Monday, January 24, 2011

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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