Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Postgame Buffet: VCU 61, Hofstra 49 (Or: I await the day good fortune comes our way and we win down the Kings Highway)

Do the Flying Dutchmen have to travel down the King's Highway in Virginia to get to Richmond? For purposes of this blog entry, I am going to assume yes.

Buried in day work and something special for tomorrow morning (hint: who does Hofstra play tomorrow?), so here’s a postgame buffet from the Flying Dutchmen’s 61-49 loss to VCU that makes up for in brevity what it lacks in timeliness. Or something like that.

1.) The Dutchmen’s 14th loss of the season was the one that stung the least. The win over James Madison Saturday lessened the desperation that accompanied every game since the start of January. And let’s face it, of the 18 conference games, this was probably the one the Dutchmen weren’t going to win no matter what. Because the Dutchmen have NEVER won at VCU’s Siegel Center. Last night’s loss, in the 2,012th men’s basketball game in Hofstra history, dropped the Dutchmen to 0-9 all-time on the road against the Rams. So, you know, we’re kinda used to this.

2.) Still, this one did sting a bit, because it was very easy to make a case the Dutchmen had a shot at remaining in this one until the last minute for the 17,000th time this year, if not flat-out win the game. The Dutchmen displayed their usual resiliency in the first half, when they fell behind by at least seven points three different times yet closed to within 35-32 when Mike Moore banked a 3-pointer just before the first half buzzer.

And the Dutchmen had four chances to tie or take the lead in the first two-plus minutes of the second half but could never get the equalizer or inch ahead. Who knows what might have happened if David Imes’ 3-pointer from the left corner was a couple inches longer and the Dutchmen grabbed a one-point lead in the first 90 seconds? Instead, missing two shots over five empty possessions proved to be a sign of things to come for the Dutchmen, who were just 4-of-20 from the field and scored just 17 points on 31 second half possessions. Tough to win when the shooting touch goes that ice cold.

3.) Not surprisingly, VCU suffocated Moore after he scored 11 of his game-high 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting in the first half. And unfortunately for the Dutchmen, Moore grew frustrated by his inability to get open and get touches during the second half, when he scored six points—four from the free throw line—and hit just one of his four field goal attempts. It was a lapse into bad habits for Moore, who was similarly covered by James Madison Saturday yet dished to Stevie Mejia for the game-winning layup. After recording multiple assists in five straight games, he had just one assist and tied his career-high with six turnovers Monday. The Dutchmen fare best when Moore gets others involved when he is draped—i.e. in the second half—and any hope they have of mounting a second half run and advancing beyond Friday in the CAA Tournament rests on Moore resisting the instinct to force things offensively.

4.) Here’s a good bar bet question for you (if you happen to discuss Hofstra basketball at a bar, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the only person who did that, if only I went to bars): Name the Dutchman whose current streak of double-digit scoring efforts is the longest in the CAA. It’s not Moore but Nathaniel Lester, who extended that run to 13 games by scoring 12 points while adding a team-high eight rebounds. It wasn’t quite the game Lester appeared headed for at halftime, when he had seven points and seven rebounds, but it was still a very sturdy effort by a player who is very quietly putting together a legitimate run at earning second- or third-team All-CAA honors. Lester ranks ninth in the CAA in scoring and is tied for 10th in rebounding, which makes him just one of two players to rank in the top 10 in both categories. This is the type of year everyone envisioned for Lester when he was the jewel of the freshman class of 2007-08, which makes it so bittersweet that he’s capping his career in fine fashion in the midst of what looks like a lost season for the Dutchmen.

5.) While the Dutchmen didn’t lose this one in agonizing fashion, it was still symbolic of their close-but-not-quite season. “In the first half we were right there,” Mo Cassara said in Brian Bohl’s postgame recap. “We just ran out of gas a little bit and their pressure wore us down.”

In other words, an earnest and tireless effort wasn’t enough to overcome the Dutchmen’s razor-thin margin for error. A team that needs a little bit of everything didn’t get it. While reserves Mejia, Shemiye McLendon and Moussa Kone combined for another solid game (12 points on 5-of-10 shooting), Dwan McMillan was just 1-of-8 shooting and the trio of Kone, David Imes and Stephen Nwaukoni combined for just seven rebounds.

The Dutchmen forced 17 turnovers, but committed 18. And the Dutchmen looked wiped in the second half, and while it didn’t help this was their second road game in three days and their third game in six-day span overall, the second half fade was a familiar one for a team that basically only has an eight-man rotation (though Matt Grogan saw some time in the waning moments). Again: This one didn’t sting nearly as badly as the other seven CAA losses, but it carried with it the “what ifs?” of every defeat other than the Jan. 2 loss to VCU. Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, it almost certainly won’t be the last time that happens in a season in which the line between contention and wearing the road uniforms on Friday in Richmond is a razor thin one.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. VCU, 1/23)
3: Nathaniel Lester
2: Mike Moore
1: David Imes

Mike Moore 43
Nathaniel Lester 30
Dwan McMillan 17
David Imes 10
Shemiye McLendon 9
Stephen Nwaukoni 8
Stevie Mejia 5
Moussa Kone 2
Bryant Crowder 2

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

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