Monday, November 21, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Hofstra 63, St. Francis 59 (Or: Cool as ice)

Except much better! (Also, I've seen this movie. Not in the theatre, amazingly enough)

As a Division I basketball coach, it’s Mo Cassara’s job to be the hard-ass who finds flaws with every performance, no matter how perfect it may appear in the boxscore or on the scoreboard. But while he had plenty of fodder Saturday afternoon, he could barely feign even a minimal amount of annoyance following the Flying Dutchmen’s 63-59 win over St. Francis.

The Dutchmen missed too many seemingly easy shots, missed too many free throws, had more turnovers than assists—even though they had only eight turnovers—and needed more than 32 minutes to pull down their first offensive rebound in a herky-jerky offensive effort. But less than 72 hours after flying 3,000 miles from Oregon, they got contributions from everyone on the floor in the final five minutes in clamping down on and finally putting away a good St. Francis squad.

It was the type of effort that won’t be enough to beat the top echelon CAA teams, or maybe even enough Florida Atlantic at the Arena tomorrow night. But it was a win that builds and reveals the type of character necessary to compete come March.

“We didn’t have our ‘A’ game tonight, I don’t think anybody would question that statement,” Cassara said. “But we found a way to win and that’s part of learning as a team, growing as a team and we made some plays down the stretch [when] we had to. So I’m proud of that.

“It’s been a long week for us, all the way out to the west coast, hard-fought, tough game, all the way back and playing an early game on Saturday. I don’t like to make excuses and I’m not making excuses, but it’s been a long week and we found a way to go 1-1 and that was the worst-case scenario for us. I’m pleased about that.”

What else was there to be pleased about Saturday? Find out here in the postgame buffet!

1,) Sure, it’s only November and St. Francis was picked to finish 11th in the 12-team Northeast Conference, but there are no points for style and good teams find ways to win fugly games like this—just as the Dutchmen did last season in going 8-3 in games decided by six points or less and winning seven games in which they trailed by double digits. I’ll go into this in greater detail in The Day After (which, of course, won't be out until Tuesday, and that's if I'm lucky—yeah I suck), but a win like this is another indication the Dutchmen have the type of collective calmness and maturity that could come in really handy in a CAA that is in a complete and chaotic transition.

The Dutchmen won despite going just 19-of-49 from the field, making just 23 of their 36 free throw attempts, receiving no points from the center position for the second game in a row, recording assists on just six field goals and averaging just 0.91 points per possession (63 points in 69 possessions).

“It was evident tonight we just didn’t really have our legs,” Cassara said. “We weren’t really clicking. I’ve been doing this 14 years, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many missed easy shots around the basket. What we continued to do is put pressure on our defense—instead of going up five, seven, nine [with] a layup here, a layup there, two free throws here, we just kept putting pressure on our defense. It was one of those nights the ball wasn’t going in the basket for us.”

Over the last 5:32, the Dutchmen were just 2-of-10 from the field and missed three of six free throw attempts, including two by Mike Moore that would put the game away with 14 seconds left. But that overworked Dutchmen defense limited St. Francis to two points in its last nine possessions.

“I thought our defense got really improved,” Cassara said. “We went to some zone and it actually worked pretty well for us. We found a way to win. I’m a coach, most of you know me, I’m not super pleased, but certainly happy that we found a way to win.”

2.) Almost as importantly, the Dutchmen showed Saturday they are no longer a one-man team. That is in no way a knock on Charles Jenkins, who was so damn good that absolutely nobody—on the court or in the stands—could be blamed for waiting for Number 22 to take over and lead the Dutchmen to victory. But without Jenkins, there’s no obvious go-to guy, which allows EVERYONE to be the go-to guy.

Moore looked like The Man in the boxscore—23 points, 10 rebounds and just one turnover in what might have been his best all-around performance at Hofstra; Moore’s high in points in his three double-doubles last year was 20—and had a trio of sequences in the second half in which he went all Jobu on the Dutchmen. With the Dutchmen down 52-49 midway through the half, Moore had rebounds on four straight St. Francis possessions and went coast-to-coast for a layup on the third one to pull Hofstra within one.

Less than two minutes later, Moore finally pulled down the Dutchmen’s first offensive rebound and put his own miss back to put the Dutchmen up 54-52. And with 2:38 to play, Moore rebounded a Dwan McMillan miss, set as if he was going to pass the ball back out, realized the shot clock was below five and drained a flat-footed 15-foot jumper from the left corner to extend the Dutchmen’s lead to 61-57.

“Coach looks to me as one of the leaders on the court, so when it’s crunch time, I feel I need to make a couple plays and my teammates put me in good position to do so,” Moore said.

3.) Cassara didn’t make a substitution after the 6:02 mark, yet as pivotal as Moore was during that stretch, the most valuable player on the court for the Dutchmen was someone who—SPOILER ALERT!—didn’t even end up among the 3 Stars Of The Game.

Shemiye McLendon—or, as he shall be known from now on, Ice Ice Shemiye—continued his uncanny knack for clutch play by hitting his first basket of the game to put the Dutchmen ahead for good at 59-57 with 4:21 left, pulling down THREE offensive rebounds in the final 1:59 and stealing the ball underneath the St. Francis basket as the Terriers tried to set up for the game-tying or game-winning shot with four seconds left. McLendon then drained two free throws to provide the final margin of victory, the third time he’s hit two free throws in the final five seconds to either force overtime or seal a win for the Dutchmen.

Ice Ice Shemiye took just two shots—none in the first half—before the game-ending stretch, but the Dutchmen don’t win without his last-minute contributions. “Big offensive rebounds, a tough shot and then obviously two free throws—he’s done that since he got here,” Cassara said.

4.) While we’re handing out nicknames, the most notable thing about the late game lineup may have been the presence of Dwan McMillan—i.e. the “Whirling Dervish”— at point guard instead of Stevie Mejia. While Mejia had nine points, he committed three turnovers and had no assists as his assist-to-turnover ratio dropped to 4:12. The hunch is that Mejia’s job is in no real jeopardy, but McMillan (eight points, two assists and two turnovers in 27 minutes) has certainly staked a claim to 25-plus minutes a night by continuing his early season audition to replace Joey Rodriguez as That Guy Who Drives Everyone Crazy Except The Fans Of His School, All Of Whom Think He’s The Bees Knees.

McMillan, three nights removed from getting booed every time he touched the ball in the second half at Oregon State, drew a flagrant foul when he absorbed an elbow from Dre Calloway late in the first half. McMillan reacted by bouncing off the floor and clapping his hands like he was a certain demographic at an afternoon screening of Twilight Breaking Dawn (that’s just to make sure my wife and Loyal Reader Missy are paying attention!). Said the aforementioned wife: “That’s not going to help him get that call the next time.”

Over the final four minutes, the Whirling Dervish forced a held ball at midcourt with 2:44 left and the Dutchmen clinging to a two-point lead. That preceded Moore’s putback of McMillan’s missed layup, which was one of two wild-looking layup attempts that missed the mark in the waning moments for McMillan.

“He was doing a good job of pushing the ball and I thought he could get by his guy and hopefully drop it off,” Cassara said. “He got by his guy a few times. He couldn’t get that extra pass tonight. Every loose ball was kind of tipped. I thought we had a layup and we didn’t.

“I like our bench, I think we’ve got some good pieces coming off the bench,” Cassara said. “We’ve got some scoring in Shemiye, some size in Stephen [Nwaukoni] and some energy in Dwan. I think any coach would be happy with those three characteristics coming off the bench….it was top to bottom today.”

5.) Nathaniel Lester and David Imes were generally quiet in the final few minutes, but each had key stretches earlier in the half and made pivotal contributions that might not show up in the boxscore as time wound down. Lester, who had 13 points and nine rebounds (including six in the first half), hit his first two shots of the second half to stem the momentum St. Francis had gained at the end of the first half, when the Terriers held the Dutchmen scoreless from the field in the final 3:20. Lester missed his final seven shots of the game, but gave the Dutchmen a boost by playing through an ankle injury in the final two minutes.

Imes had only six points and three rebounds, but his block with 5:25 left and the score tied led to McLendon’s go-ahead basket and his steal with 1:38 to play preserved the Dutchmen’s two-point lead. He also had a three-point play—his only points of the half—during an 8-0 run surrounding the first media timeout.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. St. Francis, 11/19)
3: Mike Moore
2: Nathaniel Lester
1: Dwan McMillan

Mike Moore 6
Nathaniel Lester 5
David Imes 3
Dwan McMillan 2
Shemiye McLendon 2

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