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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