Thursday, February 23, 2012

College of Bill Lawrence 75, Hofstra 71 (Or: Their overkill)

Ghosts reappear and a season fades away...

It’s gotten to the point for the Flying Dutchmen where every loss is a microcosm of a lost season. Loss no. 21, a 75-71 defeat at the hands of the College of Bill Lawrence, contained elements omnipresent in so many of its 20 predecessors.

The margin of defeat was certainly familiar: The Dutchmen are now 2-8 in games decided by six points or less or in overtime, their most losses in such games since 2007-08 (the last time the Dutchmen endured a sub-.500 season) and the program’s worst winning percentage in these contests since the 1992-93 team went 1-5.

Once again, the Dutchmen did a lot of good things, but once again, their mistakes and missteps once again proved costly. The Dutchmen displayed their trademark resiliency in scoring 11 straight points after falling behind 7-0 and outscoring William & Mary 27-10 in the eight minutes following the Tribe’s hot start. In the second half, the Dutchmen fell behind by as many as seven and closed within at least three points a dozen times but could never take the lead.

Mike Moore all but locked up the CAA scoring title by collecting a game-high 25 points—including a beauty of a bank shot from just inside the half-court line at the halftime buzzer, that’s right, the Dutchmen are now 0-2 in games with halftime half-court buzzer beaters—and his efficiency score of 23 was by far the best of any Hofstra player, but he didn’t score from the field after opening the second half with a layup and missed his last five shots.

Moore and Nathaniel Lester (18 points and a game-high eight rebounds) were again a solid 1-2 combination, but the Dutchmen had just two players in double figures for the seventh time in the last 10 games. Moore, Lester and Moussa Kone (six points on 3-of-3 shooting and five rebounds, including four in a five-minute span late in the second half) were 17-of-37 from the field while the rest of their teammates were 7-of-23. Stevie Mejia, who has been emerging as that reliable third scoring option, picked up nine points, five of which came in a 53-second span before the first media timeout of the first half, and finished just 2-of-9 from the field.

The Dutchmen’s struggles on offense negated their gritty effort on defense in the final minutes. While many of their early narrow losses were marked by an inability to buy a stop on defense in the waning minutes, the Dutchmen limited the Fighting Lawrences to just one field goal on five attempts in the final five minutes Wednesday.

But the Dutchmen were scoreless from the field following a layup by Lester with 4:28 to play and missed five shots with William & Mary clinging to a 71-69 lead. Finally, the Dutchmen had a costly defensive breakdown and surrendered the back-breaking 3-pointer by a wide-open Brandon Britt with 18 seconds left that accounted for the game’s final points.

Overall, the Dutchmen scored on just one of eight possessions in the second half in which they had a chance to tie or take the lead, and that one basket was the afore-mentioned layup by Lester that came with the Dutchmen down three.

Britt’s basket was doubly frustrating because it was another example of what the Dutchmen have largely lacked this season: Someone bailing out a struggling star. Britt’s shot ensured Quinn McDowell, who led the CAA in free throw shooting percentage last season, wouldn’t wear the goat horns after missing three of four free throw attempts in the final two minutes. What if someone had done that for Moore when he missed those two free throws with the chance to take the lead against Delaware seven weeks earlier?

In the end, the defeat served as another reminder of just how difficult it is for the Dutchmen to create even the tiniest bit of momentum. A win would have been the 10th of the season for the Dutchmen and put them in position to earn the 10th seed. That’s no great shakes for a program that has recorded double-digit wins in each of the last 15 seasons and finished in the bottom half of the CAA just twice since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005-06, but 10 wins and a 10 seed would certainly be more aesthetically pleasing than being stuck on nine wins and being locked into the 11th seed heading into Senior Day.

Instead, the lone solace the Dutchmen could take from Wednesday was knowing Towson locked up last place by losing to Delaware. It’s not much. But on an evening that so accurately summarized a lost season, it’ll have to do.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. College of Bill Lawrence, 2/22)
3: Mike Moore
2: Nathaniel Lester
1: Moussa Kone

Mike Moore 62
Nathaniel Lester 44
Dwan McMillan 17
Stevie Mejia 15
David Imes 14
Stephen Nwaukoni 10
Shemiye McLendon 9
Moussa Kone 6
Bryant Crowder 2
Matt Grogan 1

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