Monday, December 12, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Manhattan 68, Hofstra 59 (Or: The good ol’ days may not least this year)

Works on so many levels. Including as a HINT, Loyal Reader Missy!

The scene takes place dozens of times every day at the Division I level. Even though a wall-rattling tongue-lashing awaits it, the losing team can’t get off the court and out of sight of the final score fast enough once the buzzer has sounded. And before he’s able to get behind closed doors and unload, the losing coach is stopped by the winning coach along the postgame handshake line and offered a pat on the shoulder and some words of encouragement.

It’s just been a long time since the Flying Dutchmen “starred” in such a show. But there were the Dutchmen shuffling off the court after a 68-59 loss to Manhattan that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated and so unsightly that the scoreboard at Hofstra Arena went dark seconds after the game went final. And it was Mo Cassara, fresh off a 21-win rookie season, getting encouragement from Steve Masiello, the first-year Manhattan head coach who inherited a program that won 17 games the previous two years.

But it was that kind of day in what is quickly turning into that kind of year for the Flying Dutchmen, who lost their fourth in a row—their longest losing streak under Cassara—and for the sixth time in seven games as they assured themselves of entering the new year with a losing record.

Afterward, Cassara was asked if this was his most frustrating stretch since arriving at Hofstra. “Uhh, I would say that would be a safe bet, yes,” Cassara said.

For better or worse, he’s got a full week to stew over this one. Here’s another indigestion-filled postgame buffet:

1.) Fifty-one weeks after leading Manhattan from start to finish at Draddy Gymnasium, the Dutchmen didn’t lead once Saturday. That’s only the beginning of the ugly numbers and trends.

For instance: The Dutchmen haven’t led in the last 70 minutes and 43 seconds. They were down by 16 points less than 11 minutes into the game Saturday. They averaged less than one point per possession for the fourth straight game and are averaging a meager 0.71 points per possession in the last two games. They are 5-of-28 from 3-point land in the last two games.

More alarmingly, the Dutchmen were outrebounded for the second straight game, and this time, it wasn’t a matter of getting gassed in the second half. Early in the first half, David Imes and Nathaniel Lester each got a hand on a Manhattan miss, yet Manhattan’s Rhamel Brown slipped between the flat-footed duo, grabbed the rebound and kept alive a possession that ended in a 3-pointer. And just minutes later, Lester let a loose ball that last touched a Manhattan player skip out of bounds without going after it.

Manhattan finished with a 43-32 rebounding edge and pulled down 14 offensive boards. “I felt like we got a couple great stops, a couple opportunities where I thought we had got the momentum back in the first half and the second half,” Cassara said. “And just little things—offensive rebounds, a block out, a hustle play—right now we’re just not executing those. We’ve got to get back to that. I thought earlier in the season we were terrific at that. Out at Oregon State, [the] LIU game—I thought we really did a great job of that and we’ve kind of lost our way a little bit there.”

2.) It doesn’t get any better in the macro sense. This is the 11th time the Dutchmen have started 3-7 or worse at the Division I level. None of the previous 10 teams finished .500 or got beyond the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

The last Dutchmen team to endure a stretch like this turned things around in historic fashion: After losing nine of 11 games at midseason, during which it battled a spate of injuries and illness and played with a shortened roster, the 2009-10 Dutchmen won eight of their final nine regular season conference games to become the first CAA team in history to finish over .500 in conference play after falling as many as five games under .500.

Of course, that team had Charles Jenkins, who led the Dutchmen to a 27-9 record in games decided by six points or less and/or in overtime the previous three seasons. At this moment, the Dutchmen don’t have someone who can avoid a regression to the mean in that department, or single-handedly lift a team out of its morass.

The Dutchmen outscored Manhattan 53-45 over the final 29 minutes, yet they only got as close as five points once and never got closer than seven points in the second half. Unlike the last three years, the Dutchmen can’t score the basket on offense nor, despite decent surface defensive stats, make the stop on defense that turns the momentum in their favor.

“I feel like that’s kind of a microcosm of the last maybe three weeks for us,” Cassara said. “Some of the games we’ve been behind, some of the games we’ve been ahead, it’s been one key player here or there where we just can’t quite get that one stop or maybe we can’t make that one extra basket. And it kind of steamrolls after that.”

3.) This is one of those stretches in which Tom Pecora would have said his seniors and veterans need to take ownership of the situation. Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, that didn’t really happen Saturday.

Mike Moore (a game-high 20 points and a team-high three steals to go along with five rebounds) was better than he was Tuesday and played all 40 minutes, but he was just 5-of-15 from the field—including 2-of-8 on 3-pointers—and committed four of his five turnovers during a first half in which he looked as distracted and discouraged as he did against Wagner.

Lester’s final line (11 points and eight rebounds) looks pretty good, but he collected all 11 points in the final eight minutes and five of the boards after he returned from an extended benching midway through the second half. It has becoming increasingly clear in the last three weeks that the inconsistency that dogged him throughout his first three years didn’t disappear during his redshirt season.

At least Lester got back into the game. Imes, who has started all 43 games the last two years, sat the final 17:28 even though he had no fouls and four Dutchmen finished the game with four fouls. He ended up going scoreless for the first time as a starter. After scoring in double figures and pulling down seven rebounds in his first two games of the season, Imes has reached those marks just twice in his last eight games.

On a team seemingly filled with players battling confidence issues, Imes’ plight is the most concerning. Even when his shots weren’t falling, Imes never appeared tentative on the boards—until Saturday.

“I went with a little smaller lineup—I thought Stevie [Nwaukoni] and Moussa were a little more aggressive to the basket,” Cassara said. “I just felt like that [starting] lineup wasn’t really effective tonight.”

4.) What does Cassara do from here? He played the positive reinforcement card after the loss to James Madison nine days ago, then went hardass with a predawn practice last Monday, then went with a combination of the two after the loss to Wagner on Tuesday. On Saturday, the Dutchmen remained in the locker room at halftime until there was less than three minutes to go during intermission, and after the loss, Cassara’s voice echoed through the walls and into the media room. I doubt he was enthusiastically asking about everyone’s Christmas lists.

Perhaps this week he will end up taking the foot off the gas in practice, a la Pecora at the end of January 2010, in hopes it yields better game results for a thin team. Whatever he does, Cassara is in an unenviable position of needing to shake things up with a shaken team and a bag of tricks limited by the circumstances engulfing the Dutchmen.

Multiple times Saturday, Cassara whirled towards the bench as if to direct someone into the game, only to realize he had no options. Stevie Mejia is hurt, Bryant Crowder remains suspended, Charles Jenkins isn’t coming through that door and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Taran Buie are coming through that door in sweats, at least until the 2012-13 season opener.

Fill-in point guard Dwan McMillan had a good game Saturday, when he collected nine points and five assists and continually allowed the Dutchmen to break Manhattan’s press, but while Shemiye McLendon had nine points, four rebounds and two steals, he was just 3-of-12 from the field in 31 minutes. Nwaukoni had six points and two rebounds but picked up four fouls in 21 minutes. Moussa Kone brought a little life to the Arena with three blocks and a pair of thunderous second half dunks but had four fouls in 23 minutes and remains raw. Matt Grogan saw extended time (nine minutes) for the second straight game and missed all three 3-point attempts, but in his defense he hasn’t played this much since high school.

“We haven’t found that combination or that confidence yet to find a way to win,” Cassara said. “So we have to continue to work hard. We have to continue to string some good practices together and we have to continue to fight and find ways to get better. We’re going to do that moving forward here after exams.”

Said Moore: “Guys have to get a little bit more confident out on the court, make some plays Two, three plays and we were right within five. Couple more plays, we tie the game up. So guys just have to believe in themselves and make plays out there.”

5.) Cassara’s not using the same verbiage, but he’s got little choice other than to rely on another Pecora-era old reliable: Early pain for late gain. As lousy as things look right now, it is still only December. As always, the most important weeks of the season for the Dutchmen are the first 10 of the new year. And a wide-open CAA at least gives a little bit of hope that a flawed and undermanned team can still create some havoc.

“We’re doing some pretty good things, we just have to learn how to win,” Cassara said. “But we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of basketball to play. We want to be playing our best basketball in January and February and I still believe that this team can do that. So we’re going to work really hard here over the next couple weeks to get a little confidence back and get some victories as well.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Manhattan, 12/10)
3: Mike Moore
2: Dwan McMillan
1: Nathaniel Lester

Mike Moore 21
Nathaniel Lester 12
Dwan McMillan 8
David Imes 6
Shemiye McLendon 5
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too many missed open 4-5 footers in the lane. And guys getting a nice pass off the low block and instead of going right up with it as the D moves to them - they put it on the floor and then force up an off balance hook - this happened at least 5x. Shooting sub 30% just isn't going to get it done. They need to work on other facets of the game - Rebounding, and sloppy passes/turnovers - but if you are getting open looks and not making the baskets - you aren't going to win the game.

Also, Mike Moore looked like he was bored out there in the 10 minutes of the first half. No hustle at all especially on D, but he woke up a bit in the 2nd half.

McLendon shoots an airball from 3... and jogs back on D with his head down as Manahattan fast breaks into an easy 2 on 1 layup on other end.