Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hofstra 75, Drexel 69 (Or: Some things stay the same and some are due for change)

I was happy to learn it's tougher to find Hall & Oates songs about wins than it is about losses.

As is often the case, the “lede” to the Iona recap last week was not the one I had in mind originally. In fact, I’d written most of a blog about how the Iona game could define the Dutchmen’s season, and how most coaches hate to read and hear such declarations from writers so early in a season, until I realized the actual story was Charles Jenkins declaring he would never again display a lack of aggression in the first half.

Anyway, good thing I shelved that entry, because now I can say that LAST night is the type of game that could not only define a season but an era, and how Mo Cassara would probably cringe upon reading and hearing this tripe spill from my fingers and my mouth.

But the Flying Dutchmen’s 75-69 upset win over Drexel is huge, and not just because it improved the Dutchmen to 3-0 in the ECC (you didn’t think I’d forget that silly little meme did you?), put them into a three-way tie for first place in the CAA and assured they would receive a bye in the CAA Tournament, if only the CAA regular season lasted two games and the tournament began, say, Wednesday.

The win, of course, doesn’t guarantee much, especially with the most talented team in the league, George Mason, coming to town tomorrow night (that’s me playing nice, Mason Nation, don’t get used to it!) and a roadie at always-tough Northeastern awaiting the Dutchmen Saturday. All last night does is assure the Dutchmen will leave the weekend no worse than .500 in the CAA, which, let’s face it, we all would have taken a month or a week or a day ago.

But this win is a pivotal one because of what it signified in the short- and long-term. Beating the hottest and most surprising team in the league—on the road—to resume CAA play is the Signature Win this team has lacked since the departure of Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera and the Signature Win that eluded the Dutchmen in such demoralizing fashion last Jan. 2, when William & Mary—which, like Drexel, was predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the league before it threatened to climb into the Top 25 during the non-conference season—took its only lead of the game on its last basket to edge the Dutchmen 48-47 at the Arena.

There were many reasons why that loss began a 1-7 stretch for the Dutchmen that nearly derailed their season, but a win there would have likely done a lot more than merely made the Dutchmen 3-6 at the halfway point of the CAA schedule. The Dutchmen were, to invoke a cliché that I will use because it allows me to post another Hall and Oates video, so close yet so far away to that Signature Win, having squandered second half leads against UConn, Charlotte and St. John’s, that it began wearing on them and contributed to a brutal January.

This victory, and particularly the way it was recorded, allows the Dutchmen to clear a hurdle that had been in their path for the last four seasons. The best-case scenario for a victory didn’t come close to actually happening, but the Dutchmen won anyway.

The Dutchmen, one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams, were just 2-of-11 from beyond the arc, by far their worst performance of the season, yet were 24-of-43 from everywhere else. They were outrebounded 44-31 and allowed 18 offensive rebounds, but that was a result of the Dutchmen throwing a variety of defenses at Drexel and forcing the Dragons to shoot a season-worst 37.3 percent from the field.

Everyone shy of Demetrius Dudley was in serious foul trouble for the Dutchmen in the second half, when they got into the bonus within the first five minutes and saw Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington both head to the bench with four fouls within the first six minutes. Jenkins and Washington hit the pine with the Dutchmen down 44-40 and Drexel in the midst of a 15-4 run, yet the Dutchmen and their piecemeal lineup (at one point in the second half, the five players on the court for Hofstra were Mike Moore, Shemiye McLendon, Brad Kelleher, Yves Jules and David Imes—three newcomers and two sophomores who barely saw the court as freshmen) hung on thanks to Imes, who outscored Drexel 6-4 with Jenkins on the bench.

Imes had the best game of his career, shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor and scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half. Imes, who grabbed eight rebounds as well, also hit the most pivotal basket of the final seven minutes, a reverse layup immediately shortly after Washington fouled out and Drexel took its biggest lead (55-50) with 7:10 left.

By that point, Jenkins was back. Utilized to perfection by Cassara, who pulled Jenkins in defensive situations and just before media timeouts whenever possible, Jenkins—who displayed his newfound aggression in leading the Dutchmen to a seven-point halftime lead—scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the final eight minutes.

Mike Moore, who had another game in which he managed to make multiple contributions despite a quiet night offensively (11 points, a team-high nine rebounds and a game-high three steals) scored eight of his 11 points after Jenkins picked up his fourth foul. Jenkins and Moore had the most pivotal baskets of the game, back-to-back coast-to-coast layups that extended the Dutchmen’s lead to six with a minute left.

The Dutchmen got valuable contributions from the rest of their lean roster. Brad Kelleher, five nights removed from an ugly 0-for-8 performance from the field, ran the point again with Dwan McMillan still out sick and had seven points, five assists and one turnover in 33 minutes. Shemiye McLendon, who was 0-for-7 against Iona, was 0-for-3 from the field but hit the two free throws that gave the Dutchmen the lead for good at 63-62.

Yves Jules, who missed two of the last four games due to injury and illness, played a season-high 21 minutes and blanketed hot-shooting Chris Fouch, who was just 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point land. The five attempts from beyond the arc were a season low for Fouch. Even Paul Bilbo, forced into action due to the early foul trouble for Washington and Stephan Nwaukoni, scored his first career basket on a gorgeous sky hook to end the first half.

Again: One win doesn’t ensure anything for this season, but this victory is more proof the Dutchmen have a keeper in Cassara. We all wondered how easily Cassara could shift from buddy mode in the spring to hard-ass mode in the fall and winter. Pretty easily and pretty convincingly, as it turns out, because he put the Dutchmen through what he called “boot camp” over New Year’s weekend after the Iona debacle and promised no Hofstra team would ever play like that under him ever again.

And the Dutchmen responded by producing a long-awaited Signature Win. Imagine what we’ll be saying about Cassara and the possibilities of this season if they do it again tomorrow night.

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

Charles Jenkins 34
Mike Moore 17
David Imes 10
Greg Washington 7
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McClendon 2
Brad Kelleher 1
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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

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