Saturday, December 31, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Hofstra 83, Iona 75 (Or: If the cards are cold, don’t go folding)

The rap here is as awful as the win over Iona was awesome.

Iona players had waited 31 days for Thursday night and the opportunity to play in front of their friends and family. But the Flying Dutchmen had waited a lot longer—a full 365 days—just to play the Gaels and get a measure of revenge for the worst loss of the Mo Cassara Era.

And the differences in focus were obvious throughout. From the spirited demeanor of the Hofstra bench to David Imes (16 points, 15 rebounds) and Nathaniel Lester (21 points, 10 rebounds) putting together double-doubles in perhaps the best efforts of their careers to Cassara pumping his fist after a Moussa Kone dunk sealed the game with less than a minute to play and the sight of usually placid Lester firing the ball skyward as time expired, the Dutchmen were the better and more attentive team in putting together a stunningly thorough 83-75 win in front of a spirited crowd of 4,258 at Hofstra Arena.

“Sheesh, I can’t even tell you,” Imes said when asked how satisfied he was by the victory a year to the day after the Dutchmen were destroyed by Iona, 87-62, in New Rochelle. “I just know that everyday, when we found out they were on our schedule, we just waited until this day to take advantage of it and just make up for [last year],” Imes said.

“A year ago tonight was a tough night,” Cassara said. “But it was a big turning point for us. I think from that point on we played very, very well throughout the rest of the season. So obviously a big turning point for us this year, as well.”

Don’t be surprised if it turns out to be one for Iona, too. Judging by Tim Cluess’ demeanor late Thursday, I wouldn’t want to be Siena on Tuesday night. Anyway, here’s the postgame buffet from the Dutchmen’s third straight win.

1.) Afterward, everyone on both sides recognized that while the Flying Dutchmen viewed this as their Super Bowl—Dwan McMillan’s words—Iona viewed it like Homecoming, and figured they’d treat the Dutchmen like the Dutchmen football team treated Charleston Southern back in 1995 (you probably had to be there).

“I’ll keep it simple: Just give Hofstra all the credit,” Cluess said. “I thought they came and played a heckuva game from the get-go. They came with more energy, they played harder than us and took it to us right from the start. It looked like it meant more to them than it did to our guys today.”

Cluess said he was growing concerned that his team, which went 6-2 on the eight-game road trip it completed Thursday, was beginning to buy into its hype as the best team in the metro area when he noticed players were talking more about ticket requests. “I think our guys were drinking the Kool Aid a little too much,” Cluess said. “I knew we were in a little bit of trouble when it became more of an issue for some of the guys about tickets for the game than about the game itself.”

Cluess also admitted he didn’t expect Imes and Lester to shoot as well as they did, which is understandable given their struggles much of this season (more on that shortly). But Iona star forward Mike Glover unintentionally provided a glimpse into how the Gaels approached the game when he needed help remembering Imes’ name and assumed he’d never before enjoyed such a robust rebounding game.

“I think it was—who was it? Dave? Dave Imes had, what, 15 rebounds in the game?” Glover said. “Shocked me. I didn’t think he ever had 15 rebounds in a game against anybody.”

Imes had 17 rebounds twice last season (against Wagner and UNC Wilmington) and Thursday marked his seventh career double-double. Those numbers aren’t Glover-esque—he has six double-doubles this year alone—but still, they’re pretty good.

“Pretty much proved today that he can rebound just as good as any other big man in the country,” Glover said.

2.) This was the type of win Cassara would like to bottle and uncork another 27 times this year (do the math!). Not only did the Dutchmen bring the type of effort and emotion he’d like to see every game, but this was a win in which the veterans all played their optimal game.

Imes entered Thursday with just 12 points and 20 rebounds in his previous four games, during which he was just 5-of-24 from the field. But he was 7-of-13 shooting against Iona and had as many offensive boards (six) as the previous four games combined.

“It’s a big confidence booster,” Imes said. “I needed that.”

Lester’s impressive shooting night was less surprising—he is 15-of-35 in his last five games following a five-game stretch in which he was just 13-of-58—but the Gaels weren’t the only ones stunned by Lester’s huge and consecutive 3-pointers midway through the second half. The first came with 10:07 left to play immediately after a Hofstra timeout and just after Iona had closed within single digits for the first time in the second half. The second 96 seconds later again extended the lead to 12.

Not only were those Lester’s first 3-pointers in 26 days, they were his first after a streak of nine straight misses dating back to the James Madison game and half as many 3-pointers as he had in his first 25 attempts of the season. They were also, quite likely, his biggest baskets since his freshman year way back in 1907-08—err, 2007-08—when he hit a series of clutch last-minute shots.

Mike Moore, meanwhile, opened the game by hitting just one of his first six shots but hit drained seven of his final nine attempts on his way to a game-high 24 points. Most notably, he had five assists, tying a Hofstra career high, and continued to display renewed determination on defense, where he had three steals and got a piece of Kyle Smyth’s 3-pointer late in the second half.

“It was easy for me tonight because my other guys were picking me up,” Moore said. “We had the lead from the beginning so I wasn’t really stressing about missing shots. They were good shots. I know I can make those shots and my teammates believe in me, so I just kept shooting and making the right pass.”

After the Dutchmen took their biggest lead at 57-38 with 14:33 left to play, Moore, Lester and Imes combined to score 20 of the Dutchmen’s final 26 points as they fended off Iona’s comeback and finished off the win.

“A lot of credit to Mike he was a little tired at the end and he dropped the ball off to Dave, he dropped the ball off to Nat and those guys stepped up and made big shots,” Cassara said. “And that’s what we need them to do. If you look at their stat lines, it’s terrific, but I’m really just proud of our effort overall. And that’s the way we’re going to have to win. To win games we’re going to have to do it as a group.”

3.) While Moore, Lester and Imes combined for 61 points on 52 percent shooting, the most pivotal player for the Dutchmen—and the one who inspired me to go with the FOUR stars of the game for the first time ever, SPOILER ALERT—was just 3-of-11 shooting and didn’t pull down a rebound. But without Dwan McMillan’s efforts on and off the court, the Dutchmen do not win this game.

McMillan continued his masterful play at point guard with 10 points, nine assists and just four turnovers over 40 minutes (he missed a handful of seconds before a media timeout in the second half). His 19 assists the last two games are the most by a Hofstra player in a two-game span since Charles Jenkins had 22 on Feb. 18 and 21, 2009.

McMillan continually—and seemingly effortlessly—broke the Iona press while igniting the Dutchmen’s own press defense. McMillan harassed ex-high school teammate Scott Machado into six of Iona’s 23 turnovers, the most by a Hofstra opponent since UNC Wilmington needed three overtimes to commit 24 turnovers on Jan. 14, 2006. And the Dutchmen recorded 14 steals, the second straight game in which they had their most steals in six seasons.

He also set the tone for the Dutchmen last week by declaring he was ready for Iona. “I thought Dwan was great,” Cassara said. “I gave him a lot of credit in the locker room. His attitude and effort in practice, in shoot-around today—he just kept saying ‘We’re not gonna lose, we’re not gonna lose tonight’—has been tremendous.”

“I told the guys during practice ‘this is a must-win, we’ve got to be up for this team,’” McMillan said. “Some of the losses that we had, we got up—it wasn’t 15, but we got up six or seven and we didn’t finish the game—so we finished this game.”

4.) Perhaps the most impressive part of the win is the Dutchmen played Iona’s game and paid zero attention to my pre-game prattlings about how the only way to beat Iona was by slowing things down. The Gaels had 84 possessions, their fourth-most this season, but averaged a season-low 0.89 points per possession. The Dutchmen set a season high with 83 possessions.

“We talk about playing to tempo,” Cassara said. “We were able to get some really easy baskets in transition and the staff kept saying if we get something in transition, let’s attack and let’s get an easy basket or let’s get fouled. If we don’t, then pull out and run some offense. I think down the stretch we did a really good job of that.”

5.) Following the game, I screamed on Twitter that I was writing in Cassara for President. Maybe it’s a smidge early for that, but not too early to declare he can, as Bum Phillips said about Bear Bryant, “…take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”

This is the second year in a row in which Cassara has navigated the Dutchmen through an early season crisis and put them back on course, but this time he didn’t have Jenkins to rely upon. It is absolutely remarkable that the Dutchmen, in a span of a little more than three weeks, went from trailing for 76-plus straight minutes against Wagner and Manhattan to never trailing Iona by more than two points and leading the Gaels for the final 28 minutes.

Part of the resurgence was the good fortune of playing winless Binghamton and game but overmatched Colgate in consecutive home games, but Cassara deserves a ton of credit for putting the Bryant Crowder distraction behind the Dutchmen and getting the group he’ll take forward refocused and re-energized after a demoralizing four-game losing streak. The Dutchmen also have an identity and a vocal team leader, two things they lacked during the skid, and Cassara and his staff deserve plenty of plaudits for coaxing those traits out of a reeling team.

“I think anytime when you’re going through a stretch, a period, where you’re not playing real well, you’re trying to push and pull and find anything that can work,” Cassara said. “We’ve been trying to push some different buttons and do some different things [and] really get a better sense of ourselves. Our energy and our effort and our excitement in practice has been tremendous and I think that showed tonight on the court. I’m really proud of our guys.”

And now the Dutchmen head into the new year feeling pretty good about themselves and knowing they not only beat the two best teams they faced during the non-conference season—and may have recorded the CAA’s two biggest non-conference wins—but that they did it with two drastically different squads. Feeling good on New Year’s Eve doesn’t guarantee anything, and the best team in the CAA awaits Monday, but the Dutchmen are in a far better spot than anyone could have envisioned two weeks ago.

“On paper, probably the two best teams that we’ve played all year are Cleveland State and Iona—RPI-wise, personnel-wise—and we’ve beaten both of those teams,” Cassara said. “So we certainly have the capability and the ability to be very competitive not only in the non-conference but in our league.”

4 (that's right 4) STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Iona, 12/29)
3: Nathaniel Lester
1: David Imes
1: Dwan McMillan
1: Mike Moore

SEASON STANDINGS
Mike Moore 28
Nathaniel Lester 15
Dwan McMillan 13
David Imes 7
Shemiye McLendon 7
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five pre-game thoughts: Iona

1.) Oh my goodness! It’s the return of pregame thoughts! Christmas really IS the season of miracles! And limited work weeks that were supposed to be completely free of work but aren’t. But anyway.

1b.) The Flying Dutchmen suffered their share of lopsided defeats during a memorable 2010-11, but none stung quite as badly as the 87-62 loss to Iona a year ago tonight in New Rochelle. While part of the Dutchmen’s problem was bad timing—in addition to Brad Kelleher making his first start in place of the injured Dwan McMillan, the Gaels were primed to destroy someone after head coach and former Hofstra player Tim Cluess forced the Gaels to stay on campus and practice on Christmas Day following a loss to Vermont—the loss was the least competitive one of the season. It led to plenty of good things for Hofstra—after Mo Cassara held a boot camp of his own over New Year’s weekend, the Dutchmen opened January with five straight wins, including the seismic upset of George Mason—but the loss is still clearly on the mind of the nine Dutchmen who experienced it, either on the court or on the bench.

“We needed these last two games to get our mojo back for Iona,” McMillan said after the win over Colgate last Thursday. “We’re looking at that game as a measuring stick, because we’re ready for them after what they did to us last year.”

Motivation won’t be a problem today, not with so many New York-area natives on the team and with most of the players knowing one another from high school and AAU ball. “We played together at St. Benedict’s,” McMillan said when asked about Iona’s star point guard Scott Machado. “He knows me and I know him.”

2.) Of course nobody’s Rex Ryan enough to declare the Dutchmen look forward to proving they are the best team in the New York area. That’s Iona. The Gaels are 10-2 and a buzzer-beating half-court shot by Purdue away from being 11-1. They’re a remarkable 9-2 on the road or at neutral sites with wins over Maryland in Puerto Rico and over Denver at Denver, where the Gaels came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half in the mile high air. This is Iona’s eighth straight road game and the closest the Gaels have been to New Rochelle since Nov. 28.

3.) The Gaels are winning by channeling Loyola Marymount circa 1990 (Google it everyone who wasn’t high school age or older 21 years ago!). Iona has scored 80 or more points nine times, 90 or more five times and 100 or more twice. They have yet to average below 1.06 points per possession in a game and are averaging 77 possessions per game, a figure Hofstra hasn’t even reached once. And as our friend Guy Falotico pointed out today, the Gaels can beat you any which way with a big-time big man (Seton Hall transfer Mike Glover), slasher (Arizona transfer MoMo Jones) and a ruthlessly effective point guard (Machado).

The best way to beat Iona, obviously, is to slow the game down, but the Gaels are 2-1 in games in which they had fewer than 70 possessions, and one of those losses was at Marshall in the midst of this eight-game road trip. The Flying Dutchmen don’t need to channel Villanova vs. Georgetown circa 1985 (Google it, etc etc) but they must limit mistakes, maximize their offensive opportunities and force Iona to play a more moderate tempo.

4.) McMillan’s ability to break the Iona press will be a key for the Dutchmen, who can’t afford to give Iona additional opportunities with turnovers. The equation that lifted the Dutchmen past Colgate in the second half needs to work again: A balanced scoring attack and an ability to get players other than Mike Moore involved once the defense keys on him. The Dutchmen need at least two of the McMillan-Nathaniel Lester-David Imes-Shemiye McLendon quartet to score in double figures. Defensively, there’s no stopping Glover, who has five double-doubles and has scored 20 or more points five times this year, but Imes, Stephen Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone have to come up with a way to limit his damage. If the Dutchmen win this game, it’ll be because Kone had a coming out party.

5.) While there are at least 20 games left in the season, it’s no stretch to declare these next two will determine the direction the Dutchmen will take in 2011-12. Iona and VCU are the two best teams Hofstra will see all year, so a split will provide plenty of optimism for those hoping the Dutchmen can move into the top half of a down CAA. Even a pair of competitive losses will engender some hope the Dutchmen can steal a few games come the end of January and February. (We won’t even get into what a sweep would mean) A pair of lopsided defeats, though, and it’ll be tough to sell the idea this is anything other than a rebuilding/transitional season. Rest assured Mo Cassara got no rest even during his trip home for Christmas and that he was obsessing over how to beat Iona and VCU the entire time he was upstate. He’s got his hands full taking on the high-powered Gaels and Rams at less than full strength, but in Mo we trust to keep the rest of the season interesting.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch athttp://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Learn all about Iona fandom with Gaels fan Guy Falotico!

Our good Iona friend Guy Falotico--better known as @IonaGuyF--was kind enough to help Hofstra fans prepare for tonight's big metro tilt by answering a few mostly intelligent questions from yours truly today. Thanks to Guy for his time and see you all tonight!

How did you become "IonaGuyF" and how close did you come to becoming, say, "MaristGuyF" or, heaven forbid, "SienaGuyF?"

I actually started off my postgrad years as a computer science major. Iona's CS program was very strong at the time and they gave me some academic scholarship cash to go there, so it was the easy choice.

What was hoops and the hoops atmosphere at Iona like during your undergrad years?

I graduated from Iona in 1991. Arrived there in the fall of 1987. So, basically I got there after the Valvano and Kennedy years, just in time to see the program return to mediocrity and obscurity. The atmosphere was still pretty good, but in those years LaSalle was ridiculously good. Those are still the best MAAC teams I've ever seen.

What were the best and worst moments of your college years fandom?

Best moment I can recall while in college was Sean Green's 43-point performance in the MAAC semifinals in Albany against Siena. The Gaels had to endure a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. I'd never heard an arena get so loud and thought we were finished, but Green wasn't to be denied on that day. Of course, Iona had nothing left the next day in losing to St. Peter's in the finals. The worst moment while I was at Iona was a home game against Lafayette, one of the worst teams in the country that particular year. Iona led by 20 at the half. A friend of mine, who had such a knack for calling stuff like this we called him “Clutch”, stated, “Iona will trail at some point in this game.” We all thought he was nuts. Iona went on to lose by 10. So, yes, we were outscored by 30 points in one half on our home floor by one of the worst teams in the country. Ouch.

I recall you writing on Twitter how you almost became a sportswriter but wisely came to your senses. Is that true, and if so, what do you do now? Also, do you have a time machine I could borrow so I could mimic your actions?

As a soph at Iona, I had the opportunity to cover high school sports at what is now the Journal News. Ended up staying there 5 years, about 25 hours a week. Best job I ever had. The problem was that they rarely hired from within, no matter how good you were. A major beat opened up, and they’d pull someone from another paper. Being that young, I didn’t understand that—of course I get it now. But at the time, I didn’t want to stick it out, or move somewhere else for an opportunity. Very na├»ve of me. So I switched industries. Somehow found medical editing, and I’ve been doing it for 16 years now. I work on a team of editors who all have PhDs, and I hold my own. I’ve gone from breaking down high school basketball games to developing case studies of patients with moderately active rheumatoid arthritis. Nowhere near as much fun, but it pays considerably more. That said—if I can return to the age of 23, I would have left the area to cover sports. But then I wouldn’t have my wife and kids. Hard to think of them not being around.

How did you end up becoming a moderator at IonaHoops.com as well as the curator of Iona sports news on Twitter?

Should give you a very quick MAAC message board history. Back in 1997 or so, a few MAAC fans found each other in an AOL chat room. I was one of them. Another who was in there, Hofstra fans know well—Jack Styczynski. Not long after that time with AOL, Jack started the first true MAAC board, which grew pretty popular—popular enough for a young company named Rivals.com to approach several of us to start up individual team sites. So, for the 1999 season, IonaHoops.com was born. I enjoyed running the site—going to all the press conferences and stuff. Was a way to keep my hand in the industry, too, in case I wanted to make a run at getting back into sports (by this time I was married). Two seasons later Rivals wanted to start charging us to have a site on their network, so we all left. Most MAAC teams have maintained team boards on various message board networks over the years. IonaHoops.com has also remained “just a message board”, first on Voy, then on Arborwood, and now on ProBoards.

I’ve been asked often over the years why I don’t just run my own sort of Rivals site for Iona, or nowadays, a blog such as yours. I now have 2 kids, and they keep me busy. I coach Little League and Pop Warner in my town (Stratford, CT), and I’m part of the PTA at their school. I was also elected to serve on Iona’s alumni board of directors, so I do more with the college than just attend sporting events now. I just don’t have the time to put into a blog.

As for Twitter, I love it. I read somewhere that Facebook is for people you used to be friends with, and Twitter is for people you want to be friends with. Perfect description. I love bringing Iona fans info and I love following all the basketball writers, from the ESPN and CBS guys to the guys who bust their butts on barely-read blogs. You don’t realize how much info is out there on your team until you do a Twitter search for them.

How many games do you go to in the average season?

I get to every home game most years, and a handful of the local road games. I also try to get to the cool preseason tournaments Iona’s been involved with. Two years ago, I took the whole family down to Orlando for the Old Spice, and we had a blast. This year I went to San Juan by myself and had a great time. Next year Iona is in St. Thomas, and I’m going to try to get the whole family there. In 2014, Iona’s at Old Spice again, so we will all make that trip.

As for the MAAC Tournament, I believe I’ve missed it once in the past 25 years. Regarding Iona’s NCAA trips, believe it or not I’ve only made it to one of them. Had some reasons for missing the others—my wedding, wife late in pregnancy, having no money due to getting laid off from a job, etc. But I have already told the wife that I’ll be there if Iona is in the NCAAs this year, and will be at every game as far as they go—hey, after what we’ve seen from GMU, Butler and VCU in recent years, you never know.

I like to complain about the hexed nature of Hofstra basketball, but you went through something few people have ever experienced--a two-win season in 2006-07. How awful was that, especially coming off an NCAA Tournament season the year before, and what were those two wins like?

Amazing that we went from having a halftime lead over an eventual Final Four team in the NCAAs to losing to a D-III school in an exhibition the following season. Even after that we didn’t realize how bad things were going to be. The losses just kept mounting. But I’ll tell you something—it’s “easier” being a fan when you know your team is poor, because the “pressure” is off. You root hard for the kids and see the younger ones develop. The media buildup was crazy! Suddenly we have major networks sending reporters to our games to cover the sad-sack Gaels trying to get that first W. And the fans showed up more and more, too. I was so happy to see the kids finally win. There were some great guys on that team. Thankfully the frosh got to taste some winning before they left.

Things have obviously gotten better since then, and Iona is the overwhelming pick to win the MAAC this year. How satisfying is it as a fan to be on the other end of such a metamorphosis, and what is it like rooting for the team everyone else is aiming at? Also, do you have proof Kevin Williard and Tim Cluess CANNOT walk on water?

Willard’s efforts were remarkable, and you knew he wasn’t going to be here for the long haul. Only gripe Iona fans had was that the team simply couldn’t score under him. Great defense, zero offense. Enter Cluess, the polar opposite. Great offense, no defense!

When MoMo Jones committed to Iona and we were all waiting on whether the NCAA would allow him to play this year, I was truly indifferent. This year’s Gaels were going to be good with or without him, and part of me was thinking toward the future—you can just give MoMo the keys for 2 years after Machado leaves. But now that he’s playing for us, I see that he does give us a dimension we didn’t have last year—that pure scorer who can fill the basket in a variety of ways. We had Glover inside, 3-point shooters outside and Machado running the show, but no one with that consistent in-between game, and no one who can get past you to the rim. MoMo has made us better in that regard, and because of his presence on this year’s roster Iona has a chance for a special season.

But you talk about the contrast from 2007, when I barely even looked at boxscores after games, to now, when I’m checking on our RPI daily, even multiple times a night. Our RPI is 12 right now—that’s just nuts. But to me it’s also nuts that we have no votes in either Top 25 poll. You can’t tell me we’re not one of the top 40 teams in the country. Ridiculous.

Hofstra fans are jealous of schools who went to one of the newer postseason tournaments and had a good experience there. How did the CIT help Iona last year?

I thought it was a great experience for the kids. Nobody cares about any postseason tourney not named NCAA—except for the teams in them. It gave the team a few more games together against good competition. The atmosphere at the CIT final was the best I’ve seen at an Iona home game in recent years—shame we lost to a good Santa Clara team.

Tell us the most fun thing about rooting for this year's team, as well as anything that keeps you up nights w/worry (if there is such a thing). What is this team's ceiling?

The most fun thing about this year’s team is the dream of what could be. I remember seeing a story prior to the start of the season where Iona was labeled “this year’s VCU”. What an amazing thing VCU did last year—not even the best team in your league and you go all the way to the Final Four. Can Iona do that? They would have to improve drastically on defense. In fact, they need to do that just to ensure they GET to the NCAAs. Last mock bracket I saw had us as a 10 seed. That’s not ideal for a deep run, because you’re looking at facing one of the top 8 teams in the country in the second round. But that would be a nice problem to have. If Iona gets to the NCAAs and loses in the first round, it would be disappointing. Win a game there and we’re in the talks of one of the best MAAC teams of all time. Reach the Sweet 16 and leave no doubt.

My one worry other than the defense is whether these guys have learned to WIN a championship. Iona was a huge favorite in last year’s MAAC finals vs St. Peter’s. John Dunne’s defensive gameplan was BRILLIANT that night, and we lost Kyle Smyth to injury in the first half. That’s the other reason the CIT run was good for the team—but, again, we lost in the finals. My fear is getting to the MAAC finals again, not quite having the resume for an at-large, and then wondering whether we have enough to beat Fairfield or Loyola or whoever with the money on the table. It’s here where I think MoMo makes the difference for us and gets us over the hump.

Do you think tonight's loss to Hofstra will fuel the Gaels the rest of the year?

Well, one thing’s for certain, your 284 RPI will not be helpful. An Iona loss would eliminate any room for error in terms of at-large—we’d have to win out, including BracketBuster, to the MAAC finals and lose to the second-best MAAC team to be on the right side of the at-large bubble. As Iona has been away from home for a month now, I expect good Iona representation at the game tonight, and for the Gaels to play well. But certainly if the Hofstra that beat Cleveland State shows up, Iona will be in for a dogfight. One thing you’ll see is that Iona’s defense is a great remedy for any offensive issues you guys have been having, It should be interesting because I know Hofstra is capable. Good luck to both teams—and no injuries for either side, please!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

22 Short Facts About The Golden State Warriors!

I'm going hungry, GOING HUNGR-YYYYYYY, so #LetHimScore, Mark!

If you’re like me, you haven’t eaten since Christmas night as you wait for Charles Jenkins to score the first points of his NBA career. To keep your mind off those terrible hunger pains, I present to you 22 short facts about the new beloved favorite team of Defiantly Dutch—the Golden State Warriors. How many times can I manage to rant about Hofstra in these facts? Many, many times!

1.) The Warriors are an original NBA franchise, founded as the Philadelphia Warriors in 1946 as part of the fledgling Basketball Association of America (which became the NBA in 1949). The Warriors won the first BAA/NBA title by beating the Chicago Stags in the championship series. It’s just like Mark Jackson winning his first game over the Chicago Bulls Monday night!

2.) The Warriors moved to San Francisco after the 1961-62 season, began playing home games in Oakland in 1966 and were renamed the Golden State Warriors at the start of the 1971-72 season. It’s just like Hofstra moving from Calkins Hall to the PFC to the Arena and dropping the Flying Dutchmen nickname!

3.) The Warriors have won three NBA titles, taking home the grand prize in 1955-56 as well as 1974-75, when they earned their only championship on the west coast with a four-game sweep of the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals.

4.) In their last non-road regular season game as the Philadelphia Warriors on March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points in a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks in front of fewer than 5,000 fans at Hershey, PA. In the nearly 50 years since, only one NBA player (Kobe Bryant with 81 points) has come within 20 points of matching Chamberlain’s feat. Yeah but did he ever beat William & Mary with a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime and a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime?!

5.) Chamberlain, not surprisingly, is the leading scorer in Warriors history with 17,783 points. (Urge to make sophomoric joke about scoring rising…)

6.) The Warriors have retired the numbers of five players so far: Chamberlain, Alvin Attles, Rick Barry, Tom Meschery and Nate Thurmond. Chris Mullin (the Warriors’ all-time leader in games played) will become the sixth Warriors player to see his number raised to the rafters on March 12, when the New York native and St. John’s legend sees his no. 17 retired. Yeah but did any of the Warriors’ stars have their numbers retired while they were still active?!

7.) Thurmond is the Warriors’ all-time leading rebounder with 12,771 boards. He was also the first player in NBA history to record a QUADRUPLE double on Oct. 18, 1974, when he recorded 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocked shots in his debut for the Chicago Bulls. OK. Even Jenkins hasn’t done that.

8.) One player who will probably not have his number retired by the Warriors is Latrell Sprewell, who was suspended for the final 68 games of the 1997-98 season for twice choking coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice.

9.) Carlesimo is one of 24 men to coach the Warriors. His .289 winning percentage (46-113) is sixth-lowest in franchise history, but he coached more games than anyone below him.

10.) The winningest coach in Warriors history is Attles, who won 557 games over two stints on the bench as well as the 1975 NBA title. Fellow Hall of Famer Don Nelson ranks second with 422 wins, also spread out over two stints.

11.) The Warriors’ all-time record is 2330-2752 (.458), meaning they are a mere six-season winning streak away from going over. 500! The Warriors were within striking distance of the break-even mark through the 1993-94 season (1816-1902), however, since then…

12.) …the Warriors have gone an avert-your-gaze 514-850 (.377), during which they have recorded just two winning seasons (2006-07 and 2007-08), endured four 60- loss seasons, four other seasons in which they lost at least 50 games and, remarkably, reached the playoffs just once (2006-07).

13.) The Warriors have made the playoffs 28 times, but 22 of those trips came in their first 29 years of existence, during which the Warriors reached the NBA Finals six times and got as far as the conference finals another five times.

14.) The Warriors have made the playoffs just six times in the last 34 years. Five of those trips came in an eight-year span from 1986-87 through 1993-94. Still, basketball fans of a certain age—say, 38—have fond memories of the last time the Warriors were reasonably competitive. Such as…

15.) …when Speedy Floyd set NBA records by scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter and 39 points in the second half of the Warriors’ lone victory over the Lakers in the 1987 semis. And then there was the high-scoring “Run TMC”-era Warriors of 1989-90 and 1990-91, who, led by the trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, went just 81-83 with one playoff berth but led the league in scoring in ’89-90 and finished second in ’90-91. The Warriors appeared primed to remain in contention when they acquired top overall draft pick Chris Webber in 1993 and won 50 games as he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1993-94, but Webber had a falling out with Nelson, refused to suit up again for the Warriors was traded to the Bullets in November 1994. It’s a lot like the Bryant Crowder saga, except not.

16.) The Warriors missed the playoffs 12 straight seasons from 1994-95 through 2005-06, which made them the only team in the NBA (other than the Charlotte Bobcats, who began play in 2004) not to appear in the postseason in that span. Yeah well Hofstra went 23 years in between NCAA Tournament berths, so there!

17.) The Warriors made that one playoff berth in the last 17 seasons count, though, by squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed in 2006-07 and producing the biggest upset in the history of the 16-team playoff format when they knocked off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in six games in the first round. The Mavericks won 67 games during the regular season, 25 more than the Warriors. I will write a whole lot about this when the eighth-seeded Flying Dutchmen take on top-seeded VCU in the CAA quarterfinals.

18.) Alas, the next year, the Warriors won 48 games and missed the playoffs entirely—the only NBA team to win 48 games and sit home for the postseason. Basically, it was the equivalent of having a top 30 RPI and not receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. No truth to the rumor Tom O’Connor ran the NBA Playoffs that year.

19.) Eighteen former Warriors are enshrined in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. Jenkins will make it 19!

20.) One of those Hall of Famers, Rick Barry was the NBA’s all-time leader in field goal percentage—a cool 90 percent—at the time of his retirement. He has since been surpassed by Steve Nash and Mark Price, each of whom are at 90.4 percent, but Nash and Price have a combined 5,466 free throw attempts. Barry had 4,243 all by himself.

21.) Rick Barry was so cool, he shot free throws like this. Take note, Mike Morrison!

22.) New Warriors coach Mark Jackson played more games in the NBA—1,296—than any head coach in history. He ranks third all-time in assists with 10,334—a mere 10,333 ahead of Charles Jenkins, who also has 12,489 fewer points than his head coach. Remedy that tonight, Mark, and let me eat again!

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Story: Jenkins’ Hofstra family ready to share in his NBA debut

For a few weeks this fall, Charles Jenkins Sr. and his wife Patricia were like any other parents of a recent college graduate who welcome their child back into the fold as he searches for his first “real world” job in a tough economy.

Speaking with a hearty laugh and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Charles Sr. said last week that “….my wife enjoyed having him around—I did too, I wouldn’t tell him that. We were anxious to see him get a job and leave. It’s the same. No different.”

Their son finally got that job and moved out—3,000 miles to the west, where tonight Charles Jenkins will punch a clock as a professional basketball player for the first time in front of a national television audience when the Golden State Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 on ESPN.

Jenkins’ NBA debut on Christmas night is the culmination of a dream come true not only for the Jenkins family but also for the extended Hofstra family, all of whom will watch its favorite son with an uncommon sense of—wait for it—pride as well as an uncanny sense of connection shared by those who watched him for four transcendent years as well as the Flying Dutchmen basketball alumni who helped him prepare for and find his NBA opportunity.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than Christmas Day,” said Speedy Claxton, the former Hofstra superstar and current Warriors scout who was in the Warriors’ draft room and implored his team to draft Jenkins with the 44th overall pick of the draft in June. “I played 10 years, I played on Christmas Day once.”

“Watching Charles will be my Christmas present,” said Jason Hernandez, the former star Hofstra point guard and Claxton teammate who trained Jenkins throughout the summer and fall.

“The Hofstra connections—it means a lot,” Jenkins said from Warriors camp last week. “I’m a part of Hofstra for the rest of my life. That goes from the new guys that come in to the alumni that are here for me. The Hofstra family is a big one—once you get into it and you meet everybody, you build a friendship that lasts forever. That’s the friendship that I built with Jason Hernandez and Speedy Claxton.”

***

While the Warriors drafting Jenkins was the bit of unforeseen serendipity needed to give his NBA journey a storybook ending, the pairing of Jenkins and Hernandez was a natural and predictable fit. Hernandez opened the training facility Pro Hoops after the end of his professional career in Puerto Rico and often worked out with Jenkins during the latter’s stellar career at Hofstra. Shortly after his senior season ended, Jenkins teamed up with Hernandez and his staff, which put Jenkins and other NBA Draft prospects through rigorous two-a-day workouts.

Prior to the Draft, Jenkins’ schedule on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday consisted of basketball workouts at Pro Hoops from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by strength and conditioning from noon to 1:30 p.m. and skill specific workout (such as shooting or ball handling) from 3 to 4 p.m. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Jenkins’ basketball workout went from noon to 2 p.m., immediately followed by an hour of core flexibility exercises.

Hernandez also introduced Jenkins to his sports nutritionist, Wendy Meyer-Sterling, who put him on a diet that allowed the already sculpted Jenkins to shed 16 pounds and record the third-best body fat percentage at the NBA Combine.

Once the lockout dragged into October, Jenkins left the apartment he was renting on Long Island and headed back home to Queens. Like most parents with a college graduate back in his or her old bedroom, the Jenkins didn’t give Charles a curfew. Unlike most parents with a college graduate back in his or her old bedroom, the Jenkins didn’t have to worry about where their son was in the late night hours or if he was doing everything possible to find a job.

“I knew I had the opportunity to play in the NBA and I just wanted to stay focused,” Jenkins said. “I know so many people in the world that would love to be in the position that I am. I didn’t take anything for granted. I just want to go and be the best player I can every day when I wake up.”

On the weekends, Jenkins went bowling or to the batting cages with friends and was home by 2 a.m. During the week, he was in bed well before the late news and out the door to work out at Pro Hoops before his Dad, a noted early riser even in retirement, was awake.

“I admire his work ethic,” Jenkins Sr. said. “He works extremely hard and I admire that. Even now I admire the fact that he gets up and goes to work hard and works hard everyday. I’m very proud of that. I think it’s a good representation of the family as well that he works hard to accomplish his goals.”

“I was always impressed with Charles’ work ethic and willingness to listen and then implement what he learned,” Hernandez said. “I was not surprised though. His parents are great people who work hard and they obviously instilled this into him. At Pro Hoops we always talk about training as a lifestyle and Charles believes that as well.

“We would be in the gym regardless of a season because this is what we do and who we are.”

***

The fate of the 2011-12 NBA season was uncertain long before the Draft. Of course, uncertainty is nothing new for Jenkins, who was lightly recruited out of high school and endured two coaching changes and the transfer of two starters prior to his senior year at Hofstra.

Still, an uncertain draft day was unexpected for Jenkins, who was expected to go in the second half of the first round but remained the top available prospect for the first hour of the second round. Yet even as other players flew off the board in the second round, Claxton never considered the possibility he and the Warriors might end Jenkins’ long wait.

“Most of the mocks had him in the first round and we had him in the first round,” Claxton said. “I really didn’t think about it until it came down to the last pick before ours.”

Claxton officially scouted Jenkins just once, at Manhattan last December, but saw most of his home games from his courtside seat at Hofstra Arena. And when the 44th pick arrived, and Jenkins was still available, Claxton wasted no time making his pitch for his fellow Hofstra alum.

“You always look at who is the best available and his name was first for a long time,” Claxton said. “I told [fellow executives]—I forget who else was the other option—but I told them this is somebody that is a great kid, that can really play and he’s a position that we need. He fits. That’s kind of a no-brainer. Everybody jumped on board and we just went with it.”

While the small but boisterous crowd at Bar Social celebrated Jenkins’ selection, a pair of former teammates began texting one another and marveling over the wild turn of events that linked a trio of Hofstra basketball legends and how the one team employing a Hofstra grad was able to give Jenkins a well-earned opportunity to play in the NBA.

“It was very, very, very exciting,” Claxton said. “Not only did I help him, but I helped the program to still keep their name out there and to show people that we’re producing pros.”

“I think the Hofstra connection is very cool,” Hernandez said. “[Claxton] scouts for a living and played in the NBA so he isn’t going to just vouch for anyone because his credibility and job are on the line.

“We texted each other the night of the draft and the sum of the conversation was that this is what it’s all about. Speedy and I were able to get to a NCAA Tournament together and now as professionals we were able to connect again and not only see an individual succeed, but Hofstra succeed once again.”

***

Jenkins’ success continues to unite Hofstra as well. His magnificent senior season turned him into an Internet superstar, earned him the honor of having his number retired by Hofstra while he was still wearing it and made a Flying Dutchmen basketball ticket an unusually hot item.

The two men who coached Jenkins at Hofstra appreciate how his success yields dividends at two different schools and marvel at how Jenkins, Hernandez and Claxton ended up intertwined.

“When you look at the bloodlines with Charles and then all the way down through Speedy and Jason and Norman Richardson—[and] Carlos [Rivera] and Loren [Stokes] and Antoine [Agudio] in the middle of that—we’ve always had great help from our alumni in recruiting and always been able to use our former players as points of reference for the guys we are recruiting,” Tom Pecora said this summer. “It’s good to see this continue at that level.”

“I think it’s incredible, it speaks volumes about the Hofstra basketball family—Jason Hernandez, Speedy Claxton and Charles Jenkins all tied together in this thing,” Mo Cassara said. “Part of what makes Charles so great is the Hofstra connection. These former players have been around him and influenced him so positively over the last couple years. And Charles embraces that too, which is really great.”

Hofstra, meanwhile, remains Jenkins’ foundation. He remains in constant contact with his ex-teammates and either watches Flying Dutchmen games online or gets reports from his Dad, who has season tickets. On his Facebook last week, Jenkins wrote “solid weekend for sports…both Hofstra men & women’s basketball won…and so did the Warriors!!!”

“I just want to thank everybody for their support—the Charles Jenkins Facts to the athlete page to the new 'Section 22' that they made [at the NBA Draft], I just want to thank everybody for staying with me,” Jenkins said. “I’ve got a big fanbase on Long Island and I hope everybody’s watching on Christmas.”

While Patricia Jenkins celebrated Christmas with her son today and attends her first NBA game tonight, the rest of Jenkins’ Hofstra family—spread out from his living room in Queens to thousands of other households nationwide—will be checking their watches during dinner and willing 10:30 to arrive.

“Such a short time ago he was running around with a Hofstra jersey on, helping us out last year,” Cassara said with a laugh. “I’m obviously going to be thrilled. It’s a great moment not only for Charles but for Hofstra basketball.”

“Watching Charles is like watching me—I’m reliving my career watching him,” Claxton said. “I wish him the best of luck. I hope he doesn’t get hit with the injury bug like I did once I got there and he can have a stellar career.”

And if you’re looking to get out of the house and can get to the Jenkins home in Queens, well, Jenkins’ Dad and at least one of his ex-teammates would welcome extended members of the family.

“Every Christmas I’m usually at his house,” said Nathaniel Lester, Jenkins’ co-best friend the last five years along with Greg Washington. “So I’ll just continue with that routine.”

“My son-in-law is going to spend the day with me [at] the house,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “Come by if you want.”

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This man is now getting the same AARP mailings as my Dad!

As usual on Christmas Eve, we wish a very Happy Birthday to the Man Who Saved Hofstra Basketball, Jay Wright, who turns 50 today. FIFTY. FIFTY FOR GOD'S SAKE HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! He's supposed to be 32 and inheriting the reigning East Coast Conference champions forever. But don't worry Jay. Even though you are now getting the same junk mail as my Dad, you're still much hipper.

And as usual today, I also wish a very Happy Birthday to the Woman Who Saved Me From A Lifetime Of Reading Old Hofstra Media Guides Alone. She reads them with me! Happy Birthday to my wonderful wife, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to the entire DD readership! Thanks for your loyalty and patience this year as I drown in joyous Day Job work. Hopefully I'll do a better job of carving out time to write in 2012. Along those lines, we'll have a gift for you tomorrow to digest after you wolf down your ham, turkey and pumpkin pie, so stop by.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Postgame Buffet: Hofstra 82, Colgate 59 (Or: All I want for Christmas is a two-game winning streak)

Did you know there was a movie called All I Want For Christmas? Me neither.

Mo Cassara was probably speaking figuratively, not literally, when he described what the Flying Dutchmen’s two-game winning streak heading into Christmas meant to him and the rest of the team. He probably meant a loss to Colgate would leave him obsessing over the state of the Dutchmen during Christmas at his parents’ house in upstate New York instead of enjoying food and football.

Probably.

Fortunately for the Dutchmen, they removed any doubt from the equation with a dominant second half in a wire-to-wire 82-59 win over Colgate Thursday. “Lets us go home,” Cassara said with a laugh late Thursday night. “Lets us go home. Lets everybody go home.”

While only time will tell if the second half against Colgate propels the Dutchmen to bigger and better things, heading into Christmas off a victory sure beats losing in the last game before Christmas, as the Dutchmen did from 2006 through 2009. Here’s the postgame buffet (eat up, that diet isn’t starting until Jan. 3 anyway):

1.) This was a full circle type of victory for the Dutchmen, who haven’t played this well nor had this many reasons to feel good about themselves since the previous long holiday weekend. Of course, the Dutchmen team that took the court Thursday was far different from the one that knocked off Cleveland State Nov. 26, and Colgate is ranked 203rd in the RPI this morning, a mere 202 spots lower than Cleveland State was when the Dutchmen pulled off the upset win.

But still: It was vital for the Dutchmen to go into Christmas—and their preparations for the potentially defining games against Iona and VCU immediately after the holiday break—with a sense of confidence about the team they will have for the short- and long-term.

The Dutchmen had five players score in double figures the same day the Bryant Crowder saga finally came to a predictable end (Hofstra announced his departure from the basketball team for the ever-vague and ever-handy “personal reasons” via a 14-word press release; that’s 11 more words than games played at Hofstra, for those of you keeping score at home) and Stevie Mejia returned to the bench with an aggravation of the hamstring injury that cost him the better part of four games and three weeks.

Mike Moore had another big game with 24 points, five rebounds and two steals, but in another parallel to Cleveland State, the Dutchmen thrived in the second half even though Colgate focused on shutting down Moore, who drained four 3-pointers and had 19 points in the first half. Yet even with Moore limited to five second half points, the Dutchmen racked up 47 points thanks largely to the quartet of Shemiye McLendon, Dwan McMillan, Nathaniel Lester and David Imes, which combined for 36 points.

McLendon scored 15 of his career-high 17 points in the second half while McMillan finished with 13 points and Lester and Imes had 10 apiece. Getting Lester and Imes into double digits was particularly pivotal: Lester has scored at least 10 points in four straight games immediately after a five-game slump in which he shot just 22 percent. And Imes entered Thursday in the midst of a two-and-a-half game scoreless streak.

“A lot of credit to the whole team, we started to share the ball [when] they played box and one on Mike and once they did that, other guys made some shots,” Cassara said. “Mike obviously got off to a great start today, but when we’ve got other guys in double figures and guys like Shemiye and Dave and Dwan are making shots, we become a much better team.”

2.) The Dutchmen also looked like a much better team once they went to the three-quarters press early in the second half. The constant harassment wore down Colgate, which, a la Long Island in the season opener, had a chance to take the lead on its first possession of the second half before it got blown out of the building.

The Dutchmen forced eight turnovers, outscored Colgate 38-18 in the final 16 minutes and allowed the Raiders to score on just 12 of 34 second half possessions (discounting when they got the ball with 0.7 seconds left). Overall, the Dutchmen recorded 13 steals, their most in almost six years (17 against Georgia State Jan. 5, 2006).

“We turned them over 18 times [overall] and really there were a couple times there we almost had a couple more,” Cassara said. “I thought we really did a good job tonight and our effort and energy was terrific, especially in the second half.

“When we get a few easy baskets, all of a sudden, the game opened up a lot and they can’t just key on Mike and we become a much tougher team to beat.”

3.) In routing the Raiders, the Dutchmen finished off an opponent for the first time since Cleveland State (sorry, Binghamton, we feel bad for you but beating you by 20 doesn’t count). The Dutchmen, of course, squandered large second half leads and lost in crushing fashion in the waning moments to Florida Atlantic and James Madison.

“Actually on the board and [during] a couple timeouts I wrote in big letters [on his clipboard] ‘FINISH,’” Cassara said, evoking memories of how he implored the Dutchmen to complete their win over Cleveland State. “That’s something we have to learn to do. We’ve let a couple games slip away here [that] we had an opportunity to win and we just didn’t execute well enough down the stretch. And this was a step forward for us tonight.”

4.) Mejia will certainly play for Hofstra again, but if he’s out for an extended period of time, Cassara can rest easier (which is to say, rest at all) knowing McMillan is evolving into the Dutchmen’s leader, on and off the court. McMillan put together his first double-double of the year with 10 assists to go along with his 13 points. He also recorded three steals and committed just two turnovers. And McMillan was the architect of perhaps the prettiest play of the season late in the second half, when he faked a Colgate defender, whirled around 180 degrees and threw a behind-the-back pass to Imes, who hit the layup.

In his last five starts in place of Mejia, McMillan has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 26:13. Granted, that number is skewed by Thursday’s stellar outing, but only once in that stretch did McMillan have more turnovers than assists (Wagner).

“I always had the confidence,” McMillan said. “I was just waiting for opportunity. And unfortunately Stevie went down, but I told [the Dutchmen] ‘I got ‘em. I got us.’”

McMillan has also become the vocal leader the Dutchmen have sought since Charles Jenkins graduated. Prior to each of the last two games, it has been McMillan shouting instructions and encouragement during the pre-game huddle.

“In the locker room, on the court, he’s been doing just a tremendous job,” Cassara said. “His message has been great everyday. His energy’s been terrific and he’s instilled a lot of confidence in not only myself but the rest of the team.”

McMillan was clearly still amped up while sitting with Cassara, Moore and McLendon in the interview room. He sat fidgeting at the podium while staring ahead with what even Bobby Knight might dub a “game face” and answered the first question to him—which was about how upbeat the Dutchmen looked all evening—with this classic response:

“We’re ready to go. That’s all I’m gonna say. We’re ready to go. We’re ready for Iona and we’re ready for conference play. That’s it.”

5.) Perfect segue! Iona is the last and biggest game of the non-conference season for a Dutchmen squad eager to take on the best team in the metro area and prove it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked in getting waxed by the Gaels by 25 points last Dec. 29.

Cassara couldn’t ask for much more than to enter the Iona game fresh off a pair of convincing wins in which the Dutchmen led for the final 76-plus minutes. That, of course, came immediately after a stretch in which the Dutchmen trailed for 70-plus straight minutes against Wagner and Manhattan. So the only thing predictable about this Dutchmen team is its unpredictability. Still, better to spend a week eagerly anticipating Iona instead of dreading the loaded Gaels.

“For the last week or two, me and D-Mac are really trying to stress to the team ‘This is the game that everybody needs to come out and play [at a] high intensity for so we get that momentum going into conference play,’” Moore said. “Definitely a big game on our schedule.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Colgate, 12/22)
3: Mike Moore
2: Dwan McMillan
1: Shemiye McLendon

SEASON STANDINGS
Mike Moore 27
Dwan McMillan 12
Nathaniel Lester 12
Shemiye McLendon 7
David Imes 6
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hofstra 82, Binghamton 62 (Or: Sure feels good to me)

Pretty sure I'm the only basketball blogger with two Warrant references in the calendar year 2011. What can I say, I have my niche and I try to fill it well.

When it comes to cathartic, losing streak-snapping victories, the Flying Dutchmen’s 82-62 rout of Binghamton Saturday doesn’t quite rank up there with the annihilation of UNC Wilmington Jan. 27, 2010. A CAA win is a CAA win, even when it comes at the expense of a team as overmatched as UNC Wilmington was two Januaries ago, and that victory—which snapped a five-game conference losing streak and a stretch of nine losses in 11 games—was the basketball equivalent of a five-course, soup-to-nuts meal.

The Dutchmen weren’t nearly as ruthlessly effective in ending a four-game losing streak Saturday, but they didn’t have to be against a winless Binghamton team that is paying for the sins of its forefathers and is on the very short list for the worst in Division I this season. In food terms, this was a binge at the drive-thru in which we wolfed the food down in the car and may or may not have belched loudly afterward.

Still, a win’s a win, and this one felt good, and even if it wasn’t exactly fine dining, it was one on which the Flying Dutchmen could build. People walked out of Hofstra Arena with smiles on their faces for the first time in four weeks. The wife and I argued all the way home over whether or not Matt Grogan merited 3 Stars Of The Game consideration (no spoilers!). Mo Cassara slept for the first time since the Saturday after Thanksgiving. OK, well, maybe not.

“Obviously pleased with the outcome tonight,” Cassara said. “I think sometimes, when you’re not winning and the ball’s not going in the basket, it’s easy to get down, it’s easy to question a lot of things. And I think a lot of credit has to go to our staff. Sometimes you work a lot harder when you’re losing than you do when you’re winning. And we’ve worked real hard the last couple of weeks, even though we haven’t had some of the wins we wanted to have.”

Here’s a postgame buffet I’m not even calling a postgame buffet because it’s so damn late. Can’t wait for the holiday break.

1.) Whenever the Flying Dutchmen struggled under Tom Pecora, he’d always say the seniors needed to take ownership of the situation. So it was a good sign that the lone seniors on this year’s team—Mike Moore, Dwan McMillan and Nathaniel Lester—combined to score 57 points and were the three Dutchmen to score in double figures.

Moore was brilliant in scoring a career-high 32 points, tying a school record with seven 3-pointers and chipping in a team-high seven rebounds. That effort earned him co-player of the week honors in the CAA. McMillan had perhaps his best game in a Hofstra uniform with 15 points—his most ever against a Division I opponent—on 5-of-6 shooting. And Lester had 10 points and five rebounds and has 21 points (on 7-of-15 shooting) and 13 rebounds in his last two games.

“[Moore is] doing a lot of things for us,” Cassara said. “If he can continue to play complete games on both ends scoring, passing, rebounding along with Nat, along with Dwan—and they each have their own roles—if we can do that and start to play 40 minutes of that, we’re going to get some Ws.”

2.) For Moore and McMillan, in particular, their performance on the court was not nearly as important as what they did off it. Moore said afterward he called a players-only meeting after the Manhattan loss in which he implored everyone to play hard for 40 minutes.

“We just challenged each other—what can we do better?” Moore said.

McMillan, meanwhile, jumped into the center of the huddle after introductions and took over the Charles Jenkins role as the player shouting last-second encouragement. As transfers in only their second year in the program, neither Moore nor McMillan can be expected to lead quite like Jenkins, who was a three-year captain as well as the best player in school history. But the Dutchmen need leaders, and there’s no better candidates to assume the responsibility than their best player and their most emotional one.

“It’s great—it’s all part of their development,” Cassara said.

3.) Playing Binghamton has a way of curing a lot of ailments, but there’s no denying the week off between games did wonders for the Dutchmen’s psyche, as did the calendar allowing the opportunity for a fresh start. In between taking exams, the Dutchmen held a series of extended practices in which Cassara emphasized gradual improvement with the beginning of the real season finally on the horizon.

“It’s a challenging week, but I think having that week off was very valuable,” Cassara said. “We walked into practice Monday and said ‘We are going to commit to getting a little better every day. We are going to be enthusiastic and energetic about getting a little bit better everyday. If we do that, winning will take care of itself. And we all committed to that and I think we made a step in the right direction today.”

4.) While the senior starters had impressive games, the Dutchmen also got nice contributions from subs Grogan (six points on two 3-pointers), Shemiye McLendon (eight points, five assists—tying his career high—and two steals), Stephen Nwaukoni (seven points and two rebounds) and Moussa Kone, who hit both of his field goal attempts and pulled down four rebounds in his first appearance off the bench this year.

The bench is not yet the strength it appeared to be during Bryant Crowder’s cameo in Rhode Island, but now that Stevie Mejia is back, at least the Dutchmen have some depth again. And while Mejia, who took Kone’s spot in his return from a hamstring injury that cost him three-plus games, was scoreless and missed all four shots, his presence in the lineup along with McMillan provided a glimpse of what the Dutchmen might be able to do with a smaller lineup against lightning-fast teams such as Iona and VCU…whom the Dutchmen just happen to play in the two games following tonight’s tilt with Colgate.

“A lot of sleepless nights this week,” Cassara said in reference to the lineup change. “I didn’t want to tinker too much with what we’re doing, but at the same time, I just wanted to give us a little bit of a quicker, maybe smaller lineup with a little bit more defensive intensity. It certainly wasn’t anything against Moussa, he’s done a great job for us through the early part of the year as a true freshman. Just a little coach’s thoughts, nothing too much other than that.”

5.) There was still plenty to improve upon from Saturday. Most notably, David Imes continued his baffling slump by going scoreless for the second straight game. He has two points in his last three games, and none in the Dutchmen’s last five halves of action. Getting Imes untracked in the next two games is surely at the top of Cassara’s to-do list.

The Dutchmen committed 19 turnovers and got a bit sloppy against an opponent whom they could afford to get sloppy against. And the Dutchmen let Binghamton hand around, sort of: The Dutchmen led by a game-high 24 midway through the second half but surrendered a 15-5 run that allowed the Bearcats to close within 14 with just under four minutes to play.

“I think today was a step in the right direction,” Cassara said. “We still have some things to work on. We have to learn to execute a little better, take care of the ball a little bit better down the stretch. I think it was real important to at least get a little confidence towards that mission for us really moving forward.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Binghamton, 12/17)
3: Mike Moore
2: Dwan McMillan
1: Shemiye McLendon

SEASON STANDINGS
Mike Moore 24
Nathaniel Lester 12
Dwan McMillan 10
Shemiye McLendon 6
David Imes 6
Stevie Mejia 3
Stephen Nwaukoni 3
Bryant Crowder 2

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Postgame Buffet: Manhattan 68, Hofstra 59 (Or: The good ol’ days may not return...at 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

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

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.