Thursday, January 5, 2017

William & Mary 95, Hofstra 93 (Or: It’s raining again)

As it turned out, the first thing I thought during another Flying Dutchmen-William & Mary instant classic Monday afternoon foretold the last thing we’d see in a 95-93 loss that ended with the The Lone Horseman arriving on the horizon and descending us into the type of darkness with which we have become familiar. 

I kept thinking of March 8, 2015 throughout a first half in which the Dutchmen and Tribe kept trading haymakers in an absurdly entertaining defense-optional display of high-octane basketball. And if you are going to think of March 8, 2015, of course you are going to think of Daniel Dixon, and Daniel Dixon draining a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to send the Dutchmen (and the Beaches) home, and send the Tribe to the CAA championship game.

I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when the Dutchmen took a nine-point lead, which happened to match their biggest lead back on March 8, 2015. I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when the Dutchmen committed a series of little mistakes that cost them valuable points: A Brian Bernardi turnover off a hasty 3-point attempt by Omar Prewitt in the waning seconds of the first half, the subsequent off-ball foul by Eli Pemberton that yielded two free throws by Prewitt that cut the Dutchmen’s halftime lead to six, the 5-on-3 for the Dutchmen had late in the second half that somehow ended with a breakaway dunk by the Tribe.

I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when that nine-point lead completely disappeared and the Dutchmen and Tribe began trading the lead like it was a Jose Canseco rookie card. There were nine ties and 18 lead changes after halftime on Monday. 

I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when William & Mary had the ball with the score tied and the shot clock off in the final seconds of regulation. I didn’t think history could possibly be so mean as to repeat itself, and I was right.

I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when the otherwise-spectacular Justin Wright-Foreman missed two free throws with a chance to extend a one-point lead to three in the final minute of overtime. And of course I thought of Daniel Dixon, and March 8, 2015, when the Tribe called timeout with 1.2 seconds left still down by one.

All I could think of was Daniel Dixon and March 8, 2015, but even an overly superstitious, overly pessimistic person like me couldn’t possibly think history would fail to repeat itself but then repeat itself anyway, right?

Because I am all about being #FairAndBalanced, here’s how the shot of the year — a 30-foot catch-and-shoot with Bernardi’s hand in his face — looked from the other side:

As far as history repeating itself goes, this one is the real life sporting version of the helicopter falling twice on that dude from ER. We shouldn’t have been too surprised, though. These are the Flying Dutchmen, for whom misery is a dish served piping hot over and over again, and for whom little things always add up to something big.

This was a prompt reboot of March 8, 2015 beyond “just” Dixon draining the dagger. Wright-Foreman (30 points, 14 fewer than he scored ALL OF LAST SEASON) essayed the role of Dion Nesmith, who racked up 21 points and five assists while committing just one turnover in that CAA semifinal but missed his lone free throw attempt with a chance to put the Dutchmen up three in the final half-minute of regulation.

Going back even further, this was the modern version of George Mason ending the Dutchmen’s NCAA dreams in the quarterfinals of the 2007 CAA tournament. It was the modern version of George Mason’s 85-78 double overtime win the following January, when leading scorer Antoine Agudio missed a free throw with a chance to extend the lead to four points in the final 20 seconds of the first overtime.

It was another reminder of life in the Joe Mihalich Era, in which the tradeoff for the type of offense we begged to see under Tom Pecora is the type of defense we saw under Tom Pecora. It’s not a complaint — the Dutchmen lost 50 points per game from last season but Mihalich added 55 points, for crying out loud — but there’s a reason the 58-56 win over Delaware on Saturday was noteworthy enough for me to sift through 19 seasons worth of Hofstra and Niagara results.

Not all the echoes of the past were haunting Monday. Dixon’s latest dagger confirmed William & Mary is the rival we have been searching for since joining the CAA. That George Mason thing? It was a one-way street. To them, we were barely a sore-groined footnote during the Final Four run. We were barely gum on the bottom of their shoes, and we wouldn’t even be that if not for me screeching like a banshee on Twitter and on this blog for the first three years of its existence. You’re welcome.

But William & Mary? We’ve been trading haymakers with the Tribe for nearly a decade now. Remember Charles Jenkins’ buzzer beaters in 2011? (Hey Rob and Teej, here you go) Good times. The Tribe handed the Dutchmen a 21-point beating in January 2015. The Dutchmen handed the Tribe a 28-point beating in January 2016.

And the heartbreak of 2015 was avenged with a 70-67 win over the Tribe in the semifinals last year. Now if only the William & Mary fans could hate me, and forget how to spell when sending me mean Tweets and emails, we’d really be on to something. 

For now, we’ll have to be content with the programs loathing one another. Mihalich and Tony Shaver shook hands Monday, which means the frostiest handshake at Hofstra Arena this academic year wasn’t the one between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

The bad feelings between the teams — which were enhanced when Terry Tarpey committed a flagrant one on Rokas Gustys just 66 seconds into last year’s semifinal game — surely continued to percolate immediately after Dixon’s game-winner on Monday, which he punctuated by strutting in front of Mihalich, blowing on his pointer fingers and mimicking the act of putting guns back in his holsters.

Nobody in a Hofstra uniform, or drawing a Hofstra paycheck, liked that very much. I didn’t like it either, but I did love it. Dude did shit I didn’t even pretend doing while running up and down on the hard tar courts of Torrington back in the day. He earned a little strut.

As painful as it was to absorb this loss — and another lesson about the wildness of the CAA and how a team can be both three points away from 2-0 and three points away from 0-2 all at the same time — better to do so in the second game of the conference season and not the last step before a chance at earning an NCAA Tournament berth.

To see Wright-Foreman shooting free throws in a mostly empty Arena early Monday night was to know there will be chances at redemption, and rewriting the #NARRATIVE, tonight, when the Dutchmen host James Madison 

As sure as January 2, 2017 has joined March 8, 2015 in being embedded in our subconscious and upon our mantle of misery, there’s a chance to return the favor Feb. 23, 2017 in Williamsburg. I’d suggest watching. You never know what you might see again. 

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