Saturday, January 29, 2011

Five pre-game thoughts: Drexel

Today will be Dreamtime for the Flying Dutchmen! (Best Hall and Oates song Hall and Oates never performed. Because it was Daryl Hall's lone solo hit!)

1.) Another game, another afternoon or evening to fret whether or not the Flying Dutchmen will have enough juice to outlast a CAA foe after a rough stretch of travel. The Dutchmen weren’t affected by the wild blizzard-like conditions that turned all of Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia into the world’s biggest parking lot Wednesday, but it did take them 10 hours to get to Richmond and then they spent a bunch of time on the tarmac waiting to fly home Thursday night before getting up early to distribute tickets at the Student Center. Mike Litos wondered, only half-jokingly, if Drexel got to Long Island before the Dutchmen. Probably not, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Fortunately for the Dutchmen, whatever advantage Drexel has is probably a small one: The Dragons only go seven-deep.

2.) We’re all playing games assuming that Charles Jenkins will get the 16 points he needs to break Antoine Agudio’s career record, but as Jeremy Kniffin notes in his preview article, Drexel has done a good job of containing Jenkins in the past: Jenkins scored fewer than 16 points in four of his first five career games against Drexel. Lately, though, he has been The Wolf: Thirty-two points at Hofstra last year during the Blizzard Game and 22 at Drexel the last time the two teams played Jan. 3. If I was a betting man, I’d play The Charles Jenkins Record Game! That said, it will be interesting to see the effect VCU’s performance against Jenkins (he was held to five points on 2-of-5 shooting by Ed Nixon Thursday) has on the approach other teams take against him.

3.) Greg Washington (40 points and 26 rebounds in his last three games) is almost unrecognizable from the player who had just six points and no rebounds in 10 minutes against Drexel earlier this month. But David Imes, who had his breakout game against Drexel (20 points on 8-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds) has had three quiet games in a row (10 points and 12 rebounds combined) and the Dutchmen will need Imes and Washington to have big games against a Drexel team that lives on the boards and has outrebounded the opposition by almost 10 per game.

4.) Both teams are coming into today off a loss, but Drexel is the more desperate team. The Dragons (5-5 CAA) will be all but eliminated in the race for a bye with a loss today. They’ve already lost once to Hofstra and are 2-4 against the teams ahead of them in the standings. Drexel, with plenty of New York natives on its roster, would surely love nothing more than to ruin Jenkins’ coronation and put the Dutchmen into a precarious position.

5.) But I can’t see it happening, Jenkins and his teammates have waited their entire careers (OK, fine, in some cases that’s just 21 games) to play in an environment like this at home. How can the Dutchmen lose in front of a sellout crowd on an afternoon in which Number 22 T-shirts are given out to students, Jenkins breaks the school record for points and Speedy Claxton is among the Hall of Famers honored at halftime? Yeah I know, that’s not very scientific, but the Arena will be busting at the seams today and the Dutchmen will ride the momentum of a historic afternoon to a pivotal win. I’m so confident about it, I’d play the Dutchmen in a CAA survivor pool today, if only there was such a thing!

5b.) Play the Charles Jenkins Record Game! Make your guesses in the comment section, by emailing me or yelling it to me on Twitter.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Play the Charles Jenkins Record Game!

No whammies, 16 points....STOP!!!

Hey did you hear? Charles Jenkins is probably going to become Hofstra’s all-time leading scorer today! This is big stuff, and I’m looking forward to a sellout crowd at the Arena. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to see history like this, or every decade, or every half-century.

Antoine Agudio broke Steve Nisenson’s 43-year-old record at Delaware Feb. 27, 2008. And while I don’t know if Nisenson broke Bill Thieben’s record at home in 1964-65—I’m old but not THAT old—the point is if you can get out to Hempstead today, you should, because this is a rare opportunity.

In addition, now you can have extra fun watching Jenkins pursue his ex-teammate by trying to figure out exactly when and how he’ll break the record! Jenkins, of course, needs 16 points to surpass Agudio, so I dove into this season’s play-by-plays to see exactly when he scored his 16th point in each of this season’s 21 games and then figured out the average time of his 16th point.

Jenkins actually only scored 16 points 19 times: He scored 15 against Nebraska Nov. 21 and 13 against Holy Cross Dec. 22. For those games, I have “credited” him with needing 40 minutes to get to 16 points.

There’s a chance my math is off, because I did this in the middle of the night and because algebraic-esque problems like this were never my strong suit, but if I’m right, then Jenkins scores his 16th point, on average, just shy of 11 minutes into the second half. He has scored 16 points in the first half just once—against North Carolina (20 points) in the second game of the year, so if you’re a late arrival today, you’ll probably be OK. But don’t be late.

Here, for the fun of it, is the list of when Jenkins scored his 16th point in each game this season. All time listed is the time remaining in the second half, except, obviously for the North Carolina game.

Vs. Farmingdale State: 10:47
Vs. North Carolina: 7:37 1st
Vs. Western Kentucky: 8:16
Vs. Nebraska: finished with 15
Vs. Wagner: 4:44
Vs. Rider: :52
Vs. Towson: 13:11
Vs. Binghamton: 13:21
Vs. Florida Atlantic: 18:15
Vs. Manhattan: 6:07
Vs. Holy Cross: finished with 13
Vs. Iona: 11:12
Vs. Drexel: 4:29
Vs. George Mason: 14:36
Vs. Northeastern: 3:57
Vs. Towson: 3:43
Vs. Old Dominion: 8:54
Vs. UNC Wilmington: 4:32
Vs. William & Mary: 7:29
Vs. James Madison: 12:59
Vs. VCU: 11:32

Also for the fun of it: Jenkins has scored his 16th point on a two-pointer 11 times, on a 3-pointer four times and on a free throw four times (one of which was capping a 3-point play, and if he gets the record that way today, it counts as a free throw) So your task is to guess which minute in the game he’ll break the record (i.e. if you think he’ll get it just shy of 11 minutes into the second half, guess the 31st minute) and how he’ll break it. You can record your guess in the comments section below, email it to me or shout it to me via Twitter. The person or people closest to the actual time of the record-breaking point will receive as a reward—well, probably nothing. But you’ll be a cult hero!

As for me (and I’m not eligible to not win a prize), I’m going to say Jenkins rides the momentum and the energy of the Arena today and scores the record-breaking point on a two-point basket in the final minute of the first half (i.e. the 20th minute).

Meanwhile, as we wait for tipoff, check out this little nugget I found in the archives—the first time I pondered aloud the idea of Jenkins breaking Agudio’s record, way back in November 2008, when Jenkins was just beginning his sophomore season. I can’t take the credit for floating the possibility, all-world Hofstra SID Jeremy Kniffin mentioned it in the game notes, but it’s pretty wild to think about just how long we’ve assumed this was inevitable, and to have the chance to finally see that bit of history today.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, January 28, 2011

VCU 82, Hofstra 67 (Or: Ram tough)

I will be EXTREMELY impressed if anyone out there remembers this guy. Other than NUHF, that is!

Yeah the dreaded five post-game thoughts are back. Because if I don’t do this now, we’ll be at least two or three games into the future (“The future, Conan?”) before I come back to this one. So enjoy!

1.) For a really good first-hand take on the game, check out the report from your good friend and mine, Mike Litos, whose southern bias (i.e. he gets his mail in Virginia) allowed him to go to last night’s tilt.

1b.) Unlike Monday night, when the Flying Dutchmen trailed by between three and 11 points in the nine minutes leading up to their dramatic comeback against James Madison, it never felt as if the Dutchmen were really in this one after VCU ended the first half on a 15-5 run to take a 48-33 lead. The Dutchmen never got closer than 13 in the second half and they had one “run” of more than five points (a 7-0 surge after the Rams took their biggest lead of the game at 77-55). VCU was just too deep and too clutch for the Dutchmen. The Rams mounted their half-ending run with Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen on the bench with two fouls and won going away even though Rodriguez had just three points one game after he poured in 28. That’s deep. And the game was properly summed up on VCU’s first shot of the second half, when Ed Nixon drained a 3-pointer as he was falling out of bounds with the shot clock expiring. It sure seemed as if the Rams shot better than 44 percent overall and 41 percent from beyond the arc.

2.) That said, there was encouragement to be found in this loss and the respectable margin of defeat. VCU has won 21 in a row at the Siegel Center, so there’s no shame in losing to the Rams there. There were a few times in the second half when the game threatened to get Iona-level ugly, but it never happened. And the Dutchmen lost by just 15 on a night in which Mike Moore (who scored seven points as his streak of games with double-digit points ended at 11) and David Imes (two points and two rebounds) were almost invisible and in which Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon combined to shoot 1-of-8 from 3-point land. In addition, the Dutchmen have responded well to tough and/or lopsided losses this year—most notably the defeats at the hands of Western Kentucky and Iona—and rest assured Mo Cassara will come up with ways to combat the Rams if there’s a rematch to be had in the CAA Tournament. By then, hopefully Dwan McMillan will be back to provide more depth, particularly on defense.

3.) Of course, with Moore and Imes silenced and Greg Washington relegated to the bench most of the second half due to foul trouble, the Dutchmen’s need for two complementary scorers to Charles Jenkins was magnified. Jenkins had his usual big boxscore (20 points on 8-of-17 shooting with five assists, four rebounds and one steal) but Nixon draped him in the second half, when Jenkins was limited to five points on 2-of-5 shooting. Washington was outstanding when he was in the game (15 points on 7-of-11 shooting with six rebounds) but the rest of the Dutchmen had just 32 points on 11-of-29 shooting. Moore had just seven shots, and ignore the stat in the next sentence, because the Dutchmen can’t win when he doesn’t get plenty of looks. The loss dropped the Dutchmen to 5-1 in games in which Moore takes less than 10 shots (wins over Farmingdale State, Wagner, Rider, George Mason and Northeastern).

4.) It was probably as much out of necessity on Cassara’s part as a desire to reward Yves Jules for his game-saving steal in the waning seconds of regulation Monday, but Jules was impressive in taking advantage of his most playing time in more than three weeks. Jules scored six points—the first time this season he’s scored more than one basket against a Division I opponent—while playing his usual strong defense in 13 minutes, his most since he played 14 against George Mason Jan. 5.

5.) McLendon really continues to impress. He got off to a slow start and seemed a bit flustered in the first half, but he adjusted to the faster pace and atmosphere and quietly had a solid game (eight points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) even though he was just 1-of-3 from 3-point land. He also played 26 minutes, the fifth straight game in which he’s played at least 25 minutes and the 10th time in his last 11 games he’s played 20 or more minutes. Cassara found a keeper with McLendon, whose only Division I scholarship offer was to Hofstra.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. VCU, 1/27)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Shemiye McLendon

Charles Jenkins 53
Mike Moore 24
Greg Washington 21
David Imes 14
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McLendon 4
Brad Kelleher 3
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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Stage set for Saturday sellout

Yet another reason we're going to miss this guy.

The stated and unstated goal amongst the Hofstra athletic staff the last couple weeks has been to sell out the Arena for tomorrow’s game against Drexel. From that perspective, last night went about as well as it could, even with the Flying Dutchmen’s loss to VCU.

Sure, the Dutchmen fell to VCU, 82-67, to drop into a tie for second place in the CAA. But it could have been a far more lopsided defeat for the Dutchmen, who were down by as many as 22 in the second half to a team that has won 22 straight home games.

Almost as importantly, Charles Jenkins scored “just” 20 points, leaving him 16 shy of breaking Antoine Agudio’s school record and all but assuring he’ll do it in front of a home crowd that will include the 10 incoming members of the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame who will be honored at halftime. Among the inductees is Speedy Claxton, the only player in the last 25 years whose impact on the program exceeds that of Jenkins.

“Speedy will be in the building, Norman [Richardson] will be in the building along with a number of his other teammates,” Hofstra associate director of athletics for external relations Tim McMahon said last night. “And as long as Charles puts up a decent amount of points tonight, it could be a very anxiously awaited game and there could be a moment late in the first half or early in the second half [with] a standing ovation unlike any we’ve ever heard. I think it could be a really special day.”

McMahon and his staff have had tomorrow circled on their calendar long before the Dutchmen got off to a scorching start in the CAA and Jenkins moved to the doorstep of history. Tomorrow marks the first home game since the students resumed classes and has been dubbed “Welcome Back Students Day.” There is a free tailgate for students in the parking lots adjacent to the Arena at 2 pm and the first 1,000 students entering the Arena receive number 22 T-shirts. Jenkins and his teammates joined the marketing effort this week when they recorded a hilarious video in which Jenkins wonders where he can get one of the T-shirts everyone else is wearing. And this afternoon at the Student Center, Mo Cassara and the Dutchmen--a mere 10 hours removed from landing on Long Island following the return from Richmond--handed out 900 tickets during lunch.

McMahon credited fellow former Hofstra athlete Chrissy Arnone, the new assistant director of athletics for marketing and promotions, for coming up with the Jenkins video idea. “We can be more creative than we ever have been in getting people aware of what’s going on,” McMahon said. “[Making] a video for the students might not be cutting edge by today’s standards, but maybe for Hofstra’s marketing efforts, it is.”

McMahon’s department has also focused on drawing youth groups and Hofstra staff members to the game. Director of ticket sales Mike Neely accompanied the men’s and women’s basketball teams on numerous visits to local elementary schools over the last few weeks and distributed 1,200 vouchers good for two free tickets.

Tomorrow is also Staff Appreciation Day, during which any Hofstra employees who show their ID at the ticket office receive four free tickets, as well as four free drinks, four free bags of chips and either four free hot dogs or four free pretzels. McMahon said he expects at least 400 staffers to take advantage of the offer.

Add into the equation walk-up sales that should be stronger than usual thanks to the Dutchmen’s place in the standings as well as Jenkins’ pursuit of Agudio and McMahon is cautiously optimistic the Arena will welcome its biggest crowd since the 2007 BracketBuster, when a capacity crowd saw the Dutchmen edge Holy Cross 65-64.

“It’s not out of the question that we could sell out,” McMahon said. “I do anticipate over 4,000 and I anticipate one of our best crowds in a long time.”

The buzz didn’t last too long after the last sellout: Though the Dutchmen were coming off three straight NIT appearances, average attendance dropped from 3,623 to 2,740 in 2007-08, when the Dutchmen went 12-18 during Agudio’s senior season and Jenkins’ freshman campaign. But while Jenkins is down to his last few home games, McMahon is confident the memories generated by Jenkins as well as the presence of charismatic head coach Mo Cassara will help Hofstra sustain the interest.

“I think there is a feeling this time around—and it’s not a knock on anybody, it’s a compliment to Mo and to Charles—that whether you’re an alum or a friend or a player or a coach, that Mo has a great way of making people feel like they’re a part of it and doing it in a genuine way,” McMahon said. “And I think the return on that is people, when they’re successful, feel invested. So I think it’s a very community-type feeling right now…I just think it’s a real fun time for Hofstra basketball.”

It’s also been fun for McMahon and his staff. “We’ll work just as hard as we ever have,” McMahon said. “We won’t sit back and say ‘Hey, they’re winning, let’s just kind of ride the wave.’ We’ll work just as hard to push for a sellout. In the past we can say ‘How many will we get? Over 3,500? Over 4,000?” Now we’re saying ‘Let’s get a sellout.’

“A guy like Charles Jenkins deserves everything he gets and that’s why it’s so rewarding, especially given the past and everything that’s gone on in the last year. It’s been really nice to see them succeed on the court and then it gives us a B-12 shot as a staff to continue to work just as hard, if not harder than ever. It kind of carries you over the top.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: VCU

1.) The Flying Dutchmen simply cannot survive this pace. VCU is up 48-33 and was ahead by as many as 17. Both the halftime deficit and the biggest first half deficit are the biggest the Dutchmen have faced in CAA games this year. The Rams have more bodies than the Dutchmen and embarked upon their half-ending 15-5 run with both Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen on the bench. A change in defenses worked wonders in the second half Monday, but the Rams are having their way inside and outside against the Dutchmen zone, especially with Greg Washington out with three fouls.

2.) Charles Jenkins has been Charles Jenkins (15 points), but Mike Moore has to get involved for the Dutchmen to have a shot. Moore, who has scored in double digits in every CAA game this season and 11 straight overall, has just two points on 1-of-3 shooting. Jenkins can’t win this one by himself.

3.) Mo Cassara likes to say the Dutchmen have a good shot at winning if Brad Kelleher or Shemiye McLendon are hitting 3-pointers. Well, they’re 0-for-3 combined. Kelleher and McLendon fueled the comeback over James Madison, they’ll have to play big roles in the second half for the Dutchmen to mount another rally.

4.) Washington was outstanding when he was on the court in the first half (nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, three rebounds), but his track record suggests he’ll get that fourth foul soon. If so, the Dutchmen will need David Imes (two points, one rebound) to get untracked in a hurry.

5.) Jenkins is 20 points shy of tying Antoine Agudio’s school record. We’ll probably have to sacrifice seeing the record-breaker in person in order to get a W tonight. Whatever it takes, Wolf.

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Five pre-game thoughts: VCU

1.) On one hand, VCU is a good matchup for the Flying Dutchmen. The Rams often play a four-guard lineup and, with The Larry Sanders Show off playing in the NBA, are about as lean in the post as the Dutchmen. So this is a good opportunity for Greg Washington to build on his career-best game Monday and for David Imes to bounce back. In addition, point guard Joey Rodriguez—the engine of the Rams—is as exciting as he is unpredictable. It’s truly impossible to try and guess what he’ll do each trip up the floor. Get him flustered and the domino effect will lead to big things for the Dutchmen.

2.) On the other hand, this could be a troublesome matchup. The Rams are the closest thing the CAA has to the old Arkansas “40 Minutes of Hell” teams and love to press as much as possible. The Dutchmen are better handling the press now than they were in November, when Western Kentucky mounted that stunning comeback win in Puerto Rico by turning up the pressure in the final few minutes, but the inexperience of Brad Kelleher and the Dutchmen’s lack of depth could present some problems. If Kelleher struggles, expect to see a lot of Charles Jenkins running the point. Mo Cassara will also have to be more creative than ever in maximizing the players at his disposal.

3.) It’ll also be interesting to see how much spring the Dutchmen have in their legs. The overtime win over James Madison was exhausting and the Dutchmen spent another long day on the bus yesterday getting to Richmond just ahead of the epic snowstorm (but their day wasn’t nearly as long as Towson’s—leaving at 3 pm for a 7 pm game in the Beltway, this is why you’re 0-10). A fast pace could drain the Dutchmen, or they may once again be fueled by adrenaline.

4.) Statistically speaking, VCU’s Siegel Center is the toughest place to visit—for Hofstra and the rest of the CAA. The Dutchmen have never won there in seven trips since joining the CAA (the only road venue at which they’ve never won) and VCU’s 20-game home winning streak is the fourth-longest in the country. But if the Dutchmen lose, it won’t be because they’re intimidated: Hofstra is 7-1 on the road, including 4-0 in CAA games, and Cassara, who is used to being the northern outsider from his days in the ACC with Boston College, seems to relish the idea of going into hostile environments. That attitude has clearly filtered down to the rest of the Dutchmen.

5.) This is mostly directed at us fans, though I’m sure Cassara, Jenkins and Washington have expressed the same message to the Dutchmen: Whatever happens tonight, savor it. After all we all went through after last season, the Flying Dutchmen are fighting for first place tonight on national TV (yes, now that I have ESPNU, I consider it national TV—thanks Cablevision!). This is awesome, one of those times we need to realize and appreciate that we are IN the moment, and get ready for what will surely be a wild scene at Hofstra Arena Saturday. Enjoy tonight. We have waited a long time for something like this.

5b.) Dear Charles: Please lead us to victory while scoring fewer than 35 so we can all see you break Antoine Agudio’s career record Saturday. Thanks, your friend, Defiantly Dutch.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Hofstra 92, James Madison 90 (Or: It wasn’t easy, but then nothing is. WHOO HOO!)

Sometimes I wonder why I keep a running score at Flying Dutchmen basketball games. After all, this is the second decade of the 21st century, halcyon days in which pixel-stained homer scribes such as myself can get our hands on a full boxscore, complete with play-by-play and substitution patterns, no more than 20 minutes after the buzzer, even on nights in which the copy machine is busted.

How often will I need to refer to the running score in between tipoff and getting the final boxscore? Does the once in a while it comes in handy for Tweeting make up for the fact it is irrelevant by the time I get home and that my apartment is already filled with notebooks I will never look at again but won’t ever throw away? (That sound you heard was my wife yelling at me)

And then there are nights like Monday, in which I can refer to the notebook to know the exact point at which the 2,324 people at Hofstra Arena, as well as the Flying Dutchmen themselves and the dozens of Hofstra staffers located throughout the Arena, realized we were all a part of a special communal experience:

it wasn’t ez but it never is

Actually, “never is” was a single scrawl that looked like a worm, but there’s no real way to type that. Anyway, I frantically jotted those words down as Blur’s “Song 2” blared during a timeout with 3:30 left in regulation and the Dutchmen mounting a furious comeback that resulted in a enthralling, surrealistic, goosebump-inducing 92-90 overtime win over James Madison that will go down as so much more than one of the greatest regular season games ever played at Hofstra.

Granted I’m a cheeseball who came of age in the ‘80s, which means I try, with no sense of irony, to find deep meaning and symbolism in arena rock. But doesn’t that lyric—blaring over the loudspeakers right after consecutive 3-pointers by Charles Jenkins and Shemiye McLendon cut an eight-point deficit to two and brought those in attendance to delirium straight from despair without even a passing glance at cautious optimism—sum it all up?

Doesn’t it describe how the magic of Monday was in how 11 nail-biting minutes—in which the Dutchmen erased an 11-point deficit and then held on for dear life to their overtime lead in order to remain tied for first in the CAA heading into tonight’s showdown against fellow co-leader VCU—served as a microcosm of the entire season and the program that Mo Cassara is building as well as the euphoric ride the Dutchmen are enjoying just as much as their small yet loyal and, hopefully, expanding fanbase?

Anyone at the Arena Monday, even the casual observers, knows the back story, which was written about ad nauseum here from June through November and everywhere else the last two weeks. It was a season that could seemingly only be salvaged in the movies. But here it is, the end of January, and it’s no longer strange to envision Jake Taylor—err, Charles Jenkins—telling the Dutchmen the only thing left to do is win the whole bleeping thing.

“I don’t think anybody in here thought we’d be 8-1 right now, including myself,” Cassara said. “But this team is coming together as a group and as a family and they believe in each other. And that’s really from great leadership [which] starts at the top with Charles and Greg.

Fact is sometimes better than fiction and nobody could have scripted this start, nor just how that eighth victory was manufactured. The Dutchmen were down by as many as 15 in the second half. There was a span of more than 15 minutes—from 9:45 of the first half through the 13:46 mark of the second—in which they did not string together consecutive scores, during which Hofstra was outscored 36-21.

They were down nine when David Imes fouled out with 7:10 left, which left the Dutchmen further weakened against Denzel Man Beast Bowles (27 points, 10 rebounds), and were down 11 with a little more than six minutes to play. Like at any point in the preceding eight months, there were plenty of reasons for the Dutchmen to give up, plenty of evidence suggesting they were undermanned and could do nothing more than quietly fade away.

Yet once again, they did not. The Dutchmen forced five turnovers in the final six minutes of regulation, as many as they forced in the first 34 minutes, as they outscored James Madison 21-10 and held the Dukes without a shot in the final 3:43. Yves Jules, who played four minutes, made his only statistical contribution count by stealing the ball in the paint in the final seconds to force overtime. When McLendon, a freshman, hit two free throws with 17 seconds left, it marked the first time the Dutchmen had not trailed since the 7:21 mark of the first half.

Jenkins scored the Dutchmen’s first six points (and the last of his 35 points to go along with five assists, three blocks, three rebounds, two steals and one turnover) of overtime and the Dutchmen led 90-83 before surviving a furious Madison rally. The final points of the game were scored by freshman Stephan Nwaukoni, a 55 percent free throw shooter who missed the previous two games for disciplinary reasons who calmly drained two free throws with three seconds to play.

“It’s an incredibly resilient group and that goes from top to bottom,” Cassara said. “Our staff is the same way. We believe we can win every game and we’re not going to give our guys any excuse to not think that. And we found a way tonight late to fight and hang in there, hang in there, hang in there and then all of a sudden a couple shots fall and then our defense picks up a little bit.”

And with no Greg Washington (who had the game of his life with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in a career-high 42 minutes before he fouled out with 53 seconds left in overtime) to fend off Bowles, it was up to Jenkins to wrest the ball away from Bowles following the intentional miss of a free throw by Julius Wells with two seconds left and hang on to it until the buzzer finally sounded.

“It’s just our will to win that we have,” Jenkins said. “[At the] beginning of the season, something that me and Greg said [was] ‘We have every excuse not to be successful. We had all the odds against us. We have our first-year coach. We lost all these players and we had all this stuff happen in the offseason.

“I think our ability to just let everything go and just go play basketball is starting to show.”

So, too, is the bond between the team that had no choice but to continue keeping the faith and the fans who chose to do so. What happened Monday was rare—players and fans realizing, simultaneously, that something special is happening and feeding off each other’s energy. Everyone and everything was in sync. Never has “Don’t Stop Believing”—which began playing immediately after the regulation buzzer—sounded so good, or so appropriate, in the last week of January.

Once the victory was complete, Jenkins leaped into the student section with the rest of his teammates pouring on to the court behind him. “I wanted to embrace them—if my arms were big enough, I could give them all [hugs],” he said.

I’ve been to a lot of games at Hofstra, but I don’t remember a communal experience like Monday. Sure, sold out home games against George Mason, Nebraska and Old Dominion in 2006 were unforgettable and electric, but there was a certain temporary feeling to those games, as if whatever was going on was not sustainable, that many of those in attendance were just there because Hofstra basketball was momentarily hot.

Hey, maybe I’m being too optimistic here. If there was a Mo Cassara Fan Club, I’d not only be a member, I’d be the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, ombudsman and head maintenance professional. But this feels different—as if Cassara is not only building a program but has also found the secret to building a fanbase that eluded Tom Pecora and Jay Wright.

“I’ll tell you what, this was a good crowd in here tonight,” Cassara said. “The thing now is anybody who came tonight saw a great, exciting game. They’re going to come back and they’re going to want to come back. I think the George Mason and James Madison games at home, people are going to be excited to come back here.

“It just helps with the excitement here in the arena, it helps with the overall excitement for the program. I’m happy for the university, I’m happy for the president, I’m happy for Jack [Hayes] and Danny [McCabe] and everybody involved. It’s been a long offseason and the offseason’s over now and we’re moving forward and it’s really an exciting time. I’m happy for everybody.”

It wasn’t easy to get to this point, but it never is. Whoo hoo.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. James Madison, 1/24)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Shemiye McLendon

Charles Jenkins 50
Mike Moore 24
Greg Washington 19
David Imes 14
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McLendon 3
Brad Kelleher 3
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: James Madison

1.) The Flying Dutchmen got off to a, well, flying start in racing out to leads of 7-0 and 13-5, but James Madison is good at this thing we call basketball. The Dukes ended the half on a 36-15 run and the Dutchmen have had no answer for Denzel Bowles inside and Julius Wells outside. The duo has outscored Hofstra 29-28. Not a misprint. Wells has four 3-pointers, including a gorgeous shot he drained with Shemiye McLendon all over him as the shot clock expired, while Bowles (15 points, seven rebounds) is having his way with David Imes (three fouls) on the bench. He also hits jump shots. Life is not fair. The Dutchmen have got to come up with an answer and hope the duo cools off, otherwise this will be a long second half.

2.) Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington are doing it almost all by themselves for the Dutchmen and that’s not a good thing. Jenkins has 10 points, three assists, two blocks and two rebounds while Washington has just four points on 3-of-9 shooting but has seven boards and two blocks. He has looked as good as he has all season under the boards, fighting past Bowles for two offensive rebounds before finally putting one, but the Dutchmen need more to come back and win this one.

3.) The Dutchmen are 2-of-11 from 3-point land, including a combined 0-for-4 effort from Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon and 2-of-6 from Mike Moore. The Dutchmen can’t win without getting some help from three.

4.) Kelleher looked great in the first few minutes, finding Washington and Imes for nice layups. The Dutchmen had a good flow going before the first media timeout, can it be rediscovered?

5.) Not much else to say other than Humpty has six points on two 3-pointers, and Denzel Bowles is really good at basketball.

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Five pregame thoughts: James Madison

I am going to have way too much fun with this tonight.

1.) Nothing has come easy for the Flying Dutchmen this year, so why shouldn’t another top CAA team come to Hempstead snarling after a tough loss? Actually, unlike Old Dominion nine days ago, James Madison arrives today on a two-game losing streak (Old Dominion Wednesday and George Mason Saturday) that has dropped the Dukes into the quagmire of three-loss teams hanging on to the edge of the top four. JMU is in a lot of trouble from a tiebreaker perspective if they lose this one—especially since this is the only meeting of the season between the teams—so the Dutchmen will have to be at their best to beat the best James Madison team in well over a decade.

2.) NBA prospect Denzel Bowles was an absolute beast against Mason on Saturday (21 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and four assists), so it’s a good thing Greg Washington had a confidence-boosting game against William & Mary. The Dutchmen will need every big body they can muster to handle Bowles and Rayshawn Goins (averaging 11.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game), so hopefully Stephen Nwaukoni is out of the doghouse and Paul Bilbo and Roland Brown can provide a few valuable minutes (and fouls) in relief of Washington and David Imes.

3.) If only the Dukes were all Bowles and Goins. But James Madison has five players averaging at least nine points and it ranks second in the CAA in scoring and field goal percentage and first in 3-point field goal percentage. This will be a shootout, if not quite the classic barnburner we saw the last time the Dukes came to Hempstead, so Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon will have to hit some 3-pointers to keep the Dutchmen in it and Yves Jules will have to make some stops on defense.

“I told our guys in film today: Everybody in here has got to be ready—three games in the next six days and everybody’s got to be ready, it’s all hands on deck,” Mo Cassara said last night.

3b.) James Madison has a guy named Humpty. Seriously.

4.) Jenkins had one of the best games of his career in that double-OT duel two years ago and he’ll have to have another monster performance today. He’s been a shade less than awesome the last four games (20.5 ppg, 26-for-59 from the field, 7-for-23 from 3-point land), which is an indicator of just how great he’s been the rest of the time. This is one game in which the Dutchmen will need him to put them on his back and carry them in the second half. Bet on 30-plus points and an assist total closer to 10 than five.

4b.) I swear, he’s named Humpty. Look here!

5.) As noted today, the Dutchmen have had to maximize every little edge they can find as they mount this marvelous run. Will taking a charter flight home Saturday and doing nothing more stressful yesterday than watching film before enjoying a team dinner and the football games in a suite at the Arena give the Dutchmen an ever-so-slight advantage? The Dukes presumably flew up no later than yesterday morning, but at this time of year, two quiet nights at home is a luxury. In a matchup that’s so close (the betting line, for entertainment purposes as Brian Mull always puts it, is Hofstra by 1), and with a team that has so little margin for error, every little bit helps.

5b.) I am going to make so many Humpty Dance references tonight.

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Hofstra 67, College of Bill Lawrence 64 (Or: Their Road To Somewhere)

Mo Cassara fared much better than The Janitor during the Flying Dutchmen's impromptu road trip last Thursday!

The Flying Dutchmen are almost halfway through a potentially magical CAA season that is constructed out of equal parts duct tape, thumbtacks, grit, smoke, mirrors and The Man Amen, so they are long accustomed to scouring the landscape for any little edge they can find. A little rest for Charles Jenkins right before a media timeout here, a couple minutes from a Roland Brown or a Paul Bilbo there, a couple spots a game for Yves Jules to come in when the Dutchmen need a defensive stop.

The latest little edge was gleaned Thursday afternoon, almost exactly 48 hours before tipoff against William & Mary, when the Dutchmen got on a bus and endured another 10-hour bus ride in order to get to Williamsburg instead of waiting for a flight Friday and potentially spending the day stuck in airports if the area was hit by heavy snow.

The storm proved to be nothing major, but the ability to spend a relaxing Friday in Virginia, instead of fretting for the second time in three weeks over whether or not they would arrive at their destination time for a Saturday afternoon game, just might have been the difference as the Dutchmen remained tied for first in the CAA heading into the biggest week of the season with a nail-biting 67-64 win over the Fighting Bill Lawrences.

Asked last night if he thought the early arrival was a vital part of victory, Mo Cassara said “I definitely do.” Then he repeated those three words for emphasis—twice.

“That was a real great call by Jack [Hayes] and Danny [McCabe],” Cassara said of Hofstra’s athletic director and his top assistant. “They said ‘Let’s go, let’s not take a chance, let’s not have these guys sitting in the airport.’ Danny and Jack, that’s kind of veteran leadership there. I deferred to them. [They said] ‘Let’s get you on the bus.’

“It made all the difference in the world. We had a whole day to get off our feet, relax and catch our breath a little bit. It worked out well.”

Who knows what happens if the Dutchmen spend Friday sprawled out in an airport instead of sprawled out in a hotel room before taking a post-dinner trip to a mall? Maybe Jenkins doesn’t overcome a tough shooting day (7-of-18, the second time in three games he’s shot below 40 percent after shooting less than 40 percent just twice in the Dutchmen’s first 16 games) to once again fill up a boxscore once again in leading the Dutchmen with 22 points, eight assists and four steals as well as pulling down six rebounds. The assists and rebounds matched his season highs against Division I competition.

OK, Jenkins probably would have done that anyway. But maybe Greg Washington fails to overcome early foul trouble (two by the first media timeout) and misses one or two of his field goal attempts, instead of hitting all six—the first time in his career he’s taken as many as three shots without a miss and the second perfect shooting performance by a Hofstra big man this month (David Imes was 8-for-8 against Drexel Jan. 3)—and giving the Dutchmen that ever-valuable third player in double figures. The Dutchmen, who also got 13 points from Mike Moore, are 11-1 when at least three players reach 10 points and 5-0 when Washington scores at least 10.

Washington also had nine rebounds, one shy of his season high. “I thought the second half was as well as he’s played all year,” Cassara said. “He made some big plays, obviously, offensively, but I think more importantly he was just such a presence on defense. He moved and he had a difficult assignment running around guarding a lot of different guys and he bailed a lot of guys out on the back line there. Even though he didn’t block shots, he changed shots.”

Maybe, without a full day of rest, Washington and the Dutchmen aren’t able to withstand going scoreless from the field in the last 4:21 and maybe they don’t survive two attempts by William & Mary to take the lead in the final 40 seconds, during which the Fighting Bill Lawrences missed a shot and were whistled for a travel, to close out a true CAA grinder in which they never led by more than six points.

“I thought our defense was as good as it’s been all year the last couple possessions,” Cassara said. “They run a lot of the Princeton style offense. We hedged out, we really, really played aggressive man-to-man defense and from one through five, all our guys did a terrific job, really led by Greg Washington.”

Maybe, if Shemiye McLendon spends Friday trying to catch some sleep on airport seats, he doesn’t coolly drain two free throws with a little more than a second left to provide the final margin of victory. He’d gone 14 days since last attempting a free throw and 17 since he hit one. And maybe he doesn’t end the first half by going coast-to-coast and hitting a driving layup just before the buzzer to pull the Dutchmen within 37-34.

“That gave us a little momentum going into the locker room, that was a big play,” Cassara said. “He hasn’t shot the ball terribly well the last two weeks from the perimeter [2-for-16 from 3-point land in his last five games]. He’s doing other things for us. He’s really defending well for us. And him going to the line and making tow free throws on the road in the CAA to keep you tied for first place, it’s really a credit to him for doing the job for us.”

There’s not much of a maybe about this: Without a relaxing Friday, the Dutchmen don’t come back from a 10-point first half deficit against William & Mary, which is in a full-on youth movement and entrenched among the CAA’s bottom quadrant, just like Northeastern two weeks earlier.

But unlike Northeastern, which is still seeking its first league win, the Fighting Bill Lawrences are in the process of figuring things out, and fast. The FBLs entered Saturday with a two-game winning streak in which they routed Drexel and Towson by a combined 29 points and drained 10 of their first 18 shots—including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc—in taking a 30-20 lead against the Dutchmen. But William & Mary was just 12-of-33 from the field the rest of the way, including 2-of-16 from 3-point land, and never led by more than three points in the second half.

“They shot the ball really well,” Cassara said. “We went back and looked at the film. We didn’t think our zone was very good to start, but we were in pretty good position. They just hit some tough shots I told the team going into it that this is a team that is playing very well and they’ve got some confidence, won a couple games in a row. They’re at home and they’re going to make some tough shots. They literally did that—they made some tough shots. We were just a little bit slow, part of being on the road, but we made some adjustments and in the second half the adjustments worked.”

But not nearly as well as the adjustment Cassara and the Hofstra staff made Thursday.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. College of Bill Lawrence, 1/22)
3: Greg Washington
2: Charles Jenkins
1: Mike Moore

Charles Jenkins 47
Mike Moore 24
Greg Washington 17
David Imes 14
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Shemiye McLendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: College of Bill Lawrence

Sing it JD!

1.) As Percival Ulysses Cox might say: “That was reehee hee heeeallly not a good start for Hofstra.” The Flying Dutchmen (15-of-36 shooting) looked as bad as they have all conference season in the first 10 minutes or so as they fell behind by 10 multiple times, but the Dutchmen changed to a man-to-man defense and warmed up offensively as they finished the half on a 14-7 run. The Tribe, which had four 3-pointers, went scoreless from the field in the final 4:43. The Dutchmen have the momentum heading into the second half.

2.) It’s pretty encouraging the Dutchmen are only down three even though Charles Jenkins (4-of-11 shooting, 1-of-5 from 3-point land) had perhaps his worst shooting half of the year. He hoisted several ill-advised shots and failed to display his usual patience, but the second half is his time and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be this spotty in the final 20 minutes. A good sign: Jenkins had five assists, four rebounds and two steals despite struggling.

3.) Yves Jules and Shemiye McLendon hit the final two baskets of the half for Hofstra, notable because the Dutchmen will need someone else to contribute offensively in order to win this game with Jenkins struggling and Mike Moore and Greg Washington both playing with two fouls. The Dutchmen have lost only one game this season in which a third player ends up in double figures.

4.) Washington got two fouls before the under-16 timeout, but quietly had a solid half with six points (on 3-of-3 shooting) and four rebounds. He’ll have to continue regaining the form he displayed earlier in January, especially with Stephen Nwaukoni apparently still in the doghouse.

5.) Moore had nine points and four rebounds and kept the Dutchmen in the game with six points in a three-minute span. If Hofstra is to win, he’ll end up with a double-double.

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Five pre-game thoughts: College of Bill Lawrence

May William & Mary shoot as badly as Turk today!

1.) The first game of the Flying Dutchmen’s “four in eight” is a scary one. The easy thing is to call it a trap game, especially with James Madison (Monday), VCU (Thursday), Drexel (next Saturday) and George Mason (Feb. 2) all on the horizon and the Dutchmen probably needing to go at least 3-2 mark in the crucible in order to stay in the driver’s seat for a bye. But William & Mary (2-5 CAA) is as hot as a two-win team can be with routs over Drexel and Towson in its last two games. The Tribe are also young and exceedingly well-coached by Tony Shaver, an increasingly dangerous combination as March approaches. This can’t turn into one of those games that leave the Dutchmen saying what if come the first weekend of March.

2.) The Dutchmen took at least one step to avoid an ill-advised hiccup by leaving Long Island via bus Thursday instead of taking the chance that their flight Friday would be delayed by snow. The bus trip was another epic one, and not in the good way, for the Dutchmen, who hit a ton of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and needed 10 hours to get to Williamsburg, but at least they were able to spend a full and productive day in Virginia instead of fretting about flights and getting there mere hours before the first tip. Playing William & Mary 12 hours after arriving in town would be a lot more dangerous than playing Northeastern 12 hours after arriving in town.

3.) William & Mary has done a better job than any other CAA team of bottling up Charles Jenkins, who has averaged just 14.3 points and has yet to produce a 20-point game against the Tribe in four career games. (Props to Jeremy Kniffin for that cool nugget) But the matchup is a ripe one for Jenkins: William & Mary starts a pair of freshmen, Julian Boatner and Brandon Britt, at guard, and it’s a fair guess to say they haven’t seen someone like Jenkins yet.

4.) The matchup is also a good one for Hofstra in that William & Mary ranks last in the league in offensive rebounding (8.1 per game). I’m not much of a betting man, but if I was, I’d wager on another double-double for David Imes. Almost as importantly, this could be a good chance for Greg Washington (2-for-9 from the field and three rebounds in his last two games combined) to get untracked as well as for at least two of the Stephen Nwaukoni/Paul Bilbo/Roland Brown triumvirate to get some valuable playing time and confidence before the showdown Monday against James Madison and the beastly duo of Denzel Bowles and Rayshawn Goins.

4b.) I can't lie: I just like using the word triumvirate.

4c.) I can't lie: I had to spell check it to correctly spell triumvirate.

5.) William & Mary also ranks last in the CAA in turnover margin (minus 4.11). With a surely snarling James Madison squad coming in Monday night, the best-case scenario this afternoon is an easy, stress-free victory in which Jenkins can grab some pine in the final four minutes. The Dutchmen will need to create plenty of turnovers—and they rank second in the league in turnover margin (plus 2.28)—in order to get the type of win that is tough to come by anywhere in the CAA.

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Bits and Bytes: Giving it to you good!

That's good 1990s cheese! Google it DC!

Have a whole bunch of nuggets I’ve been sitting on and/or waiting to research and finally some time to unearth them all, so I’m going to channel tournament week and just give it to you good (that’s for Loyal Reader Matt as well as Loyal Tweeps Mary Ellen and Angela, all of whom joined me this week in flooding YouTube for videos from the fall of 1990). Anyway:

—Joeg1 on the CAAZone boards beat me to the punch in comparing David Imes this year to Halil Kanacevic last year. My hunch (and his too, I imagine) was that Imes’ numbers would be a lot closer to Kanacevic’s than we might have imagined. And our hunch was right: Through 18 games this year Imes is averaging 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Through the same span last year, Kanacevic was averaging 7.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. They both had four double-doubles.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two have put up those numbers in just about the same playing time, even though Imes (29.4 minutes) has started all 18 games while Kanacevic (26.6 minutes) started just five of the first 18 games last year. Imes has been much more efficient than Kanacevic: Imes has fouled out just once and has been whistled for only 36 fouls while Kanacevic fouled out three times and committed 56 fouls.

Imes’ performance is pretty impressive considering this is, for all intents and purposes, his freshman year. He battled a pair of high ankle sprains and a couple bouts with the flu last year, when he played a total of 128 minutes over 18 games. He's played 125 minutes in the last four games alone.

Now things are rarely as simple as invoking the transitive property—i.e. Kanacevic is gone so that’s why Imes is putting up these numbers. But, well, in this case, it’s pretty clear: If Kanacevic returned, he and Greg Washington would occupy the post and Imes would be a role player. As nice as it would be to have Kanacevic, the Dutchmen now know he was replaced internally by someone who will be a three-year starter—no small feat given the tumult of last spring and Imes’ inexperience.

—As you may or may not know, Hofstra was the last team to suffer a CAA loss. I wrote a little bit about it. Anyway, that got me wondering how the Dutchmen’s 5-0 start stacked up to other perfect starts since the CAA expanded in 2001-02, and more importantly, how the last unbeaten team eventually fared.

The answers: Only four squads in the previous nine years matched or bettered the Dutchmen’s start. But only three of the Last of the Unbeatens won the CAA Tournament and earned the automatic NCAA bid. Two others reached one of the consolation tournaments. The rundown:

2009-10: George Mason 3-0 (finished 12-6 and 4th, lost in the quarterfinals and advanced to the CIT)

2008-09: George Mason 7-0 (finished 13-5 and 2nd, lost in the championship game and advanced to the NIT)

2007-08: Delaware 5-0 (finished 9-9 and 7th, lost in the quarterfinals)

2006-07: VCU 11-0 (finished 16-2 and 1st, won the CAA Tournament and reached second round of the NCAAs

2005-06: Drexel 3-0 (finished 8-10 and 8th, lost in the first round)

2004-05: Old Dominion 8-0 (finished 15-3 and 1st, won the CAA Tournament)

2003-04: Old Dominion 4-0 (finished 11-7 and 4th, lost in the semifinals)

2002-03: VCU/George Mason 2-0 (VCU finished 12-6 and 2nd, lost in the semifinals; Mason finished 11-7 and 4th, lost in the quarterfinals)

2001-02: UNC Wilmington 4-0 (finished 14-4 and 1st, won the CAA Tournament, reached the 2nd round of the NCAAs)

—The campaign to garner Charles Jenkins All-American consideration is justifiably well under way, and Jeremy Kniffin does his usual outstanding job in making the case for Jenkins. But here’s yet another measure of the remarkable season Jenkins is having and just how valuable he is to the Dutchmen: With 417 points and 86 assists thus far, he has accounted for 46.6 percent of the Dutchmen’s scoring.

That is by far the biggest chunk of scoring accounted for by one person over the last 11 years, and the only person to even reach the 40 percent mark in that span was, you guessed it, Jenkins in each of the last two years (42.4 percent as a sophomore, 40.7 percent as a junior). Jenkins’ leap this year is even more impressive considering he’s finally got the wingman he lacked the previous two seasons (Mike Moore, very quietly, has scored in double figures in nine straight games and is averaging 14.8 points per game).

You will not be surprised to know the last player to account for this much of the Dutchmen’s scoring was Speedy Claxton during his epic season in 1999-2000. You may be surprised to know how incredibly close Jenkins’ numbers thus far are to Claxton’s 11 years ago. Claxton had a hand in 46.7 percent of the Dutchmen’s scoring in ’99-00, when he averaged 22.8 points and six assists per game. Jenkins’ current averages: 23.2 points and 4.8 assists.

—In case you missed it: A very good piece from on Jenkins and his relationship with Mo Cassara.

—Lastly, I couldn’t help but do a double-take when I read this New York Post story about Fordham’s loss to Saint Louis in front of 400 fans at the Izod Center. Oh sure, the attendance was noteworthy, and not in a good way. But what grabbed by attention was Tom Pecora calling the lack of home court advantage at the Izod—where Fordham will play four games this year—“a work in progress.” Oh my God Pecora and Cassara sharing slogans!!!!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hofstra 66, UNC Wilmington 57 (Or: You get to feelin’ weary when the work day’s done)

Charles Jenkins and Mo Cassara may or may not have felt as old as Blue last night!

The final few seconds of a Hofstra victory usually represent an opportunity for Charles Jenkins to crack a smile, pump a fist or two, acknowledge the Lions Den and generally revel in the moment. But there was none of that Wednesday night after a literally battered and bruised Jenkins helped keep the Flying Dutchmen tied atop the CAA.

As Shemiye McLendon dribbled out the clock in the Dutchmen’s 66-57 win over UNC Wilmington in front of an Intersession special crowd of 1,781 at the Arena, Jenkins began making his way to the Hofstra bench, where he slapped hands with teammates and staff members as the buzzer expired. He trailed behind the rest of the Dutchmen as they headed towards the Lion’s Den and was the last to emerge from the student section as he slowly made his way to the locker room.

“I’m getting old,” Jenkins said with a smile a few minutes later. “The wheels aren’t rolling like they were in 2007.”

(Editor’s Note: He doesn’t turn 22 until next month. If he wants to feel old, he should have my back for a day!)

Jenkins had every reason to be tired after he followed up an eventful week of practice—he sported stitches above his right eye, courtesy of an errant Brad Kelleher elbow, and wore a mouth guard for much of Wednesday’s game after he fell on his chin much like he did against New Hampshire last season—with a game in which he went into Takeover Mode (thank you, Mid-Majority) and scored nine of his game-high 22 points in a span of 2:23 late in the second half to turn a tie game into a deceptively easy victory.

The final margin doesn’t indicate just how much trouble the Dutchmen (who are tied for first with VCU at 6-1 after James Madison fell to Old Dominion) were in for the first 10 minutes of the second half. After the Dutchmen opened the half with two quick baskets to take a 12-point lead, UNC Wilmington outscored the Dutchmen 23-6 to grab a 50-45 lead and force Mo Cassara to call timeout with 9:17 left.

Staring at a potentially demoralizing defeat that could have dropped them into the quagmire of the two- and three-loss teams heading into a stretch of four games in eight days, the Dutchmen responded with versatility on offense and a suffocating performance on defense.

Jenkins had just three points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and had gone scoreless for more than 12 minutes before he went on his own 7-0, 78-second run to finish off a 14-2 run by the Dutchmen.

“I think I wasn’t as aggressive as I was supposed to be—I was a little hesitant because they were sliding in and trying to [force] a lot of charges from me,” said Jenkins, who had a potential game-tying basket waved off when he was called for charging with 5:39 to play.

And while Jenkins finished off the run, it was begun by McLendon, who came in for Yves Jules following the timeout and drained a 3-pointer for his only basket of the game. Mike Moore, who had one of the more interesting box scores you’ll ever see (18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks and six turnovers), answered a layup by Wilmington’s Keith Rendleman with a jumper to pull the Dutchmen back within two. The two teams combined for three misses and five turnovers over a nearly three-minute span before David Imes’ jumper from the foul line tied it at 52-52.

On the other end Imes altered two shots before grabbing a rebound and beginning a fast break that Jenkins ended with his drought-busting, tie-breaking 3-pointer. The Dutchmen never trailed again as Wilmington ended the game hitting just one of its final nine shots.

“We got down five, we went through a stretch there where we didn’t play very well,” Cassara said. “Credit to UNCW, they went to some zone and slowed us down and really got us a little tentative and we threw some bad passes and they made a good comeback. But a lot of credit to [Jenkins and Imes], they made some big plays down the stretch and I thought our defense in the last three or four minutes was really terrific and really allowed us to seal the victory.”

If Jenkins, who also finished with a team-high six assists, was the MVP of the final few minutes, then Imes was the key to keeping the Dutchmen within striking distance prior to Jenkins turning back into The Man. Amen. Imes scored Hofstra’s only five points in the nearly eight-minute span between a Jenkins free throw and McLendon’s 3-pointer and had eight points and five rebounds in the second half on his way to his fourth double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) of the season.

With Greg Washington limited to just 15 minutes due to foul trouble, Imes also helped shut down Rendleman in the second half. The Seahawks’ star sophomore forward—and that will be fun, watching Imes vs. Rendleman the next two-plus years—had 11 points and five rebounds in the first half, when he blew past Imes a handful of times, but just six points and three rebounds in the second half.

“Our last game, I think, was probably one of the poorest games he’s played,” Cassara said of Imes, who had four points and six rebounds in the loss to Old Dominion Saturday. “The thing that really shows his maturation is he didn’t let that game affect this game. I think a year ago, or even a month ago, he might have done that…and when he’s feeling good about himself and has confidence, as you can see, he can rebound and score with anybody in this league.”

Cassara, who has been battling a cold for several days and coughed throughout his post-game press conference, looked and sounded almost as wiped out as his superstar after piecing together another grind-it-out CAA win. The Dutchmen got points from just five players (Brad Kelleher had three 3-pointers in the first half, including a buzzer-beater that gave the Dutchmen a 35-27 lead) and Cassara fielded some unusual lineups in the first half, when Roland Brown made his first appearance since Dec. 4 and Paul Bilbo played for just the seventh time this year. Brown and Bilbo played in place of freshman Stephan Nwaukoni, who recorded the dreaded DNP-CD after Cassara hinted he’d been outplayed in practice by Brown and Bilbo.

“We’re still kind of navigating our way through this thing, day by day, but we’re finding a way to win,” Cassara said. “There’s really good coaches and really good teams in the league and we have to find a way on a daily basis to get a little bit better. And I think we’re going to have to continue to find different bodies on the bench to help us out. And we did that tonight.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. UNC Wilmington, 1/19)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: David Imes
1: Mike Moore

Charles Jenkins 45
Mike Moore 23
David Imes 14
Greg Washington 14
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Shemiye McLendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: UNC Wilmington

1.) Despite the eight-point lead, I’m going to guess Mo Cassara is not a happy camper at halftime. The Dutchmen looked ready to bury UNC Wilmington with a 24-10 run that turned a 7-3 deficit into a 27-14 lead, but the Seahawks began having their way inside—particularly with Keith Rendleman—and ended the half on a 13-8 run. If not for a couple bandage 3-pointers by Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher—the latter of which came just before the buzzer—this could be a lot more nerve-wracking for the Dutchmen. The return of Greg Washington, who picked up two fouls early, should be a huge help. Pun intended.

2.) The Dutchmen have done a nice job of maximizing the little depth they have, especially with Stephen Nwaukoni in uniform but remaining on the bench in the first half. Here were two unlikely lineups Mo Cassara sent out there: Charles Jenkins-David Imes-Shemiye McLendon-Yves Jules-Roland Brown and Jules-McLendon-Kelleher-Moore-Paul Bilbo. For Brown, it was his first appearance since Dec. 4. Not a misprint.

3.) Thanks to Kelleher for making me look smart for once! He drained three 3-pointers, just as I said he needed to during the pre-game thoughts. Those baskets were big with McLendon not hitting a basket but once again contributing on the boards (three rebounds).

4.) Mike Moore had a rough start, drawing a charge on the first possession of the game and then badly missing a putback, but he has been on fire since with 10 points (including two 3-pointers), five rebounds, three assists and even one block. They’ll need him in a game that will still likely be determined by outside shooting.

5.) Charles Jenkins, who is sporting a bandage over one eye, had an effective first half (10 points, five assists) but seems primed for a big second half. Look too for David Imes, who had six points (all on dunks) and five rebounds but was beaten badly a couple times by Rendleman to have a big second half as well.

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Five pre-game thoughts: UNC Wilmington

1.) This is one of those games sportswriters love because it features storylines that, in the end, don’t really impact the game. That’s not some smarmy, holier-than-thou knock—I eat up stuff like this, even if it is mostly irrelevant to what happens on the court tonight. The last time Hofstra hosted UNC Wilmington, the Flying Dutchmen destroyed the Seahawks 93-54 in a game highlighted by the first eight-point play in the history of humanity. As outstanding UNCW beat writer Brian Mull writes here, that embarrassing loss set into motion a chain of events that may have saved UNCW basketball. Coach Benny Moss was fired the next day, but the Seahawks didn’t really begin turning themselves around until Buzz Peterson was hired as head coach following a tumultuous and often borderline amateurish search and oft-maligned athletic director Kelly Mehrtens “resigned” on Sept. 27.

Like UNC Wilmington, Hofstra endured an embarrassing off-season in which it appeared to be losing relevancy by the day, especially in a conference in which the power seems to be shifting towards the schools that play football and/or are located within Virginia. But the third head coach in a matter of weeks also proved to be the charm for Hofstra, and Mo Cassara has done for the Dutchmen what Peterson has done for the Seahawks—bury the past and put into place a rebuilding/reconstruction (Mull’s wording) plan that is moving far faster and turning out much better than anyone could have anticipated. While the Dutchmen are, of course, tied for first place at 5-1, the Seahawks—a consensus pick to finish at or near the bottom of the CAA—are 3-3 and nowhere near a pushover.

2.) There is at least one similarity between the schools that will factor into tonight’s game. Like Hofstra, UNC Wilmington lost multiple players to transfers during the hiccup-filled coaching search, including their best big man. As a result, both teams are led by star senior guards who had little choice but to weather the storm and have vastly improved their already impressive games in order to shoulder the burden as seniors. You, of course, know about Charles Jenkins, who better be referred to as a power guard multiple times tonight by Mull. But Chad Tomko (honest to God, I wrote Brett the first time—I watch too much baseball) has been tremendous in sparking the Seahawks’ surprise run. In five games leading up to last Saturday’s loss to JMU, Tomko averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while fashioning an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.25. While sophomore big man Keith Rendelman (9.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) has been their David Imes (hey! another similarity!) the Seahawks will only go as far as Tomko can take them.

3.) Speaking of Jenkins, he’s going to have a big game. The power guard loves facing the Seahawks, against whom he is averaging 24.9 points per game in seven career contests. Plus, he’s due: Jenkins has “only” scored 19 points in each of the Dutchmen’s last two games and had one of his quieter efforts of the season in the loss to Old Dominion Saturday. He doesn’t have back-to-back bad games.

4.) This game will be decided beyond the 3-point arc. UNCW is shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point land and the Dutchmen are hitting their 3-pointers at a 37.6 percent clip. The Dutchmen have been ice cold from deep in their last two games, shooting just 23 percent (9-of-39) in the win over Towson and the loss to Old Dominion. The Dutchmen have also been a bit lax defensively in allowing three of their last six opponents to shoot at least 37.5 percent from 3-point land. Either Shemiye McLendon or Brad Kelleher will have to step up and hit a handful of treys and expect to see plenty of defensive specialist Yves Jules as Cassara tries to limit the damage done by the Seahawks.

4b.) Your good friend and mine Mike Litos beat us to the punch in predicting a big game from Imes. Getting a double-double from Imes—or another near triple-double from Greg Washington, who had 14 points, 10 blocked shots and eight rebounds in the rout of Wilmington at Hofstra last year—will go a long way towards locking up a victory against a Seahawks squad that is even leaner in the frontcourt than the Dutchmen.

5.) My (ample) gut tells me Cassara is not terribly disappointed the Dutchmen failed to carry a perfect CAA record into this tilt. As awesome as the 5-0 start—and the accompanying publicity—was, the truth is the Dutchmen have much less margin for error than the rest of their brethren near or at the top of the CAA. I firmly believe Cassara, Jenkins and Washington would never allow the Dutchmen to believe their press clippings, so to speak, but allowing the buzz to subside a little bit after the ODU loss surely helped the Dutchmen refocus on the tasks at hand and reinforce the belief that they must work harder than everyone else in order to stay in the race. Four practice days between games is a rarity during the CAA season so I imagine you’ll see a determined and well-rested team tonight ready to resume the grunt work that got them this far.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Old Dominion 75, Hofstra 64 (Or: So close)

Yeah, Old Dominion isn't in Philadelphia and Hall and Oates' last chart hit So Close has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, but I'm way late with this so just forgive the obvious cliches.

I’ve got a head cold that is utterly kicking my ass the last couple days, so my apologies for the tardy recap—and for the re-return of five postgame thoughts! FPT has more lives than a horror movie villain! I’ll be better tomorrow night. Probably. Hopefully. Anyway, on with the recap:

1.) Turns out there was no need to worry about how to handle a win over the preseason favorites at the Arena. Storm the court? Don’t storm the court? Wasn’t an issue, though I will neither confirm nor deny I was plotting the fastest route to the floor once the Flying Dutchmen took a 12-0 lead.

That said, despite the seemingly lopsided final margin of defeat—and the fact Old Dominion, which would have a tough time racking up 70 points if it were shooting at the old Nerf basketball hoop I had set up over the kitchen pantry as a kid, outscored the Dutchmen 75-52 over the final 33:30—the Dutchmen could take solace, if not satisfaction, in how close they came to toppling the premier program in the CAA.

Old Dominion won by only 11—and led by just four with 2:43 to play and five with 32 seconds left before the Monarchs tacked on four free throws and a dunk—even though the Dutchmen endured their second-worst shooting performance of the season, had one of their toughest nights of the year beyond the arc and were destroyed on the boards. The Dutchmen shot 37.3 percent (22-of-59), ahead only of their 30.7 percent effort against Nebraska in the Puerto Rico finale, and were only 5-of-20 from 3-point land, which was what they shot in losing to Florida Atlantic.

ODU outrebounded the Dutchmen 52-28, the biggest deficit this season for Hofstra, and had a remarkable 33 defensive rebounds to just eight offensive boards for the Dutchmen. The Monarchs also had 27 second-chance points compared to just eight for the Dutchmen.

“We came out, we showed we could compete for the title in the conference,” said Mike Moore, who shared the team lead with 19 points and six assists. “We’re going to take some positives from this game. Basically, we outplayed them outside of the rebounding. If we could just get some extra defensive rebounds, I think we win this game.”

In addition, Charles Jenkins (19 points, six assists, two rebounds, three turnovers) had perhaps his worst game of the year as well in going just 6-of-16 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point land. It was only the third time this season he’s shot less than 40 percent and the first time he failed to hit a 3-pointer in a game in which he had more than two attempts.

2.) The Dutchmen probably can’t hope to outrebound Old Dominion, which entered the game among the top three teams in the country in rebounding. But they could have at least minimized the damage Frank Hassell and Chris Cooper did down low in combining for 26 points and 22 rebounds if Greg Washington wasn’t limited to 27 minutes by foul trouble.

Washington opened the game with an incredible four blocks in the first 104 seconds and ended up leading the Dutchmen with five blocks and two steals while altering numerous other shots. But Old Dominion took control of the game once Washington went to the bench with his third foul—and it was a ticky tack SOUTHERN BIAS!!!! call if we ever saw one—with 3:36 to play in the first half. At the time of the foul, the Dutchmen led 25-19, but beginning with Keyon Carter’s two free throws, the Monarchs went on a 10-2 run to end the half and take the lead for good.

With Washington in the lineup, the Dutchmen outscored Old Dominion 50-47. With him on the bench, they were outscored 27-14.

“His third foul was a tough one and took him out of the game a little bit,” Mo Cassara said. “We had to go small so it was clearly a big play for us.”

3.) The rebounding deficit, Jenkins’ atypical quietness and Washington’s extended absence can all be corrected between now and what we hope will be a rematch for all the marbles on the first Monday of March. But the Dutchmen aren’t beating Old Dominion if they don’t take advantage of the few mistakes the Monarchs make. The most interesting stat from Saturday: Old Dominion committed 15 turnovers, but the Dutchmen turned those into just 15 points. The Dutchmen committed only eight turnovers, but the Monarchs turned those into 14 points. That’s right: Old Dominion turned every turnover but one into a basket while the Dutchmen, for all intents and purposes, got a basket once every two turnovers.

Some of that is a byproduct of how those turnovers took place: The Dutchmen had just four steals and most of Old Dominion’s turnovers were caused by travels while the Monarchs had six steals, so ODU was able to take advantage of fast break opportunities far more than the Dutchmen. Still, against a perennial power with a talent and depth advantage, it’s imperative to take advantage of turnovers, no matter how they’re created.

4.) The loss was a reminder of just how thin the Dutchmen are in terms of depth. We’d all gotten used to someone stepping up and complementing Jenkins and Moore during the four-game winning streak—David Imes one night, Greg Washington another, Shemiye McLendon another—but there was nobody to pick up the slack Saturday. McLendon had a solid game and continued to evolve into something much more than a 3-point shooter with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting (including 1-of-3 from 3-point land), but Imes and Washington were a combined 4-of-14 and Brad Kelleher was just 1-of-4. Overall, the Dutchmen had just seven players play as many as 11 minutes while the Monarchs had eight players with at least 13 minutes.

5.) Still: If someone told you before the season—or, particularly, after the Iona game—that the Dutchmen would be 5-1 one-third of the way through the CAA season, you’d probably laugh him out of the room. Sure, there’s a long way to go, but the Dutchmen have already come a long way.

“We have five wins, we’re certainly still in the top of the conference as far as record and honestly, we could play a lot better,” Cassara said. “I think even some of the games we’ve won we have a lot of things that we can continue to build on and tonight was certainly not our best game. But I think we have a lot of good basketball in us still.

“I think, like Mike said, we showed to start this game that we have enough to compete with those guys. It was just a couple little plays here and there, the game got a little out of hand in the last minute or so, but it was really just a couple key plays here or there, a couple key rebounds, a couple stops, maybe a couple calls that might have gone our way and we were right there,” Cassara said. “All that being said, yeah, I’m impressed with [Old Dominion], but I also think that we can continue to stay at the top of this league.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Old Dominion, 1/15)
3: Mike Moore
2: Greg Washington
1: Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins 42
Mike Moore 22
Greg Washington 14
David Imes 12
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Shemiye McLendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Old Dominion

1.) Since I’m in cliché mode the last couple days, that was the tale of two halves (BOOOO). The Flying Dutchmen looked ready to blow Old Dominion out of the building in taking a 12-0 lead, but the Monarchs chipped away and ended the half on a 21-7 run to take a 29-27 lead. This is an ODU-friendly pace and the Monarchs have to be thrilled to be winning a game in which they committed nine turnovers.

2.) It’s not a coincidence Old Dominion outscored the Dutchmen 12-2 once Greg Washington went to the bench with his third foul just after the under-four media timeout. Washington blocked ODU’s first three shots, and while the Monarchs have their usual rebounding advantage (28-13), the aggressiveness of Washington, David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni on defense has at least handcuffed ODU a bit. The Dutchmen don’t have the bodies to survive attrition via foul trouble, so Washington is going to have to play carefully in the second half.

3.) And while the Dutchmen have been aggressive, Old Dominion is still getting way too many second chances—11 offensive rebounds against just nine defensive boards for the Dutchmen. The Monarchs are tough to beat when they’re taking advantage of those extra opportunities.

4.) Stay fundamentally sound: The Dutchmen need to continue forcing turnovers, to continue taking care of the ball when they’re on offense (just two turnovers in the first half) and continue the fine ball distribution they displayed during the game-opening run.

5.) The Dutchmen went cold at the end of the first half. It seemed to be as much a matter of bad luck as tough defense by ODU. If the shots start falling, and Charles Jenkins (4-of-8 shooting, nine points) has his patented second half run, and Imes (0-for-5) or Brad Kelleher (0-for-2) finds their touch, my guess is the Dutchmen are pretty happy at 6 pm.

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Five pre-game thoughts: Old Dominion

Blast from the past!

1.) The first thing you should do after you finish reading this is get in the car and go to Hofstra and watch this game. I’m probably speaking to the converted here, but hey, the Flying Dutchmen are 5-0 and the bandwagon is getting full, so who knows how many new visitors we have here? Anyway, I was going to do something yesterday imploring the masses to show up at the Arena, but there was a lot of snow to shovel in Connecticut and a lot of day job work to grind through so I never got to it. But don’t take it from me—take it from my man Tim McMahon, who is probably sticking his DD voodoo doll after I interrupted him during dinner Thursday then never used his quotes!

“On Long Island, you come for a 4 o’clock game, you leave at 3:40, takes you 10 minutes to get there—[you think] ‘I’ll park and I’ll walk in and buy a ticket and be in the seat at 4:01,’” McMahon, Hofstra’s associate director of external relations, said.

But momentum for this game has been building since last Wednesday’s win over George Mason. And with more than 2,200 tickets sold as of this time yesterday—that’s in addition to season tickets—and dozens of other tickets being occupied by the high school bands that will play today, seats will be scarce today in what should be a great atmosphere for college basketball. So finish reading this and get your butt to Hofstra.

“People need to buy early and get in from the start,” McMahon said. “Let us know who you are and let us know what you think.”

2.) On to the game: Drexel put on a clinic on how to beat Old Dominion in coming back from an eight-point halftime deficit to beat the Monarchs, 62-57. Drexel outrebounded Old Dominion in the second half, 27-17, and became the first team this year to finish the game with the rebounding advantage over the Monarchs (47-37). Old Dominion’s prowess underneath the boards (it ranks among the top three in the country in rebounding and pulls down almost 16 offensive rebounds per game) compensates for its famously poor shooting (43.3 percent from the field and 63 percent from the line). The Monarchs simply can’t get second shots. David Imes and Greg Washington must be huge factors today in minimizing the number of opportunities ODU gets. And conversely, against the suffocating Old Dominion defense, the Dutchmen must be as potent on the offensive boards today as they were Wednesday, when they had 21 second-chance points.

3.) This would be a good game for the Dutchmen to find their form from beyond the arc. The Dutchmen have either been really good or really bad from 3-point land in their last eight games: They’ve shot 42 percent or better four times but 27 percent or worse four times. Old Dominion has scored more than 70 points just five times in 16 games and has been held under 70 in each of its last six contests and is not a team built to mount a comeback. Putting the Monarchs into that mode in a hurry will give the Dutchmen a big advantage.

3b.) No way this game gets into the 70s. It might not even get into the 60s.

4.) Old Dominion will be one mad, ornery team. Playing the back end of a northern bias road trip is bad enough, but playing it right after blowing a big lead at Drexel means the Monarchs won’t lack for focus or motivation today—especially since a loss here would put the overwhelming preseason favorites in a world of hurt. ODU would fall to 3-3 with a loss and would be, for all intents and purposes, four games behind the Dutchmen (today’s winner has the tiebreaker for seeding purposes since this is the only game of the season between the teams). But hey, nothing has come easy for the Dutchmen this season, so why should they get the top team in the league at anything less than its best?

5.) Coming full circle here: The atmosphere could be a huge factor for the Dutchmen in the first few minutes. The 2008-09 team played its best game of the season when it fed off a boisterous Arena and led Old Dominion wire-to-wire in a win Feb. 10. Darren Townes established the tone for that game by forcing held balls on the Monarchs’ first two possessions. Drexel proved Thursday a team doesn’t have to jump on Old Dominion from the tap in order to win. But embracing the buzz (man I sound like some kind of corporate wonk there, have I missed my calling?) early and never giving the Monarchs a chance to grab the momentum is vital. Because as much fun as it was to watch Aurimas Kieza drain that buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the win five years ago, a stress-free win is much more enjoyable.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

In which I embrace the clichés I once decried and take this awesome Flying Dutchmen run one day at a time

Google it, DC!

When I was forcibly removed from the field of paying sports journalism three years ago next month, I figured one of the few bright spots was I’d no longer have to repress my disdain whenever I heard an athlete or coach/manager utter a cliché. One day at a time, one game at a time, don’t get too high or too low, we don’t want to look too far ahead or too far back…blah Blah BLAH SHUT UP ALREADY.

Freed of a byline and a paycheck, I could scream at the television every time Derek Jet—err, an overrated one-time star shortstop—made it clear how much he loathes working grunts with the passive-aggressive act of being unfailingly available to say absolutely nothing at all. I could snort whenever managers and coaches refused to play along with reporters who asked them to put a rivalry or a game into a historical context. Instead of listening to a digital recorder trying to find a quote that wasn’t a cliché, I could read stories and try to find a quote that wasn’t a cliché.

It was gloriously freeing (well, except for that whole thing where I defined myself by my job and fell into a crippling depression, thanks corporate scum!). I could look back all I wanted. Sure, I’m intelligent enough to know that winning 28 of 34 games against Towson dating back to 1995-96 doesn’t have an impact on the next game against the Tigers, but it’s a cool fact, and I could write about it all I wanted.

And I could overlook absolutely anybody I wanted. I could look ahead. I could take one Hofstra win, and imagine it would jumpstart a run to the NCAA Tournament. I could ponder what it would be like to celebrate a CAA championship in March. I could do whatever I wanted.

Yet now that the Flying Dutchmen, for the first time in three seasons, are actually giving us fans something to look ahead to, and facing opponents we can afford to overlook, I’m…I’m not doing it. Even today, with winless Northeastern and Towson neatly dispatched over the last six days, the Dutchmen all alone in first place in the CAA at a perfect 5-0 and preseason favorite Old Dominion coming into what better be a packed Hofstra Arena tomorrow, I find myself still—oh dear God—taking it one day at a time.

Which makes me a lot like Mo Cassara. “We’re still a one stop at a time, one day at a time team,” Cassara said during the Dutchmen’s ride home from Towson Wednesday night, “This is still a work in progress. This is still a group that’s learning.”

OK, but he’s got to be excited about facing Old Dominion Saturday, right? “I think the thing we’re most excited about is going home and being able to play in front of our fans on our home court,” Cassara said. “We’ll leave it at that and continue to try to get better.”

Don’t let the Bill Belichick impersonation fool you. Cassara is as excited as you and I, and knows how long we’ve all waited for this, because he’s waited just as long. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this year.

Oh, it was, originally, way back when Tom Pecora was the coach and Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams were reigning members of the all-rookie team and Cassara was an assistant at Boston College who may or may not have known where Hempstead was. But then Pecora, Kanacevic and Williams left, and the year in which everything was supposed to come together—Jenkins’ senior year—was shaping up as yet another missed opportunity, another one of those years that would have us jaded Hofstra fans wondering what might have been. We’re good at that.

No year sticks in our craw quite like 2006-07, which was a season of entitlement for fans and, perhaps, players alike. The Dutchmen were the overwhelming pick to win the CAA and even earned some Top 25 consideration in the pre-season, so when they opened the season 0-3 and then got destroyed by Syracuse in their biggest non-conference games before losing CAA games at Northeastern and Delaware, we just assumed they’d turn it on when it mattered most and win three games in Richmond. Yeah. Not so much.

We’ve gotten used to pining for our waning days in the America East, when Hofstra had a target on its back throughout back-to-back championship runs, while trying to convince ourselves that there was some magic to be found the last three seasons. OK, maybe not in 2007-08, when starts of 1-5 and 2-9 meant the year was over as soon as it started, but the 2008-09 team started off red-hot and the 2009-10 team ended red-hot. But there was never really a sense either squad had what it took to make a deep CAA Tournament run.

We also kick ourselves for not savoring 2005-06 enough. In our defense, that magical season happened one year earlier than anticipated—check out that non-conference schedule that cost Hofstra an at-large bid (snort). Nobody really knew what we were watching unfold until Hofstra battered George Mason at the Arena in late February. Other than the obvious Screw Job, the season was awesome, but it was a tidal wave—we didn’t realize we were in the midst of it until we were swept under tow.

If it ever happened again, we promised ourselves, we’d realize it in the moment and, to invoke another cliché, smell the roses this time and enjoy the experience of the college basketball world beginning to turn its gaze towards us.

And it’s happening, during a season in which we figured the scent would be something other than rosy. A year that began with the fanbase hoping for the best but steeling itself for another rough ride has instead turned into a sprint on the straightaway. Holy smokes, that never happens to us.

I imagine similar sentiments are being expressed by seniors Charles Jenkins, Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester. Often times, when coaches utter clichés, it’s because they need to keep their team focused. But that’s not a problem with that trio running the locker room, not after all they’ve been through since the end of last season. There’s no need to remind the seniors—especially Jenkins, the best player and leader I’ve ever seen at Hofstra and someone who deserves this spot on center stage, however long it lasts—to enjoy the moment, no worry that they won’t pass that advice down to their younger, less weathered teammates.

“There was a time, five years ago when I was a redshirt freshman, I sat on the end of the bench, nobody knew who I was,” Jenkins said Saturday in Boston. “I’ll take advantage of it. If you want to take pictures of me and write stories, I’ll [do] anything.”

Cassara’s words are probably as much a reminder for the coaching staff as it is for the players. Not that coaches need to be instructed in the ways of the cliché, but this group, in particular, has earned the right to just enjoy the moment. Cassara, Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin all had no idea what awaited them or if they’d even remain in the business after Tim Welsh was arrested last April. Wayne Morgan was already out of the business, toiling as a satellite television salesman in Iowa. There’s a reason these guys coach and work as if their jobs are on the line every single day.

This is the team that everyone else left behind, worth rooting for long before it became the team everyone else was chasing. “I think through all the challenges and difficulties that we had on so many different levels and the different curveballs that have been thrown at us—from injuries to travel to various other things—[they’ve developed] kind of an us against the world mentality,” Cassara said.

“And our group is really bonded together. The energy is great on the bench. Our bench is cheering and we’re getting different efforts from different guys. It’s a sign of a good team, a team that’s getting better everyday.”

Tomorrow could be the best day yet, but let’s enjoy today first—one more day in which we hit refresh on the CAA standings and smile at the sight of Hofstra alone atop the league. One more day of scouring the Internet for stories about Cassara and Jenkins. One more day of checking out bracketologists who are penciling in Hofstra as the CAA champ. One more day to examine those RPI rankings that have the Dutchmen in the top 100. One more day to realize just how joyous it is to watch the Dutchmen play such fundamentally sound basketball, and to realize it’s an indicator that while this run is a surprise, it isn’t a fluke.

It’s also one more day in which we can wonder if there’s a brick wall at the end of this straightaway. As we note often around here, the Dutchmen are awfully thin and CAA history is littered with teams that started fast and faded even faster.

But that’s precisely WHY we need to live by the clichés. We don’t want to miss out on the enjoyment just in case this is the basketball version of—WARNING! ANOTHER CLICHÉ AHEAD—the idea that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Follow me, and take it one day—and one cliché—at a time, won’t you?

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