Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hofstra 79, Delaware 60 (Or: One more time, with feeling)

Charles Jenkins' Senior Day was such a big deal, I actually posted a video from this century!

It was just a false alarm, but there was no stopping the tears for Charles Jenkins.

With 1:31 to play Saturday afternoon in the Flying Dutchmen’s 79-60 rout of Delaware, Mo Cassara called timeout to begin subbing out his seniors so that they could receive one more standing ovation in their final regular season home game. It wasn’t Jenkins’ turn yet—Greg Washington was the first to head to the bench—but Jenkins began to pace near midcourt, bending over and grabbing at his shorts as if he was in almost indescribable pain.

Which he was. “I just didn’t want to get off the court,” Jenkins said.

There would be no avoiding the hook 33 seconds later, when Cassara called another timeout and freshman Roland Brown assured himself a spot in the trivia books when he came on for Jenkins. The senior superstar, who began the day by seeing his number retired during Senior Day festivities, buried his face in his jersey and was hugged first by Yves Jules, who was also heading to the bench, and Brown before he slowly made his way to the sidelines as the sellout crowd of 5,050 at Hofstra Arena stood and applauded and the student section chanted “Charles Jenkins!”

Jenkins, his face still in his jersey, fell into the shoulders of Cassara and shared a mutually teary-eyed embrace. “It’s an emotional time for all of us,” Cassara said. “[For] he and I to be able to share that moment, for all the time we’ve spent on and off the court since we started, was something that I don’t think any of us imagined would happen.”

Appropriately enough, an unimaginable regular season ended with an unlikely result. The Flying Dutchmen, who locked up the third seed in the first half when VCU lost to James Madison 72-69, specialized in narrow, grinding victories during the CAA season: Entering Saturday, their previous seven league wins had been by a combined 32 points. In the most symbolic win of the season, the Dutchmen led wire-to-wire in the first meeting of the season against Delaware Feb. 12 and still only won by three points.

Yet the one game in which Jenkins wanted to stay on the floor until the very end turned out to be the Dutchmen’s easiest win of the conference season and their most lopsided win since the season-opening 40-point win over Division III Farmingdale State. The Dutchmen trailed just twice, led for the final 28 minutes and enjoyed a double-digit margin for the final 15 minutes.

And so Jenkins, who finished with a game-high 21 points (damn that lack of an extra free throw!) with four assists, four steals, three rebounds and no turnovers, felt an unfamiliar sense of dread as the final minutes ticked off the clock. “Last night I was joking around with our manager, we were thinking of all these great ideas for me to do when coach subbed me out,” Jenkins said. “He wanted me to take my jersey off and lay at half-court. Sign my sneakers and throw them to the crowd.

“But, you know, once the time started winding down and I saw that they were out of reach, it was just something I really didn’t want to do.”

The lopsided victory ensured Jenkins would end his final home game the way he began it. Jenkins was visibly moved during the Senior Day festivities, when he first walked to center court with his family and was presented with a framed jersey before he watched as his jersey was officially retired.

Jenkins put his hands on top of his head, a la David Cone, once the banner with his name and uniform number on it was fully unfurled next to Speedy Claxton’s. “One of the things Mo told me after I got the news that they were retiring my jersey was ‘Now my brother’s really looking down on me,’” Jenkins said. “That 22 represents my brother’s age when he passed away. So one of the things I thought about this last game [is] me and him are going to be in this building together.”

After all that, there was a game to be played, and Jenkins began it in typical fashion by draining a 3-pointer. Jenkins and fellow seniors Washington and Brad Kelleher scored the Dutchmen’s first 11 points, but while all three players had impressive home finales (Washington had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks while Kelleher had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting with five assists and five rebounds), the most encouraging part of the victory was its balanced nature.

Five Dutchmen scored in double figures (improving Hofstra’s record to 5-0 in such games) and nine players scored. The Dutchmen shot better than 50 percent from the field (30-of-59), drained all 15 free throws (the third time this season they’ve been perfect from the line in at least 10 attempts) and limited Delaware to 35.4 percent shooting from the field.

Cassara, who has spoken for weeks about how he believed the Dutchmen were going to enjoy a near-perfect game, said Saturday’s effort was “almost” it. “We didn’t quite get there, we just couldn’t quite put them away, but obviously we ended up winning with a pretty comfortable margin,” Cassara said. “The scoring was spread out and we found different ways to score. And when we have a bunch of guys score in double digits and play some pretty good defense, we’re going to have an opportunity to win.”

The Dutchmen took the lead for good with a 13-5 run midway through the first half in which all their points were scored by underclassmen David Imes, Shemiye McLendon, Yves Jules and Mike Moore. McLendon and Jules were particularly impressive: McLendon, who slumped most of February before he was benched last Wednesday against UNC Wilmington, often looked like the best player on the floor during 22 inspired minutes in which he scored 11 points, pulled down five rebounds had four assists and continually broke down the Delaware defense by weaving through multiple players.

“Great coaching move,” Cassara said with a laugh.

Jules, meanwhile, continued to thrive in his role as designated defensive stopper with two steals—one of which he took all the way for a dunk—and by forcing Devon Saddler into a five-second call in the final 10 seconds of the first half. Moore (11 points) hit a layup as time expired to give the Dutchmen a 33-26 lead.

Less than a minute before Jenkins made his final exit, Jules ended up as the answer to another trivia question when he drained a long jumper off a pass from Jenkins—the last of Jenkins’ thousands of statistical contributions at the Arena.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous since I was a freshman,” Jenkins said. “It was too much emotion. First half, it was just hard to play. I was too busy knowing that this is going to be my last game here. Everybody that knows me, they know that I stay here every summer just to stay in the gym. This is kind of like my home.

“I remember joking around with one of the [Delaware] players on the court. He was telling me I was going to miss my [shot]. I told him ‘This is where I live.’”

He wasn’t quite done basking in the moment at his second home, though: Jenkins spent an hour after the game Saturday signing autographs and attended the Flying Dutchwomen’s stunning comeback win over James Madison Sunday afternoon. Following the victory, he walked into the media room and took a seat in the front row, where he asked Chronicle reporter Joe Pantorno if he could ask a question (Pantorno said yes but Jenkins settled for merely holding the tape recorder).

Such a versatile weekend was fitting for a player whose jersey now hangs in the rafters as much for what he did on the court as how he embraced Hofstra off it.

“I’m proud of him,” said his close friend Washington. “I don’t think that any other person would be able to do what he did and how he did it. He earned every bit of respect from this league and the nation and the basketball world. Sky’s the limit for him. I’m proud of him. I’m just glad that he’s on our side.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Delaware, 2/26)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Greg Washington
1: Brad Kelleher

Charles Jenkins 77
Mike Moore 37
Greg Washington 27
David Imes 19
Brad Kelleher 8
Shemiye McLendon 5
Dwan McMillan 5
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1

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