Thursday, February 16, 2012

Delaware 71, Hofstra 57 (Or: The truth is not kind)

Has anyone figured out the theme of the postgame recaps? Anyone? Loyal Reader Missy? In the meantime enjoy some appropriate folk rock goodness.

The great thing about “what if” scenarios are the escape from reality, the alternate universe and the hope they provide. We all like to think that everything would be much different and much better, if only one little (or big) thing had gone our way.

If I’d thought before speaking that winter night in 1992, maybe a bitter breakup is avoided. If the wonderful people who used to employ me were a little more wonderful four years ago this month, maybe I would have gotten that dream job in Boston and told them to pound sand instead of vice versa.

(These are, of course, just random examples completely unrelated to any of my life experiences)

If George Mason didn’t have its athletic director on the Selection Committee and “not in the room” six years ago next month, maybe Hofstra gets into the NCAA Tournament and history is altered forever.

(These are, of course, specifically selected examples of my crappy life experiences)

The 2011-12 Flying Dutchmen season has been one big “what if?” What if Thanksgiving weekend in Rhode Island was just the beginning for the optimal Dutchmen instead of the end? What if Stevie Mejia’s hamstring didn’t go boom and Bryant Crowder didn’t go…well, whatever he went?

More recently, we’ve been wondering “what if?” about the team that’s actually on the court. What if the Dutchmen got just one stop against Northeastern Jan. 11? What if it an actual professional referee was on the court for the home game against Drexel Jan. 18? What if one of the several good looks the Dutchmen got while trying to tie the score or take the lead against George Mason Jan. 25 actually fell? What if the Dutchmen closed the gap to five points against Georgia State late in the second half Feb. 4?

If only one or two of those things had gone the Dutchmen’s way, maybe a few of those losses turn into wins and they’re floating around the middle of the CAA and flirting with .500 instead of mired in an engrossing battle for the 10th seed and needing to advance to a regional final just to get back to the break-even mark.

Of course, the dangers of “what if?” lie in what might actually happen if those asking the question get a chance to rewrite history. Because the truth is life rarely turns on a single dime. If the relationship or the job didn’t work out, well, it was probably headed for a nasty breakup even if harsh words weren’t swapped or a beancounter on the other side of the continent didn’t get a bug up his butt.

And if a basketball team has, as its conference record, a record more often associated with NFL teams that earn the no. 1 draft pick, well, it’s probably a lot more than one or two twists of fate away from contending. This is what we learned Tuesday night, when the Flying Dutchmen fell to Delaware, 71-57, and in the process reminded us they’d probably have a Valentine’s Day-esque CAA record on Valentine’s Day no matter what.

As has so often been the case this season, the Dutchmen played from behind much of the game. But unlike their first game this season against Delaware—which was the genesis of this whole “what if?” exercise—the Dutchmen climbed all the way back from a 13-point first half deficit and took a 50-49 lead on Mike Moore’s 3-pointer with 8:02 left.

It was the Dutchmen’s first lead of the season against Delaware, and Moore—who missed two free throws with a chance to put the Dutchmen ahead with 22 seconds left in a 67-66 loss to the Blue Hens Jan. 4—draining the go-ahead shot seemed to portend a change in fortune for Hofstra.

Alas, the Dutchmen were outscored 22-7 the rest of the way, which meant the Dutchmen ended the game in even more discouraging fashion than they started it, when they fell behind 17-4 seven minutes in. So other than being outscored 39-11 to begin and end the game, Mo Cassara, how was the play?

“Our margin for error is just very small,” Cassara said. “We continue to do some really good things, but we haven’t been able, at crunch time, to be mentally tough enough to make those one or two stops or one or two plays or one extra basket or one extra pass to take that lead from one to three, maybe make them get a timeout and then get one extra basket and all of a sudden we’re back where we need to be.”

Instead on Tuesday, Moore’s 3-pointer was the penultimate (love that word) basket for the Dutchmen, who didn’t score from the field again until Nathaniel Lester put back his own miss with 20 seconds to play. Before the game got out of hand following the final media timeout, the Dutchmen missed five chances to go ahead, tie the score or pull within a basket. In addition, Moore missed two of three free throws, including one of two following a technical on Delaware’s Khalid Lewis with 5:29 left and the Blue Hens clinging to a 53-50 lead.

The Dutchmen didn’t shoot much better earlier in the game. They were just 16-of-57 from the field, the second time in the last four games they’ve shot less than 30 percent from the field and the fourth straight time they’ve shot less than 40 percent. The Dutchmen had three players score in double figures, but Moore, Lester and Mejia were just 11-of-39 combined.

“I really thought we were right there,” Cassara said. “I thought the pressure would shift back to them. I thought we had finally gotten some energy. I thought the group out there had done a great job. We fought all the way back and we’re right there at the eight-minute mark and we finally got our leagues a little bit and we had a bunch of great opportunities. I even thought after the technical foul [that] momentum had really swung our way.

“They made a couple tough shots, then we came down and missed. Nat had a three go in and out, Mike had a driving layup go in and out, missed a couple free throws and all of a sudden the lead was insurmountable.”

And now so might be the hole in which the Dutchmen are mired. Oh, the season has been basically wrecked for weeks, but the Dutchmen might be completely gassed after the most disappointing of the 20 losses.

In addition to losing by 14 after answering a “what if?” Cassara announced afterward David Imes (hip pointer) would miss at least the rest of the regular season. While Imes has not matched the numbers he put up last year, he’s still a valuable, experienced front court presence. Now the Dutchmen’s rotation is down to seven scholarship players and Grogan.

At some point, a team runs out of resiliency. The Dutchmen will continue to work hard, but reality almost surely crept in Tuesday. And while they still hope to win a couple games in Richmond to lessen the sting of this forgettable season, it will instead almost surely be defined by bits of encouragement that were, for whatever reason, unsustainable.

Maybe some of those stretches can serve as building blocks for next season: Mejia seems to be regaining his shot and his confidence after an injury-ruined season and scored eight straight points for the Dutchmen during a 14-5 run in the first half. Stephen Nwaukoni earned an early benching from Cassara but had four points in that run. And while Moore’s 3-pointer capped the 10-0 run that gave the Dutchmen their lone lead, Grogan opened it with a 3-pointer and Moussa Kone scored the next four points. Kone finished with eight rebounds and two blocks in just 21 minutes.

Some other stretches will have us wondering what if. Moore produced all the Dutchmen’s points in an 8-2 run that tied the game at 28 with a little more than three minutes to play in the first half. But while he had a very good game in the boxscore (16 points, seven rebounds, five assists), he also had a team-high three turnovers, was just 5-of-16 from the field and spent five minutes on the bench in the second half for the second straight game.

“Sometimes you start off slow, but you just try to shrug it off and bounce back, which we did,” Moore said. “We were right there in the second half. Took the lead.”

Then Moore took a deep breath.

“We just have to find some answers,” he said.

Unfortunately, they did.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Delaware, 2/14)
3: Stevie Mejia
2: Moussa Kone
1: Mike Moore

Mike Moore 57
Nathaniel Lester 41
Dwan McMillan 17
David Imes 14
Stevie Mejia 12
Stephen Nwaukoni 10
Shemiye McLendon 9
Moussa Kone 5
Bryant Crowder 2
Matt Grogan 1

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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