Before David Imes took over, Charles Jenkins and Chad Tomko did their best Bird vs. Jordan imitation (sans, thankfully, Jordan's hideous sweater, my goodness, the early '90s were a fashion train wreck says the guy who wore acid-washed jeans and a mullet, where am I going with this?)
I’ve been bogged down with end-of-the-month mortgage—err, rent—paying work and trying to finish up the last of the Senior Day profiles in time for Senior Day, all at the same time, so the UNC Wilmington recap is a bit later than I would prefer and once again of the bullet point variety. Hmm. I smell a trend here. Anyway, enjoy!
1.) The most important result of the Flying Dutchmen’s 71-64 win over UNC Wilmington actually happened a few hundred miles to the northwest, where VCU fell to Drexel 64-60. The Rams’ loss gave the Dutchmen sole possession of third place (actually, for a night, the Dutchmen were alone in second place until Old Dominion beat James Madison to regain second on the tiebreaker) and ensured that the Dutchmen will lock up the three seed by beating Delaware. That’s a huge accomplishment, both in the micro and macro sense: Finishing third allows the Dutchmen to avoid George Mason until the championship game and would mark the best finish for the program since 2006-07—a remarkable feat given all the turmoil the Dutchmen endured last spring and the leanness of the roster.
“I just think it’s a real credit to our staff—Steve and Wayne and Allen and Kyle [Steinway] and our Gas and managers and everybody,” Mo Cassara said from Wilmington afterward. “Just an incredible job, day in and day out throughout the season. It’s a real credit to them, a real credit to our team that we’ve been able to bounce back from some disappointing losses and some tough road trips and ultimately find a way to win. To be 7-2 [on the road] in the CAA is really an incredible achievement.”
2.) While Charles Jenkins embarked on a classic duel with Chad Tomko in the first half and finished with his usual huge game (22 points on 9-of-14 shooting with five assists, four turnovers, three rebounds and one steal), the difference between victory and defeat was David Imes, who made me look like I know what I’m talking about by producing his sixth double-double (which is the exact same amount Halil Kanacevic had last season—just saying). Imes, who made no secret on Twitter of how disappointed he was with the lopsided loss to Wright State Saturday, tied a career high with 17 rebounds and added 12 points and was particularly dominant in the second half, when he had 12 rebounds (including four offensive) and nine points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. As has become his custom, he hit one of the biggest shots of the second half with a jumper that ended a 12-4 run by UNC Wilmington, broke a 59-59 tie and gave the Dutchmen the lead for good with 3:05 to play.
“I challenged him at halftime a little bit,” Cassara said. “I think the thing I’m most proud of with David Imes is not that he got 17 rebounds and made some big baskets. It’s that he missed some shots and had a couple bad plays, but he didn’t get down. He bounced back. I think early in the season, he would have gotten down and [he would have] had to sub him out. Now he’s found a way to fight through that. That’s a real sign of his development. I’m really proud of his development, that’s the thing that [has] really helped us in some games.”
3.) Another sophomore, Yves Jules, played a quietly pivotal role in the victory by helping to shut down Tomko after the latter’s huge first half (14 points on 5-of-8 shooting). Tomko had just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in the second half, during which Jules played 10 minutes. Jules also hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to break a 56-56 tie with 4:09 to play. His effort was particularly impressive considering he left in the first half with a seemingly serious foot injury.
“Yves gave us some great energy off the bench, some great size on top of Tomko and really gave us some good effort on defense,” Cassara said.
4.) Jules’ contributions were particularly pivotal because Mike Moore (20 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-5 from 3-point land, and an 8-of-10 outing from the free throw line) had another quiet game from long distance (though his 3-pointer as the shot clock dwindled with 1:53 to play extended the Dutchmen’s lead to five) while Brad Kelleher was just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and slumping freshman Shemiye McLendon drew his first DNP-CD of the season. Cassara played sophomore walk-on Matt Grogan, who missed a 3-pointer in four first half minutes, over McLendon.
“I’m a little bit of a big picture guy and I think that sometimes I go with my gut and my feeling on what’s going to help this team win and make this team better,” Cassara said. “It was just a feeling I had, Matt’s really been working hard in practice and it’s just a decision I made within the team.”
5.) Imes’ big second half symbolized a more spirited effort by the Dutchmen, who were getting outhustled to most of the “50/50” loose balls in the first half by a Seahawks team feeding off the momentum of Senior Night. But the Dutchmen, who held only a pair of brief one-point leads in the first half before entering intermission tied for the first time this season, never trailed in the second half despite falling into a tie three times.
“Part of it is a credit to UNC Wilmington, I think they just played really hard, they had great energy and they were quick to the ball [in the first half],” Cassara said. “Ultimately we found a way to keep the game close at halftime and make some big plays down the stretch at the end of the first half to keep it close. They came out with good energy in the second half, got a little bit of a lead and found a way to finish it off.”
The win once again showed the resiliency of the Dutchmen, who are now 5-2 in the game immediately following a double-digit defeat. “Coming off a really tough BracketBuster game, a tough trip out to Ohio, come home, really have to get after it for a couple days in practice and then get on an airplane again to come all the way down to Carolina—I was worried if we didn’t win tonight it would have been a couple tough losses in a row coming home,” Cassara said. “Ultimately we found a way to have a great energy tonight. Overall not our best performance but really a great effort and I’m really proud of our team.”