Thursday, November 17, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Oregon State 82, Hofstra 72 (Or: They had the upset in sight, but just outta reach)

Good news Flying Dutchmen fans: Much like Chuck Cunningham, we'll never see Jared Cunningham again.

There will be approximately 900 opportunities this season for a “Red Line Upset,” the Kyle Whelliston-coined term for when a team from one of the 24 mid-major conferences beats a team from one of the eight majors. If the numbers from the last two years are any indication, only 17 percent or so of these games will end with the good guys winning.

As for the other 83 percent, well, the fans of the losing team will swear somewhere close to 100 percent of the time that their hardwood heroes were this close to winning. The upset would have been pulled off, if only this had happened, or that had happened, or if the referees didn’t suck.

When you hear (or read) these stories sans a rooting interest, you’ll just nod, offer a rote and symbolic pat on the head and mutter to yourself that this fan of Mid-Major U. is completely out of his gourd. His team never had a shot, but whatever allows him to sleep at night.

Well, I am here to tell you, somewhere between 6 and 7 am on the morning after, that the Flying Dutchmen WERE this close to beating Oregon State of the Pac-10, err, Pac-12 last night, even if they lost 82-72. And I’m going to give you five reasons why—right now! (Hey Loyal Reader Missy, that’s a hint as to the genesis of the Postgame Buffet subtitle)

1.) A mere two games into this season, there is no need to worry whether or not the Flying Dutchmen are tough enough or resilient enough to make things interesting in 2011-12. After racing out to a 6-0 lead, the Dutchmen were victimized by Oregon State runs of 11-0 and 19-4, yet they clawed back, made a 14-0 run late in the first half and went into the locker room nursing a 42-41 lead. The Dutchmen lost the lead for good less than a minute into the second half and fell behind by six with less than three minutes gone yet closed within three or less five times before Oregon State pulled away in the final six minutes.

In addition, the Dutchmen were not intimidated by playing in a noisy and unfriendly foreign environment as they gave as good as they received in an increasingly chippy game in which 51 total fouls were called. Dwan McMillan was whistled for a technical foul and was booed every time he touched the ball in the final 10 minutes or so while David Imes also earned a technical foul. It’s impossible to tell who initiated what on a choppy Internet feed, but Imes’ technical—which came right after he was fouled by Roberto Nelson—seemed to be the textbook example of a referee catching the reaction and not the instigation. (I should also note that I watch everything, choppy Internet feeds and otherwise, through Dutch-colored glasses) Regardless, the experience of Wednesday night will come in handy during physical CAA games and in hostile environments south of the George Washington Bridge.

2.) Much of what cost the Dutchmen a chance at victory can be rectified. For instance, while watching his team shoot a Mason-like 19-of-32 from the free throw line—a performance which featured the typically reliable Nathaniel Lester, Mike Moore, Stevie Mejia and Shemiye McLendon ALL enduring trips to the line in which they missed both attempts—surely contributed to a sleepless overnight for Mo Cassara, you can be sure he’ll spend the rest of the season hammering home the importance of free throw shooting. The Dutchmen had more than twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (seven), but six of those turnovers occurred in a seven-possession span during Oregon State’s early first half run. Mejia finished with five turnovers and no assists as he was again outplayed by fellow point guard McMillan, but it was just his second game back after a redshirt season and Mejia is one guy who is going to look a lot better in February than he does in November.

And Lester was tremendous again, except this time in just 16 minutes thanks to foul trouble (he fouled out with 3:45 left). Lester scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting—he’s now 15-of-23 in two games—and put back both of his offensive rebounds for baskets. Right now, as long as he can stay on the court 35 minutes a night, it’s hard to believe there are nine better players in the CAA.

3.) The more we see Imes, the more we’re convinced we’re seeing the best Dutchmen big man since Adrian Uter. Imes, once again forced to play bigger than his 6-foot-7 frame, scored 15 points, pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and, most important and impressive of all, committed just one foul in a career-high 38 minutes. His contributions and ability to stay on the floor were doubly important with Lester in foul trouble, freshman Moussa Kone recording no points or rebounds in 29 minutes and Stephen Nwaukoni playing just 10 minutes. Playing 29 minutes against a Pac-12 team in his second career game will only help Kone and Nwaukoni continued to provide hints he can develop into a pretty solid front court player by collecting three offensive rebounds.

All that said, the sooner Bryant Crowder makes his season debut, the better. Crowder didn’t play due to a coach’s decision against Long Island and didn’t travel to Oregon State, and given how desperately the Dutchmen need size, we almost have to hope he was left back due to injury and not because of a disciplinary action. He certainly would have come in handy as the Dutchmen tried to shut down the Beavers’ 1-2 punch of Jared Cunningham (35 points) and Devon Collier (25 points).

The anticipation for Crowder is starting to reach Greg-Washington-in-2006 levels, except Crowder—a junior college transfer who was once recruited by San Diego State—might be able to immediately fill the type of role Washington couldn’t as a freshman. With the CAA in chaos, the Dutchmen have a chance to be a lot better than anyone could have expected, but without more than one reliable big man, there’s little hope of getting past the Drexel-George Mason-Old Dominion-VCU gauntlet come the first weekend in March.

4.) Even in defeat, the Dutchmen’s balanced scoring attack was very encouraging. At halftime, the score sheet read like a New Year’s Eve countdown: 9-8-7-6-5-4 (Moore-Imes-McLendon-Lester-Mejia-McMillan). The Dutchmen ended up putting four players in double figures, led by Moore’s 16, and Mejia came within a point of becoming the fifth player with 10 points. (Today’s task: Find out the last time Hofstra had five players in double figures in a loss) Lester is looking like this year’s Charles Jenkins, and it’s good to know the Dutchmen will have other options if he’s rendered ineffective for whatever reason.

5.) While Moore had a quiet night despite leading the Dutchmen in points—he was just 5-of-13 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point land, and was limited to 29 minutes by early foul trouble—McLendon looked ready to assume a bigger role by scoring 12 points, draining both his 3-point attempts, pulling down five rebounds and recording two steals in a career-high 31 minutes. McLendon may never be a superstar, but he’s got a good chance at becoming a homegrown 1,000-point scorer and evolving into a poor man’s Loren Stokes—someone who can do a little bit of everything and fill up a boxscore. Not bad for a player the Dutchmen found at the last minute during their abbreviated recruiting period in the spring of 2010.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Oregon State, 11/16)
3: David Imes
2: Shemiye McLendon
1: Mike Moore

David Imes 3
Mike Moore 3
Nathaniel Lester 3
Shemiye McLendon 2
Dwan McMillan 1

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