Monday, January 7, 2013

Florida Atlantic 61, Hofstra 57 (Or: Signpost up ahead, your next stop, the twilight zone)

I listened to the Hofstra-Florida Atlantic game before tuning into The Twilight Zone marathon on New Year's Day. Some would say they were one and the same.

It’s gotten to the point for the Flying Dutchmen where the only thing left to do is to note the extra degrees of agony associated with defeat.

Was the Dutchmen’s eighth straight loss—a 61-57 defeat at the hands of Florida Atlantic on Tuesday—more painful than losing wire-to-wire, as the Dutchmen did to Manhattan, George Washington and SMU at the start of this skid or to Wright State in the final home game of 2012?

Does it ache more than blowing a 16-point lead in the final 12 minutes, as the Dutchmen did against Long Island University, or being tied at the half against Tulane before opening the second half on the wrong side of a 20-0 run? Is it worse than squandering a five-point halftime lead against Wagner and losing by eight points on a night in which the Dutchmen had their worst free throw shooting performance in three years?

At this point, does it matter?

Anyway, while losing is familiar these days, this one was doubly frustrating because this is the third consecutive year Florida Atlantic edged Hofstra by four points or less (and the fourth straight year the two teams played a game decided by four points or less).

This one also stung because the Dutchmen, for the first time during this seemingly never-ending skid that has encompassed three federal holidays, appeared to enjoy the clear statistical advantage over an opponent. The Dutchmen shot 44 percent (25-of-57), their second-best performance against a Division I foe this year, and limited Florida Atlantic to 36.4 shooting (20-of-55).

The Dutchmen led by 10 points in the first half, took a seven-point lead into the half and led and by nine halfway through the second half. Florida Atlantic’s biggest lead was its last one.

The Dutchmen also got some semblance of balance for the second straight game as seven players drained at least two field goals. Stevie Mejia and Taran Buie combined for 26 points (13 apiece) on 12-of-26 shooting, which is the kind of the dual efforts they’ll need in conference play. Mejia also provided steadiness at point guard in shooting more than 50 percent from the field (6-for-11) for the first time since the Dutchmen’s last win against Marshall on Nov. 18 and leading the Dutchmen with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Jordan Allen had another solid game (nine points, five rebounds) while Moussa Kone, who came off the bench after suffering a concussion in practice, had seven points, his most since the win over Marshall way back on Nov. 18.

Of course, as has so often been the case the last two seasons, the little things doomed the Dutchmen. The Dutchmen continued to get destroyed from beyond the arc, where Florida Atlantic was 8-of-24. The Owls are the fourth straight opponent to drain at least seven 3-pointers against the Dutchmen.

For the second straight game, the Dutchmen were victimized for a big run to start the second half. Florida Atlantic’s 8-0 run wasn’t as authoritative as Tulane’s 20-0 run, of course, but it put Hofstra on its heels after it dominated much of the first half.

And the Owls ended the game on a 15-4 run over the final 7:59 in which the Dutchmen were just 2-of-8 from the field. Buie, who looked for several games like the late-game option the Dutchmen have lacked since Charles Jenkins’ graduation, was just 1-for-5 shooting during Florida Atlantic’s final run.

Then there was the rotten luck that seems to befall teams that have zero margin for error. The Dutchmen were 5-of-7 from the free throw line, their fewest attempts since Dec. 21, 2009 against Davidson, and didn’t go to the line at all in the second half while Florida Atlantic was 13-of-16 in the final 20 minutes. Gee think that might have made a difference? ALFRED MORRIS BIAS!!!!

In addition, a shaky flagrant foul against Stephen Nwaukoni with 5:11 left resulted in a costly five-point swing. Instead of having the ball with a three-point lead, the Dutchmen fell behind by two points—and never led again—after the Owls hit both free throws and Greg Gantt drained a 3-pointer on the subsequent possession. That’s an agonizing way to lose, but that’s life these days for the Dutchmen—whether the calendar reads 2013 or 2012.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Florida Atlantic, 1/1)
3: Stevie Mejia
2: Taran Buie
1: Jordan Allen

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

***21 points vacated

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