Monday, January 10, 2011

Hofstra 76, Northeastern 67 (Or: Come as you are, or don’t come at all)

Bostonian Peter Wolf sums up the Flying Dutchmen's philosophy Saturday at Northeastern!

Throughout the second half of the Flying Dutchmen’s 76-67 victory over Northeastern Saturday afternoon in The Greatest City Ever (sorry New York it’s true) I figured that Mo Cassara would have a lot of flaws to pick apart during his postgame press conference.

Sure, it was a win—the Dutchmen’s fourth in the CAA without a defeat, which, as you may or may not know, HAS HOFSTRA ALL ALONE IN FIRST PLACE WHOO WHOO—but it wasn’t one without blemishes. The Dutchmen let Northeastern, a rebuilding squad which is winless in the CAA, hang around—their lead hovered between four and 10 points from the 19:24 mark of the second half through the 3:12 mark—and had a few hiccups in shot selection and on defense that could have made things really interesting if they were facing a more experienced team.

But the Cassara who sat at the podium in the Northeastern weight room (seriously, and that was awesome, I love Boston and its ancient sports buildings crammed into small places) was all smiles. There are wins in which a coach can be a hardass and hammer points home afterward, and wins in which he and his players just enjoy the moment. And Saturday, for many reasons, was the latter.

A mere four conference games into his career—and we should note here that he currently has the highest winning percentage in CAA play OF ANY COACH EVER—and Cassara already understands that any league road win is a good one. Nobody cares about style points, especially in a season in which Old Dominion has already lost at Delaware, both James Madison and VCU have already lost at Georgia State and in which only one team—PS: It’s Hofstra—is unbeaten through four games.

Then of course there was the whole 11-hour bus ride thing. The Dutchmen barely spent more time in Boston than it took to get there. They arrived at 1:30 am, had an 8 am wakeup call and played a nooner, all with a lean roster (Dwan McMillan was out for a fourth straight game) that was barely 60 hours removed from the cathartic win over George Mason. And as much as we love Matthews Arena, that place Saturday afternoon—with “989” people in attendance and the only ones making noise the student section crowding both sidelines—was an environment that invites a letdown.

All that and the Dutchmen hit five of their first six shots—every starter got into the box score except Charles Jenkins, a.k.a. The Man Amen—to race out to an 11-4 lead at the first media timeout. They shot 53 percent from the field, the third straight time they’ve shot at least 48 percent after reaching that mark just once in their first 12 games, and tied a season high by shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc.

Five players scored in double figures for the second straight game, pretty impressive considering it happened a grand total of three times in the previous 148 games. The starting five scored all but four of the Dutchmen’s points and played 178 out of a possible 200 minutes. And the Dutchmen were the definition of fundamentally sound by recording 20 assists on 25 field goals and hitting 18 of 20 free throws.

“I knew it was going to go one way or the other,” Cassara said. “Either we were going to come out today and just say ‘it’s us against the world,’ and we did that, or it was going to be ‘hey, we’re flat and we’re going to make excuses.’ But these guys have been through so much and they’ve found a way and they’ve bounded together.

“Listen, we’re doing it with guys who can’t play right now, guys who are hurt, different guys all the time. Just really proud of the effort.”

Jenkins ended up with his usual stuffed stat line (a team-high 20 points, seven assists and three steals) but Greg Washington, David Imes and Mike Moore were just as valuable. Imes capped his resurgent week with his third double-double of the year (11 points, 10 rebounds). He had 35 points and 26 rebounds in the three conference wins last week after collecting just 23 points and 20 rebounds in his previous five games combined.

“He’s been incredibly resilient,” Cassara said. “He’s bought in and he’s gotten better and better. He does a lot of things that don’t show up, too. I thought he did a terrific job on some post defense tonight, got a couple great rebounds for us, made a couple great layups around the basket. He continues to develop.”

Washington was 6-of-15 from the field—the 15 field goal attempts were a career-high exceeding his previous best by three—and scored a season-high 14 points. He also had five rebounds and has 11 boards in his last two games after picking up just 12 rebounds in the preceding five games. He is also 22-of-38 from the field in his last five games, which works out to 58 percent—a smidge better than Jenkins, albeit in far fewer attempts (Jenkins is 31-for-56 in his last five games, 55 percent).

“I thought he gave us a great effort tonight,” Cassara said. “He had a lot of good looks and some of them just didn’t go in. But he also battled, he got five rebounds.”

Moore had 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point land—his best performance of the year, percentage wise, from beyond the arc. Brad Kelleher was just 2-of-6 from the field, but got into double figures by hitting all six of his free throws in the final 3:12.

“Speaks volumes about our development,” Cassara said about the five players with at least 10 points. “We’re getting different efforts from different guys. Tonight, some great lines across the board. If we can continue to do that, we’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games.”

Sure, a couple of Washington’s shots were ill-advised—including one with plenty of time left on the shot clock and the Dutchmen trying to burn clock with just over a minute remaining—and the Dutchmen pulled down just five offensive rebounds (three of which were the team variety) compared to 19 defensive rebounds for Northeastern. The Huskies also outscored the Dutchmen in the paint, 32-22, and hit three straight uncontested 3-pointers in turning a 17-12 deficit into a 21-21 tie in a two-minute span in the first half.

But those were issues to discuss on another day. On Saturday afternoon, at the end of a week that went better than anyone could have possibly imagined, Cassara and the Dutchmen had earned the right to just enjoy a win—on what turned out to be a far shorter trip home.

“What I told the team in the locker room is we have every excuse not to win this game—we could say we had a bad bus trip and it took us [11 hours to get there],” Jenkins said. “But the reality is we still have to play basketball. As a basketball player, if someone’s coming at you, you’ve got to [play]. And I think that’s what we did tonight.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Northeastern, 1/8)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: David Imes
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 40
Mike Moore 17
David Imes 12
Greg Washington 9
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Shemiye McClendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


As one who's from NYC and went to NU and then returned to Boston to live for another five years - NYC is the best city. You can't be a great city if you're not a 24-hour city. Very hard to do!