With the arrival of a new month and a fresh start came an unfamiliar role for the Flying Dutchmen basketball team: Favorite.
Yet while the oddsmakers declared the Dutchmen were 15.5 points better than Towson Wednesday, Mo Cassara felt anything but secure. Towson, after all, was the one with the momentum Wednesday after it broke the longest losing streak in Division I history by beating UNC Wilmington last Saturday—a win that, technically, put Towson ahead of fellow one-win squad Hofstra in the CAA standings.
“Today was, in all honesty, the tightest I’ve been going into a game in a while because it was probably the first time in a month we were actually favored,” Cassara said. “So it was a little bit of pressure today saying this is a game we’ve got to win or we should win. We haven’t had that in a while. So I was curious to see how our guys reacted.”
Turns out the Dutchmen enjoyed being the favorites. Not only did the Dutchmen lead from wire-to-wire in a 74-49 win, but Mike Moore (28 points) and Nathaniel Lester (19 points, including the 1,000th of his career on a free throw with 15:19 to play) outscored Towson outscored the Tigers by themselves until reserve Christian Collins hit a 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.
“We made it a challenge to ourselves in the locker room to just outplay them, outwork them, because we were on, basically, the same boat,” Moore said.
It wasn’t a perfect game by the Dutchmen, who shot 40 percent and received as many field goals from walk-on Matt Grogan in four attempts over six minutes as starters David Imes, Stephen Nwaukoni and Dwan McMillan had in 16 attempts over 74 minutes. (The good news: That was enough to—SPOILER ALERT—earn Grogan his first appearance in the Stars of the Game)
The Dutchmen were whistled for a Mason-esque three technical fouls by another fine #CAAHoops officiating crew (only Lester’s, for hanging on the rim after a dunk, appeared to be deserved) that lost control of a game that grew sloppy and chippy.
But the effort was more than enough against a Towson team that reverted back to the bad habits that put it in the record book for all the wrong reasons. The Tigers committed 27 turnovers, had one more defensive rebound (21) than the Dutchmen had offensive rebounds and shot 14-of-33 from the free throw line.
The Dutchmen recorded 12 steals, including five by Moore, enjoyed a double-digit lead throughout the final 26 minutes. They went on a 13-0 run after Towson closed within 10 points with 16:33 to play and extended the lead to as many as 28 on Grogan’s putback in the final minute.
“I thought our effort was great tonight,” Cassara said. “Our execution can improve but our effort was great. I’m proud of that.”
Afterward, Cassara, Moore and Lester were sporting some rare smiles about not only the win—the Dutchmen’s first home victory in CAA play in a mere 340 days dating back to Charles Jenkins’ finale last Feb. 26—and Lester’s achievement but also their ability to leave January behind and focus on February. During a team meeting Monday, at the end of the Dutchmen’s worst month in a decade, coaches and players alike implored each other to approach the remaining games as an entirely new season.
“We can’t continue to talk about games that we might have lost at the last second or shots we didn’t make or plays we didn’t execute,” Cassara said. “We have a new clean slate. We have, essentially, a nine-game season and we just keep marking off every day. We’re going to try to win every day, whether it’s a practice or a game and try to continue to get better everyday. And I think we made a little bit of progress towards that today.”
The Dutchmen also made a bit of progress in the CAA standings—into a tie for 10th with William & Mary, whom the Dutchmen play for the only time on Feb. 22—with the win, which also went a long way towards assuring they will not finish in last place. By beating Towson in the lone meeting of the season between the teams (hooray unbalanced schedule that destroys tradition!), the Dutchmen are assured of having the tiebreaker over the Tigers, who would have to win two more games than the Dutchmen the rest of the way in order to finish ahead of Hofstra.
“I’m happy for everybody—nobody likes to lose—and I also know as a coach how close we’ve been,” Cassara said. “I think our guys continue to remain competitive and I’m excited to go back to practice [Thursday]. I really am. I’m excited to get to practice [Thursday] and I’m excited for our game on Saturday.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Towson, 2/1)
3: Mike Moore
2: Nathaniel Lester
1: Matt Grogan
Mike Moore 51
Nathaniel Lester 34
Dwan McMillan 17
David Imes 14
Shemiye McLendon 9
Stephen Nwaukoni 8
Stevie Mejia 6
Moussa Kone 2
Bryant Crowder 2
Matt Grogan 1