Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wright State 63, Hofstra 57 (Or: It’s always the same, it’s just a shame, that’s all)

If you’re a dork, like me, you could win a bar bet by asking a Flying Dutchmen fan to identify the game against Wright State in which the Raiders led wire-to-wire.

Of course, there’s only a handful of other Hofstra fans, and none of them are nearly as dorky as me, so knowing the Dutchmen trailed from start to finish in last Saturday’s 63-57 loss to Wright State—and not in the 82-56 thrashing they endured in a Bracket Buster in February 2011—isn’t likely to benefit you at all. Sorry.

Still, this one was a little better than the first meeting between the teams, whatever that is worth, and when we sit down in March and look back at this, uhh, interesting season, we’ll certainly count this one as yet another “L” that probably would have been a “W” had four knuckleheads not gotten arrested. Perhaps by then I’ll be less bitter and no longer passive-aggressively referencing the fraudulent foursome without actually naming them. Doubtful. Anyway.

1.) The Dutchmen’s narrow margin for error was on display yet again against Wright State, which took advantage of early sloppiness by Hofstra to race out to a 12-2 lead barely three minutes into the game. The Dutchmen committed five turnovers and missed their first four field goals before Stephen Nwaukoni’s layup with 15:13 left in the first half. The Raiders extended the lead to 14 with 7:33 remaining, and while the Dutchmen mounted an 11-1 run immediately thereafter and got within a possession three times in the second half, they never got the equalizer. The Dutchmen have fallen behind by a double-digit margin in the first half in six of their eight losses.

“Turnovers—we just get down quick because we turn the ball over two or three times to start the game,” Mo Cassara said. “We’ve done that repeatedly here and it’s just putting us behind in a tough spot, so we’ve got to really look at that and try to find a way to get around that. Obviously it’s been a big, big issue for us.”

2.) Another big issue for the Dutchmen: Their poor shooting. The Dutchmen shot just 36 percent (18-of-50), but the reality was worse: Jordan Allen and Stephen Nwaukoni combined to shoot 9-of-13 from the field, which meant the rest of their teammates were a ghastly 9-of-37. In three home games since the arrests, the Dutchmen are shooting just 31.4 percent (49-of-156).

Not surprisingly, the Dutchmen struggled badly from beyond the arc: They shot 5-of-22 from 3-point land, including a combined 1-of-10 by Matt Grogan and Stevie Mejia, and are shooting 26.9 percent on 3-pointers (14-of-52) in the last three home games.

“You look at the stat sheet: 1-for-7, 1-for-8, 3-for-12, we had a lot of great opportunities,” Cassara said. “Two or three of those 3-pointers go in, it’s a different game. Matty hits one, Stevie hits one, different game. And that’s our margin: [It’s] just very slim.”

3.) Just as they did to Charles Jenkins in February 2011, Wright State did a tremendous job of shutting down the Dutchmen’s best offensive threat. A week after he scorched Long Island University for 29 points, Taran Buie was 3-of-12 from the field and had just 11 points. Veterans Mejia (1-of-8, six points), David Imes (2-of-6, six points, five turnovers) and Moussa Kone (2-of-4, four points) could not pick up the slack, so Cassara surely spent time this week figuring out a way to get others involved when Buie is cold and/or contained.

“Offensive execution—that’s what I think we need to work on a lot,” Mejia said. “We need to do better at it. Knowing each other, knowing where guys like the ball, [where] guys like to shoot.”

4.) There were some developments in that area, particularly with Mejia and Allen. Four of Mejia’s career-high eight assists were to Allen, who set career highs himself with 13 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. He’s set a career-high in minutes played in each of his last four games.

“I was just moving around on the court just finding different ways to be effective,” Allen said. “I credit [Mejia] for getting me the ball and finding me and making plays.”

Mejia also committed just two turnovers, the ninth time in 11 games he’s turned the ball over three times or less.

5.) Nwaukoni had another strong game on both ends of the floor as he recorded the third double-double of his career with 12 points and 11 rebounds. He has at least seven rebounds in each of the last six games in which he has played, a pretty impressive streak considering he’s coming off the bench and is averaging just shy of 24 minutes per game in this stretch.

Nwaukoni has been doubly valuable given the recent struggles of Imes and Kone, who are averaging just 26.5 and 18.3 minutes per game, respectively, since the arrests. With Daquan Brown scheduled to become eligible Saturday against Tulane, the Dutchmen might actually have some depth to work with down low.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Wright State, 12/15)
3: Jordan Allen
2: Stephen Nwaukoni
1: Stevie Mejia

16: Taran Buie
10: Stevie Mejia
8: Stephen Nwaukoni
4: Moussa Kone
3: Jordan Allen
2: Matt Grogan
2: David Imes

***21 points vacated

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