Monday, November 28, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Boston University 68, Hofstra 61 (Or: Sometimes high, sometimes low)

Even I thought hair metal stage banter was cheesy.

Kyle Whelliston of The Mid-Majority notes college basketball will break your heart. Most of the time, though, it’ll just drive you nuts.

Nobody’s spirit was crushed when the Flying Dutchmen lost yesterday to former NAC (no, Litos, I didn’t make that one up!) foe Boston University, 68-61, in the final sub-regional game of the Ticket City Legends Classic at the University of Rhode Island. (Rant: Go figure, a Gazelle Group tournament that DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE A WINNER. I think this is their end game idea for the That Which Shall Never Be Named. It’ll just go on and on and on until Oct. 14. Rant over.)

As disappointing as the loss was—the Dutchmen led by eight midway through the second half, which marks the second time this week they have squandered an eight-point second half lead and lost—it’s probably not an insurmountable emotional hurdle to overcome, especially considering how well the Dutchmen fared after going 0-for-Puerto-Rico last November.

But it was a frustrating step back for a team that looked so impressive in thoroughly outplaying Cleveland State not even 24 hours earlier and a reminder that it’s probably too early to declare the Dutchmen a CAA championship contender (which won’t stop me later this week from spelling out how they can win the league, but I digress).

The good news is there are about 341 other teams in the same position this morning. Because, after all, this is college basketball, and it drives everybody nuts. Here’s the postgame buffet from Sunday (and it will be an actual buffet this time, and not a five-course meal—shocking, that I would begin rambling in a setting designed to deliver a quicker hit blog post. Why am I using so many parenthesis? I don’t know.)

1.) Speaking of going nuts, how is it that we all would have taken a 1-2 trip last week, yet now a 1-2 trip feels so empty and unfulfilling? The expectations were that the Dutchmen would finish off the tournament with a win over Boston U., so when the “1” happened a day earlier than expected against a borderline top 25 team, it raised expectations for not only the weekend but the season.

But losing to Boston U. was another reminder of how the Dutchmen remain raw and inconsistent. The most obvious indicator: On Saturday, the Dutchmen’s leading scorer was a reserve (or, in this case, reserves) for the first time in almost two years and the subs scored more than half the points for the first time in almost three years. On Sunday, the Dutchmen had a single double-digit scorer, Mike Moore, who accounted for the highest percentage of the Dutchmen’s points (27 of 61, or 44.3 percent) since Charles Jenkins had 32 of the Dutchmen’s 59 points in a loss to Florida Atlantic last Dec. 11.

Stephen Nwaukoni, Dwan McMillan and Bryant Crowder, who combined for 32 points Saturday, had just 10 points Sunday while providing reminders of their relative inexperience. McMillan the Whirling Dervish had four assists and three turnovers, Nwaukoni played just 15 minutes due to foul trouble and Crowder played just 12 minutes.

Shemiye McLendon, meanwhile, finally scored his first points of the weekend in the second half and finished with four points but continued slumping by committing three turnovers and forcing Mo Cassara to turn back to McMillan—who had suffered a head injury shortly after Stevie Mejia exited with a hamstring injury—to run the point late in the game.

All that said, the struggles of the reserves may have been concealed by a win if not for one thing: Moore was 9-of-17 while eight of the other nine Dutchmen to get into the boxscore were 10-of-30—not great, but not awful. But that 10th player…

2.) …was Nathaniel Lester, who scored all four of his points from the free throw line and was 0-for-9 from the field in the worst 0-fer for a Dutchman in almost exactly 10 years. Woody Souffrant was 0-for-9 against Bucknell Dec. 29, 2001 while Joel Suarez was 0-for-9 against Syracuse on Dec. 4, 2001.

So those of you scoring at home, Lester’s shooting performances this week went: 1-for-13, 7-for-15, 2-for-9 and 0-for-9. That’s 10-for-46 in four games after going 20-for-37 in his first three games. Sometimes high, sometimes low.

Such ebbs and flows are routine for Lester. In a four-game stretch in January 2009, he went 1-for-9, 1-for-4, 3-for-6 and 7-for-15. And in a four-game stretch spanning December and January of his freshman year, he shot 1-of-8, 1-of-10, 6-of-19 and 1-of-8. It is understandable that Lester’s going to run hot and cold coming back from a year off, and he did contribute by pulling down 29 rebounds this week. But with so many inexperienced players in the rotation, the Dutchmen need Lester to minimize the cold snaps.

3.) The same goes for David Imes, who had one rebound yesterday and just 12 rebounds this week, his fewest over a four-game stretch since he joined the starting lineup, while scoring in single digits every time, including nine Sunday. As usual, effort and determination wasn’t an issue for Imes, who provided valuable grit by playing 25 minutes despite foul trouble and a split lip that required post-game stitches.

And history suggests he’ll revert to form soon: Imes had a stretch of eight straight games late last season in which he scored fewer than 10 points but ended the year by exceeding double digits four times in the final seven games. But the sooner that happens, the better, because yesterday proved the Dutchmen can’t win a whole lot of games with their two or three of their most experienced players rendered relative non-factors.

4.) The loss Sunday shouldn’t diminish some of the positives that did come out of the weekend, which may be looked back on as the turning point in Moore’s evolution as a leader. After accepting a secondary role when Cleveland State focused on him Saturday, Moore pulled a Charles Jenkins Sunday, doing everything possible to will the Dutchmen to win by tying his career high with 11 rebounds to go along with the 27 points, which was just one shy of his career high.

Mejia’s absence in the second half may have been the biggest factor in the loss to Boston U. One day after he scored 10 pivotal points, Mejia continued to play as if he’s shaken off the rust from his redshirt year by collecting four assists with no turnovers in the first half, during which the Dutchmen had as many assists as turnovers (six). Without Mejia in the second half, the Dutchmen had five assists and 10 turnovers. The six days between games will give Mejia plenty of time to get well, though Cassara told WRHU he wasn’t sure how long Mejia would be out.

The Dutchmen also once again showed they have real, live, actual depth. Four players got hurt Sunday—Nwaukoni also left briefly—but the Dutchmen had the bodies to remain competitive, which wouldn’t have happened last year. Freshman power forward Moussa Kone had five points and four rebounds, both career highs, and played eight of his 13 minutes in the second half.

5.) Most of all, this weekend was a reminder college basketball is almost always an imperfect exercise. How many teams bring their peak game every game? One Flying Dutchmen team—the 2000-01 juggernaut—has done that in the last 17 years, though the 2005-06 squad came close to maintaining that focus. Cassara probably didn’t eat or sleep much last night going over how the worst-case scenario of a 1-2 trip felt so much lousier than he envisioned, but following up a seismic win with a loss that negates all those good feelings is pretty normal. Sometimes high, sometimes low.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. But nobody will mind if Sunday benefits the Dutchmen 14 weeks from now (check the calendar kiddies!).

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Boston University, 11/27)
3: Mike Moore
2: Stevie Mejia
1: David Imes

Mike Moore 14
Nathaniel Lester 8
David Imes 4
Dwan McMillan 4
Shemiye McLendon 4
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Hofstra 63, Cleveland State 53 (Or: We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy)

Clues! Clues! So many clues! (C'mon people join Loyal Readers Missy and Matt in playing the "What do the subtitles mean?" game!)

Mo Cassara emerged from another sleepless night well before dawn Saturday morning, still unsure how he was going to figure out a way for the Flying Dutchmen to knock off a Cleveland State team that was not only unbeaten but atop the early season RPI and on the verge of cracking the two top 25 polls.

And had someone sat next to Cassara and told him, as Cleveland State game film flickered in an otherwise dark hotel room (OK, this is a little bit of writer’s liberty, I don’t know if Cassara watched the film with the lights off, work with me people), that the Dutchmen would not only beat the Vikings but would do so on a day in which their three most experienced players—Nathaniel Lester, Mike Moore and David Imes—combined for just 21 points on 5-of-20 shooting, what would have the coach said to THAT?

“I’d say ‘You are the craziest man in the world,’” Cassara said.

And yet, crazy won Saturday, when the Dutchmen arguably recorded the biggest victory of the Cassara era by upsetting Cleveland State, 63-53, in a Ticket City Legends Classic subregional game at Rhode Island. The Dutchmen did it thanks to a suffocating defensive performance that included dominance on the boards (a 39-19 edge that was the Dutchmen’s biggest since Feb. 6, 2010 against Northeastern) and a balanced scoring attack that featured four players in double figures, including a trio of players who entered the game with five double-digit scoring efforts in a Hofstra uniform. Combined.

Just as Cassara drew it up.

“I tell you what I was up drinking coffee about 5 this morning watching Cleveland State-BU on my iPad [and he thought] ‘I don’t think we can beat these guys—they’re too talented, they’re too veteran, too well-coached,’” Cassara said by phone last night. “I just didn’t think it was a game where we could win at this point in the season. We found a way and obviously I’m very pleased.”

Here’s the postgame buffet on a deeply satisfying win:

1.) Stephen Nwaukoni reminded us all he really likes Thanksgiving weekend, and not a moment too soon. Less than 24 hours after he played just two minutes against Rhode Island and seemingly got passed on the depth chart by Bryant Crowder, Nwaukoni had his best game in a Hofstra uniform by scoring a career-high 12 points (tied for the team high with Dwan McMillan) on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting and pulling down a game-high nine rebounds in a mere 21 minutes. The effort came a year to the day of Nwaukoni’s previous appearance in the 3 Stars Of The Game (SPOILER ALERT), when he had his lone career double-double against Wagner.

Nwaukoni entered the game with seven points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes ALL YEAR, and in the waning moments of the game Cassara realized how important a Nwaukoni-sparked win would be for not only the sophomore but the entire team.

“I leaned over to Wayne Morgan with about five minutes to go and I said ‘I really hope we win this game,’” Cassara said. “He looked at me like I was crazy and said ‘So do I.’ I said ‘I just want to win this game, because if we do win, the way Stephen played, it will be a great definition of teamwork for this group.’ Because there’s a kid who hasn’t played, but he didn’t complain, he didn’t get down. He kept coming to work, kept practicing, kept trying. His minutes kept going down and down and when he got a shot, he seized it.

“We talked about that with our team: Everybody’s got to be ready because it could be your day today. And when you say all those things to guys and then they work out that way, it really helps your camaraderie and teamwork. That locker room—everybody was so pumped up for him today. Those kind of things help a team develop and we got a little piece of that tonight.”

2.) Nwaukoni wasn’t the only reserve to enjoy an impressive afternoon. McMillan had five assists to go along with his 12 points, which were his most ever against a Division I opponent. And Bryant Crowder looked good again with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting as well as seven rebounds. The trio scored 20 of the Dutchmen’s final 26 points, including all seven in a 7-0 run just before the under-12 media timeout that allowed Hofstra to overcome its final deficit of the game.

Nwaukoni, McMillan and Crowder combined to shoot 11-of-14 from the field and scored 32 points, the most by Hofstra reserves against a Division I opponent since March 6, 2009 (when reserves scored 37 points against UNC Wilmington) and the first time the reserves accounted for more than half the Flying Dutchmen’s points since subs scored 30 points in a 78-54 rout at the hands of George Mason (grrr) Feb. 3, 2009.

Nwaukoni and Crowder also combined for just shy of half of the Dutchmen’s 33 individual rebounds and six of their 11 individual offensive rebounds. The Dutchmen limited Cleveland State to just seven offensive rebounds and had as many offensive rebounds (12) as the Vikings had defensive boards. Cleveland State had just seven second chance points and four fast break points.

All this in an afternoon in which fellow reserve Shemiye McLendon—who was one of the Dutchmen’s best players during the first four games—went scoreless on an 0-for-1 performance for the second straight game.

“I think we’ve got a really, really potentially very deep, strong bench,” Cassara said. “You’ve got a little bit of everything with Dwan and Stephen and Shemiye and Bryant. Have some speed, some scoring, some size, some athleticism and obviously each one of these pieces has helped us throughout the last couple weeks.”

3.) As for the starters: While Lester and Stevie Mejia each scored 10 points and combined for the Dutchmen’s first eight points of the second half (including six by Mejia) to help withstand an early 13-8 “run” by Cleveland State that allowed the Vikings to take their biggest lead of the game at 42-37, Cassara was most pleased with what Moore did—and didn’t do—in scoring five points (his second-lowest figure with Hofstra and the first time in 18 games he didn’t reach double figures) while getting the Charles Jenkins treatment from the Vikings.

Cassara has been trying to encourage Moore—who is known for hoisting wild shots when he gets frustrated and/or is trying too hard to make something happen—into filling more of a leadership role, and he played in control throughout a 2-of-7 effort from the field. Moore made those two shots count with a jumper to give the Dutchmen the lead for good at 46-44 and a basket that started a 6-0 run that extended the lead to 57-46. And both of his second half rebounds led to points for the Dutchmen.

“Cleveland State was face guarding Mike tonight and just said ‘Let somebody else beat you,’” Cassara said. “And Mike was frustrated with it for a while. But he just said ‘The only way we win this game is to let some other guys do it’ and he took that upon himself and took one for the team. For him to get five points and that be enough for us to win is a credit to Mike as much as everybody else.

“Mike really developed as a leader throughout the second half. He just made sure everybody else got shots and rebounded and did everything he could to help us win.”

4.) In both producing and closing out the win, Cassara and the Dutchmen learned from two of the most painful losses of last season. Having faced Cleveland State’s Horizon League rival Wright State in the gruesome 82-56 loss in the Bracket Buster, Cassara knew the Vikings would not only try to suffocate Moore but also force the Dutchmen into plenty of bad shots. The Dutchmen maximized their shots on Saturday, when they had their fewest field goal attempts (41) since taking 40 shots in a win over Maine way back on Jan. 21, 2001, and were content to head to the line against a physical Cleveland State squad that “out-fouled” Hofstra 29-14. (Yet I managed to mutter about biases after every one of those 14!)

“I saw this last year when we went out to Wright State—they hold and grab and are a very, very physical team, so a lot of fouls,” Cassara said. “And we just weren’t able to run a lot of our offense. Part of that’s the way they like to play the game. They’re very successful at what they do. They make it hard.”

And yes, Cassara was thinking what you were thinking when Cleveland State held the Dutchmen scoreless for three minutes just before the final media timeout—and limited them to a single shot—while closing the gap to seven points: Oh no, not Western Kentucky again.

But this time, instead of blowing the late lead and squandering an opportunity to wash away a double-digit loss with an impressive win in the middle game of a three-game tournament, the Dutchmen held on by playing keepaway from Cleveland State. Thanks to three offensive rebounds, the Dutchmen had the ball for a remarkable 100 straight seconds after the Vikings missed a 3-pointer coming out of the timeout. Cleveland State ended up scoring just one basket in the final 3:18—a 3-pointer with five seconds left.

“At the four-minute time out, the game was starting to get a little tight,” Cassara said. “I slammed my clipboard on the ground a couple times and said ‘Everybody look at me.’ I screamed a couple times ‘We are gonna win this game. We are gonna win this game. And here’s how we’re gonna do it.’”

5.) Beating Cleveland State resulted in a reset of the weekend’s expectations. Cassara would have taken a 1-2 trip, all the while presuming the “1” would come today against Boston University. But 1-2 would be a lot less satisfying now that the Dutchmen have a chance to end the weekend and the month with a winning record.

And as well as the Dutchmen played Saturday, Cassara knows it was far from a perfect effort and that the Dutchmen still need to take better care of the basketball (they had 17 turnovers for the second straight game and are averaging 14.5 turnovers per game) and get David Imes (who has eight points and eight rebounds this weekend after averaging 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the first four games) untracked. Boston will be entering with plenty of momentum, too, after recording its first win of the season by ending Rhode Island’s 31-game non-conference home winning streak in Saturday’s nightcap.

“We have to put this behind us much like we did the loss to Rhode Island,” Cassara said just before going to watch Boston on film. “It’s a real challenge for us. We still have some inexperience on our team and some new guys and we have to turn around very quickly. It’ll be a tough game and it’s an early morning—we’re leaving here at 9:45—so it’s quick turnaround.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Rhode Island, 11/25)
3: Stephen Nwaukoni
2: Dwan McMillan
1: Bryant Crowder

Mike Moore 11
Nathaniel Lester 8
Dwan McMillan 4
Shemiye McLendon 4
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
David Imes 3
Bryant Crowder 2
Stevie Mejia 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Cleveland State

1.) The Flying Dutchmen and Cleveland State are tied 29-29 after a taut first half in which neither team led by more than three points, and much like the issues that have dogged the Dutchmen thus far, what went wrong appears fixable. Hofstra has just 20 shots on 29 possessions and has turned the ball over eight times. A few more successful possessions and the Dutchmen could be in position to pull off the upset.

2.) This is another balanced scoring effort from the Dutchmen, albeit with a very surprising leading scorer. Stephen Nwaukoni, who played just two minutes yesterday, has eight points, two shy of his career high. The Dutchmen already have eight players in the boxscore, and it’s encouraging they are tied while getting so little from Mike Moore (one point), Nathaniel Lester (six points) and Shemiye McLendon (scoreless thus far).

3.) The presence of Crowder not only allows Mo Cassara to make what Gary Moore has called “hockey line changes”—i.e. mass substitutions—but it has apparently lifted the play of fellow bigs Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone. The Dutchmen are outrebounding Cleveland State 18-11 and Nwaukoni has two of his three field goals off offensive rebounds. The Dutchmen have been increasingly resilient on the boards this week, which is an encouraging trend looking ahead towards CAA play.

4.) The Dutchmen have done a better job of breaking the full court press than they did yesterday against Rhode Island and are forcing plenty of fouls from an aggressive Cleveland State squad. The Dutchmen were 10-of-13 from the line, compared to just 3-of-5 for Cleveland State, and have just one player with two fouls (Kone).

5.) Before heading to Rhode Island, this was one of those games in which a valiant effort by the Dutchmen in defeat would have been acceptable, externally as well as maybe even internally. But now that the Dutchmen have the upset in sight—and need to win their last two games this month to end November with a winning record—they need to find a way to pull this one off, establish a “trademark win” far earlier than normal and create some major momentum heading into a December that opens with tough tilts against James Madison and Wagner.

Postgame Buffet: Rhode Island 85, Hofstra 73 (Or: Why is URI bringing me down, man?)

Believe it or not, this fits into the season-long theme of recap subtitles. Ha! Enjoy that hint, Loyal Reader Missy!

There aren’t many losses by double digits that will leave a coach feeling reasonably good about his team. But given the disaster that seemed to be unfolding for the Flying Dutchmen midway through the first half of their game against Rhode Island Friday afternoon, Mo Cassara was borderline upbeat after the 85-73 loss in a Ticket City Legends sub-regional in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island was in the midst of a 16-0 run before the first TV timeout of the game and led 37-18 at the under-8 stoppage. But the Dutchmen adapted to the Rams’ full court press defense, fixed their own defense a bit, got within four late in the first half and closed the gap to three points nine minutes into the second half before falling short yet avoiding the type of blowout defeat that was all-too-commonplace last season.

“I’m encouraged by a lot of things,” Cassara said by phone afterward. “I think [Rhode Island is] a very good team and they had to win that game. They’re 0-3 and they’re coming home and they’ve won 31 straight non-conference games at home. We got out of the gate slow and we talked about that, their press really bothered us. A lot of credit to our guys to fight back.”

Here’s the five post-game thoughts, including one on the debut of a player we’ve been waiting to see since 1994 (give or take 17 years):

1.) He’s not the first or second star of the game, but the most impressive and encouraging performance yesterday belonged to Bryant Crowder. Sure, most of that has to do with Crowder putting up a very solid line (13 points and six rebounds) in his debut after arriving at Hofstra with plenty of hype and then sitting out the first four games due to a coach’s decision, but the freakishly athletic 6-foot-10 Crowder looked like the type of center Hofstra hasn’t had since, well, ever. (Or at least since I started paying attention, which is all that matters #ESPNGeneration)

The most noteworthy thing about Crowder’s final line is how he put it together. He appeared headed for a Brad Kelleher-esque debut when he picked up three fouls in just five minutes in the first half, but in 13 second half minutes, Crowder had 11 points and all six of his rebounds. He had a couple dunks, including an alley-oop, that showed off his giant wingspan, which he also showed off when he was whistled (erroneously, we might add with a hearty chant of QUAHOG BIAS!!!) for goaltending on a resounding block of a T.J. Buchanan layup. Crowder displayed a polish under the basket, on both ends of the floor, that fellow big men Moussa Kone and Stephen Nwaukoni are still trying to attain.

Crowder’s presence in the middle was a major reason why the Dutchmen outrebounded Rhode Island 20-13 in the second half (they were outrebounded by the Rams 19-10 in the first half) and limited the hosts to just three offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes.

Crowder is very raw, on and off the court, which is why it took him four games to make his debut. But if he can continue maturing, he has a chance to not only supplant Kone in the starting lineup but to develop into a big-time CAA center.

“His athleticism really presented itself and gives us another level of speed and quickness,” Cassara said. “He was able to get out and really [make] some aggressive moves to the basket, get some dunks and give us a little bit of life. He’s still got to work some dust off of not really playing, that was his first major college basketball game. He had a couple critical issues, a couple missed assignments that quite honestly he’s got to work out. He’s a little behind in that department.”

As for why Crowder was benched the first four games? “The only thing I’ll say publicly is it was strictly a coaches’ decision,” Cassara said. “And I felt over the last couple weeks that he started to make some progress doing what we expect him to do, on and off the court. He continues to do that, he can help us win games. And anybody that doesn’t do those things—I’m about building a program here, not just about winning games.”

2.) The Dutchmen turning a rout into a competitive defeat was the latest evidence of the depth and multiple options they lacked last year, when the Dutchmen won seven games in which they came back from double digit deficits yet also endured six losses in which they were beaten by at least 15 points. Conclusion: Charles Jenkins could do a lot, but the Dutchmen’s reliance on him also left them prone to the blowout defeat.

Nathaniel Lester, fresh off the worst shooting performance by a Hofstra player since the program joined the CAA, was far better Saturday in scoring 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting (including 7-of-11 inside the 3-point arc) while tying for the team lead with seven rebounds and two assists and adding a team-high three steals. He began the Dutchmen’s comeback attempt by scoring the Dutchmen’s first seven points following Rhode Island’s 16-0 run.

Mike Moore, meanwhile, nearly single-handedly brought the Dutchmen back by going on his own 12-0 run that narrowed the gap to 37-30. That burst accounted for nearly half of Moore’s 25 points—just three shy of his career high—but he was more consistent than he was on Tuesday against Florida Atlantic. He was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and added seven rebounds.

Yesterday marked the second time this season the Dutchmen have had two 20-point scorers in the same game (Lester and Moore both times). That happened just five times in 33 games last year.

“I think both did some great things,” Cassara said. “I think both of them would admit that they have some things that they can get better at. Twenty-five and 22 and a couple little tweaks here and there and they both have 30.”

3.) The Dutchmen had three double-digit scorers for the fourth time this season, but it was basically a three-man show. Lester, Moore and Crowder combined for 60 points, 20 of the Dutchmen’s 30 rebounds and all but one of their 25 free throw attempts. That so much of the Dutchmen’s offense went through those three went a long way towards explaining why Hofstra scored on just 15 of the 26 second half possessions in which it had a chance to cut Rhode Island’s lead to six points or less.

Shemiye McLendon, who entered the game averaging 8.4 points and 27 minutes per game, took just one shot, was scoreless for just the third time in 37 career games and tied a career low by playing just 10 minutes. David Imes pulled down five rebounds but scored just four points and has 15 points in his last three games, only the fifth time since the start of last season he has scored 15 or fewer in a three-game stretch. Point guards Stevie Mejia and Dwan McMillan combined for five points, four assists and four turnovers as the Dutchmen finished with 11 assists and 17 turnovers.

“We’ve got to get a little more out of David Imes and Shemiye and got to take better care of the basketball,” Cassara said. “It’s hard to win at Rhode Island if you turn it over 17 times a game. And in all reality, with three minutes to go, it’s a six-point game and if we get one stop we’re right there.”

4.) Somewhat related: The Dutchmen are just 2-3, but coming back from early double-digit deficits and avoiding routs at Oregon State and Rhode Island indicates the team possesses an undercurrent of toughness as well as the ability to correct its flaws.

“We’re not playing our best basketball yet but it’s a tough group—we’ve got some guys that don’t want to give up, they don’t want to lose [and] I think that only helps us moving forward,” Cassara said. “The one thing that’s really encouraging, from a statistical standpoint, is rebounding. We go out to Oregon State, the biggest team we’ll play all year, and lose by 10 without Bryant. And then today, against a really athletic team that really just jumped out on us, we still found a way to come back and I think we only gave them three offensive rebounds in the second half.

“We’re still making critical mistakes at critical times and that’s something that we’re going to get better at. These are things that can be fixed.”

5.) That said, as upbeat as Cassara was after the loss, there’s no concealing the fact it’s essential the moral victories be replaced by actual victories at some point in the next two days. And in order to avoid another 0-fer tournament—and to avoid carrying a four-game losing streak into the look-but-don’t-touch CAA opener against James Madison a week from today—the Dutchmen will have to figure out a way to beat a borderline top 25 team in Cleveland State tomorrow and/or defending North Atlantic Conference, err, America East champion Boston University Sunday.

The task got a little tougher Friday, when unbeaten Cleveland State needed five points in the last six seconds to come back and beat winless Boston U., 63-62. “We’ve gotta find a way,” Cassara said. “[Today] we’re playing a top 25 team, certainly a top 30 team in the country, a team that won at Vanderbilt, a team that won at Penn State. And then Boston U’s a really good team. They’re 0-4 but they’ve played a really tough schedule.

“This tournament is tough—if you think about it, go to Oregon State, go to Rhode Island. [play] Cleveland State and Boston University at neutral sites. Many ways, that’s tougher than Puerto Rico [last year].”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Rhode Island, 11/25)
3: Nathaniel Lester
2: Mike Moore
1: Bryant Crowder

Mike Moore 11
Nathaniel Lester 8
Shemiye McLendon 4
David Imes 3
Dwan McMillan 2
Bryant Crowder 1
Stevie Mejia 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, November 25, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Rhode Island

1.) Well, the Flying Dutchmen sure make things interesting, don’t they? This looked like a North Carolina-level rout when Rhode Island went on a 16-0 run early in the first half and took several 18-point leads, but Mike Moore—who was just about invisible in the first 12 minutes—went on his own 12-0 run and the Dutchmen actually whittled the lead down to four in the final minute before entering the half down 45-39. Moore has 17 points, just 11 shy of his career high, and has hit four of his five 3-point attempts. Once again, there is no quit in the Dutchmen, which is the most encouraging thing to emerge from the first two weeks of the season.

2.) Hofstra has its hands full on defense with a very athletic Rhode Island team finally clicking after three road losses. Mo Cassara ditched the zone defense after the Rams drained their first three 3-pointers and five of their first eight overall, but the Dutchmen may not have the bodies to handle Rhode Island inside with Bryant Crowder (finally making his debut) racking up three quick fouls in just five minutes and Nathaniel Lester and David Imes each picking up two. In addition, Rhode Island is outrebounding Hofstra 19-10.

3.) Rhode Island is going to score plenty of points—the Rams were 16-of-31 from the field and picked up 10 offensive rebounds—so the Dutchmen will have to hit their shots in the second half. They went six straight possessions without a point during the Rams’ 16-0 run and don’t have the depth to withstand another huge surge by Rhode Island.

4.) Somewhat remarkably, the Dutchmen ended up shooting 54.2 percent (13-of-24) overall and 63 percent (5-of-8) from 3-point land even after that awful start. Stevie Mejia appears to have asserted himself at point guard with 19 solid minutes, so the Dutchmen’s surge appears sustainable.

5.) The good Lester is back, with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting to go along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. He initially stemmed the Rhode Island run by scoring seven straight Hofstra points. The Dutchmen will need him and Moore at their best to have a shot at an unlikely comeback win in the second half.

Quotebook: Mo Cassara

I didn’t get all these quotes in a 1-on-1 setting with Mo Cassara, so I can’t call this a Q&A. Therefore, welcome to the first-ever (I think?) Defiantly Dutch Quotebook! Most of these quotes are from a sit-down with Cassara in his office Wednesday, but the first comment was made following the loss to Florida Atlantic Tuesday and I think it’s pretty relevant as the Dutchmen prepare to play three games in three days in the Ticket City Legends Classic in Rhode Island. Enjoy!

On what he and the Dutchmen can take from the Puerto Rico Tip Off experience last year:

We came out of Puerto Rico last year 0-3 and then we rattled off [20 of the next 29]. So we can’t let [the Florida Atlantic] loss affect our whole season, or a couple losses. This team still has a lot of pieces that haven’t played together and that’s evident offensively. We’re just not all clicking on the same cylinders. That will come. Offensive consistency will come. We haven’t had a lot of time for practice, with last week [and] a lot of travel, so I’m looking forward to getting back from this tournament next week and really having a full week to get ready for our first CAA game next Saturday.

On the biggest challenge of playing two or three games in as many days in a pre-season tournament:

I think the biggest challenge is trying to conserve your bodies a little bit and certainly getting mentally ready to play. Because if you lose, you’ve got to turn around and prepare for another team really quickly. If you win, you’ve still got to do the same thing. We don’t have a deep bench, so we’re going to have to find a way to play some other guys a lot of minutes. I think the biggest challenge is just a lot of minutes in a short amount of time.

On preparing for three teams in three days:

It’s tough. You’ve got to prepare for the first one the most. And the other two, each coach has one team, so they’ll have to have those ready. The one thing is you actually get to physically see the other two teams, so that helps a little bit in the preparation. Sometimes on film it’s really hard to tell, but at least we’ll get a chance to see them live. So then it’s a quick turnaround and you’ve got to kind of move past the first game. Like Puerto Rico last year—you lose to Carolina, as much as you want to correct some things and fix some things, you’ve got to just move past it and try to win the next game.

Thoughts on Rhode Island, Cleveland State and Boston University:

Rhode Island, I think, is probably the most athletic team we’ll play all year. They love to get up and down the court. They’re 0-3 but they’ve played Texas, Nebraska and George Mason all on the road, so a very, very long, athletic team. Cleveland State, from what I’ve seen of them, borderline top 25 team. I think they’re 25th in one poll, one of the online polls, all seniors, very well-coached, hard-nosed kids. BU, I haven’t seen a lot of, I know Joe Jones a little bit and I know they have a couple kids that have been injured. We’ll get a better feel when we get up there.

On how valuable it is to play a challenging schedule like the one the Dutchmen have played thus far:

St. Francis is a good team, they’re going to win some games in their league. And LIU is picked to win their league. So we’ve got a real challenging schedule. And we come back and play James Madison and go to Wagner. The top part of our schedule is very, very challenging. Hopefully we can learn from some of the things that we may or may not do well. And then, obviously, we want to be playing our best basketball in January and February.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Florida Atlantic 62, Hofstra 60 (Or: Another Rainy Night Without A Win Over FAU)

It didn't actually rain during the FAU game last year. Writer's license, baby.

From the foul line and just as the buzzer sounded, Shemiye McLendon volleyball tapped the ball into the basket, more out of disgust than a frantic last-ditch attempt to send the game to overtime. Afterward, Mike Moore remained on the floor for close to a minute, clutching a head that hurt as much from the final result as the fall he had just absorbed.

Players and the announced crowd of 1,436 alike trotted out of the Hofstra Arena slowly, as if dazed by the late offensive surge by Florida Atlantic and the game-winning layup by Alex Tucker with 2.5 seconds left that lifted the CAA champion Owls to a 62-60 victory over the Flying Dutchmen Tuesday night.

A little while later, in the interview room, the bottles of water on the podium remained unopened and untouched. Those in the room who did take a swig found it decidedly unsatisfying.

“This water tastes terrible,” Hofstra assistant AD Tim McMahon said, morosely clutching the bottle of water instead of his third celebratory can of root beer of the season.

A little while later, in the car, my wife said “That one took everything out of me.”

A loss two days before Thanksgiving left everyone feeling a whole lot like we’ve felt on the first weekend of March the last 10 seasons. The Dutchmen squandered a nine-point second half lead and, thanks to another avert-your-gaze game offensively and an atypical defensive collapse in the final few minutes, an excellent opportunity to continue establishing themselves as a CAA sleeper as well as to build momentum for this weekend’s tournament in Rhode Island.

“That’s a game we really should have won,” Mo Cassara said. “That’s a game we should have won. We had a lot of careless turnovers, a lot of just lackadaisical play. And it’s something that we’ve got to get better at and we’ve got to continue to learn. I told the guys in the locker room we’ve got to find a way now to bounce back. We’ve got to find a way to learn from some of the things we didn’t do well.”

The more Cassara spoke, the less bleak things sounded. Well, sorta.

“That loss sucked,” I blurted out somewhere along Hempstead Turnpike.

It sure did, even If most of what ailed the Dutchmen Tuesday seems fixable. Here’s five reasons why Florida Atlantic’s second nail-biting win over the Dutchmen at Hofstra in the last 50 weeks stung a lot more than the first:

1.) In most narrow defeats, the initial instinct is to declare the losing team was one play away from winning. That’s not usually true. But it was Tuesday night. If just ONE more thing went the Dutchmen’s way, then everyone almost surely would have been smiling and cracking open those cans of root beer and bottles of water in the interview room.

If Moore didn’t begin his bizarre night (20 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 9-of-9 from the free throw line with seven rebounds, three assists and four turnovers in just 29 minutes) by missing a defensive assignment, allowing a 3-pointer to Raymond Taylor and getting yanked almost immediately by Cassara, maybe the Dutchmen win.

If Nathaniel Lester shoots 2-for-13, instead of 1-for-13, or David Imes shoots 2-for-6 instead of 1-for-6 or Dwan McMillan shoots 1-for-5 instead of 0-for-5, maybe the Dutchmen win. And if the Dutchmen make just ONE stop down the stretch—or McLendon gets his fingertips on the ball during the frantic scrum following Lester’s three-quarters court pass a split second earlier—maybe they at least force overtime.

“If we go back and look at a lot of the things we didn’t do well, they’re pretty correctible things,” Cassara said.

2.) The defense was certainly the most frustrating thing to go wrong. Florida Atlantic opened the second half by missing seven straight shots on its first five possessions, yet mounted a 13-0 run immediately after that to turn a nine-point deficit into a four-point lead.

Even with that surge, Florida Atlantic was just 8-of-23 from the field in its first 27 possessions. But the Owls not only finished the game by scoring baskets on their final six possessions over a span of 3:10, they did so on 6-of-6 shooting. The defensive breakdown was particularly galling since it happened a mere three days after the Dutchmen held off St. Francis by limiting the Terriers to two points on their final nine possessions.

“We got a little lackadaisical on defense—it wasn’t that we weren’t trying, it’s just that we didn’t execute,” Cassara said. “They executed better than we did and they got some wide-open shots and they made them count. Something that we clearly have got to do a better job of is finding a better way to defend down the stretch.”

3.) Cassara said Saturday the Dutchmen were not a very good offensive team, yet they managed to regress Tuesday. Lester’s 1-for-13 effort was the worst shooting performance by a Dutchman player with at least 10 attempts from the field since the program joined the CAA. Our Man Corny and Woody Souffrant each endured a 1-for-11 performance, but Vines was 1-for-9 from 3-point land against Charlotte Nov. 24, 2009 and Souffrant was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc against UNC Wilmington Jan. 4, 2003. Lester, whose only basket came on a tip-in, took just one 3-pointer.

Lester is 6-for-27 in his last two games after opening the season by going 15-of-23. Imes, meanwhile, is 3-for-12 and McMillan is 1-for-9 in the last two games. Still, it could be worse: In discussing the Dutchmen’s offensive execution, Cassara didn’t pull a John McKay and declare he was in favor of it (Google it, DC!).

“You look at some of the shooting lines of some of our guys and we just seem to not be able to make some easy shots around the basket,” Cassara said. “I’m not really quite sure what that is. Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s mental. I think right now it’s a little mental for us. I think we’re just missing a lot of easy shots.

“We weren’t able to execute and that’s something we’ve really got to work on—our offensive execution.”

Said Moore: “I just think that we’ve just got to step up and make shots. We got some rebounds, but I think we’ve just got to step up and make shots. That’s the bottom line.”

4.) Despite the final result (and the preceding 1,000 words), plenty went right for the Dutchmen last night, which alternately made the loss a tougher one to absorb while providing some reason for optimism going forward.

The Dutchmen, who didn’t record their first offensive rebound Saturday until 33 minutes had elapsed, pulled down an eye-popping 20 offensive boards Tuesday, the most against a Division I team under Cassara (the Dutchmen had 21 offensive boards against Farmingdale in last year’s opener). Now, a team that is pulling down a lot of offensive rebounds is almost surely shooting poorly, and the Dutchmen were just 5-5 with four blowout losses the last 10 times they recorded at least 20 offensive rebounds in a game under Tom Pecora.

But the Dutchmen displayed impressive tenacity in recording at least two offensive rebounds on six possessions and converting those into points four times—including both times they pulled down three offensive rebounds in a possession.

Speaking of rebounding, Lester had a career-high 12 rebounds and has 21 in the last two games, his most ever over a two-game span. Imes finished with nine rebounds, six of which he pulled down during a second half in which he was ferocious on the glass. The raw Moussa Kone (four rebounds, two blocks) and Stephen Nwaukoni (an old-fashioned 3-point play and three rebounds) looked more fluid in trying to finish on offense.

Moore, Mejia and McLendon almost provided enough offense for the Dutchmen in going 15-of-30 from the field and combining for 48 points, including the final 18. Ice Ice Shemiye scored eight of his 12 points in the first half after coming in early for Moore and drained another clutch shot with a fallaway jumper that tied the game at 58 with 1:00 left.

Mejia had by far his best game on offense and channeled Loren Stokes and Jason Hernandez in scoring 14 points. More importantly, he displayed impressive leadership by taking responsibility, unprompted, for the late-game defensive lapses.

“I felt like those three last plays were kind of my fault,” Mejia said. “I feel like I’ve got to talk to my teammates more and do better communicating on defense. Those last three plays, I was involved in all three of them when they made the shot. So we’ve got to talk and we’ve got to do a better job.”

5.) The task now for Cassara is an unenviable one: Fix what went wrong last night while making sure this doesn’t fester going into this weekend’s three-games-in-44-hours stretch in the Ticket City Classic in Rhode Island against formidable foes Rhode Island, Cleveland State and Boston University. The hope is Tuesday night pays dividends—if not this weekend, then at some point this season.

“We’ve got three really challenging games this weekend,” Cassara said. “It’s going to be a physical challenge for us, but I think it’s going to be a real mental challenge for us. How do we bounce back? And how do we learn from this? That’s something we talk about a lot and it’s something that’s going to help us improve.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Florida Atlantic, 11/22)
3: Mike Moore
2: Shemiye McLendon
1: Stevie Mejia

Mike Moore 9
Nathaniel Lester 5
Shemiye McLendon 4
David Imes 3
Dwan McMillan 2
Stevie Mejia 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Five halftime thoughts: Oregon State

1.) If nothing else, we know, three halves into the season, that the Flying Dutchmen have plenty of toughness and resiliency. After Hofstra jumped out to a 6-0 lead, Oregon State went on runs of 11-0 and 19-4 and seemed ready to blow the game open, but the Dutchmen changed up defenses and went on a 14-0 run and lead 41-39 at the half. (Just broke the no. 1 rule of journalism—list the final or in this case most recent score first. Oh well) And the Dutchmen came back largely without Nat Lester, who has three fouls.

2.) The Dutchmen are a better team, at least right now, with Dwan McMillan on the court. Stevie Mejia is still playing off the rust of sitting out last year and committed a handful of turnovers that led to Oregon State’s first run. McMillan’s insertion coincided with the beginning of Hofstra’s comeback. The two players were on the court for much of the first half and that will need to remain the case if Hofstra wants to pull off the upset.

3.) Foul trouble is a worry for the Dutchmen in what has been an increasingly chippy and physical game. Lester and McMillan have three fouls while Mike Moore, Shemiye McLendon and Moussa Kone have two apiece. The lack of depth, especially down low, could be a factor in the final few minutes. Still, the Dutchmen have limited the damage Oregon State has done in the paint after the initial runs and are actually outrebounding the Beavers, 15-12.

4.) 9-8-7-6-5-4. That’s the Dutchmen’s impressively balanced scoring attack (Moore-Imes-McLendon-Lester-Mejia-McMillan). Hooray! No more shutting Hofstra down with garbage defenses and sending four guys at one player!

5.) The Dutchmen will have a tough time winning if they can’t figure out a way to contain Jared Cunningham, who may or may not be related to Richie. Cunningham has 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-6 inside the 3-point line.

5b.) This game is fun. If Hofstra hangs on, it will surely be time to make NCAA Tournament reservations. Or at least consider the possibility this program’s renovation could arrive a year ahead of time.

The Day After (or so): Lester's 2nd senior year worth the wait

Flying Dutchmen fun fact: Nathaniel Lester scored the final points of the Tom Pecora Era by hitting a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left in the That Which Shall Not Be Named tournament loss to IUPUI on March 17, 2009.

Somewhat amazingly, Lester did not also score the first points of the Pecora Era in 2001. Nor was he in my Comm 101 class Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the fall of 1993. Nor did he play both basketball and tennis under Butch van Breda Kolff, nor did—well, you get the idea. Lester, a redshirt senior who graduated in three-and-a-half years and could finish his masters degree in linguistics by May, has been at Hofstra a long time.

“I’m definitely the old man on the team,” Lester said with a laugh last week. “I get a lot of those old guy jokes.”

But the old guy sure looks like he’s going to get the last laugh. Lester, who missed all of last season due to a torn left quad (although it should be noted that when you search “Nathaniel Lester injury” on Google, the third link is about a Nathaniel Lester who got injured in 1898), played his first game in 604 days last Friday and promptly had the best night of his Hofstra career, no matter how long that is.

Lester scored 33 points—shattering his previous career high by 11—in leading the Dutchmen to an 89-71 rout of Long Island. He scored 11 straight points for the Dutchmen in the first half, a stretch in which he managed to tie his career high for 3-pointers in a game by hitting three in as many possessions over a 101-second span. He was also 12-for-14 from the free throw line, far surpassing his previous bests in both categories, as he earned CAA Player of the Week honors.

“I’ve dreamed about a day like this since I came to Hofstra,” Lester said afterward.

It was the kind of day that many expected out of Lester back in 1898—err, 2007—when he arrived at Hofstra as the most highly touted member of a freshman class that also included a pair of redshirts named Charles Jenkins and Greg Washington. Lester, a 6-foot-5 player who could play either guard or forward position, was considered one of the best players in New York City as a high school senior, when he averaged 29 points per game and led Canarsie to the PSAL semifinals.

Jenkins, of course, wasted zero time beginning to establish himself as the best player in school history. Like Washington, Lester gradually worked his way into the starting lineup for Pecora, and, after a few impressive bursts his first two seasons (including two double-doubles as a sophomore and a stretch in which he scored at least 10 points in eight of his final 13 games), seemed ready to blossom into a star as the calendar turned to 2010.

With Jenkins battling foul trouble, Lester scored 17 points and led the Dutchmen past Florida Atlantic Dec. 29. Four days later, in the real CAA opener against William & Mary, Lester was the best player on the floor in posting game highs with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 48-47 loss.

But Lester lost his momentum, and eventually his starting job. Over the final 20 games of the season, he averaged just 5.8 points per contest. Lester played fewer than 30 minutes in each of the final 18 games, played 20 minutes or less 10 times in the last 11 games and bottomed out against IUPUI, when he started in place of an injured Washington but was benched 94 seconds into the game and scored half of his eight points in the meaningless final minute.

“I was just going to be that energy guy coming off the bench,” Lester said of his mindset following the demotion. “If that’s what my team needed me to do, then that’s what I was going to get out there and do. Whatever it takes to win. That’s the type of player I am.”

Pecora said Lester might have struggled because he was one of the few healthy players on a roster decimated by injury and illness in January 2010. The Dutchmen went 1-8 in Lester’s final nine starts, a stretch that included seven losses in the Dutchmen’s first eight CAA games in January.

“Maybe sometimes you don’t win and you’re the healthy guy and you say ‘Man, I can’t carry the team,’” Pecora said.

Pecora also said Lester may have struggled because it was difficult for both he and Lester to find a role in a guard-dominated offense for a classic “tweener” such as Lester.

“I remember him winning a game for us at Florida Atlantic—Charles got in foul trouble, I ran 10 cuts in a row for [Lester],” Pecora said. “Nat had certain sweet spots on the floor—if you got him the ball in those spots, he was unstoppable. And that’s what I had to get better at.

“I think it was hard. He wasn’t a guard who dominated the ball, and Charles had the ball in his hands. So that made it difficult for him at times, I think.”

Pecora’s exit in March 2010, followed by the transfers of Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic, seemingly opened up another opportunity to start for Lester, and he and his best friends Jenkins and Washington wasted little time bonding with new NEW coach Mo Cassara. But Lester’s senior season became endangered in July, when he tore the quad while working out at Shuart Stadium.

“I didn’t realize until two hours later that something was really wrong,” Lester said. “I stretched out and went back to my room and realized my leg was swollen.”

While the Dutchmen desperately needed the depth Lester could have provided, Cassara and Lester agreed not to burn his senior year for what would have been, at best, a half-season’s worth of games. That a new coach would redshirt a senior player whom he inherited spoke volumes of how quickly Cassara and his staff bonded with Lester.

“I think most coaches would probably try to sacrifice Nat’s senior year by getting him out there as quick as we could,” Cassara said. “But what it really developed into is he ended up playing a great role for us on the bench. He was a great guy in the locker room, a great guy on the bench. And once I saw that he embraced that role, I had to do everything I could to try to support him and do what he wanted to do.”

While freshmen are regular redshirts at Hofstra, Lester is only the second Flying Dutchmen upperclassmen to since 1994 (Danny Walker redshirted as a senior in 2002-03). While freshmen use a redshirt season to adjust to college life off the court and to get an idea of what to expect on it, sitting out a year allows an older player such as Lester to see the game in a far different fashion, one that will allow him to slow things down upon his return.

“On the court, you can see when the game needs to be slowed down and when it needs to be picked up and how you need to come out hard and bring energy,” Lester said. “I think being in the game for 40 minutes, 35 minutes, you don’t see all of that stuff.”

“For a guy like Nat, he was able to sit back and really watch this team develop and watch our program develop and watch our system develop,” Cassara said. “And he really bought into it. I think sometimes that year sitting out is a lot more valuable sometimes as an older kid because they have a few more tools in their pocket to say ‘Wow, that really works.’ They can kind of reference that a little. Sometimes a freshman doesn’t know any better. They’re just sitting out to sit out.”

Basketball staffers noted last summer how Lester’s presence and double-double potential could help the Flying Dutchmen exceed low pre-season expectations and how he seemed primed for an impressive senior season. Nobody could have foreseen last Friday night, when Lester became the first player not named Charles Jenkins or Antoine Agudio to score 30 points in a game for the Dutchmen since Carlos Rivera in 2007.

Walker returned from his redshirt season by putting up a career-high 21 points in the Dutchmen’s season-opening win over Marist Nov. 18, 2003. He exceeded double digits just six more times and recorded only one double-double the rest of the way, but those who know Lester seem to believe many more big nights are in his future.

“I think having this fifth year is going to help Nat tremendously,” Pecora said. “Year five is a magical year for young guys. Very few guys don’t have a good year in their fifth year. They’re bigger, stronger, more familiar, more confident in the second senior year.

“As far as the wings go, with him on one side and Mike Moore on the other—not many teams that wouldn’t want those two guys playing on your wings,” Pecora said.

“Obviously the injury fed into it a little bit and having more time to build a relationship with me and our staff, but Nat’s one of those guys that’s benefited from the change and that’s really helped him, I think, develop to where he is now,” Cassara said last week.

After the game, Cassara was busting with—WAIT FOR IT—pride over both Lester’s emergence and the amount of time that went into making it possible. “I'm really proud of Nat because he stuck with it," Cassara said. "Certainly not a more deserving guy than Nat Lester—the time he’s put into this program [and] this university."

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