Sunday, November 6, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Queens

My wife and I actually ate at a Chinese buffet last night, before I came up with the "Postgame Buffet" name. Is this irony?

I’m trying something a little new this year with post-game recaps, which I’ll explain in the official tip-off post coming later today. Of course the official tip-off post is arriving after the Flying Dutchmen have already played a (fake) game, but that’s how I roll here. Anyway, the first-ever Postgame Buffet, which is a better term for five postgame thoughts!

1.) We’re better than West Virginia! The Flying Dutchmen were never seriously threatened in a 71-57 win over Queens, a victory that snapped that epic 46-year losing streak against the Knights. Of course, exhibition games are inherently no-win propositions for the home Division I team—margin of victory is irrelevant when you’re supposed to win—and the real goal is getting out healthy. But beating Queens sure beats the alternative, which is losing like West Virginia, Butler, Arizona and Utah did to lower division opponents this week.

“We talked about it throughout the week, we put some of the [results] up on the bulleting board,” Mo Cassara said. “I think this time of year teams are very susceptible to that…especially with a lot of new faces. There’s a lot of good teams out there, there’s so much parity in college basketball and there’s a couple kids out there [for] Queens tonight that played really, really well and you’re going to see that. Obviously you’re a little nervous, but we [delivered] the message to our team and ultimately we found a way to win and hopefully we’ll use this to help us get better.”

2.) Cassara has been raving about Stevie Mejia (that’s M-E-J-I-A, idiot blogger guy) for more than a year now, and the Rhode Island transfer did not disappoint in his initial impression. Mejia wasn’t perfect—he had four turnovers and was just 5-of-9 from the free throw line—but he had 10 points, nine assists and five rebounds in a team-high 36 minutes. That latter figure was especially notable because a Hofstra point guard played 36 or more minutes just twice last season—both by Brad Kelleher and his second marathon effort was in the overtime classic against William & Mary. While he lived up to his reputation as a true point guard by taking just four shots—one of which was a 20-footer as time expired in the first half—he was aggressive in driving to the basket and ended up leading the Dutchmen in both free throws and free throw attempts.

He also displayed some gritty point guard tenacity: Early in the second half, Mejia had the ball stolen from him as he dribbled up the court, but he hustled back and knocked a Queens pass out of bounds underneath the Knights’ basket. All the caveats about an exhibition apply, but Mejia did nothing to discourage the notion he’s going to provide two years of stability at point guard, which is two more stable years than the Dutchmen have had since Carlos Rivera graduated.

“Definitely felt good just playing basketball against somebody, especially after sitting out the whole year,” Mejia said. “Could barely sleep [Friday] night.”

3.) Four other players spent at least 20 minutes on the court. Mike Moore scored a game-high 20 points and led the Dutchmen with seven rebounds in 29 minutes, David Imes had six points and six rebounds in 28 minutes, Nathaniel Lester had 13 points and five rebounds (and one inexplicable technical foul) in 27 minutes in his first game action since Tom Pecora’s finale in March 2010 and Shemiye McLendon put an early grip on sixth man duties by scoring six points and impressing on both sides of the ball in 24 minutes.

The Dutchmen employed an interesting three-man rotation at center, with 6-foot-7 freshman Moussa Kone drawing the start and scoring four points and pulling down four rebounds in 19 solid minutes. Sophomore Stephen Nwaukoni was scoreless and had four fouls, three rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes. And 6-foot-10 junior college transfer Bryant Crowder put on the most eye-opening show with 12 points—including 10 in the second half—with four rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. Crowder was 4-of-6 in the second half, delivered a thunderous one-handed slam off a Mejia inbounds pass and seemed to grow more comfortable on the court by the minute.

“I thought Bryant did some really good things,” Cassara said. “He certainly has an offensive mind. He attacked the basket and made a couple nice plays and he’s got great length, as you saw, and great athleticism. If he can bring some of that to the defensive end, I think he’s really going to help us win some games.”

4.) In addition to finally acquainting myself with tempo-free statistics and, in particular, points per possession (the unofficial figures from the exhibition: Hofstra 1.04 points per possession in 68 possessions, Queens 0.81 points per possession in 70 possessions), I’m also going to do my best to keep track of how each lineup fares. I figure that’ll be far easier during home games than road games, but we’ll see how it turns out.

As for Saturday, it’s interesting to note that four players were on the court for each of the Dutchmen’s big runs. The lineup of Moore-Meija-Crowder-Imes-McLendon engineered an 8-2 run in a span of 3:18 late in the first half that extended the Dutchmen’s lead to 27-18 while the quintet of Imes-Moore-Crowder-McLendon-Lester authored a 10-2 run over 1:53 late in the second half that gave Hofstra its biggest lead at 67-48. As noted multiple times already, it’s tough to read too much into exhibitions, but the presence of Crowder and McLendon on the court for the game-deciding runs is certainly a good sign for a Dutchmen team for whom depth is a question.

5.) The margin of victory was a comfortable one, but for much of the game the Dutchmen were as raw as the calendar might suggest. They were just 16-of-23 from the free throw line, 3-of-15 from 3-point land and allowed a handful of mini-runs by Queens as well as six offensive rebounds by the Knights in the second half. So Cassara won’t lack for things to hammer home this week before the real opener against Long Island.

“All three of these guys in here tonight had one or two players where they were out of position and they know that,” Cassara said as he was flanked at the postgame press conference by Moore, Mejia and Lester. “We’ve just got to be solid. I talked to our team about just being solid. It’s team defense and the second thing would be rebounding. If we do those things, the offense will come. We’re going to make more shots, we’re going to make more free throws, we’re going to make some better plays, we’re going to do some different things offensively that we just didn’t do tonight. That will come in time, but we’ve got to work on those things to have a chance against a very good LIU team.”

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