Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hofstra 72, College of Bill Lawrence 56 (Or: Our Road To Somewhere)

A.) I know I already used the "Road To..." motif, but B.) Hofstra actually had enough fans in Richmond to spell out the final score and spoil the surprise for someone, if they so wished.

When the Flying Dutchmen fell to Drexel Jan. 29 in front of the first sellout crowd at Hofstra Arena in almost four years, Mo Cassara was almost inconsolable, feeling as if he’d let down all the newcomers to the Dutchmen bandwagon and wondering how long it would take to lure them back.

The bandwagon reloaded in a hurry, thanks to a series of thrilling wins in February, and the Dutchmen’s home finale eight days ago was another sellout. And with that success came another challenge Saturday: Don’t send home unhappy the hundreds of fans and students who came down to Richmond and lent a distinctly New York flavor to the world capital of Southern Bias.

The chants began moments after Old Dominion completed its win over Delaware. “LET’S GO HOF-STRA! LET’S GO HOF-STRA!” A bunch of students, most sporting blue or white Charles Jenkins T-shirts and some toting ROLL PRIDE signs or enormous headshots of Jenkins and Mo Cassara, began marching down the stairs in Section 17 of the Richmond Coliseum and gathering outside the entrance to the student section behind the home basket.

They would fill the section, three people deep, and spend the pregame jumping and yelling and chanting. It was a scene Dutchmen fans of a certain age (*cough* this guy *cough cough*) had never seen and thought they would never see.

After all that, the Flying Dutchmen COULDN’T lose their quarterfinal game to 11th-seeded William & Mary. And after a slow start in which thoughts of the inconceivable began creeping into the heads of the hundreds of Hofstra faithful, the Dutchmen dominated the Tribe in the second half and cruised to a 72-56 victory that was as notable for what happened on the court as for the passion off it.

The Dutchmen, who are in the CAA semifinals for the fourth time ever but the first time since that memorable 2006 season, will face second-seeded Old Dominion in the second semifinal at 2:30 today. Old Dominion beat the Dutchmen, 75-64, in the lone meeting of the season between the teams in Hempstead on Jan. 15.

“I spent all afternoon on Twitter responding to every kid sitting on that bus writing me messages all day,” Cassara said afterward. “Actually had a great message I’ll tell you [that shows] just how great our fans have been and how well they’ve connected to this team. I got a Facebook message from a student who is in the band and said ‘Coach, we’re on our way down, just want to let you know I’m gonna play my heart out for you guys tonight.’

“I thought that was incredible, for a kid to do that in the band and be able to reach out to us. I sent him a message back. I did that all afternoon. Our student section, our fan support our administration, the people that are down here to support us, it’s just incredible and that’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had.”

The Dutchmen put together perhaps their best half of basketball—as well as the cleanest game in CAA Tournament history—to bury William & Mary, which seemed primed to give the Dutchmen fits for the third time this season when it opened the game on a 9-0 run and carried a 27-25 lead into halftime. The Dutchmen found the Coliseum rims familiarly unfriendly as Charles Jenkins and Mike Moore each shot just 2-of-7 and saw multiple shots roll around and out.

But the shots began falling in the second half when the Dutchmen put together a 10-0 run to take the lead for good and a 15-0 spurt beginning at the midway point of the half that removed all doubt. “Thought in the first half we were just a little flat, we just weren’t quite clicking on all cylinders,” Cassara said. “I think part of that was having a week off, being in a big arena. We got a little tight.

“[He] told the guys at halftime just to relax a little bit. We’ve been in this position many times—we’re down at halftime so much. But our guys don’t panic. I think that’s an incredible tribute to them and our staff just doing a great job finding a way to win games.”

Jenkins, who scored 15 points in the second half, jumpstarted both runs—his driving layup broke the final tie of the game with 15:41 to play and his 3-pointer with 9:59 left began the decisive surge—but the (spoiler alert!) real MVP Saturday was Brad Kelleher, who drained three 3-pointers (improving the Dutchmen to 9-0 this season when he hits multiple 3-pointers), finished with 13 points, collected four assists and presided over a crisp offense that committed just two turnovers—the lowest total ever for a CAA Tournament Game. For all intents and purposes, it was one turnover: The second one was a travel on Paul Bilbo in the final minute.

“We talk about something with our team: Be obsessed about fundamentals and little things,” Cassara said. “Little things are going to win us tight games. One of the things we talk about is valuing the basketball. I thought as a team we did a great job tonight, but really, Brad did a great job. He really did a good job and then ultimately made a couple shots. Once a couple of those shots fell, we really started to open things up offensively.”

The Dutchmen finished with four players in double figures (Jenkins 20, Kelleher 13, Moore 11 and David Imes 10) and Shemiye McLendon fell just shy with nine points. The Dutchmen were 19-of-22 at the free throw line and made 18 of 19 free throws in the second half.

Most impressively, they outscored William & Mary 69-38 in a 33-minute span beginning with the Dutchmen’s first basket of the game. And only a late 9-3 run by the Tribe prevented the Dutchmen from recording their most lopsided win of the season against a Division I foe for the second time in as many games.

Defensively, the Dutchmen shut down the red-hot Quinn McDowell, who had just six points on six shots after scoring a Tournament-record 35 the night before, and limited the Tribe’s second chances. William & Mary had just five offensive rebounds, including only one in the first half. Imes pulled down a game-high eight rebounds—four apiece on both ends of the floor.

“Being down at halftime—I’m a senior and I’ve been down in the quarterfinals every year, we always lost here,” Jenkins said. “So the second half was just a sense of urgency, not necessarily on offense. On defense we got stops.”

As the Coliseum emptied out in the final minutes, the Hofstra student section’s chants of “Charles Jenkins!” filled the arena. Cassara began emptying the bench with three minutes to play and the Dutchmen’s last basket was scored by walk-on Matt Grogan, who drained a 3-pointer to become, quite possibly, the first walk-on in school history to score in a conference tournament game.

“Matty Grogan hitting that shot made everybody as happy as can be,” Cassara said. “[To] be able to play a few guys there for a few minutes is great for everybody’s morale.”

Morale was high everywhere in Dutch Nation (no longer a snort-worthy comment) Saturday night as fans and players alike looked ahead to the biggest challenge of the year—so far. “[Fans will] be a huge help tomorrow, when we’re probably going to be outnumbered by ODU fans,” Kelleher said. “So having a little support will be good.”

“[It] means a lot, our fans and administration coming down, because were going to need everybody [today],” Jenkins said. “The ratio’s probably going to be 1/50. We need as many people as we can.”

Incredibly, yet no longer surprisingly, they’ll be there.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. College of Bill Lawrence, 3/5)
3: Brad Kelleher
2: Charles Jenkins
1: David Imes

Charles Jenkins 79
Mike Moore 37
Greg Washington 27
David Imes 20
Brad Kelleher 11
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

No comments: