Friday, December 14, 2012

SMU 73, Hofstra 47 (Or: Just Like Starting Over)

I made the mistake of waiting more than a couple days to write a game recap for George Washington. Let’s never do that again (after this spate of recaps) and never discuss why there won’t be a GW recap and just go over SMU, shall we?

1.) The Flying Dutchmen looked like a team that lost four key players less than 36 hours before the tip. SMU, which probably would have easily handled a full Dutchmen team, raced out to a 10-0 lead and led by at least six the rest of the way. The Dutchmen’s effort rarely waned, and an 11-2 run spanning the two halves narrowed the gap to 10 in the first half-minute into the second half,  but the Mustangs immediately mounted a 24-7 run and later scored 12 in a row after the Dutchmen pulled within 18 with 5:48 to play.

2.) The Dutchmen trailed wire-to-wire for the third straight game and played like an exhausted, undermanned and frustrated team in missing a bunch of point-blank shots and shooting 25.9 percent, the lowest shooting percentage in a game since the Dutchmen shot 25 percent in a 77-46 loss to Old Dominion on Mar. 1, 2003. Taran Buie was 3-of-13, Stevie Mejia was 3-of-9 and the trio of David Imes. Moussa Kone and Darren Payen were a combined 3-of-21 with one field goal apiece. The Dutchmen’s shooting struggles extended to the free throw line, where they were just 12-of-24. Frustrations also appeared to boil over when the Dutchmen were whistled for two intentional fouls, including one on walk-on Matt Grogan, who responded by kicking one of the panels along press row in between the two benches. The referees seemed to take sympathy on the Dutchmen in not immediately giving Grogan a technical.

3.) The men’s basketball program will be paying the price for the knuckleheaded actions of the four departed players for years to come. One immediate effect: The much-sooner-than-anticipated debut of Payen, who was supposed to redshirt this season but has been pressed into action because the Dutchmen have no other bodies. He was predictably shaky in his first game action in at least eight months, but with five rebounds and two blocks, Payen showed the talent that had Mo Cassara confident he could be a member of the CAA’s All-Rookie team next year.

4.) Payen wasn’t the only player to make his debut for the Dutchmen. Freshman walk-on Adam Savion entered late in the second half and hit three free throws. Grogan set a career-high with seven points, which means the Dutchmen had two walk-ons score in the same game for the first time since I started paying attention in 1993-94. Yay?

5.) Grogan, the only Dutchmen with multiple 3-pointers, was one of the few bright spots, as was junior Stephen Nwaukoni, who returned after a two-game absence for personal reasons and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Nwaukoni is still an inconsistent player on offense, but he’s grown increasingly reliable on the boards with at least five rebounds in 21 of his last 27 games. Buie scored 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds while Mejia had 11 points, three assists and three steals.

6.) The one cool thing about an otherwise awful couple days was getting to ask SMU coach Larry Brown—whose return to his native New York was rendered a sidebar by the Hofstra debacle—about his connections to Hofstra, most of which were pretty obscure (hey, coming up with obscure connections to Hofstra is what I do here).

The obvious link between Brown and Hofstra was sitting courtside. Dutchmen icon Speedy Claxton was the 76ers’ first-round draft pick in 2000, when Brown was the 76ers’ head coach.

“One of my favorite guys,” Brown said at his press conference. “And in spite of that serious knee injury he had a heckuva career. I wish he had some eligibility left. I wouldn’t be so nervous before games.”

(Me too)

While living in Philadelphia, Brown became close friends with Jay Wright, who (duh) of course coached Claxton at Hofstra before he headed to Villanova. Brown credited Wright with keeping him sane—at the very least—during the almost 16 months he was out of work after getting fired by the Charlotte Bobcats and before he took the SMU job.

“He was a tremendous advocate of mine and helped me get where I am,” Brown said. “I over-praise him, but I think he saved my life in a lot of ways, just allowing me to be part of basketball after I got fired from Charlotte.”

Later, we asked Brown about what we thought was his first game as coach at UCLA—the Bruins’ 90-71 win over the Flying Dutchmen (who ACTUALLY were called the Flying Dutchmen back then!) on Dec. 1, 1979 (exactly 33 years to the day before his second game against Hofstra).

Turns out that was the second game of his UCLA tenure: The Bruins beat Idaho State the night before. The game against the Bruins was the season opener for Hofstra in Joe Harrington’s only year at the helm.

Brown remembered “…there was a kid from Long Beach” on Hofstra—David Taylor, who held the school record for most blocked shots in a career until Greg Washington broke it in 2010.

Brown also said he “couldn’t believe I was the coach of UCLA,” which went on to reach the national title game. It was the first (and so far only) time in program history the Flying Dutchmen faced a team that reached the national title game (THANK YOU 2006 FLORIDA).

Brown began his nomadic coaching career with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars from 1972-74. In his second season at the helm, he coached against former (and future) Hofstra coach Butch van Breda Kolff, who was with the Memphis Tams. The press conference following the SMU game was held in the Physical Fitness Center, where van Breda Kolff roamed the sidelines during his second stint with the Dutchmen, after which he was replaced by Wright.

See? All connected.

“I was a big Butch and Petey Carill fan,” Brown said, referring to the long-time Princeton coach who played under van Breda Kolff at Lafayette. “They were special guys.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. SMU 12/1)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stevie Mejia
1: Matt Grogan

10: Taran Buie
7: Stevie Mejia
4: Moussa Kone
3: Stephen Nwaukoni
2: David Imes
1: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

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