Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hofstra 87, George Mason 74 (Or: Ain’t it wonderful to be alive when the rock and roll plays)

As if last night could have gotten any better: DD anthem "Keeping The Faith" was on as we pulled into the driveway. Swear to Jenkins. No writer's liberty there.

Anyone who knows anything at all about the history of Hofstra-George Mason knows it’s dangerous for the Flying Dutchmen to leave superstars on the court in the waning seconds of a lopsided win. You never know what might happen.

But the last time the Dutchmen beat Mason at Hofstra—11 days before Tony Skinn became a synonym for thuggish poor sportsmanship and 19 days before the Great Screw Job—Charles Jenkins was a high school senior. The last time the Dutchmen beat the Patriots anywhere, back in February 2007 in Fairfax, he was a redshirt freshman. And the last time Mason visited Hofstra, Jenkins spent the final minutes of a blowout loss fighting back tears on the bench.

Jenkins has been waiting his entire career for last night. So the risks of playing Mason in the last seconds be damned, he was going to savor every last second of last night’s gloriously awesome 87-74 victory over the Patriots.

Greg Washington rebounded an Isaiah Tate miss with 27 seconds left and fired the ball down court to Jenkins, who finished off a nearly perfect second half by dribbling out the clock—imagine that, the shot clock off in a double-digit win and he didn’t shoot, no wonder Mason didn’t recruit him—with a grin slowly spreading across his face. He bounced the ball higher and higher as the final seconds ticked off, and once the buzzer sounded and Hofstra was officially alone atop the CAA as the league’s last unbeaten team at 3-0 (goddamn, that really is true, isn’t it?), screamed and waved his arms in the direction of the Lions Den.

“Thirty seconds left in the game, coach turned to me [and] said ‘Want to take [you] out?’” said Jenkins, who produced a brilliant line of 32 points (on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 12-of-14 from the free throw line), eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. “And I said ‘No. I want every minute of this.’ It meant a lot.”

It meant a lot to everyone. Anyone who bleeds blue and gold—whether they were at Hofstra in 2006 or not, whether they rant and scream and rave on a blog or not—was starving for a night like Wednesday, for a chance to begin evening the score. As Tom Pecora said: Mason, their reputation precedes them.

The emails and Tweets came tumbling in yesterday afternoon, all with an underlying sense of confidence we haven’t felt in recent years that this time would be different. Indeed, it was so different—so very, very different and so very long in coming.

And not just the part in which Hofstra beat Mason for the first time in 1,425 days (but who’s counting?), or the part in which the insufferably smug Jim Larranaga was reduced to stomping his feet on the sideline and moaning about Mo Cassara being out of the coach’s box in the final minutes before he finally pulled a Bill Belichick with silent dead-fish handshakes in the post-game greeting line (but hey, again, at least nobody got punched, so that’s progress).

It was also the dominant and thorough fashion in which Hofstra won—completely unimaginable against a team of Mason’s caliber, but particularly incomprehensible given the Dutchmen were just a week removed from trailing wire-to-wire in a 25-point loss to Iona. But the Dutchmen were by far the better team last night—and, more importantly, the tougher, more resilient and fundamentally better one, as well.

Mason opened the game on a 20-10 run that was, for all intents and purposes, a 20-6 spurt it mounted after Washington opened the game with consecutive baskets. Cassara called timeout with 11:54 left, even though the next dead ball would have been a media timeout, and changed defenses from the zone to a man-to-man.

The Dutchmen needed just seven minutes to produce their own 20-10 run, during which they got baskets from six players, none of whom were named Charles Jenkins. The Dutchmen took two one-point leads on a free throw by Stephen Nwaukoni and a layup by Shemiye McLendon, the latter of which came with 33 seconds left and gave Mason the chance for the last shot of the half.

But with four seconds left, Brad Kelleher stole the ball from Andre Cornelius near the Hofstra bench, dribbled the length of the court and drained a 30-footer at the buzzer—his third 3-pointer in as many attempts in the final 12 minutes—to give the Dutchmen a 39-35 lead and send the Arena into something approximating a frenzy.

“After our poor start, we started to pick it up on the defensive end and then we started to get momentum rolling,” Kelleher said. “I think that was just a perfect way to end a great second half of the first half.”

“We came out and played some zone and we didn’t do a great job, and a lot of credit goes to George Mason, they moved the ball and they’ve got some terrific shooters and we were just a little slow to the ball and they got some great open looks,” Cassara said. “But we hung in there. We didn’t play our best out of the gates and we kind of hung in there. I just kept telling our guys at halftime it’s all about who’s going to be tougher down the stretch. And we were ultimately the tougher team tonight.”

Just as they did Monday against Drexel the Dutchmen got into trouble in a hurry in the second half. Mason went on an 8-0 run in the first three minutes, during which the Dutchmen picked up five fouls (TOM O’CONNOR BIAS!!!!). But a Jenkins 3-point play and a pair of free throws by David Imes gave the Dutchmen a 44-43 lead and they, amazingly, would never trail again.

Those five points began a 14-0 run that turned the game into something that bordered on an out-of-body experience. The next two times Mason scored, the Dutchmen responded with a 6-0 run, the second of which was capped when Jenkins hit a layup, stole the inbounds pass and hit another layup, at which point I may or may not have actually passed out with joy.

“George Mason’s a good team and one thing coach told us is the they’re going to make a run,” Jenkins said. “One thing we had to do was stay composed and that’s what we did.”

The one time Mason actually got something going—a 9-2 run that pulled the Patriots within 67-57—the Dutchmen went on another 6-0 run. In the final five minutes, the Dutchmen took just three shots from the field—all during the same sequence, which ended with a resounding dunk by Washington—but made 15 of 18 free throws.

The Dutchmen finished 27-of-33 from the line. Mason was 11-of-20, but hey, who needs fundamentals when you are 2-of-3 on alley-oops?

Some more incredible second half stats: Mason was 13-of-33 from the field after shooting 15-of-28 in the first half. Jenkins was 7-of-8 for the Dutchmen, who finished 13-of-22 in the second half and 26-of-50 overall.

“I guess I got into a zone,” Jenkins said with an almost sheepish grin.

The Dutchmen outrebounded the Patriots 21-14 and had as many offensive rebounds (six) as Mason had defensive. In the first half, Mason enjoyed a 22-11 rebounding advantage and had 15 defensive rebounds to Hofstra’s two offensive rebounds.

“That really was the difference in the game,” Cassara said. “In the first half they were just killing us on the glass. I thought we really hung in there and battled. Some guys got some terrific rebounds, guys were fighting and boxing out. I thought our defensive intensity in the second half was much better.”

Washington’s final basket and Mike Moore’s eight free throws gave the Dutchmen five players in double figures—a remarkable number for a team that goes just nine deep and received 61 percent of its scoring from two players (Jenkins and Moore) last week against Iona.

Kelleher (13 points) and McLendon (11 points), who were 0-for-15 against Iona, were 8-of-17 last night, including 5-of-10 from 3-point land. With Dwan McMillan still out with an eye injury, Kelleher played 26 minutes despite a swollen left ankle. Washington was 5-of-6 shooting and is now 12-of-17 in his last three games.

Even those who didn’t get into double digits in the scoring column contributed. Imes, who scored a career-high 20 points on Monday, had just four last night, but pulled down a team-high eight rebounds. Yves Jules played his usual suffocating defense over 14 minutes. Nwaukoni had six rebounds in 19 minutes. And even walk-on Matt Grogan got on to the court just before the under four timeout in the second half and pulled down a rebound in the eight seconds he was out there before Cassara realized he had to get a point guard on the floor.

“Obviously thrilled with the victory, thrilled with the 3-0 start in the CAA, but I think more than anything, I’m just proud of this team,” Cassara said. “We’re down to limited bodies. We’ve got guys sick, we’ve got guys hurt, and we just found a way to win tonight. I’m really proud of our resilient effort. This group is coming together.”

Afterward, nobody wanted to go their separate ways. People were flat-out happy—lingering at the Arena and enjoying the moment. We don’t get many nights like these, us Hofstra fans.

We’re a bitter, jaded group, conditioned by experience to expect the worst. Our football team was yanked out from underneath us in cloak-and-dagger fashion that would have impressed Bob Irsay and our basketball team suffers the types of near-misses that, to be fair, are endured by every mid-major. Except, of course, for that whole 2006 thing, which was perpetuated by the school on the other end of the court last night.

We hope there will be many more moments like this in a season that is suddenly very, very interesting. We also know this almost surely won’t last forever, and that just about everybody in a wild and unpredictable CAA is going to hit a rough patch—especially a team as lean and inexperienced as Hofstra. We only have to look to last week—or to Mason last year, which opened 10-1 in conference but lost eight of its final 10 games—to know how quickly things can turn.

That 13-point win last night could be a 15-point loss—or worse—during the return visit to Fairfax Feb. 2. Or the Patriots could get the ultimate revenge and send Jenkins to the NBA with a win over Hofstra in the CAA Tournament. And if that happens, well, we will take the medicine served to us by a Mason Nation that was oddly quiet last night and once again wait ‘til next year.

Of course, Hofstra has the maturity Mason has lacked the last two seasons, and Mason didn’t have a Jenkins type last year, so who knows? All we know is last night was delicious. Every last second of it.

“Let’s go enjoy this one,” Cassara said as he got up from the podium.

Don’t worry. We did.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. George Mason, 1/5)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Brad Kelleher
1: Greg Washington

Charles Jenkins 37
Mike Moore 17
David Imes 10
Greg Washington 8
Dwan McMillan 5
Brad Kelleher 3
Shemiye McClendon 2
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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Geoffrey said...

Huge win!!

You know who said...

Don't you mean, "Their reputation perceives them."?

Intelligent guy, that Pecora.