Thursday, January 31, 2013

UNCW 57, Hofstra 51 (Or: I know we feel these are the worst of times)

To call a game a “must-win” affair anytime before an elimination game is usually folly and/or the work of cliché-spouting reporters who likely begin their “questions” with the phrase “Talk about…” That’s not a question!

But the Flying Dutchmen’s game against UNCW last Saturday was as close to a must-win game as possible in late January. In order to remain on the fringe of the race in the watered-down CAA and provide some hope they can make a little run in March, the Dutchmen, who haven’t won a road game since last January 21, need to win as many home games as possible. This is especially true especially when the opponent also last won a road game last January 21 and didn’t leave for New York until 5:30 AM because of poor weather up and down the east coast.

But the must-win became the latest most frustrating loss of the season (so far) and the Dutchmen became the only team in the CAA without a road win in the last 12 months after UNCW emerged from its Planes, Trains and Automobiles day (see below—how awesome is that?) with a 57-51 win over the Dutchmen.

As bad as the loss looks at the surface, it was much worse when viewed up close and once the season-long ramifications were taken into consideration.

“I told our guys tonight was the first time, really, on the new season for us where we didn’t give our best effort,” Mo Cassara said. “And that’s what I’m disappointed in.”

1.) The urgency of the must-win game increased after a first half in which the Dutchmen fell behind 11-2 and then held UNCW to two field goals and six points for THE REST OF THE HALF—a span of 16:49. You can’t lose a game when you limit a team to two field goals and six points for almost 17 minutes. But the Dutchmen did.

“I felt like we had a chance to kind of put them away in the first half,” Cassara said. “We were up five points, we held them to 17, I thought our defense was terrific. We had a lot of easy shots around the basket, whether a breakaway layup or a dunk or an easy shot, and we didn’t execute.”

That’s putting it mildly. UNCW all but presented the game to the Dutchmen on a silver platter, especially over the final 1:46 of the half. In their last five possessions, the Seahawks turned the ball over four times and missed three shots on the other possession. But the Dutchmen missed all five of their shots in that span and paid the price when UNCW opened the second half with a 12-1 run. The Dutchmen led just once, at 33-32, the rest of the way.

2.) We needed no further proof that guard play wins in the CAA, but while Chris Dixon and Tanner Milson were combining for 39 points and 10 3-pointers (on just 15 attempts) for the Seahawks, Taran Buie and Stevie Mejia endured another rough game with 24 combined points on 6-of-26 shooting, including 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. They also combined for six assists and just 10 turnovers.

It’s not very fair to Buie and Mejia to demand they carry the Dutchmen—Buie is basically playing his first collegiate season while Mejia is far better as a facilitator than a creator—but the lack of guard play behind them means it’s sink or swim with the duo. And during the Dutchmen’s four-game losing streak, Buie and Mejia are shooting a combined 34.8 percent (33-for-95) with 22 assists and 37 turnovers.

“Our Achilles heel right now is turning the ball over,” Cassara said. “You can live with a couple, but it’s those careless turnovers. Our last four games. we’re probably averaging, I would say, 16, 17 turnovers a game [actual figure: 16.8 turnovers]. We’re not going to win, whether it’s at home or on the road, playing like that. That’s been our big issue and we’ve got to find a way to change that.”

3.) The struggles of Buie and Mejia were magnified once UNCW took Stephen Nwaukoni out of the game. For the second straight year, Nwaukoni was the lynchpin of a defensive effort that shut down Keith Rendleman (11 points, six rebounds). And it looked as if he might post his second straight double-double against the Seahawks when he had eight points and four rebounds in a first half in which the Dutchmen racked up 16 points in the paint.

But UNCW played more zone defense in the second half, when Nwaukoni had just two points and one rebound in 13 minutes. While the 10 points were his second-most of the new year, the five total rebounds were his fewest of 2013. All of which is to say he’s been the Dutchmen’s most consistent player, more often than not, during the CAA season and that the Dutchmen need to find a way to keep him involved even when defenses are collapsing on him and Buie and Mejia are struggling from outside.

4.) Cassara’s been forced to go back to basics with the Dutchmen multiple times this season. It likely happened again during practice this week as he drove home the importance of living up to Bruiser Flint’s decree that nobody in the CAA plays harder than Hofstra. Effort is the great—only?—equalizer for the Dutchmen this season, and it lagged when frustrations mounted Saturday. Alas, it almost surely won’t be the last time the Dutchmen get frustrated this year. They’ll need a better response to have any hope of remaining afloat into February.

“We just didn’t have the effort today,” Mejia said. “Just flat out there. When shots aren’t going in, we don’t defend. Frustrating.”

5.) Frustrating week too for the Dutchmen, who blew an eight-point lead against preseason favorite Drexel before…well, you know. Now, with two road games in the next three days and four of their next five away from Hempstead, their already slim margin for error in the CAA has been removed. The Dutchmen are 1 ½ games behind Drexel for the fifth seed and need to find a way to win at least one game on the James Madison-William & Mary trip to avoid falling into an almost unrecoverable hole as the sixth or seventh seed.

“Certainly very disappointed in the outcome today,” Cassara said. “It’s been a long week. We’ve got to get back to work here on Monday and get ready to hit the road again.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. UNCW, 1/26)
3: Stephen Nwaukoni
2: Taran Buie
1: Stevie Mejia

30: Taran Buie
25: Stevie Mejia
16: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: Jordan Allen
5: David Imes
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Drexel 55, Hofstra 52 (Or: Now wicked things can happen, you see Drexel’s half-court shots goin’ down at home)

And here we thought we’d seen the Flying Dutchmen lose games in every conceivable way the last two seasons. There were the last-second, tie-breaking baskets surrendered to Florida Atlantic, James Madison and Northeastern last season, along with the one-point loss to Delaware in which the Dutchmen missed three potential game-tying or go-ahead free throws in the final half minute.

This season has seen the Dutchmen squander a 16-point lead with 12 minutes to play at Long Island University, give up a 20-0 run to open the second half against Tulane, surrender a nine-point lead with nine minutes to play at Florida Atlantic and miss two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final seconds last week at unbeaten Northeastern.

There would be more losses the rest of this season, but when it came to method of defeat, we’d surely seen it all. At least that’s what we thought until Wednesday night, when Drexel’s Frantz Massenat sank a double-clutched 50-footer at the buzzer to give the Dragons a stunning 55-52 win.

We’ve learned our lesson. Never underestimate the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, you-must-be-****ing-me, #ThatsSoHofstra ways the Dutchmen can lose games.

“As I told [the players] in the locker room, we made some mistakes tonight, a few breakdowns, a few things didn’t go our way but we still managed to tie the game with four, five seconds left,” Cassara said. “And unfortunately that’s the way games end sometimes.”

That’s the way they end for the perpetually and permanently star-crossed, anyway.

1.) For my chameleon-like take on what it was like to be on the winning side of things last night, check out my story for my good friend Josh Verlin over at the City of Basketball Love website. And look right here to see how far away Massenat was when he crushed our souls:

The emotions, of course, were a whole lot different on the Hofstra side. The Dutchmen gave up another sizable second half lead—this one an eight-point advantage with nine minutes to play—and seemed headed for seemingly certain defeat when Stephen Nwaukoni missed a free throw with 38 seconds left and the Dutchmen down three.

But Drexel’s Kazembe Abif threw an outlet pass out of bounds, which set up Taran Buie’s school record-tying seventh 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left. Which, of course, set up the Dutchmen’s first buzzer-beating loss since Jan. 3, 1995, way back when I was a student and Jay Wright was in his first year as head coach.

Making the last-second defeat even more agonizing for Cassara was the fact Stevie Mejia and David Imes played almost perfect defense on Massenat. After a Drexel timeout, Aquil Younger got the ball to Massenat, who was immediately swarmed by Mejia and Imes. They continued to hound him up the court and briefly swatted the ball away, but the two sagged for a split second, which allowed Massenat to recover the ball, take a step through the opening between the two players, double clutch as if he was trying to draw the foul and launch his shot, which got nothing but net as time expired.

It was like the Charles Jenkins shot, except 15 feet longer and against the good guys. Sigh.

“Once we tapped the ball, I thought we had him,” Cassara said. “I don’t know whether our guys split or gave him too easy of a look, I’ll have to go back and watch it. We double-teamed the ball, made him catch it in front of us, made him bobble it. We did everything we had to do except, obviously, he got too good a look at the basket.”

2.) The Jenkins-esque shot by Massenat negated a Jenkins-esque effort by Buie, who recovered from an awful start to produce a sensational game. Buie lofted some ugly-looking shots, at least two of which didn’t even touch rim, in missing seven of his first eight attempts, but he drained a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to give the Dutchmen a 23-20 lead with 2:19 left in the first half.

Those baskets began a stretch in which Buie scored 27 of the Dutchmen’s final 35 points, including their final 13 over the last 11 minutes. He banked a 3-pointer to end a 14-2 run by the Dragons and pull the Dutchmen within 50-49 with 1:44 left. His final 3-pointer was a thing of beauty in which he faked going up twice before shooting over the outstretched arm of Drexel’s Derrick Thomas.

“Actually, I was trying to get him to jump so I could maybe get a foul call, maybe get three shots at the line,” Buie said.

Massenat rendered Buie’s one-man effort for naught a few seconds later, but the sophomore’s ability to shake off a bad start and recover—unlike two weeks earlier, when he shot 1-of-11 against Delaware in a 15-point loss to the Blue Hens—could pay dividends for the Dutchmen down the stretch.

“Big credit goes to Taran,” Cassara said. “He started out 1-for-8 and wasn’t have a good night and got a little frustrated. Drexel does that to you, they’re going to hold you and grab you and play physical basketball—typical Bruiser Flint team. And that to me is a sign of maturity and that’s the sign of growing up, to be able to fight through that and then come back and make some big shots for us.”

3.) Prior to the dueling dramatic 3-pointers, this was a classically ugly yet oddly compelling Hofstra-Drexel rockfight that featured plenty of fun mini-storylines. There was plenty of banging down low but just 25 total fouls called and 21 free throws attempted as the referees went the Saturday-morning-at-the-Y-no-blood-no-foul route. The two teams were separated by more than four points just once in the first half and by more than two possessions just once in the entire game.

“Our guys—can’t say it enough, our guys play hard and they compete and we keep finding a way to put ourselves in a position to win,” Cassara said.

While Buie put the Dutchmen on his shoulders over the final 23 minutes, 16 of Drexel’s final 19 points were scored by Damion Lee, who had nine points in a 10-2 run that tied the game at 46-46 with 5:23 left, and Massenat, who scored the Dragons’ last seven points over the final 2:11.

Massenat’s final line (14 points on 3-of-10 shooting, three assists, two turnovers, one block and one steal) won’t jump off the page, but anyone who saw him last night recognized why he’s one of the best players in the league and as vital to Drexel’s success at Matt Janning once was to Northeastern’s.

4.) Buie was the only Dutchmen to score in double figures, but Mejia, Imes and Jordan Allen were all key offensive contributors at different times.

Mejia (eight points, six assists, six turnovers, two steals in 39 minutes) scored all eight of his points in the first 13 minutes of the game. Allen had just five points and a team-high seven rebounds, but his layup and jumper helped fuel the 16-2 run that turned a six-point deficit into a 44-36 lead. And Imes, a week removed from hitting five 3-pointers, had eight points, all in the paint, as well as three assists, one block and one steal.

5.) The loss removed the little margin for error the Dutchmen earned by opening the conference season with two wins in three games. The Dutchmen have lost three straight, and at 2-4, are facing a must-win game Saturday against UNC Wilmington, which, like Hofstra, hasn’t won a road game in 12 months. After hosting the Seahawks, the Dutchmen visit James Madison and William & Mary, so any hope of remaining in the CAA race—or at least the race for second behind Northeastern—rests on shaking off last night and finding a way to win Saturday.

“That’s part of basketball—the frustration, being upset, is over,” Cassara said. “Now we’ve got to narrow our focus on Wilmington. We’ve got a home game on Saturday, we’re going to get back to work [today]. This is a resilient bunch, they’ve proved it throughout. They’re ready to battle and fight and scratch and claw. It’s not pretty all the time, but we find a way to hang in games and we find a way to stick together. So we’re going to keep doing that and get to work [today].”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Drexel, 1/23)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stevie Mejia
1: David Imes

28: Taran Buie
24: Stevie Mejia
13: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: Jordan Allen
5: David Imes
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A new day dawns in the old ECC

Yes! I get to use this logo again!

Strange days are afoot in the East Coast Conference. Of course, some people think it’s pretty strange to even suggest that ANY sort of days are afoot in the East Coast Conference, which was vanquished during the MTV-era college realignment and shuffled off this mortal coil for good in 1994, the same year most of this year’s Hofstra freshmen were born.

And some of these people—no names, of course, but the biggest skeptic is the shiny-domed lead writer for—think the ECC is some Inception- or Newhart-esque dream world that exists only in my head or my sleepy subconscious. These people ACTUALLY think that Hofstra, Drexel, Delaware and Towson just MAGICALLY landed in the CAA for the 2001-02 school year!

Well, damnit, we didn’t, and we had a pretty rich history as rivals in the ECC for the better part of two decades before everything went kabloomie and I’m going to keep the ECC alive by referencing it AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE and keeping track of the ECC standings every year. Or at least every year since I started Defiantly Dutch.

While Hofstra and Drexel have yet to break through SOUTHERN BIAS and win the CAA, they have been far better off for most of their CAA existence than either Delaware or Towson, each of which arrived in the CAA by promptly falling on hard times with a resounding thud and each of whom has been largely dominated by Hofstra and Drexel in head-to-head meetings during the CAA Era.

Hofstra is 33-11 against Delaware and Towson in regular season play since 2001-02 while Drexel is 32-13 against the Blue Hens and Tigers. Not surprisingly, Hofstra and Drexel dominated my mythical ECC the first three years I blogged at this corner of the Internet, during which they went 32-9 in “league” play (which includes non-conference conference games against former ECC schools such as St. Joseph’s, Rider and Buffalo—do you think I’m insane yet?)

But a role reversal has been underway the last season-and-a-half. Delaware finally began stirring last year, when it swept Hofstra for the first time since 1997-98, handed Drexel one of the Dragons’ two conference losses and advanced to postseason play (well, it was the CBI, but for the purposes of this exercise I guess it counts) for the first time as a CAA member.

And Towson’s long-awaited revival finally got underway this year. The Tigers were 1-35 in league play the last two years, haven’t swept Drexel in the regular season since 2001-02 and are 5-28 against Hofstra since Towson the two teams became NAC foes in 1995-96, but they’ve already beaten Drexel and will likely be favored to beat the Flying Dutchmen when the teams meet in Hempstead Feb. 16 and in the Towson Center finale March 2.

Hofstra, of course, has endured over the last two seasons its leanest times since the dawn of the Jay Wright Era. These were supposed to be halcyon days for Drexel, which got screwed out of an NCAA Tournament berth by geography and Selection Committee ineptitude last year and was the overwhelming favorite to win the CAA this year, but a spate of injuries has left the Dragons jockeying for position in the middle of the CAA quagmire.

And so it is that we are reaching the end of January and BOTH Hofstra and Drexel are winless in “ECC” play (a combined 0-4) while Towson and Delaware have two “league” wins apiece. Not only that, but the Dutchmen and the Dragons enter tonight’s game at Hofstra Arena with a combined record of 11-24 (a .314 winning percentage), which is the worst combined record the two foes have ever had prior to playing each other in the Division I era. The previous mark of .346 (9-17 combined) was set way back in the 1990-91 season.

One way or the other, in a game that will likely be played in the 50s (if that), the bottom of the ECC standings will be impacted. Strange days indeed.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In which I modestly compare myself and my loss of Mason hatred to Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o

What the hell?

It’s been a bad week for sports mythology.

On Monday, Lance Armstrong sat down with Oprah Winfrey in Texas on Monday and told her, in a very careful way intended to keep him out of prison while positioning himself for a second act that nobody wants to see, that he was all sorts of doped up during his seven Tour de France wins.

On Wednesday, Deadspin reported that the Hollywood-ready back story of star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o—the Heisman Trophy runner-up and likely first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft who captivated America last fall by playing through the death of his cancer-stricken girlfriend—was false and that his dead girlfriend was an elaborate ruse that he may or may not have been complicit in creating.

As big as those two stories are, they were really just the opening acts, the appetizers, the third cliché I can’t really think of right now to today’s stunning news: The Flying Dutchmen are heading to George Mason this afternoon and I can’t muster up a single ounce of hate for the Patriots.

This, quite honestly and quite humbly, is the biggest shock in the sports world—this week or any other week. I mean, even the most naïve and hopeful of fans was skeptical that a clean Armstrong, an absurdly competitive person with a jerk streak a mile long, was beating a bunch of cheaters—seven straight times—in the dirtiest athletic event in the world.

And as bizarre as Te’o’s story is, it’s really just the modern equivalent of returning to school in September with tall tales of hooking up with the hot girl from Niagara Falls that you met at summer camp. No dude I swear we did it and she’s smoking hot and she’ll be here during winter break.

But me not lathering myself into a blind rage in the hours leading up to a likely loss against the Patriots? Incomprehensible. I mean, that’s all I do here. In 2009, I revisited all the reasons I hate George Mason. In 2010, a George Mason grad ACTUALLY TRIED TO KILL ME, which didn’t make me nearly as mad as Jim Larranaga running up the score at Hofstra a few weeks later, after which I traded profanity-filled invective with Mason fans on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and AOL chatrooms, as well as with written correspondence that travels along the Pony Express. And last year, I extended a faux olive branch to Mason Nation and used my bully pulpit to make fun of their general ineptitude.

Again, speaking as the honest and humble person that I am, my transformation from psycho to pedestrian would get me a sit-down with Oprah, or at least her lame, coattail-riding best friend Gayle King, if only either one of them knew about my incredible story.

I would like to credit my foray into fatherhood as the calming, maturing influence in my life that I was missing the previous 38 years. Alas, I still laugh at fart jokes and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, so that’s not it.

And so, as usual, everything is Larranaga’s fault. His departure for the University of Miami after the 2010-11 season was the equivalent of an evil dictator being disposed of or an archaic form of government being overthrown. Did anyone really dislike Russia, or worry about history class being interrupted by a Russian invasion, once Ronald Reagan stormed into the ol’ USSR and kicked Communism’s ass?

Sure, some of his believers were still there last year, and still eminently dislikable. But now Andre Cornelius is celebrating 4:20 on someone else’s credit card somewhere else, and Ryan Pearson is in some foreign country, swiping 400-thread count pillows and jacking 3s up 15 points in the final seconds of meaningless games while disappearing in the big ones.

And Mike Morrison is—well, I don’t know what he’s doing, but he stopped annoying me during the CAA semifinals last year, when Pearson was nowhere to be found while Morrison fueled Mason’s nearly miraculous comeback from a 32-4 deficit against VCU. It was one of the great unquantifiable, yet eminently visible, examples of leadership I’ve ever seen.

Mason still has Larranaga-era recruits, but the only thing I hate about Sherrod Wright is his ability to hit clutch shots. And from everything I’ve heard about Paul Hewitt, he is as gentlemanly as Larranaga was deplorable.

Then there’s the George Mason fans, all those jerks who have somehow become, dare I say it, Twitter frenemies with an emphasis on the “fr.” We all like baseball and fantasy sports and pop culture and talking politics and talking journalism and the world of new media and making extremely inside #CAAHoops jokes that show off our collective nerd-dom. A few of them are Dads, as well, and we bounce tales of parenthood off one another.

Most importantly and impressively, most of those jerks were much better to me than I deserved when Hofstra’s foolish foursome were arrested Nov. 29 for crimes that made any sort of credit card scandals or pillow thievery look like the work of the junior varsity. Well, everyone except @Mason_Fanatic and @Ryan_Sonner. They were as mean to me as I would have been to them, which only made me respect (and hate) them even more.

There has been the usual banter and trash talk heading into today’s first Hofstra-GMU tilt of the season, but none of it has riled me into a rage-filled fury. I feel empty, and wish things could be like they used to be. But those days are gone, and there’s nobody left to remind me when Mason was a bunch of Cobra Kai-esque jerks, nobody left to remind me when Hofstra got screwed by Mason. If only there was someone like that to…

Never mind.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Of short attention spans, renewed optimism in a downtrodden CAA…and Duran Duran spinoffs?

Why couldn't we schedule Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor this season?

In keeping with the time-honored American tradition of getting my news from late-night talk show hosts, I learned Tuesday night, via Conan O’Brien, that a person’s average attention span has dwindled to two seconds. Which, in turn, made me wonder if the people who figured that out have been watching me for the last 39 years in general and watching me at Hofstra basketball games for the last 19 years in particular.

If you haven’t noticed, I have an attention span so short, it makes a gnat look focused. (Does anyone actually know if gnats have short attention spans? Or do we just assume their attention spans are as long as their wingspans? This may be unfair to gnats. Can we get someone on this? Wait, where was I? See what I mean?)

Anyway, my usually short attention span is even shorter when it comes to Hofstra hoops. Don’t get me wrong: I have no trouble focusing on the season and remembering and/or observing arcane stuff that nobody in his or her right mind would ever remember and/or observe.

For instance, with William & Mary stuck in single digits beyond the midway mark of the first half of the Dutchmen’s 70-59 win last Saturday, I became vaguely certain William & Mary had produced the lowest first-half output against the Dutchmen in recent memory back in January 2009. A quick search of the 2008-09 season recaps at revealed the halftime score for the Jan. 21, 2009 game (17-15 William & Mary) and an even quicker search of my hard drive for “17-15” revealed that my hunch was, in fact, correct.

Where was I? How have I spent almost 300 words without getting to the point?

The point is that while my long-term focus is always pretty sharp, my short-term outlook can change, well, every two seconds or so. Seriously. I can go from “Oh God we’re totally doomed” to “WHOOHOO! NCAA TOURNAMENT HERE WE COME!”—or vice versa—in the amount of time it takes for the Dutchmen to win or lose the opening tip.

And so it is that I come to you today offering a slightly more optimistic tone than I was 12 days ago, when I said the new start to the CAA season was just another landmine on the long, slow road to nowhere. But hey, two wins in four games can do wonders for a guy’s frame of mind.

So, too, can a CAA that is probably as bad as it’s ever been. Every year we talk in the first week or two of January about how wild and unpredictable and parity-ridden the CAA will be this year and how anyone can win it. And every year, by the first weekend of March, we are figuring out that the top seven teams beat the bottom five teams 57 out of a possible 60 times (actually happened last year).

Every year, there is always clear separation between the haves and have-nots. The CAA regular season champion has won at least 14 games every year since the league first expanded in 2001-02. There are always a handful of really good teams and really good programs setting the pace, along with superstar players who can carry their teams farther than their talent would otherwise suggest.

But of the 28 byes that have been earned in the CAA since the league expanded again in 2005-06, exactly half were claimed by programs that are either ineligible for the tournament (Old Dominion seven byes, UNC Wilmington two byes) or no longer in the league (VCU five byes). And Old Dominion is stunningly bad this year, while UNC Wilmington continues to try and scramble out of the quicksand it has been mired in since Brad Brownell was run off.

The next two schools with the most byes since 2005-06—George Mason with six and Hofstra with three—are each in the midst of some kind of rebuilding after enduring a coaching change (or two) within the last three seasons.

There are no Jenkins- or Maynor-type superstars in the league this year. The likely CAA MVP is Towson’s Jerrelle Benimon, who plays for yet another team that is ineligible for the tourney.

The closest thing the CAA has to a have at the moment is Northeastern, which edged Hofstra 65-60 in the first 2013 installment of the Barone Bowl on Wednesday night. The Huskies are 5-0 and the lone unbeaten team in CAA play, and with three road wins—at Drexel, at George Mason and at Towson—two all-league caliber players in Jonathan Lee and Quincy Ford and an outstanding coach in Bill Coen, they’ve proven to be legitimate championship contenders. (And they’ve been my pick to win the CAA ever since they finished second in the Great Alaska Shootout at Thanksgiving—I’d tell you to look it up on Twitter, but I have a whole lotta Tweets there, you know, short attention span and all that)

But even the staunchest of Northeastern supporters knows these Huskies aren’t the modern-day versions of the 2001-02 UNC Wilmington, 2006-07 VCU or even the 2010-11 Hofstra squads, all of whom were the last teams in the CAA to absorb a conference defeat. Northeastern is a decidedly imperfect lot that has lost home games to Maine, Vermont and UNC Asheville and nearly squandered a double-digit second half lead to the Dutchmen.

None of the other teams eligible for the CAA Tournament are very imposing. Delaware (3-1 after Wednesday night’s loss to Towson) opened the year by reaching the final four of the preseason NIT but subsequently lost to Delaware State and Lafayette, the latter of which “boasts” a win over a school called Arcadia (apparently The Power Station didn’t have an open slot on its schedule).

George Mason and James Madison are each 3-2 after the Patriots beat the Dukes on Tuesday night. But GMU got smoked by UNC Wilmington last Saturday, three days after the Seahawks lost by 28 to the Dukes, which happened two days after James Madison lost a non-conference game to Hampton, which was ranked 346th in the RPI. Out of 347.

Then there’s Drexel (1-3), the overwhelming preseason favorite that’s been decimated by injuries, and William & Mary (1-4), the popular sleeper pick that’s lost six in a row

This is a season in which the CAA may look like it did in 1996-97, when eight of the nine teams finished between 10-6 and 7-9. Or it may approximate the dream of late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who always wanted an NFL in which everyone was 8-8 (or, in this case, a CAA in which everyone was 9-9).

It will not take much for a team to get to the second weekend of March believing it has a shot at winning three games in as many days and winning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, 12 days ago I thought even that was too much to ask for the devastated Dutchmen.

But in winning two games last week, the Dutchmen established a formula for victory, albeit one that will not be easily repeated and one they have yet to unveil on the road. If the Dutchmen can get consistently good guard play from the inconsistent Stevie Mejia and Taran Buie, play every game at a pace approved by the 1985 Villanova Wildcats and coax 40-50 useful minutes out of the frontcourt trio of Stephen Nwaukoni, Moussa Kone and Daquan Brown…well, they’ll have a shot.

I figure the Dutchmen will need seven league wins to be able to entertain thoughts of a Cinderella run. Win home games against downtrodden Old Dominion (words I never thought I’d write) and the rest of the middle-of-the-pack quagmire (UNC Wilmington, James Madison), win a coin flip home game against a Towson or Delaware, steal a home game against someone like Northeastern, George Mason or Drexel and beat someone, anyone on the road—where the Dutchmen haven’t won in 364 days, but who’s counting?—and that’s seven.

The recent road losses at Delaware (where the Dutchmen lost by 15 on a night in which Buie was 1-of-11 shooting and Hofstra held double-double machine Jamelle Hagins scoreless while limiting him to six rebounds) and Northeastern have provided some reason for encouragement as well, and maybe even a flicker of hope the Dutchmen can approach a .500 conference record.

Or maybe they can even finish with a winning league record. Nah, let’s not get carried away. At least until the Dutchmen win the opening tip in Fairfax this afternoon.

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Northeastern 65, Hofstra 60 (Or: Color them red, then leave us blue)

For more than 35 minutes Wednesday night, the Barone Bowl went according to script. Northeastern looked every bit the unbeaten CAA leader as it produced another unglamorous Bill Coen masterpiece in which the Huskies never bury their opponent but are never in danger of losing the game.

And the Flying Dutchmen, one of the nine or so teams stuck in the quagmire that is the middle of the CAA pack, weren’t playing the error-free game they need to play in order win these days, but their effort was the type to turn the bus ride home an optimistic one free of what-could-have-been tossings and turnings—at least until a frantic late comeback fell just short when Matt Grogan and Stevie Mejia missed potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds of Northeastern’s 65-60 win.

The Dutchmen trailed by double digits multiple times in the second half before producing a 7-1 run during the final four minutes that had the best team in the league reeling at one of the toughest venues in the CAA. No points are given for close calls, of course, but the lessons the Dutchmen learned that likely had them wondering “what if” during the four-hour ride bus home Wednesday night will come in handy over the next seven weeks.

“We hung in there, we hung around, we hung around, we hung around,” Mo Cassara said at his post-game press conference. “We got a couple good looks at the basket, just couldn’t tie it up.”

1.) Lesson no. 1, appropriately enough: Northeastern is the best team in the league, and while the gap between the Huskies and everybody else is far smaller than it usually is between the no. 1 team and everybody else, it’s going to require a complete and sound effort to knock them off. Northeastern has senior leadership in Jonathan Lee, a potential superstar in Quincy Ford and an outstanding coach in Coen who has molded the Huskies into an efficient group that maximizes its opportunities on both ends of the court and rarely lapses into panic mode.

Northeastern never trailed Wednesday and answered every Dutchmen surge with the type of mini-run that our good friend Mike Litos loves. In the first half, the Huskies went on a 7-0 run after the Dutchmen tied the game (for the only time) at 3-3, went on a 6-2 run after the Dutchmen pulled within 10-7 and went on a 6-0 run after the Dutchmen closed to 24-19.

The biggest second half mini-run was all Ford, who scored eight unanswered points after the Dutchmen narrowed the lead to 36-32. The Dutchmen didn’t get within a single possession again until the final minute, and the three errant shots by Taran Buie, Grogan and Mejia marked the only time in the last 35 minutes that the Dutchmen had a chance to tie the game.

2.) The Dutchmen, meanwhile, made the type of mistakes they can’t afford to make against most teams, never mind Northeastern. The Dutchmen committed 17 turnovers, which the Huskies turned into 28 points. They turned the ball over three times during Northeastern’s first 7-0 run and turned it over twice during their late 7-1 as they tried to close within two or three points.

In addition, the Dutchmen were just 6-of-11 from the free throw line, including a 2-of-7 effort from guards Stevie Mejia and Taran Buie, the latter of whom missed both free throws after he stole the ball at midcourt and was fouled on a fast break in the final 10 seconds of the first half. Those are the sequences that keep coaches up at night.

As for the ill-fated attempts to tie the game: The Dutchmen appeared to be trying to catch Northeastern off guard by having Grogan shoot the 3-pointer off the inbounds pass, but the ball bounced off the shot clock and caromed to Mejia, who misfired on what appeared to be a decent-looking shot from beyond the arc.

“When it left his hand, I thought it was in,” Cassara said. “Really looked like a good shot.”

3.) All that said, there was a lot to be encouraged about—most notably David Imes’ rapid transformation into a shooting guard. Imes had the best game of his career—and probably the best game anyone’s played for the Dutchmen since that guy Jenkins graduated—as he scored 19 points (on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point land) to go along with five rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Imes drained a 3-pointer to start the Dutchmen’s late run and pulled down the rebound that led to Jordan Allen’s layup that closed the gap to 63-60.

Imes, who scored in double figures just once in his first 14 games this year, has scored 29 points in the Dutchmen’s last two games, a stretch in which he is shooting a blistering 7-of-11 from beyond the arc. He was 13-of-42 shooting from 3-point land in his first 14 games.

Imes became just the third Hofstra player since 1989-90 to have a 15-rebound game as well as game in which he drained five 3-pointers. Imes has twice collected 17 rebounds (most recently against UNC Wilmington on Feb. 23, 2011). The other members of the exclusive club: Demetrius Dudley (multiple five 3-pointer games, 16 rebounds against Towson State—THEY WERE ACTUALLY TOWSON STATE BACK THEN—in the ECC championship game Mar. 9, 1992) and Norman Richardson (multiple five 3-pointre games. 16 rebounds against New Hampshire Feb. 17, 2001).

We’ll need to see this for another week or so before we dub him the Roberto Gittens—i.e. a senior who lifted his play once the calendar flipped to January—of a new generation, but regardless, it’s pretty impressive work from someone who spent much of the last two years as an undersized center or power forward.

“He’s gradually become a guard because we don’t have any other guys,” Cassara said. “So he’s gone from really playing the ‘5’ for us to really playing the ‘2,’ and he’s on the perimeter a little bit more. Got some good looks tonight, made some shots.”

4.) The Dutchmen needed their true shooting guard to make more shots. Buie’s road struggles continued as he scored 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including just 2-of-9 inside the 3-point line. He was a little bit better in the second half, when he hit both of his 3-pointers and scored eight points, but his missed layup set up the Dutchmen’s final two 3-point attempts. In addition, Buie’s first half performance—he was 1-of-6 shooting with two turnovers, both of which the Huskies converted into baskets—helped put the Dutchmen into the hole from which they could not escape.

Buie had his breakout game on the road (29 points at Long Island University Dec. 8), but since then, he’s shooting just 28.3 percent (15-of-53) in four road games and only 32.9 percent (27-of-82) overall.

“We’ve got to find a way to get him going,” Cassara said. “We aren’t going to win a lot when he’s 4-of-15 from the field. He’s 8-of-15 from the field tonight, it’s certainly a very close game.”

5.) Worth filing away as the Dutchmen prepare to head to George Mason for tomorrow afternoon’s tilt: Buie (38 minutes), Mejia (12 points, four assists five turnovers and three steals in 37 minutes), Imes (37 minutes) and Stephen Nwaukoni (another near double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds in 34 minutes) were all marathon men. Nwaukoni set a career-high in minutes played and shattered his previous season-high by seven minutes. Reserves Grogan, Moussa Kone, Daquan Brown and Darren Payen combined for three points and two rebounds in 32 minutes. Captain Obvious: The Dutchmen will need more out of their sparse bench going forward, especially come tournament time.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Northeastern, 1/16)
3: David Imes
2: Stephen Nwaukoni
1: Stevie Mejia

24: Taran Buie
22: Stevie Mejia
12: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: David Imes
7: Jordan Allen
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

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Hofstra 70, College Of Bill Lawrence 59 (Or: Our Best-Case Scenario)

The Dutchmen fared better against the Fighting Bill Lawrences on Saturday than J.D. did with Julie!

Even the seemingly easy wins are not easy for the Flying Dutchmen. So while the Dutchmen led wire-to-wire in their 70-59 win over the College of Bill Lawrence last Saturday—and never let the lead slip below four points after a game-opening 9-0 run—Cassara agonized for every single one of the game’s 2,400 seconds.

Cassara grimaced with every turnover the Dutchmen committed and with every bounce that didn’t go their way. He motioned frantically when Jordan Allen and Taran Buie mis-communicated in the final minute and their attempt to burn clock led to a William & Mary steal and easy basket that narrowed the Dutchmen’s lead to nine points.

And a few minutes before that, after Stevie Mejia’s 3-pointer fell about three-quarters of the way down the basket before rimming out, Cassara hugged—yes, hugged—referee Tim Comer as Comer began running back the other way.

“I actually hugged him to try to sit him down on the bench,” Cassara said with a grin afterward. “I know him from back in the ACC. So he didn’t mind. He knew we were working our butts off.”

The Dutchmen certainly did that in producing perhaps the most unlikely 2-1 start in CAA history. (Hey, no CAA team that has ever entered January with 10 non-conference losses has ever won two of its first three league games of the new year, hooray small statistical samples!) Less than 72 hours after falling at Delaware by 15 points, the Dutchmen authored the type of thorough and impressive victory that has been in exceedingly short supply the last two years—and one they’ll have to figure out a way to replicate in order to have a chance to compete in the depleted CAA.

“Believe me, we have a long way to go,” Cassara said. “We’ve got a lot of games to play. Nothing’s going to be easy—nothing is going to be easy with us.”

1.) This was the Dutchmen’s best-case scenario type of game. They got off to a fast start and were able to dictate the tone against an atypically sloppy William & Mary squad that scored on just one of its first 10 possessions, missed its first five free throws and didn’t hit double digits until 14 minutes and 28 seconds had elapsed. The Tribe’s 17 points were the fewest allowed by the Dutchmen in a first half since William & Mary LED 17-15 at Hofstra on Jan. 21, 2009.

“Great scouting, great execution, great game plan and we did it to a ‘T,’” Cassara said. “I really felt walking out of our shoot-around this morning that we were going to win today, just because we had everything down.

“So proud of the start, I thought some of our guys did a great job of getting us off to a good start and certainly we did a good job of hanging on.”

2.) The Dutchmen’s rotation doesn’t run very deep at all, but they got the maximum production out of it against the Fighting Bill Lawrences. Taran Buie (24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-9 from 3-point land) bounced back from the Delaware debacle, which freed up Stevie Mejia (14 points, nine assists, two turnovers, two steals, one block) to concentrate on facilitator duties. And new shooting guard David Imes drained two 3-pointers and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

The Dutchmen got especially impressive efforts from big men Stephen Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone, who combined for 15 points and 17 rebounds in 41 minutes. They operated as a tag-team of sorts, with Nwaukoni collecting all seven of his points and six of his nine rebounds in the first half and Kone racking up all eight of his points and six of his eight rebounds in the second half.

“I thought Stephen Nwaukoni gave us an unbelievable first half,” Cassara said. “And Moussa gave us an unbelievable second half. I think that’s a sign of a team coming together.”

3.) For the second straight home game, the Dutchmen played outstanding perimeter defense and shut down the opposition’s biggest scoring threat. Marcus Thornton scored 17 points—nine of which came from the free throw line—and was just 3-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-9 from 3-point land. Fellow guard Brandon Britt had 21 points, but did most of his damage from inside the arc (6-of-9 on 2-pointers, 2-of-7 on 3-pointers). Overall, the Tribe were 4-of-25 on 3-pointers, which actually represented an improvement on the 2-of-20 that Georgia State shot on Monday night, when the Dutchmen limited R.J. Hunter to XX points on SHOOTING HERE.

“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff, they did a great job of preparing us for everything that [William & Mary] run[s],” Buie said. “They put in some good defensive principles that allowed us to take away what they’re good at.”

4.) While the Dutchmen won by a seemingly wide margin, they displayed resiliency in withstanding a handful of Tribe runs and in finishing them off over the final few minutes. Buie, who hit an off-balance putback of his own miss at the halftime buzzer to give the Dutchmen a 27-17 lead, drained 3-pointers the first two times the Tribe closed the gap to four points in the second half while Daquan Brown hit his only basket of the game the third time William & Mary pulled to within four.

The Dutchmen didn’t immediately respond the fourth and final time the Fighting Bill Lawrences got the gap down to four points. Matt Rum missed a 3-pointer for the Tribe, after which Mejia missed two free throws before redeeming himself with an impressive sequence in which he stole the ball, hit a fast break layup, recorded a block and a steal on William & Mary’s next trip and then had assists on the Dutchmen’s next two baskets as they extended the lead to 54-44. The Dutchmen lead never fell below seven the rest of the way as Mejia went 10-for-10 from the line over the final 2:50.

“Stevie’s doing a great job,” Cassara said. “He’s another guy I’m super-tough on, and you can see that, whether it’s in practice or off the court or in games. He’s played a lot of different roles and I thought he did a good job playing a different role [Saturday] and made some big free throws for us.”

5.) With the Dutchmen possessing such a thin roster—and such a thin margin for error—Cassara has narrowed the coach’s cliché from one game at a time to one possession at a time. But even he knew, with trips to Northeastern and George Mason on the docket this week that the Dutchmen had to find a way to get out of the first week with a 2-1 league mark.

To be 1-2 or 0-3 after the first week would have the Dutchmen staring at the likelihood of a 1-4 or 0-5 start, which is an almost impossible hole to climb out of even in a historically awful year for the CAA. But to be 2-3 with two home games coming up against Drexel and UNC Wilmington? Not a bad worst-case scenario to be in. For once.

“My thing was we’ve got to try to go 2-1 this week, because next week, with our best team, we might not win those two games,” Cassara said. “I mean, you’re talking about two of the best teams in the league, two of the best coaches in the league, two of the toughest places to play in the league. We can play great and not win either one of those games. So it was really important that we take care of [the] home court and try to get a couple home wins.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. William & Mary, 1/12)
3: Taran Buie
2: Stevie Mejia
1: David Imes

23: Taran Buie
21: Stevie Mejia
10: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: Jordan Allen
4: David Imes
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

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Delaware 69, Hofstra 54 (Or: I’m looking out over that Delaware Memorial Bridge, not seein’ that 2-0 CAA start)

In their CAA opener, the Flying Dutchmen saw what can happen when Stevie Mejia and Taran Buie are playing well. Two nights later in Delaware, the Dutchmen saw what happens when they don’t as Mejia and Buie combined for just 11 points—on 3-of-18 shooting from the field—as the Dutchmen fell to Delaware, 69-54, in New-ARK. And since it’s almost a week later, away we go with the recap!

1.) The final margin of defeat looks pretty convincing, but the Dutchmen would have been in the game into the final minutes—at worst—if they could have gotten the type of production out of their guards that the Blue Hens got out of theirs. Devon Saddler, Jarvis Threatt and Kyle Anderson combined for 53 points on 20-of-35 shooting for Delaware. Mejia’s night was not a complete loss: He played a team-high 36 minutes, scored nine points (second to Daquan Brown—more on him shortly) on 2-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 shooting from the line and had a passable if unspectacular assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:3. But…

2.) …Buie scored just two points and shot a Tony Dennison-esque 1-of-11 from the field. More alarmingly, he played just 19 minutes and sat the last 15:21. It’s tough for a starter—especially a guard—to earn that much pine time on such a thin team. In fact, the 19 minutes tied a season-low for Buie, who also played 19 minutes against Marshall back when, you know, the Dutchmen had a full roster and all that. Buie arrived here with plenty of hype, so it’s easy to forget that he went almost two years between Division I games and is basically re-starting his career. Still, the Dutchmen need his on-court maturation to speed up, and fast.

3.) The struggles of Buie and Mejia stood out because the rest of the Dutchmen combined to shoot a perfectly fine 50 percent (17-of-34)—and that includes a 2-of-8 night for David Imes. Forwards Imes, Daquan Brown, Jordan Allen, Stephen Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone combined for 43 points and 28 rebounds, a collective effort which could win the Dutchmen a lot of games in a watered-down CAA that has few imposing frontcourts. Speaking of which: The Dutchmen shut down one of the league’s better low post combos in Jamelle Hagins and Josh Brinkley, but they were limited to eight points and 12 rebounds. Hagins entered the night averaging a remarkably prolific 13.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game but finished with no points and six rebounds.

4.) Nwaukoni had seven points and led the way on the boards again with 11 rebounds—the ninth time in the last 10 games he’s played that he’s pulled down at least seven rebounds. Kone had seven points and five rebounds in 17 minutes. It was the second time in three games he had at least seven points (following a seven-game stretch in which he didn’t score more than six points in any contest) and the five boards were his most since Dec. 1 against SMU. And Imes had eight points and eight rebounds, which marked only the fourth time this year he’s scored as many as eight points and the second time he’s recorded as many as eight rebounds.

5.) Brown’s performance was as encouraging as it was unexpected. He entered the Delaware game with just six points in his first three games, a stretch in which he played only 25 minutes. But Brown scored 10 points in the first half alone and finished with a team-high 13 overall. He looked infinitely better than he did in his Hofstra debut more than two weeks earlier, when it looked as if he hadn’t seen a court in a year-and-a-half. Which, of course, he hadn’t. There have been some rusty appearances since then, but Brown’s outing against Delaware provided some hope he could eventually form a pretty stout frontcourt trio along with Nwaukoni and Kone.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Delaware, 1/9)
3: Daquan Brown
2: Stephen Nwaukoni
1: David Imes

20: Taran Buie
19: Stevie Mejia
10: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: Jordan Allen
4: Moussa Kone
3: Daquan Brown
3: David Imes
2: Matt Grogan

***21 points vacated

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hofstra 52, Georgia State 50 (Or: Venting weeks of frustration)

Like most of the 1,169 fans in attendance, Stevie Mejia and Mo Cassara feared the final page of the script Monday night would be a terribly familiar one.

The Flying Dutchmen had led for the last 25-plus minutes and outplayed Georgia State most of the evening, but the Panthers had the ball with six seconds to play and a last shot to hit the game-winning buzzer-beater that would hand the Flying Dutchmen a loss gut-wrenching even by 2012-13 standards.

Except somehow, the twist ending benefited the Dutchmen. Devonta White got a good look at a 3-pointer with a second left, but the ball bounced off the rim and into Jordan Allen’s hands as Hofstra MOVED INTO FIRST PLACE IN THE CAA with a 52-50 win.

“When he was coming up I was like ‘I hope he doesn’t hit this,’” Mejia said. “I knew he was going to shoot it. It looked good, though.”

“Yeah it did,” Cassara said.

“You’ve gotta have luck sometimes to be good,” Mejia said.

For once, the Dutchmen’s luck was something other than rotten as they ended an eight-game losing streak that stretched back 50 days and started before the program was decimated by—well, you know. For once, it was someone else wondering what might have been if an awful shooting night was just a smidge less awful, someone else wondering what might have been if they just could have gotten the lead one time in the second half.

For once, it was the Dutchmen who made the big plays—none bigger than Mejia’s teardrop jumper with six seconds left that broke a tie and provided the final score—and left the arena with smiles on their faces.

“Losing, it’s definitely not fun, it makes us go a lot harder in practice, it puts a lot of tension around [them] to win games,” Taran Buie said. “So after a big win like this, it just kind of takes that burden off your shoulders, gives you relief, lets us know it’s possible. It’s like missing a bunch of shot sand just seeing one go in.”

1.) There were 35 teams in Division I that entered the heart of their conference schedules with at least 10 non-league losses, and every single one of them probably felt they needed to start January with a win more than anyone else in the nation. But the Dutchmen certainly looked like the most relieved of the country’s 347 D-I programs in the moments after White’s shot missed the mark.

Coaches and players walked off the court with giant smiles on their faces. Cassara draped his right arm around Buie, but as they headed towards the locker room, it seemed as if a completely drained Cassara was leaning in to, and being held up by, Buie.

“I almost don’t remember what it felt like [to win],” Cassara said. “It’s been a while. I just knew we were right there. I think of Florida Atlantic and Wright State and Wagner and LIU—games that we were right there and just didn’t execute down the stretch.

“Tonight we made a couple big shots, thought we got some great [efforts] from different guys, we handled their pressure and Stevie made a really big shot at the end of the game.”

2.) Mejia’s game-winner wasn’t the only big shot he hit. Mejia, who led all players with 17 points and four assists and tied for the game lead with two steals, drained a 3-pointers to give the Dutchmen their first lead in the first half and then sank a jumper to put the Dutchmen up 20-19 with 5:48 left. The Dutchmen never trailed again after that. He also hit his career-high third 3-pointer to give the Dutchmen their biggest lead of the game at 37-25 with 15:41 left and broke the second half’s first tie with a jumper with 3:11 to go.

Mejia finished 7-of-12 from the field as the Dutchmen improved to 6-3 over the last two seasons in games in which he shoots at least 50 percent (minimum five shots). The Dutchmen are 6-25 in the other 31 games in which Mejia has played.

“He’s our captain and he’s the fuel that makes the engine go,” Cassara said of Mejia. “I talk to him about it all the time: When he’s good and he’s energetic and he’s playing well, we’re going to play well.”

3.) The same goes for Buie, who didn’t exactly break out of his shooting slump in a 4-of-12 performance. But all four of his baskets were big ones. He ended an 8-0 run by Georgia State, and began a half-ending 19-4 run for the Dutchmen, with a jumper with 10:50 left. His 3-pointer with 2:39 gave the Dutchmen expanded the lead to eight.

In the second half, two Buie free throws ended another 8-0 run by Georgia State that cut the Dutchmen lead to four points. With 9:04 left, Buie drained a jumper to push the lead back to three, and a little less than two minutes later, he hit a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to four. The 3-pointer came from the right corner one trip after he fired up an air ball form the left corner.

“Taran shoots an air ball in one corner but then has the guts to come back and shoot it again in the other corner,” Cassara said. “That’s probably, between that shot and Stevie’s shot, why we win the game. Taran doesn’t make that shot in the corner, Stevie doesn’t make that shot in the end, I’ve got a long face right now.”

4.) The Dutchmen came up with their best defensive performance of the season, by far, and needed every bit of it.

“Our defense was great, we threw a lot of different looks at them,” Cassara said.

After falling behind 17-10, the Dutchmen held Georgia State scoreless from the field for 10 possessions and a span of more than nine minutes. Overall, Georgia State shot just 36 percent from the field, the second-lowest figure by a Dutchmen opponent this year, and 10 percent (2-of-20) from 3-point land, which was the worst performance by an opponent since George Mason was 1-of-11 on Feb. 26, 2005. (Aww, too bad). The perimeter defense was especially impressive considering the last four teams the Dutchmen faced shot a blistering 37.6 percent (32-of-85) from beyond the arc.

“You’ve got to win league games at home,” Cassara said. “They had to fly up here, they probably had a little [bit of] heavy legs. We had to win this game, and we did.”

5.) And in doing so, the Dutchmen showed the type of resiliency and balance that should benefit them going forward. The Dutchmen opened the game by failing to score on their first five possessions as they fell behind 6-0. In the second half, they surrendered Georgia State’s 8-0 run right after David Imes banged knees with Buie and crumpled to the ground in agony.

But Imes (three points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) was back within minutes and played a huge role in breaking the Panthers’ press by fielding passes around the Dutchmen foul line and distributing the ball up court. Jordan Allen (eight points, three rebounds and three assists) and Stephen Nwaukoni (seven points, eight rebounds) chipped in just enough to lessen the load on Mejia and Buie.

“Obviously it’s been a long few weeks since we sat in here after a win,” Cassara said. “And we’ve had a lot of opportunities to win games and they’ve slipped away. But this group of guys has been resilient, we’ve had great practices, we’ve had great energy, we’ve had great efforts and tonight we hung in there and got a couple bounces that went our way.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Georgia State, 1/7)
3: Stevie Mejia
2: Taran Buie
1: Jordan Allen

20: Taran Buie
19: Stevie Mejia
8: Stephen Nwaukoni
7: Jordan Allen
4: Moussa Kone
2: Matt Grogan
2: David Imes

***21 points vacated

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at 

Monday, January 7, 2013

In which I remember a long-ago Ron Hunter quote and give him a #CAAHoops farewell gift

Now I know how to spell meritorious!

I remember the strangest things. For instance, I can tell you right now where I’ve watched the Super Bowl every year since 1981 (at home from 1981-1990, then in 1991 I piled with a bunch of folks into my friend Randy’s bedroom as we watched Scott Norwood’s kick sail wide right, etc etc). But I will very likely forget to put the dishes away tonight, which will annoy my wife.

And so it is that I have remembered, for months, a quote that Ron Hunter, the ever-quotable Georgia State head coach, gave to Mike Litos for Mike’s annual summertime tour through #CAAHoops (this was before Mike moved on up to his unfairly awesome radio/writing gig with VCU, which plays in the Atlantic 10, which I think is a conference that exists only in Mike’s head).

“This is my farewell tour in the CAA,” Hunter said. “How many guys in any league coach one year and get a farewell tour? I want gifts every place I go. I’ll tell them—get me a gift or I’ll take it out on them on the floor.”

Me being me, I immediately decided I was going to get Hunter some sort of gag gift commemorating his success against Hofstra with Georgia State and IUPUI, which beat HU in the 2010 CBI and made me RGDPO’d.

Alas, me being me, I put it off, and put it off, and put it off, but in my defense, we had a baby in September so I’ve been even more scatterbrained than ever.

But I never forgot about the gag gift, even if I thought it might not be doable because the Flying Dutchmen were having such a rough season and I didn’t want the gift to be misconstrued as me piling on Mo Cassara & Co.

So at the end of my interview with Cassara Sunday night, I told him about the idea and explained it was all in good fun and not at all intended to denigrate Hofstra. He laughed and got a kick out of it, so I went ahead and picked up the plaque in which Defiantly Dutch honors Hunter for his “long and meritorious service vs. Hofstra” from 2010-2013.

And then I got in touch with Georgia State SID Mike Holmes to see if I could present it to Hunter before or after the game. Since this is #CAAHoops and we all have it better, they were both game for the gag and even agreed to do it afterward, even if that opened up the awkward possibility of giving Hunter an award after his team just lost to Hofstra. But c’mon. What were the odds of that?

Despite Georgia State’s narrow, last-second loss—DID I MENTION THAT HOFSTRA WON AND IS TIED FOR FIRST PLACE IN THE CAA—Hunter was a great sport during the “awards ceremony,” which was captured by Holmes. Hunter seemed quite amused that someone remembered his throwaway quote. Or maybe amused is a synonym for frightened, I don’t know.

Thanks to Hunter and Cassara for being great sports, to Holmes for helping to facilitate our meeting and to Litos for getting that money quote of all money quotes.

Of course, my knack for remembering weird stuff is about to get very expensive. Because now that Hofstra finally has a win—AND IS TIED FOR FIRST PLACE IN THE CAA, IN CASE YOU MISSED ME MENTIONING THAT ON TWITTER A THOUSAND TIMES TONIGHT—I have to go and get plaques for every CAA coach, whether his school is staying in the league or not. Hey Monte Ross, your gift is in the mail, and I hope you like pirated copies of Scrubs DVDs, Tony Shaver.

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This is as good as it gets (Probably)

The Flying Dutchmen are the last team to begin play in #CAAHoops this season, but the seemingly inevitable descent to the bottom of the standings began in the days before tonight’s opener against Georgia State at the Arena.

As of last Tuesday, the Dutchmen were in a nine-way tie for second at 0-0. Then James Madison, Towson and Drexel all won their CAA openers on Wednesday, which “vaulted” them into a four-way tie for first place and dropped UNC Wilmington and Georgia State into a tie for last place with Old Dominion, which fell to James Madison.

This left Hofstra in a four-way tie for fourth place, through no fault of its own. At least until Thursday, when Northeastern beat George Mason, at which point the Dutchmen fell into a fifth-place tie with Delaware. Which had the audacity to go and beat Old Dominion on Saturday, the same day Towson and Northeastern created a three-way tie for first by beating Drexel and UNC Wilmington while Georgia State, George Mason, James Madison and William & Mary all settled into a tie for fourth place at 1-1.

So without even playing a game. Hofstra has fallen six spots in the standings. This seems to be a somewhat appropriate summation of the season: The Dutchmen, losers of eight straight, can lose without even playing!

Of course, the flip side is the Dutchmen can be tied for first place with a win tonight. And usually, I’d be bursting with optimism over such possibilities. Hell, I actually convinced myself 52 weeks ago tonight that the Dutchmen were going to beat VCU in the January opener. I think I envisioned Shemiye McLendon draining a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Well, McLendon is now a walk-on redshirting at South Florida and VCU is in the Atlantic 10 (and ranked no. 25 in the coaches’ poll today), so you can see where that optimism got me.

I’d like to say my pessimism is a diabolical plot to change the Dutchmen’s rotten luck via the time-tested and infallible reverse hex method. But no, as much as I hate to admit it, the pessimism is legitimate. The slate is clean tonight, and the philosophy should be a Homer Simpson-ian “It’s just a little losing streak, it’s still good it’s still good,” but after four arrests decimated a program that has now suffered eight straight losses stretching over three federal holidays and 34 bowl games (but not the Bluebonnet, may it rest in peace), I can’t come up with any reason to convince myself that tonight isn’t anything other than the beginning of the season’s second long, meandering stroll to nowhere.

Sure, the depleted Dutchmen can only benefit from being the last team to open conference play. But they’re tipping off the CAA season against Georgia State, which handed Hofstra its worst conference loss ever in the Dutchmen’s most recent CAA game a mere 10 months and five days ago.

And while the Panthers are a far different team than the one that laid waste to the Dutchmen in Richmond—they have four new starters—they still play a swarming zone defense that torments undermanned teams and they are still coached by Ron Hunter, who absolutely owns Hofstra regardless of whose opposing sideline he strolls.

Hunter-coached teams have played 80 minutes at Hofstra, dating back to IUPUI’s CBI appearance at the Arena in 2010, and have trailed for exactly zero seconds. His teams have opened up first half leads of at least 19 points all three times they have faced the Dutchmen and they’ve outscored Hofstra 218-153 in the three games. So, you know…yeah.

After tonight, the Dutchmen head to Delaware for a game Wednesday night. Given the short travel distance, Delaware is a perfect destination for a first conference roadie, especially on short rest. But Newark was the site where it all began to go wrong on the last season’s first roadie, when the Dutchmen trailed wire-to-wire and squandered two chances to take the lead or tie the game in the final seconds of a 67-66 loss. And the Blue Hens have double-double machine Jamelle Hagins and are one of the handful of league favorites this year. So, you know…yeah.

The Dutchmen complete the week by hosting William & Mary, which almost annually occupies a spot in the bottom half of the CAA standings. But the Fighting Bill Lawrences are also among the handful of league favorites this year and almost annually torment the Dutchmen, who needed Charles Jenkins’ magic acts to sweep the regular season series in 2010-11 before losing at Williamsburg last year, 75-71. So, you know…yeah.

Then after that the Dutchmen head on a two-game road trip to Northeastern and George Mason, two places at which it’s very tough to win for entirely different reasons. You can see where I’m going here: It’s not tough to envision a scenario in which I am once again crunching the numbers about teams that opened CAA play 0-5.

None of the other statistical measurements, historical trends or “eye tests” bode well for the Dutchmen, either. Hofstra’s RPI is well into the 300s, an area the program hasn’t seen since I first discovered Hempstead. The Dutchmen rank last in the CAA in field goal percentage and free throw percentage. They are also tied for last in defensive points per possession while ranking ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio and tied for eighth in defensive field goal percentage.

Since the CAA expanded in 2001-02, only two other teams have ever entered January with at least 10 non-conference losses, and last year’s William & Mary and Towson squads didn’t exactly catch fire once the calendar flipped to the new year.

The Dutchmen are bereft of confidence, having lost eight straight games in just about every fashion imaginable. One win can change everything, of course. But each subsequent loss just makes it that much tougher to get that elusive victory.

I hate being a negative Nelly, I really do. My imaginary paycheck here pretend pays me to come up with reasons to believe. Plus, I feel terrible being pessimistic about a group of players and coaches who are working so hard to try and turn this around.

I want to conjure scenarios in which the Dutchmen take advantage of a historically weakened CAA, pull off a few upsets and end up in the middle of the pack with a flickering chance at channeling the 1994 squad by winning the conference tournament with three victories in as many days in March.

I want to imagine David Imes and Matt Grogan emerging as the outside shooters the Dutchmen have lacked. I want to imagine Daquan Brown playing like a high Division I talent and teaming up with Stephen Nwaukoni and Moussa Kone to form a very solid inside trio. I want to imagine Taran Buie becoming the next Dutchmen superstar and Stevie Mejia continuing to handle the point as adroitly as he has the last handful of games

I want to—hey you know what, this has me feeling better. So with the opening tap less than three hours away, let’s just say that being in eighth place before the season starts is as good as it gets this season. You know, unless it isn’t.

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