basketball.
“Stuart Rabinowitz loves sports,” Cassara said during his appearance on WFAN yesterday. “He’s checking on every sport and every score.”
But there is also a sense, inside and outside the school, that there won’t be any football scores to check on as long as Rabinowitz is in office. After a flurry of activity last December and January, the Save Hofstra Football project has been dormant. Said one prominent former football player yesterday: “I have heard nothing behind the scenes. Sorry, I wish I had better news.”
“I think a lot of us feel like nothing’s going to happen until Rabinowitz is gone,” Pisano said.
For now, fans and alumni are left to ponder what was, and think about what could have been at a time of year that was once synonymous with playoff football. The I-AA playoffs this year feature four teams that either did not play football or were not in a lower division when Hofstra made the playoffs for the first time in 1995.
While UMass, the last team Hofstra beat, might be moving to Division I-A, UConn, whom Hofstra beat 56-17 in front of the biggest crowd in Shuart Stadium history Sept. 4, 1999, will clinch the Big East and a BCS berth with a win Saturday over South Florida, whom Hofstra beat by the combined score of 92-53 in a pair of games in 1998 and 1999.
With Hofstra’s facilities remaining intact, it is also worth wondering: If Hofstra was still playing football, and given the issues the other northern-based CAA football schools are experiencing, might there have been an opportunity for Hofstra to align itself with Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine in trying to find a better, less costly alternative to the CAA?
“That’s an interesting question,” Hayes said. “I don’t know if that would have been any different if this was a decision that we were being faced with in December of 2010 as opposed to December of 2009. If some of these other steps or recommendations that schools have recently made had taken place during our decision making process, I don’t know if it really would have had an impact.”
Shortly thereafter, the question is posed to Hayes: Is there any chance Hofstra will reconsider the decision in the next few years? Throughout a half-hour interview, Hayes has been talkative and expansive. But his answer here—while not delivered with any sort of curtness—is notable in its brevity.
“I do not see that decision changing in the near future.”