Another tune that sums up this year's Flying Dutchmen. (And yes: To the well again with Extreme!)
Someday, college basketball historians will scan the smoldering embers of the 2011-12 Flying Dutchmen season and wonder how a team that should have been no better or worse than a middle-of-the-pack, .500-level team ended up mired at or near the bottom of the CAA and enduring one of the program’s worst seasons in a generation.
Those historians will find the answers to their questions if they can stumble across a DVD copy of the Dutchmen’s 58-51 loss to Northeastern Saturday at Matthews Arena. Therein is the explanation for how the Dutchmen could outperform the Huskies in many statistical categories yet lose the Barone Bowl Trophy (if only it existed) and fall by seven points in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.
And the game film also provides the reasons why the Dutchmen are 1-10 in CAA play—and tied for next-to-last place now that Towson has ended its record losing streak, which @NUHF, @atowne07 and my wife “watched” via Twitter at Conor Larkin’s around the corner from Northeastern, have I mentioned lately on any social media forum how much of my soul I’d be willing to sell to move to Boston?— and why January 2012 was the program’s losingest month since January 1995, even if the Dutchmen have outscored by a mere 62 points since New Year’s Day.
Of course, you’d have to pay particularly close attention in watching the DVD, because the difference between victory and defeat for the Dutchmen this season is as fine as the blink of an eye.
“This is a tough league,” Mo Cassara said. “When you’re not playing well, and your margin for error is very small, one turnover for us almost seems like it’s four or five right now. We’re trying to create some easy baskets and we just haven’t been able to do that. We haven’t been able to string enough winning plays together to win.”
While the Dutchmen were once again frigid offensively—they endured eight scoreless stretches of at least two minutes and shot just 30 percent from the field in scoring 51 or fewer points for the third straight game—and had just 15 defensive rebounds to 11 offensive boards for Northeastern, they seemingly concocted a good recipe for winning by forcing six more turnovers than they committed (16-10) and by scoring more points than the Huskies off turnovers (18-11), second chance baskets (15-12), the fast break (10-7) and from the bench (12-2).
Yet the Dutchmen were done in by missed opportunities in every single one of those categories. The Dutchmen had the ball down one in the waning seconds of the first half, but at the end of an otherwise sharp possession, Matt Grogan’s pass down low was stolen by Jonathan Lee, who converted it into a layup that gave the Huskies a 30-27 halftime lead.
Three times in the second half, the Dutchmen forced a turnover and created a fast break but threw or kicked away a chance to close within six points. A David Imes pass eluded Nathaniel Lester just before the under-16 timeout while Mike Moore and Lester accidentally booted the ball off steals by Imes and Moore, respectively, in the final five minutes.
These games don’t exist in a vacuum, of course, but who knows how the tempo and tone would have been changed if the Dutchmen converted all three of those turnovers into fast break points?
Imes’ steal and turnover happened at the beginning of a two-minute stretch in which neither team scored but the Dutchmen missed four shots—two 3-pointers by Moore and two layups by Imes. Moore (17 points, steals) and Imes (10 points and eight rebounds) were the most impressive players on the court for the Dutchmen, but they needed 28 shots for those 27 points.
“Mike Moore had 17 points, but he’s 1-for-9 from 3,” Cassara said. “If he’s 4-for-9, it’s probably a one-possession game. We just need that extra shot to go in. We stole the ball a couple times going down the court to cut it to six and we didn’t even get a shot.”
As for Northeastern, it managed to get the extra shot to go in when it mattered most. The Huskies had eight third-chance points, including a 3-pointer by Lee to start the second half and spark a 10-2 run that basically buried the Dutchmen. Northeastern’s first 3-pointer of the game, by Quincy Ford, was also off a pair of offensive rebounds. And later in the first half, Ford drained a jumper after he rebounded the second of a pair of missed free throws by Kauri Black.
“I told our team I thought we had probably about 10 points in defensive breakdowns where we were late guarding or we weren’t in position,” Cassara said.
There’s no statistical measure for when a team is worn out by losing, the bad breaks it has absorbed and the bad breaks it can’t seem to help but create for itself. The Dutchmen seemed to reach that point Saturday for the first time this month—a month in which they were the only CAA team not to play consecutive home games as well as one of two teams with two two-game road trips (Towson). They were also one of just three teams (along with Old Dominion and Towson) to have two stretches in which they played three of four games away from home.
For the first time since the six-point loss to UNC Wilmington three weeks earlier, the Dutchmen never seriously threatened in the second half. They got within six points once in the final 16:54, on a meaningless 3-pointer by Shemiye McLendon with 42 seconds left.
Cassara did some mixing and matching in hopes of generating something—both Dwan McMillan and Stevie Mejia were on the bench for most of the final eight minutes—but the 10 points the Dutchmen got from their reserves came on a 3-of-13 shooting performance. Northeastern’s two bench points, meanwhile, came on a 1-of-3 effort.
The Dutchmen finally get a homestand this week—it’s Alanis-level ironic that the Dutchmen are playing a school-record 17 home games this season yet spent all of January living out of a suitcase—when Towson and Georgia State visit and Cassara hopes his squad can embark on a February that will at least leave everyone feeling a little better about this season while providing the returnees something to build on for next year.
“We’ve got a week at home, no travel, back to school, hopefully get a little bit of rhythm and get some confidence back and we get a couple shots to fall at home,” Cassara said.
Cassara and the Dutchmen could find reason for optimism Saturday on the other end of the court. Northeastern lost its first eight CAA games last year by a total of 86 points, a margin inflated by a 28-point loss to George Mason. But the Huskies won four in a row immediately after that, finished 6-12 in CAA play—by far the best record of any team to ever open 0-8—and are entrenched in fifth place this season at 7-4.
“We were in that situation last year, where we played good basketball but just not winning basketball,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “I think you learn more from losing than you do winning.”
For the Dutchmen’s sake let’s hope the learning stops now that school has started.