Friday, November 18, 2016

Sacred Heart 90, Hofstra 86 (Or: I saw HU, I know HU, I knew HU)

Bet you didn't expect this did you?

One way of looking at the Flying Dutchmen’s 90-86 come-from-ahead loss to Sacred Heart on Tuesday night — the Dutchmen blew a nine-point lead in the final 4:05 against the Pioneers — is that they got their double you tee eff non-conference defeat out of the way early this season.

This marks the fifth straight season in which the Dutchmen have thrust defeat into the jaws of victory in grueling fashion before the calendar flipped to the CAA schedule. The first two of those losses — an 88-84 loss to Long Island University on Dec. 8, 2012 in which the Dutchmen blew a 16-point second half lead and a 74-63 overtime loss to Richmond on Nov. 19, 2013 in which the Spiders didn’t lead in the first 40 minutes — were somewhat understandable, given the former team was decimated by the dismissals of which we try not to speak and the latter team was being wholly turned over in Joe Mihalich’s first season.

But the three most recent defeats are the ones that look to be trend-setters. You remember the Dutchmen squandering a pair of potential statement wins on Nov 25, 2014, when they blew an 11-point lead in the final 3:59 in falling to South Florida 71-70, and Nov. 23, 2015, when they led Indiana State by seven with 1:50 remaining but were cut down by the Sycamores, 67-66.

This would not have been a statement win—not against Sacred Heart, which was picked eighth in the Northeast Conference and lost its opener to Fairfield 85-63 — which makes giving up 16 points on the Pioneers’ final nine possessions even more worrisome.

“We didn’t guard anybody — we just didn’t guard anybody, we didn’t dig down,” Joe Mihalich said in a video posted on Hofstra’s site.“I don’t know if we thought the game was over. Certainly it wasn’t. But shame on us for not finishing it off.”

Alas, late-game stumbles have become the norm over the last two-plus years. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Dutchmen have been outscored by 16 points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. The overall point differential in that span: Plus-250.

The Dutchmen have lost six games in the last two seasons in which they led by at least six points in the final five minutes, and came back from late blown leads to edge Northeastern, Towson and Elon last season.
It’s going to happen with the run-and-shoot style Mihalich-coached teams play, and to be fair, there will be games the Dutchmen win in the fashion they lost Tuesday. The Dutchmen, of course, scored the final eight points in the stunning 70-69 win over UNC Wilmington on Feb. 25 that ended up earning them a share of the CAA regular season title as well as the technical no. 1 seed in the conference tournament (which meant not settling for the CBI, woot woot).

The Dutchmen also came back from a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes to beat Stony Brook on Nov. 21, 2014 and used late burying runs to pull away from UNCW and Charleston later in the season. Last year, they trailed George Washington by nine with 2:38 to play and went on a 9-0 run prior to the Colonials’ buzzer-beating jumper in the first round of the NIT (still so painful).

So there will be some unexpected exhilarating wins. But they may be outnumbered by the corresponding losses if the Dutchmen don’t solve what ailed them on Tuesday, when they managed to lose despite shooting 61 percent from 3-point land and 51 percent overall and having a pair of 20-point scorers (freshman Eli Pemberton scored 23 points and drained all five shots from 3-point land while Brian Bernardi added 22 points). 

In addition, despite the presence of Rokas Gustys (nine points, 13 rebounds), Sacred Heart chucked up 10 more shots than the Dutchmen and shot a whopping 57 percent inside the arc. The Pioneers had three times as many defensive rebounds (24) as the Dutchmen had offensive rebounds (I was told there’d be no math).

Mihalich figured the Dutchmen had built some momentum and identity by grinding out a 74-72 win over Coppin State last Friday, but that progress and persona was nowhere to be found Tuesday. Now it’s back to square one tonight against Manhattan.

“I don’t think our guys are valuing practice the way they need to,” Mihalich said. “We’ve got to change that.”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (Sacred Heart, 11/15)
3: Eli Pemberton
2: Brian Bernardi
1: Rokas Gustys

Eli Pemberton 6
Rokas Gustys 3
Brian Bernardi 2
Deron Powers 1

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