Do this sportswriter thing—whether it’s of the actual paid variety or not—long enough and you come to understand that declaring doom every time the local five (or nine, or 11, or…how many players on a hockey team again?) strings together consecutive duds gets you nowhere fast, unless you want to end up screaming about self-generated storylines on the radio or with a bunch of talking heads on the idiot box. Which is what most sportswriters seemingly want to do these days, but that’s neither here nor there.
And after some time, you realize, with minimal exception, every season has several story arcs and ebbs and flows. The old coaching cliché is true: A team is never as good or as bad as it looks at any given moment.
Which is good for the Flying Dutchmen, because this given moment looks pretty rotten following Tuesday’s 58-43 loss to Wagner. (Sorry for the delay, which of course I promised wouldn’t happen anymore this year. Speaking of rotten, I’d like to give you my week, except I like you too much)
“You guys know me, I’m not going to make excuses,” Mo Cassara said afterward. “We obviously have a long way to go and we have a lot to improve on. I’m not a huge stat guy but statistically we just didn’t play well tonight. We’ve got a lot of guys that really have to play a lot better.”
Here’s the postgame buffet (don’t worry, it’s not rancid, I’ve refrigerated it) from Staten Island:
1.) At first glance, the Dutchmen avoided the type of loss that ends up in the media guide for all the wrong reasons. They got to 40 points, avoiding their first sub-40 point performance since Feb. 28, 1999. They hit just 13 field goals, scored only 20 second half points and committed 20 turnovers, none of which is very good but none of which were historical: The 13 field goals were the fewest in a game since Nov. 10, 2007 (Charles Jenkins’ debut). And the Dutchmen scored 20 points in a half twice during the 2009-10 season and committed 20 turnovers against Old Dominion Jan. 9. 2010.
So it wasn’t that bad, right? Not quite. The Dutchmen went an incredible 23 consecutive possessions in the second half—a span of 13:59—without hitting a field goal. Only a pretty good performance at the free throw line during that drought (12-for-17) prevented the Dutchmen from enduring a terribly superlative performance. And Nathaniel Lester’s jumper with 1:17 left ensured the Dutchmen would score more points in game no. 2,000 than Hofstra did in any of its 17 games way back in the debut season of Flying Dutchmen basketball in 1936-37. So…yay?
“We just had too many turnovers—you can’t turn the ball over the way that we did tonight,” Cassara said. “We turned the ball over 20 times on the road, it’s going to be very, very hard to win. We just couldn’t produce easy baskets tonight.”
2.) It’s also very, very hard to win when you are down to six scholarship players. The Bryant Crowder Saga continues to drag on, with the enigmatic 6-foot-10 center still suspended. Stephen Nwaukoni was left back at campus with a 103 degree temperature and while Stevie Mejia was in uniform, he was available only in an extreme emergency as he continues battling a hamstring injury.
All of which meant Matt Grogan played a career-high 19 minutes—11 more than he’d played in the first eight games combined—and shared the court with fellow walk-on Jereme Good. Twice. I don’t need to dig through media guides to tell you that’s never happened before in the DD Era.
Remember when I was raving about the Dutchmen’s depth? That was awesome. A mere two weeks later the Dutchmen are ravaged, though Nwaukoni should be back this afternoon and the hope is Mejia is back pretty soon.
“That’s where we are right now,” Cassara said. “Unfortunately, a lot of times in basketball, you have to be good, you have to be a little lucky and you have to stay healthy. Last year, we had all those things happen. We were pretty good, we stayed very healthy and we got lucky. We had a couple breaks go our way. This year we just haven’t had those things happen. And that’s part of the game—that’s part of the challenge for us as a staff and as a young team. We’ve still got to find a way to put the ball in the basket and find a way to squeeze out some wins here.”
3.) The Dutchmen will need much better performances out of most of their veterans in order to squeeze out some wins between now and the real start of the CAA season. Lester had his best game in weeks (12 points on 4-of-11 shooting with a team-high seven rebounds), but while Mike Moore had 15 points and four steals, he was just 4-of-16 from the field, committed six turnovers with zero assists and seemed to let his frustrations get the best of him most of the evening.
Dwan McMillan had eight points and six rebounds, but just three assists and five turnovers. David Imes had two blocks and two steals but just two points (on 1-of-8 shooting) and six rebounds. And Shemiye McLendon had an Iona-esque game with five turnovers and two points in just 22 minutes.
“This has been a tough stretch for us,” Cassara said. “I think we really got beat up physically and mentally from that two weeks of travel and losing a couple tough close games and right now we don’t have that internal fortitude to fight ourselves through it. As a coaching staff we’ve got to push and fight our guys through that and we’ve got to find a way to get better.”
4.) Things weren’t entirely bleak for the Dutchmen Tuesday. The Dutchmen held an opponent below 70 points for the fourth straight game and the sixth time in seven games. Wagner, three days removed from putting 90 points up on St. Francis, had as many turnovers (19) as field goals.
“You know, I think we’re doing some really good things defensively,” Cassara said. “We forced them into some turnovers. We got some good stops. We gave up too many easy second-chance shots when we got tired there, but I like where we are defensively.”
The Dutchmen also had a good couple days of practice prior to the game, leading Cassara to believe that once the Dutchmen finally get a win, the rest of the pieces could begin falling into place, much as things did after the Dutchmen snapped out of their January 2010 funk by throttling UNC Wilmington 93-54 Jan. 27 to begin a season-ending stretch in which Hofstra won nine of its final 10 regular season games.
“That year we just got better as the year went on, learning from all the close losses,” Lester said. “Going to practice and watching film and getting better day by day—that’s how we picked it up.”
5.) Of course, today’s opponent, Manhattan, has won three in a row and just throttled Fordham by 34 (the Jaspers play Towson next—does that mean Cassara will eventually coach there?), and if the Dutchmen can’t win this one they may have the unenviable task of trying to snap a losing streak against a winless opponent when Binghamton visits next Saturday. The pressure is building, and the frustrating thing is a win in one or more of the games the Dutchmen squandered late would have changed the entire landscape of the season.
“As a coach you look at the big picture a lot of times, and I knew sitting at home late at night after a couple of those [close losses] that these were the games we were really going to feel those losses a lot more,” Cassara said. “Certainly you feel them now because there’s certainly two to three games in our schedule that we clearly could have won with a bounce here or a bounce there. You win those games, we come here without some bodies, with some injuries and various things, then the pressure’s not on you as much because you know that you’ve got a couple wins in your back pocket. Unfortunately we don’t.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wagner, 12/6)
3: Nathanel Lester
2: Dwan McMillan
1: Mike Moore
Mike Moore 18
Nathaniel Lester 11
Dwan McMillan 6
David Imes 6
Shemiye McLendon 5
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2