Wednesday, December 7, 2016

St Bonaventure Rallies Late and Defeats Hofstra 81-75

Last night in Hempstead, St Bonaventure, down four points, 72-68 with 5:15 left, outscored Hofstra 13-3 the rest of the way to win the game 81-75.  The Bonnies' win broke a three game winning streak for the Pride, while the Bonnies won their fifth game in the row.  It also avenged a home loss last season to the Pride up in Oleana, New York.

We're going to do a new segment here breaking down games on the College Hardwood.   It's called "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

The Good - For St. Bonaventure, the dynamic duo of Jaylen Adams (31 points) and Matt Mobley (23 points) combined for fifty four points, twenty rebounds and shot seven of thirteen from beyond the arc.  This is a nightly occurrence for the two players, who both average over twenty points per game.  The Bonnies also out-rebounded the Pride 32-22.

For Hofstra, it was the return of Rokas Gustys' offensive game.  Gustys just missed a double double with twenty points and nine rebounds on nine of fourteen shooting from the field.  It was the most field goal attempts he had all season and only the third time this season where he had ten or more field goal attempts.   For someone who shot sixty six percent from the field last season and fifty one percent this season, that's just simply not enough field goal attempts for the big man.

Other than Gustys, freshman Eli Pemberton continues to impress, scoring fifteen points, his eighth double figure scoring game of the season.  Deron Powers had six assists and only two turnovers.  Also, Hofstra did a good job in the second half on defense, holding St Bonaventure to thirty three points and forcing sixteen turnovers the whole game.   However, see "The Ugly".

The Bad - For St Bonaventure, sixteen turnovers, compared to Hofstra only having eight, eliminated any advantage they had on the boards.  Consequently the Pride had seven more field goal attempts.  The Bonnies also had significant foul trouble last night with three players having four fouls, including their two starting front court players, Denzel Gregg and Josh Ayeni,  Fortunately, David Andoh gave St. Bonaventure good minutes off the bench, plus eleven points and five rebounds, along with the two starting guards Mobley and Adams combining for twenty boards.

For Hofstra, where to begin.  First, any time your assist-to-turnover ratio is 2-1 on the night, seventeen assists to eight turnovers, you should win the game.  Alas, the Pride went scoreless over the last five minutes and fifteen seconds of the game to negate that.

And it was easy to see why.  Shot selection. After Ty Greer's tip in made it 72-68 Hofstra with 5:15 left, the Pride were one of ten from the field to end the game.   Their next three shots were three point attempts, with Bernardi hitting one of them.  After that, it was either Deron Powers throwing up bad layup attempts (3 of 13 from the field) or the Pride taking three point attempts or outside jumpers.

After Rokas Gustys scored on a tip in with 6:44 left in the game, he touched the ball on offense only once the rest of the game, getting fouled on a put back attempt with less than a minute left in the game.  He missed both free throws, more on that later, but that's not the point.

This was eerily similar to the 2016 CAA Championship Game between Hofstra and UNCW.  In that game, with 12:30 left, Gustys made a layup to put Hofstra up 56-48.  It was his eighth field goal in only ten attempts at the time.  It was also his last field goal attempt of the second half and he didn't even get fouled and go to the foul line those last twelve and half minutes!  To me, that was the main reason why Hofstra lost in overtime to UNCW (Gustys would hit his only field goal attempt in overtime to finish with eighteen points in the championship game).

To be perfectly blunt, if you cannot get the ball to your leading scorer, a fifty percent plus field goal shooter, in the last six plus minutes of a close game, you deserve to lose.

The Ugly -  For the seventh time in ten games, Hofstra gave up eighty or more points.  It looked like it was going to be another ninety points plus allowed, as St. Bonaventure had forty eight at the half. Amazingly in these seven games, they are 3-4.  But given their record, that also means they are undefeated, 3-0, when they give up less than eighty points.  Simply put, you cannot win consistently night in and night out when seventy percent of the time you are giving up eighty plus points per game.

As aforementioned, I've been saying how Hofstra must get the ball in the hands of Gustys more.  Consequently, he needs to shoot MUCH better from the free throw line.   He has been simply awful, shooting eighteen percent from the charity stripe this season compared to forty three percent last season.  Gustys needs to get to at least shooting fifty percent from the line, otherwise he won't get the ball more down the stretch. 

St Bonaventure will give #CAAHoops folks a chance to compare the two teams from the 2016 CAA championship game, as they next host UNCW on Saturday.  As for Hofstra, they get Kentucky in the Barclays Center on Sunday.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gamecocks, Tiger Burns and Black Bears Oh My (Recap of South Carolina vs Maine Women's Basketball Game)

Last night, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, and I took in our first University of South Carolina Women's Basketball game of the season.  Weeknight games usually consist of my wife dropping off Matthew where I work, USC School of Law (by the way, in South Carolina, as Ian McCormick would tell you, the University of South Carolina is USC, not Southern Cal).   We then have a quick dinner at the Wendy's across the street, then we walk down Greene Street to Colonial Life Arena (CLA to us USC folks).

Yesterday evening, we took a detour.   It's Clemson Week, as the Gamecocks will play their annual football game against the Tigers on Saturday in Death Valley.  So Monday of Clemson Week means "The Tiger Burn", where students gather together for the annual event at the intramural field near CLA, which consists of music, festivities and where a giant, thirty foot constructed Tiger is set fire and burned to the ground by fireworks (which is then put out by the Columbia Fire Department).

I first saw the Tiger Burn four years ago with my good friend Tieff (if you don't know who Tieff is, then you are not a regular to this blog.  But peruse some back articles and you'll learn quickly).  We watched it from the Thirsty Fellow, an establishment conveniently located across from the intramural field.  There's nothing quite like having a good beer and watching a very large bonfire. 

Matt and I stayed around for a few minutes.  Then we realized it would be several more minutes before the Tiger got lit more than Notre Dame's defense did in the second half vs. Virginia Tech on Saturday college football action.  So we made our way to our seats at CLA to watch USC take on Maine.

But when we got there, there was another game in progress; the third quarter of Saint Peters vs. Hampton.  USC was actually hosting three other teams in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge and they would all play each other over a three day span starting on Sunday.  On Sunday, USC had already defeated Hampton 92-38, while Maine downed Saint Peters' 59-43.   The last day's slate of games on Tuesday will be Hampton vs. Maine and St. Peter's vs. USC.

As for this game, well the Peacocks were certainly not the Gamecocks.  And that was just fine with the Lady Pirates. Their first four opponents on the season had been Northwestern, Iowa, NC State and South Carolina, all losses, with the lowest margin of loss being nineteen to the Wildcats.  So a non Power-5 Conference St Peter's team was a welcome change and Hampton took full advantage.  The Lady Pirates ran rings around a slower MAAC team that had won only four games all last season.   Hampton downed St Peter's handily 71-42.

Then we got to the main event.   South Carolina had struggled from the field early against Hampton. They only led 21-15 after the first quarter, before ramping up their game, outscoring Hampton by forty eight points the rest of the way.   There was no such issue against from the outset vs.  Maine.  A'ja Wilson hit the first three baskets for the Gamecocks.  Then after Kaela Davis made one of two free throws, Alaina Coates made two baskets.   South Carolina made seven of their first nine field goal attempts.

Meanwhile, the Black Bears shooting was as cold as typical winter day in Orono, Maine.    They missed their first eight shots.  And when they weren't missing their shots, they turned the ball over five times in the first five plus minutes of the first quarter.  South Carolina's height was just too much on both ends and thus the score was 15-0 Gamecocks with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

Maine finally got a basket and actually outscored South Carolina 5-4 over the last four minutes of the first half.  The Black Bears went to a 2-3 zone to force USC to shoot from the outside.   Maine actually got within twelve a few times in the second quarter, the latest being 22-10 with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the second quarter.  From there, USC would outscore 21-9 the rest of the quarter.

USC went up by thirty eight late in the third quarter, 60-22.  Then coach Dawn Staley brought in her freshmen to play most of the fourth quarter.   The final was 79-42 USC.   With transfers Davis and Allisha Gray, with Wilson, Coates, returning point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore and talented freshman reserve Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, the Gamecocks have plenty of balanced scoring. as the six players mentioned scored between seven and fourteen points, with five of them in double figures (Cuevas-Moore had seven points).

Today is the last day of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.   Maine and Hampton get to see in the first game which team will finish with two wins in the tournament.  Meanwhile, St Peter's looks to have another tough day in store as they play South Carolina.

At least for the Peacocks, they won't be burned to the ground like a 30 foot tiger effigy was last night.  There will be a tomorrow for St Peter's. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Back to Where It All Begins

Ten years and two days ago, my dear friend Tony Terentieff, known on this blog as Tieff, was driving another dear friend Mal Galletta, now head coach of the St John's University golf team, and I home from Richmond, Virginia.   We had just seen Hofstra rally from a halftime deficit to convincingly defeat George Mason in the 2006 CAA Semifinals.   The Pride had won their previous game in the quarterfinals against VCU basically on the Rams home court of the Richmond Coliseum.

Charles Jenkins FT - Feb 15, 2011
We were riding home, convinced that we had seen Hofstra, the alma mater of Tieff and I, at least get in the NCAA tournament as an at large.  They had a terrific RPI, a 14-4 conference record and swept the Patriots, another team in contention for an at large bid and once nationally ranked in the polls.   We couldn't stay for the CAA Tournament championship due to Tieff having an important meeting that Monday.

For those of you who follow college basketball religiously like I do, you know what happened.   Despite a heroic comeback by Hofstra after being down 23 points to come within 3 points late,  UNC Wilmington held on for the 78-67 victory and the CAA championship.   Hofstra was forced to wait to watch their fate on Selection Sunday.  And we all know what happened...

George Mason got an at large bid and ended up going to the Final Four.   Hofstra got snubbed and went to the NIT, winning two games there before losing to fellow CAA conference rival ODU in the NIT Quarterfinals.

That 2005-06 season was also the College Hardwood blog's first season of covering college basketball.  The site had a different name back then and it's evolved over the years.  Amazing that it is ten plus years later.  It was a terrific first season, albeit it had a bittersweet ending as far as being a Hofstra fan.

Matt with Hofstra Pride Club T-Shirt
The next season, 2006-07 was supposed to be OUR season.  The Pride were favored to win the CAA with Lethal Weapon 3, the superstar guard trio of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera leading the way to the championship.  

It never materialized as Tom Pecora never recruited a frontcourt to replace Adrian Uter and Aurimas Kieza, two key players on that 2005-06 team.   The season basically ended again on the Richmond Coliseum court, being unceremoniously knocked off by, who else, George Mason, in the CAA Quarterfinals 64-61, basically three weeks after knocking off the Patriots on their home court.

We were there again for that tournament and sat near the Hofstra basket for that quarterfinal game.  We watched Hofstra roar back from a fifteen point halftime deficit to cut the lead to three and had a chance to tie, only to see Greg Johnson vaper lock and try to drive in for a layup.  Somehow George Mason vaperlocked too and two Patriots' players went after Johnson.  We waited for the kickout to an open Hofstra player on the wing.  It never happened as Johnson actually TRIED hitting a layup and missed.

BracketBuster Game vs. Wright State - Feb 2011
Unlike the year before, where we had an ecstatic ride home, we drove home stunned, knowing there was again only the NIT bid.  For two Hofstra graduates, two long time Dutchmen basketball season ticket holders, it was the ultimate punch in the gut.  For me, 2007 actually hurt more than 2006.  Unlike 2006, where Hofstra seemingly had a chance to make the Tournament, but never truly was the favorite during the season, in 2007 Hofstra was the team favored to win the CAA.   2007 was supposed to be OUR time.

It turns out it would be another ten years before it was truly a chance to be our time again.

The man, the myth, the ultimate Hofstra fan, Defiantly Dutch,  poignantly wrote early this morning this paragraph on his terrific blog post "Tonight is What It Means To Be Young".
If we’re being honest, the only time in life it’s probably acceptable to invest any sort of self-identity in a college sports team is those four or five or six years we’re actually in college. Those are the years where the players are our peers, in which we attend class with them, eat lunch next to them in the cafeteria and throw back beers with them at the bars near campus.
And Dutch nailed that for the most part.   Unless you're someone who ended up working at his alma mater right after graduation for nearly a quarter of a century.  Someone like me.

Hofstra Winning at Drexel - January 2011
When I graduated with a computer science degree back in May 1988, I didn't plan that I would end up working at Hofstra for such a long time.   It just worked out that way.  An opening for a systems manager position at Axinn Library, where I had been a student assistant, led to my first full time job.  Nearly five years later, a director of IT position at the now Maurice A. Deane School of Law would continue my long standing relationship with Hempstead, New York.   I would later become an Assistant Dean there, proof positive that anyone can become an Assistant Dean.

For twenty eight straight years, four as an undergraduate student, twenty four as an administrator, Hofstra was my home.  I met my wife of nearly twenty years, Michelle, my first day at the School of Law.  Just about all my friends are directly or indirectly through Hofstra.

Along the way, I became a passionate supporter of Hofstra Men's basketball.  I was there in 2001 when the Dutchmen cut the nets for their second straight automatic NCAA Tournament bid in the America East, their last season in the conference.   And for the past 15 years, I have been a Hofstra season ticket holder, even after I moved down to South Carolina (more on that in a second).

Defiantly Dutch w "Hostra" Ticket
I've seen my share of lows and highs with the Dutchmen/Pride.   I've had so much fun on so many different road trips, trips for Delaware barbecue (Delaware played "Hostra" that day), a Bracketbuster trip to Wright State,  You always celebrated a win with a DQ blizzard!

And there were so many crazy games.  There was the 2010 blizzard game against Drexel where there were more 3.0 scholar athletes in attendance than the rest of the fans. And finally, one of the best birthday presents I ever got, an overtime win on my birthday, courtesy of The Wolf, Charles Jenkins.  That game was the beginning of my older son Matthew's love of basketball.

There were so many #CAAHoops Tournament road trips to Richmond, nine in total.  In fact, there was one  #CAAHoops road trip which I did with that crazy Defiantly Dutch fellow, the only one that I ever covered from press row (experience of a lifetime).  

Hofstra vs. ODU - 2011 CAA Semifinals
But you can't be a Hofstra fan without your share of heartache.  And there was so much heartache in the CAA tournaments.  As mentioned, 2006 and 2007 come to mind.  There's also 2010 with Hofstra blowing a late lead and losing to Northeastern in the quarterfinals.  Oh yeah, the last second loss in 2009 to ODU in the CAA Quarterfinals, the only CAA tournament I didn't go to in the span of ten years, due to my younger son's surgery.   And 2011 was tough too, because it was the last tournament with The Wolf.

March 2012 was the last time that I was in attendance for a CAAHoops Tournament.   During the summer of 2012, I accepted my current position as Assistant Dean for Academic Technology for the University of South Carolina School of Law.   I moved down to Columbia, South Carolina in August 2012.

Matthew pitching Sunday in USSSA Travel Ball Tourney
Since then, my life has changed radically, albeit for the better.  Since he was two years old, Matthew has loved baseball and thank goodness for him, he has a lot more talent than his equally baseball loving father ever had.   I've been fortunate to coach him and his younger brother Jonathan these past few years.
Baseball just happens to start in February in South Carolina and the fall season runs through November.  I've become very involved in our local little league down here, Trenholm Little League and currently, I am the league president.  In the span of barely three years, I have countless memories of the games and experiences of my two sons.

Gustys layup  as Hofstra defeats Sacred Heart
With all the responsibilities of being a league board member and a coach for ten months of the year, other than my full time work responsibilities, I don't have time for other things.  Thus my college basketball writing has been little to non-existent.   I find time when I can to cover basketball, like when I was in NY for the holidays for the "Jordan Allen Invitational", where the Pride didn't look anything like the eventual 2015-16 CAA Regular Season Champions.

So when the CAA Tournament started this weekend with Hofstra as the #1 seed, unlike years prior, where I would have a prime seat at Richmond Coliseum for three days straight, I was in a ballpark in West Columbia, South Carolina with Matthew and ten of his equally talented and wonderful teammates.

Thus I never got to see any of Hofstra's quarterfinal win on Saturday as I was in a dugout keeping score in our second win of the day, a 10-2 victory.  But I was literally wearing Hofstra on my sleeve, as underneath my Columbia Thunder travel ball coach's shirt, I was wearing my long sleeve Hofstra basketball shirt.

The combination had brought us such good luck that I wore the same combination, albeit after a washing, yesterday.   Matthew started at pitcher in our third game of the tournament.  Playing one of the better AA teams in the state, Matthew only gave up two runs on two hits in three innings, struck out three with one walk.  We would eventually win the game 6-5.

Since we had a long break before our championship game, we were able to go home and watch a good part of the William and Mary/Hofstra CAA Semifinal game on NBCSN.   It was like being in the stands, screaming happily at times, other times yelling angrily when the Pride failed to cover an open Tribe shooter.

But we had to leave for the ballpark with the Pride trailing by two.  On the twenty minute drive there, I had the phone mounted on the dashboard with the ESPN play by play gamecast on my screen.   I gave Matthew updates as we got close to the field.  Then Koon gave the Pride a 69-67 lead.  As I parked the CRV, the final came across.  Hofstra won 70-67.  Matthew and I high fived and then went to our game.

Hofstra wasn't the only team that won yesterday.  We won our championship game 8-3.  It was our second tournament title of the Fall 2015-Spring 2016 10U AA season.  It's a wonderful group of players, all of them from our Trenholm Little League and the core of them have played together since their District 3 winning Coach Pitch Baseball All Star team back in Spring 2014.

I have never been to a #CAAHoops championship game.  All those years I went to the CAA Tournament, I never stuck around till Monday.   So when Defiantly Dutch asked me today if I was coming up to Baltimore, I told him that I couldn't.  Too much going on here.   But I will be my home in Forest Acres at 7:00 PM, wearing my Hofstra basketball long sleeve shirt underneath my Columbia Thunder coach shirt.   I have learned if it ain't broke, don't change a thing.

Next year, the CAA Tournament comes to my neck of the woods, Charleston, which is 90 minutes way from me.  Guaranteed I will be there for that tournament and likely the championship.  But that's then, this is now.  .

We're "Back to Where It All Begins". Back to when the College Hardwood first started.  Back to Pride vs. Seahawks for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Figures the only two times Hofstra has been in the finals, UNCW has stood in the way.

May this time be a different, happier ending for the Pride. The Pride owe the Seahawks one.  As Moonlight Graham so eloquently said in Field of Dreams "Win one for me, boys".


Monday, January 18, 2016

Sessions' Late Free Throw Allows South Carolina to Survive Texas A&M

After a heavy morning rain, the clouds subsided and the sun came out in Columbia, South Carolina on Sunday, just in time for the Gamecocks to face the #15 Aggies of Texas A&M,  It was the third game of an eleven game gauntlet for South Carolina where they face nine ranked teams over the span, including finishing up with five ranked teams in a row.

Sun, Jan 10 - 83-58 win over #20 Missouri
Thu, Jan 14 - 73-62 win at #9 Kentucky
Sun, Jan 17 vs #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Jan 21 @ Auburn
Sun, Jan 24 @ #7 Mississippi State
Thu, Jan 28 vs Ole Miss
Sun, Jan 31 @ #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Feb 4 vs #9 Kentucky
Mon, Feb 8 vs #1 Connecticut
Thu, Feb 11 vs #20 Florida
Mon, Feb 15 @ #13 Tennessee

That's not a schedule for the faint of heart. The crowd of 15,406 that packed Colonial Life Arena for the 12:30 PM EST was ready for the third game in this brutal stretch of games for the #2 Gamecocks. So were the #15 Aggies.

Before the game started, South Carolina Junior Center Alaina Coates was awarded a ball for scoring her 1000th career point in the home win over Missouri a week ago.  Coates had a double double in the win over the Tigers.

Texas A&M, similar to #20 Missouri when they played the South Carolina, came out physical against the Gamecocks.  However, unlike the Tigers, the Aggies matched their physicality with athleticism and hot shooting.  Behind guard Courtney Walker's hot shooting, Texas A&M jumped out to a quick 13-6 lead.  

But South Carolina responded with a 10-0 run over the next five plus minutes. Tiffany Mitchell had four points and an assist during that spurt, which was capped by a Coates layup to put the Gamecocks up 16-13.  But Texas A&M responded with the last four points of the quarter to take a 17-16 lead. 

In the second quarter, the teams traded leads six times over the ten minute period.  After A'ja Wilson gave South Carolina a 26-25 lead, Wilson followed up with a block of a Courtney Williams layup attempt on the other end.  It appeared that the Gamecocks would run down the clock for the last shot in the second quarter, but Khadijah Sessions dribbled into traffic and Walker stole the ball and went the length of the court, laying the ball in before the buzzer sounded.  Texas A&M was up 27-26 at the half.

It was clearly a test of wills in the first half as Texas A&M collapsed on the South Carolina bigs, Wilson and Coates.  But Coach Dawn Staley continued to have the Gamecocks work the ball inside, knowing the high percentage shot is usually the best shot.  

So while the Aggies were able to bottle up Coates the whole game, Wilson became their go to player. That's due in part that the six foot four Wilson is so athletic, she can take the ball from the free throw line and drive to the basket.  She scored the Gamecocks last eight points in the first half.  And the game plan didn't change at the start of the second half as Wilson scored the first six points for the Gamecocks.   Her layup put South Carolina up 32-29.    Coates followed with a layup of her own and the score was 34-29.

But Texas A&M once again was resilient, as they responded with an 8-0 spurt.  Jordan Jones was responsible for six of those points, a three pointer and an old fashioned three point play, which gave the Aggies a 36-34 lead.  Chelsea Jennings capped the run with a layup and the Aggies led 38-34.  But Sessions responded with a layup of her own to cut the deficit to two to end the third quarter.

Sessions' layup would be the start of a 9-2 run for the Gamecocks.  Wilson and Mitchell would each hit two free throws and then Bianca Cuevas buried a three pointer to put South Carolina up 43-40.  A few minutes later, a Sessions layup would extend the lead to four, 46-42.   However, Jordan Jones would nail a three pointer and follow with a layup to put A&M back in front 47-46 with a little over six minutes left in the game.

But once again, the Gamecocks responded with another 9-2 spurt.  It started with a Cuevas three point play and ended with Wilson scoring the last three points on a layup, then later by hitting one of two free throws.  Colonial Life Arena was rocking as South Carolina went up 55-49 with two and a half minutes left in the game.

The Aggies would not quit, cutting the lead to two, 55-53 with Anriel Howard and Walker assisting each other on baskets.  However Wilson would respond with a layup and one.  She missed the free throw though and the Gamecocks were back up four 57-53 with 1:14 left in the game.

South Carolina would have chances to put the game away.  But Mitchell turned the ball over with about 30 seconds left in the game.  Walker would hit two free throws after on foul on Sessions to cut the deficit to two, 57-55 with twenty seconds left.  

After getting fouled, Mitchell had a chance to possibly put the game away but missed both free throw attempts.   A&M had a chance to tie with four seconds left but Jones missed a free throw of her own.  Jones hit the second and the score was 57-56.  The Aggies fouled Sessions, who missed the first free throw but hit the second to put the Gamecocks up two, 58-56 with three seconds left.  We now had the setup for one of the wildest endings to any basketball game this season.

Off the inbounds pass, the Aggies' Taylor Cooper was able to find Jennings on an outlet pass and she was able to lay the ball in to tie the game at 58 with one second.  But with the game tied, on the South Carolina inbounds pass Texas A&M's Shlonte Allen, who was seeing her first minutes of the game, inexplicably grabbed Sessions as she was trying to drive down the court.   Allen was called for the foul, and lucky for A&M's head coach Gary Blair, Allen wasn't called for an intentional foul, as she made no attempt to go after the ball.   The brain freeze on Allen resulted in two free throw attempts for Sessions to win the game with .8 seconds left.

However, Sessions added to the excitement of the finish by missing the first free throw.  With the crowd imploring her, Sessions hit the second free throw to put South Carolina up 59-58.  Mitchell would then steal the desperation inbounds pass at mid court and the Gamecocks held on for a truly exciting 59-58 victory.

Wilson was dominant the entire game for the Gamecocks and nearly had a triple double with twenty six points, eight rebounds and eight blocks.  Mitchell was the only other South Carolina player in double figures scoring with eleven points.  Cuevas had nine points, Sessions added eight and Coates was held to five points, though she had eleven rebounds.

The three guard attack for Texas A&M - Jones, Walker and Jennings each scored in double figures and combined for forty seven of the Aggies' fifty eight points.  The Aggies actually out-rebounded the Gamecocks 43-33, which included seventeen offensive rebounds.

The Gamecocks survived the third game of their gauntlet and now go on the road to face Auburn, a pretty respectable 12-6 team with a 2-3 conference record.  One of those wins was earlier in the conference season over #7 Kentucky.  

Such is the life in the SEC.  Even the unranked teams are pretty darn good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

South Carolina's Strong Defensive Start Dooms Missouri

The #20 Missouri Tigers had to be telling themselves yesterday, "If we can come out strong against South Carolina, we've got a chance to win."   In the Gamecocks last several games, especially against SEC conference foes Arkansas and Vanderbilt, #2 South Carolina struggled out of the gate.  Against the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks were tied at nine after one quarter.  Against the Commodores, the Gamecocks were tied at halftime and were losing late in the third quarter before rallying to win.

So it only seemed natural for the Tigers to feel a strong start would go a long way.  During warm-ups, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, noted that Missouri seemed to have a lot of players practicing, more than South Carolina (two bench players have the left the Gamecocks in the last week, leaving them with eleven players, still plenty given their talent).   Matthew and I would find out within a few minutes of game action why that was the case.

As for the Tigers hoping for a sluggish start from their opponent, too bad Dawn Staley had her Gamecocks ready from the get go.

The home crowd of 15,934 that packed Colonial Life Arena yesterday seemed to pump life into South Carolina from tip-off.   The Gamecocks height and athleticism on defense frustrated the Tigers immediately in the first quarter.  In the first seven and a half minutes of the first quarter, Missouri missed all thirteen shots from the field and turned the ball over four times.

Meanwhile, it was obvious what Missouri's game plan was on defense.  Physical defense that would have made Bruiser Flint proud.  They picked up seven fouls in the first five and half plus minutes in the game.  My color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, commented that we were going to see at least one Missouri player foul out and noted "So that's why they have so many players!"

Meanwhile, South Carolina was able to slog their way through Missouri's physical play to score enough points to make a difference early on.  Alaina Coates hit a three point play to put the Gamecocks up to stay 3-0.  Neither team would score for the next three plus minutes as the Gamecocks missed on five straight shots. Finally,  Khadijah Sessions would score on four free throws, sandwiching a three point play by Tiffany Mitchell and a free throw from Alaina Coates.  South Carolina was up 11-0 with four plus minutes left in the first quarter.

During this time, Missouri Freshman Sophie Cunningham "enamored" herself with the Gamecocks fans due to her physical play, especially one fan behind us in Section 115.  That fan kept yelling at the top of her lungs "SOOOPHIE!", among other things.

Missouri finally made a basket from Kayla Robinson nearly eight minutes into the first quarter. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 17-5.

The Tigers came out scoring in the second quarter with five quick points, including a three pointer by Maddie Stock to cut the lead to ten, 20-10.   But the Gamecocks would respond with a 13-2 run over the next nearly five minutes. Mitchell would lead the way, scoring six of those thirteen points.  Her two free throws would cap the run and make the score 33-12.   South Carolina would end up leading at halftime 35-17.  Missouri almost had as many fouls, SIXTEEN, as points, seventeen.

The start of the second half saw Missouri come out strong from the locker room.   The Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 12-4 over the first minute and a half.  Sophie Cunningham continued to ingratiate herself with the Gamecock faithful, scoring a basket to cut the lead to ten 39-29.

After a Coates basket that put South Carolina up twelve, Mitchell took over from there.  She scored the next seven straight points; a layup assisted by Tina Roy, a three pointer again assisted by Roy and then finally, she took matters in her own hands.  Mitchell stole the ball and drove in for a layup.  The Gamecocks were back up nineteen 48-29 and the game was over for all intensive purposes.

Except for the fan that was "enamored" with Sophie Cunningham.  Sophie would pick up her third foul midway through the third quarter, which ended with South Carolina up 56-34.  In the fourth quarter, she would quickly pick up fouls four and five which resulted in our fan yelling "BYE SOPHIE!!"

As Matt had predicted, a Missouri player fouled out.  In fact, two fouled out, as Jordan Frericks fouled out later.  Missouri would use THIRTEEN players in the game, as the entire team picked up thirty four fouls.  South Carolina took full advantage, hitting on thirty two of their forty three free throw attempts in the 83-58 drubbing of Missouri.

Mitchell led all scorers with nineteen points, shooting eight of nine from the free throw line. Coates and Wilson each had double doubles.  Coates had thirteen points and twelve rebounds, while Wilson had eleven points, eleven rebounds and six blocks.  Jatarie White came off the bench for the Gamecocks and added eleven points.
Missouri was held to thirty one percent from the field, including four of twenty one from beyond the arc, as South Carolina's overall team height and quickness were too much for the Tigers.  Only Ciera Porter was in double figures scoring for Missouri with ten points.

With the win, the Gamecocks are now 15-0 on the season and have matched the #22 undefeated men's team in record.   Both teams are now a combined 30-0 on the season, a truly remarkable fact given conference play for men's and women's basketball is already a week old.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for South Carolina.  They play another two ranked teams in a row.  First, a road match-up with #10 Kentucky and then a home game vs. #13 Texas A&M.  

But if they come out and play defense as well as they did against #20 Missouri, it won't matter who they play. The Gamecocks look primed for another SEC conference championship.

A strong start always helps.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Roy Drives The Gamecock Truck that Runs over Arkansas

South Carolina entered its SEC conference opener against Arkansas on Sunday ranked #2 and undefeated at 12-0.  Combined with the men's basketball team's 13-0 start and Columbia, South Carolina was home to the best combined women's and men's college basketball teams' record in the country at 25-0.  This was not lost on the 13,407 fans in attendance at Colonial Life Arena, which was pretty much the same size crowd for the men's win over Memphis the day prior.

While Dawn Staley's Gamecocks entered Sunday's contest humming along, the Razorbacks seemingly have found themselves having won their last two contests.  Before that though, Arkansas had lost eight of their eleven non conference games.  Of all the SEC teams, only LSU also had a losing record entering Sunday.

Jimmy Dykes is in his second season of head coaching Arkansas.   Dykes came to the Razorbacks from a college basketball analyst position with ESPN and the Arkansas job was his first ever women's basketball coaching position.  But prior to his solid work at ESPN (he was one of my favorite college basketball analysts along with Mark Adams),  Dykes had a long history of being an assistant coach under several different men's basketball college programs, including three times under Eddie Sutton, his former coach at Arkansas.  He even was a scout in the NBA for three years before joining ESPN.

In his first season, Dykes took the Razorbacks to just their second NCAA Tournament in eleven seasons and even won their first round game over Northwestern.  He brought in the #20 recruiting class in the country for his second season.  But his young team struggled in a tough non conference schedule and entered the game with a 5-8 record. 

As has been the case often with the Gamecocks this season, South Carolina started out slow and struggled from the field, missing on ten of their first twelve field goal attempts.  Tina Roy had several open looks early on from the outside but couldn't knock them down.  Her effort would be rewarded later though.

Arkansas worked hard on both ends of the court, especially defensively and actually had the lead at 9-7 before Khadijah Sessions tied the game with a layup. The Razorbacks actually made four of their first nine field goal attempts.  The first quarter ended in a nine all tie.

From there, everything went downhill for Dykes and the Razorbacks.  Downhill real fast.

The Gamecocks started the second quarter with nine straight points.  Tiffany Mitchell buried a three pointer, then Roy followed with one of her own.  After South Carolina forced a shot clock violation on Arkansas, Roy buried her second three pointer and just like that the score was 18-9 South Carolina.

Arkansas would get a three pointer of their own by Jordan Danberry to cut the lead to six, 18-12.  That was as close as Arkansas would get the rest of the way.

The Gamecocks would score the next eleven points as Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson would combine for eight of those points and Mitchell would add her second three pointer of the game.  South Carolina was now up 29-12 with 4:15 left in the quarter.

The Razorbacks best player, Jessica Jackson, ended the Gamecocks run with her second basket of the game to make the score 29-14.  Jackson would only score two more baskets the rest of the way.  Arkansas would score another basket on a Devin Gosper jumper, to cut the score to thirteen, 29-16.

From there, the Gamecocks would go on another run, this time a 15-2 spurt over the last three plus minutes of the second quarter.  South Carolina's reserve dynamo, Bianca Cuevas, led the spurt with eight points including knocking down a three to end the half with the Gamecocks up 44-18.

At the half, my friend and fellow Mid Majority 800 Games recap writer, Ian McCormick, joined me at my season tickets seats since my older son Matthew decided to stay at home.  Matt missed one heck of a second half start for the Gamecocks.

At the start of the second half, South Carolina picked up right where they left off, scoring the first sixteen points of the third quarter.  The Gamecocks hit on six of their first seven shots, including four three pointers, one by Sessions, and three by Roy.   Roy's fifth three pointer of the game gave South Carolina a 60-18 lead.

After Keiryn Swenson briefly ended the Gamecocks run with a basket, Roy responded with her sixth three pointer of the day, giving South Carolina a truly commanding 63-20 lead.  Dawn Staley was so impressed, she had to call timeout, perhaps to give her shooters a breather.

The timeout didn't cool off Roy.  She would nail her seventh three pointer later to cap the Gamecocks scoring for the third quarter.  After three quarters, South Carolina was up 73-25.

In the last ten minutes of the game, South Carolina made a concerted effort to get the ball to Coates and Wilson, who made the most of their scoring opportunities.  They combined to score nine of the Gamecocks twelve fourth quarter points.   South Carolina would again hold Arkansas under ten points for the fourth straight quarter, winning the game 85-32.  Now both South Carolina basketball teams were 13-0 on the season.

The Gamecocks had five players in double figures scoring and nearly a sixth with Sarah Imovbioh chipping in nine points.  Roy led all scorers with twenty one points, all on three pointers.  Wilson and Coates each notched double doubles.  Wilson had fourteen points and ten rebounds while Coates had eleven points and ten rebounds. Mitchell had twelve points and Cuevas added ten points.

Despite the wretched start, the Gamecocks shot fifty two percent from the field and forty seven percent from beyond the arc (11 of 23).  They had fifteen offensive rebounds and eighteen assists.   They held the Razorbacks to twenty four percent from the field and Arkansas only hit on one of their twelve three point attempts.  No player on the Razorbacks scored in double figures.  Jackson had nine points and Melissa Wolff had nine for Arkansas.  South Carolina forced eighteen Arkansas turnovers.  The only negative stat for the Gamecocks was that they were 8 of 13 from the charity stripe.  

Afterwards, Jimmy Dykes had to feel that his team was run over by a tractor trailer truck.  If he wanted to know the license plate number, it was South Carolina 23.

That's the jersey worn by Tina Roy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hofstra Rallies to Win The "Jordan Allen Invitational"

On Monday night, Hofstra hosted 1-9 Sacred Heart in the last non-conference game for the Pride before the start of the CAA conference schedule on Thursday vs. Delaware.   It was also the return of Jordan Allen to the Mack Center.  Allen played two seasons for Hofstra before transferring to the Pioneers.  

Just like their 68-54 win over now 2-10 Florida Atlantic, the Pride would struggle against a seemingly lesser opponent.  An opponent whose only win came in their first game of the season, a win over fellow Connecticut school Quinnipiac.    It was the same old song for the Pride, a lack of defense, a lack of bench play and bad shot selection that was nearly their undoing.

Early on, it was a back and forth affair.  Cane Broome, who was the best player on the court for nearly the entire game, scored the first five Pioneers' points.  Sean Hoehn's three pointer would give Sacred Heart an early 10-8 lead.   But Hofstra's Brian Bernardi answered with two three pointers of his own to put the Pride back in front 14-10.

Next it was a battle of the big men.  Rokas Gustys, who was a force inside all night for Hofstra, would score the Pride's next nine points.  His layup on an assist from Juan'ya Green would put the Pride up 23-19.  However, Sacred Heart's Eyimofe Edukugho, a senior from Nigeria who only averages five points per game, would keep his team in the game, scoring six straight points.  His layup, assisted by Allen would cut the Pride lead to two, 23-21.  Then Allen assisted again on Quincy McKnight's layup and one, which would put the Pioneers up briefly 24-23.   Ameen Tanksley would then hit one of his few baskets all night, a three pointer that put Hofstra up 26-24 with 8:05 left in the half.

It was over the last eight minutes of the half that we would see the Pride's three biggest weaknesses come into play.   First, Sacred Heart would score fifteen of their last seventeen points on layups as the Pride's tallest player on the court for most of that time was the six foot six Nichols as Gustys would pick up his second foul during this time and head to the bench.   Cane Broome would score six straight points, all on layups,  to give the Pioneers a 30-26 lead.  Later, Allen would score five straight points, including a three point play to extend the Sacred Heart lead to eight, 37-29.  

During this time, the Pride went ice cold from the field, or more specifically, from beyond the three point arc.  Abandoning the strong inside work of Gustys, Hofstra settled for shooting, or better yet, clanking three pointers.  They would miss six out of their last seven three point attempts in the half.  The Pride did manage an 8-2 run thanks to Bernardi and Green attacking the basket.   Green's two free throws would cut the deficit to two before Broome's last layup of the first half gave the Pioneers a 41-37 halftime lead.

The first half stats showed the Pride's weaknesses. Sacred Heart would shoot 18 of 32 from the field and out rebounded Hofstra 21-13.  The Pride were also an abysmal 5 of 18 from beyond the arc in the first half.  Thus your halftime score.

You would have figured that Hofstra would have made some halftime adjustments and fix both ends of their play for the start of the second half.   

You thought wrong.

The Pioneers would out score the Pride 9-2 at the start of the second half, as they continued to score at will inside.  Meanwhile Hofstra would turn the ball over twice and miss two outside jumpers.  Their only points during the span came on two Bernardi free throws.  An Edukugho layup would give Sacred Heart their biggest lead of the game, eleven at 50-39.

Down eleven and staring at possibly the worst loss of the season so far for Hofstra, the light bulb came on for the Pride as they remembered their inside game.   Green and Gustys pounded the paint for layups and the Pride cut the deficit to four, 54-50.   But Gustys would pick up his third and fourth fouls and he again headed to the bench.  The lack of the Pride's best post player stymied their run and Sacred Heart would maintain the lead.  

Broome and Allen would combine for six points over a ninety second span.  Broome would have twenty five points with 9:38 left in the game and then assist on an Allen layup that gave Sacred Heart a 65-58 lead with 8:42 left in the game.   

But Broome would never score again.   Yes, you know what happens next.

Over a span of a little more than four minutes, the Pride would go on a 14-1 run, thanks in large part to Green driving the lane for several points and Bernardi burying two three pointers.  Green's layup would give the Pride a 72-66 lead with 4:27 left in the game. 

Allen would keep the Pioneers in the game with two free throws and later a Matej Buovac three pointer would cut the deficit to three, 76-73.  But Green would end the game with four free throws and the Pride escaped with an 80-73 win.

Broome led all scorers with twenty five points, but his game ending scoring drought over the last nine and a half minutes doomed the Pioneers, who lost their sixth game of the season by nine points or less.  Edukugho, a reserve player who had scored no more than eleven points in a game in his career, the opening game of the season win over Quinnipiac, scored seventeen points in sixteen minutes of action.   Allen added eleven points and four assists, showing off the passing skills he had in his first two seasons with Hofstra.   Sacred Heart, who has played nine of their eleven games on the road so far on the season, shot a very solid forty eight percent from the field.

For the Pride, Green led the way with twenty two points, six assists and five rebounds, shooting six of twelve from the field and ten of thirteen from the line.  It was by far his best game in quite a while.  Bernardi added eighteen points, while Gustys had a double double with seventeen points and ten rebounds.  When Gustys scores in double figures, the Pride are 6-0.  Denton Koon added ten points.  Tanksley, who came in as one of the top scorers in the CAA had a very off night, only scoring seven points on two of nine from the field.

The Pride had an terrible night shooting from beyond the arc, as they went eight of twenty seven.  They had much better success from two point range, shooting eighteen of thirty five.   They made up for their lack of success from beyond the arc by going to the line twenty nine times, making twenty of those attempts.

However, two numbers stand out from the game. Sacred Heart had forty two points in the paint. FORTY TWO.  And the Hofstra bench, what there is of it, scored six points.  

Combine those numbers with the Pride's woeful three point shooting and you had the near win by the now 1-10 Pioneers.    The Pride are 263 in the country in two point field goal percentage defense, allowing 51.7 percent per game.  A lot of this has to do with their lack of footwork on the defensive end.  

But also some of it has to do with their shot block percentage defense, ranked #300 in the country.    Yet Sophomore Andre Walker, a six foot ten forward who had three or more blocks in four games last season and who had four blocks and ten rebounds against Wagner last season, another NEC opponent, didn't play at all last night.  Surely Walker could have come in late in the first half when Gustys had to go with the bench with two fouls.    Walker plays thirteen minutes vs. Florida State yet none against Sacred Heart?  Come on.

I've said a lot of things about Tom Pecora over the years, but one thing his Hofstra teams did was play defense and usually had a shot blocking presence like Adrian Uter or Greg Washington.  With Walker barely playing, this team has neither.

And the Pride bench last night was basically Malik Nichols, who scored all six bench points for the Pride, and Desure Buie, who played ten minutes but didn't score.  Justin Wright Foreman played one minute, Walker of course didn't play at all and Jamall Robinson, who averaged nearly ten points a game as a freshman and contributed significant minutes off the bench for Hofstra as a sophomore, is seemingly redshirted for the season.   

I can tell you this much.  They could sure use Allen.   A big man who can pass and shoots high percentage shots (shooting fifty two percent from the field on the season).

I've watched CAA games and gone to many CAA Tournaments the past fifteen years.  Simply put, you can't consistently win in the CAA with a two man bench, especially trying to win three games in three days in Baltimore in March.  

You can't. 

Over the past three games I've watched in person; Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic and now Sacred Heart, I've talked to several Hofstra fans, whether in our seats or talking with them in the stands during halftime etc.  They have the same complaints, so I know it's not just me.  Lack of defense, a lack of commitment to an inside game, too three point happy and a lack of a bench.  It doesn't sound like a recipe for winning the CAA Tournament, which Hofstra was predicted to at the beginning of the season.

The Pride needs to realize these things fast and try to fix them.   Conference play starts Thursday at home vs. Delaware.  

Whether they act on them is another matter.