Since New Year’s Day, the Flying Dutchmen have routed George Mason, which has since surged to the top of the CAA standings and into the top 30 of the RPI, and come back from double-digit deficits to beat James Madison and Northeastern in front of frenzied crowds at home.
Compared to those seismic wins, last night’s 79-68 win over Georgia State appears downright pedestrian. The Dutchmen gave up the first basket of the game, then led for the final 38-plus minutes and led by at least six points for the final 35-plus minutes. Georgia State mounted a couple surges after falling behind by 18 less than seven minutes into the second half, but the outcome of the game was never really in doubt.
Yet as far as Mo Cassara is concerned, the win matches up to any other one the Dutchmen have enjoyed this season. And who are we to argue with him?
“It’s one of the biggest wins of the year for us,” Cassara said via phone from Atlanta. “We’re on the road, they’ve won two in a row, they’ve beaten VCU and James Madison there, they had Old Dominion beaten there. They’re playing well, they’ve got great athletes and they’re very, very good at home. For us to be able to go in there and execute the way we did—offensively and defensively, other than a little stretch where we got tired in the second half—is a credit to our team and where we’re headed.”
Where they are headed, barring the Wilpon family suddenly deciding to donate to Hofstra athletics, is the top four in the CAA and the first bye for the Flying Dutchmen since 2006-07. The Dutchmen’s second straight win following a three-game losing streak, coupled with James Madison’s comeback win over Drexel, gave the fourth-place Dutchmen (10-4) a two-game lead over both schools with four conference games left.
The Dutchmen really have a three-game lead on James Madison thanks to their win in Hempstead. And if Mason and VCU remain 1-2, and if Drexel loses to VCU Feb. 23, then the Dutchmen will have the tiebreaker over the Dragons by virtue of their 1-2 record against the top two. In addition, the Dutchmen’s final four opponents all have losing CAA records while James Madison plays Mason, VCU and Old Dominion.
“The way we play, we’re not going to blow anybody out, we’re not going to run by anybody,” Cassara said. “Whomever we play, it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Dutchmen did look ready to blow out Georgia State for much of Wednesday night thanks to a balanced scoring attack, a sizzling team-wide performance from outside and a renaissance performance by Charles Jenkins. The Dutchmen shot better than 50 percent (28-of-55) for the second straight game, were 9-of-18 from 3-point land and had four players in double figures.
As usual, it was Jenkins who led the way. He had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting (his second-best shooting percentage of the season, minimum 15 attempts) to go along with five rebounds, four steals, two assists, one block and just one turnover in 35 minutes. He also drew multiple fouls as he began his drives at the top of the key.
Not bad for someone who was feeling sick most of the night and entered the game fresh off his worst outing in two years as well as in the midst of a four-game stretch that qualified as something resembling a slump (20.5 ppg on 45.3 percent shooting).
“Little under the weather and a little beaten up, it’s that time of year, everybody’s got aches and bangs and bruises,” Cassara said. “He wasn’t feeling great all game [but] he got 28 and made some big shots. Thought he did a great job, he didn’t force anything, he really played the way that has made him so successful. He was willing to share the ball and did a great job and really was the leader on the court and on the bench and in the locker room. We’re in the position we are because of his leadership.”
Greg Washington, Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore also scored in double figures as the Dutchmen improved to 6-0 when at least four players reach 10 points. Washington had his own resurgence on both ends of the floor in scoring 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting while blocking five shots for the third time in six games and recording two steals for the fifth time in seven games, all in 37 minutes—his most in a regulation contest this year.
Kelleher scored 10 points and hit both 3-point attempts—the Dutchmen are now 7-0 when he drains multiple threes—while setting a season-high in assists (eight) and committing just one turnover for the second straight game. In his last four games, Kelleher has 18 assists and just three turnovers while shooting 6-of-11 from 3-point land.
“I think he’s getting a little more comfortable with what he’s trying to do [and] the guys are getting a little more comfortable with him,” Cassara said. “He played at his pace and did a great job tonight. If he can have those kind of lines—make a couple threes, handle the ball, not turn it over and ultimately run the team—we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Jenkins, Kelleher and Yves Jules (2-for-3) were a combined 7-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line, which made up for off nights from Moore (12 points) and Shemiye McLendon (a combined 2-of-9 on 3-pointers and 5-for-19 overall).
“One of the things I’m really proud of is we kept Greg Washington on the court for 30 minutes—he gets five blocks, makes a couple baskets and he played his ass off tonight, he and David Imes really competed around the basket,” Cassara said. “Brad Kelleher had another solid game for us and Yves Jules gave us a great lift. We’re just finding a different body every night.”
The Dutchmen were outrebounded 39-28 and barely had more defensive rebounds (20) than Georgia State had offensive rebounds (18). But they had seven of their eight offensive rebounds in the second half and Imes and Washington each rebounded Hofstra misses before Imes finally drew the foul on a pivotal sequence after the Panthers pulled within six with under four minutes to play. Imes (who had eight points and six rebounds in 30 minutes before fouling out) hit both free throws and the Dutchmen were never threatened again.
“We huddled as a staff and said ‘We’ve got to tell those guys that’s a winning play,’” Cassara said. “A couple missed shots, hang in there, hang in there, get a rebound, take shots, get to the free throw line when they were making a little bit of a run. That’s a winning play and we talk about that all the time.”
Cassara isn’t much for talking all the time about where the Dutchmen could be headed, but with last week’s crisis in the rearview mirror and a winning streak officially underway, he couldn’t help but gaze ahead at the growing possibility that this team held together by duct tape and saliva will enjoy a day off three weeks from tomorrow and have a far better shot at making a deep CAA Tournament run as a result.
“Hey, we’re 10-4 and we put ourselves in good position and Drexel lost, so we’ve given ourselves a couple games lead,” Cassara said. “I wouldn’t put anything past this group. Amazing accomplishment.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Georgia State, 2/9)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Brad Kelleher
Charles Jenkins 63
Mike Moore 31
Greg Washington 23
David Imes 15
Brad Kelleher 6
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1