Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Day With the CAA - The Quarterfinals

Yesterday had that familiar feeling for me. Just like Friday, I hooked up the online streaming feed from the CAA Sports web site. Just like Friday, the CAA had another day of four games on Saturday. And just like Friday, all three favorites won and one team was upset. But that's where the familiarity ended. Unlike Friday, there were no double digit wins. All the games were decided by nine points or less. And the games were far more entertaining, well sans perhaps the first one.

The first game was VCU vs Georgia State. The Rams had won their previous matchup by twenty eight, 69-41. As the game started, the pace was very similar to Georgia State's game vs. Delaware on Friday. Slow, methodical. Just the way the Panthers, the lowest scoring team in the CAA, like it. The score was tied at 15 with five and half minutes left in the first half. If Georgia State had any sort of offense, they could have had a seven to ten point lead. Then the Rams went on a 9-0 run to end the first half, and you could have turned your computer feed there with VCU up 24-15.

The Rams shut down the Panthers from the outside, holding the Panthers to 4 of 15 from the line and 35 percent overall. The nine point lead swelled to 17, 44-27 with twelve minutes left. Somehow Georgia State, led by Joe Dukes, found their offensive rhythm and a 16-6 run actually cut the lead to seven 50-43 with 6:19 left. But the Panthers would never get any closer, not with Eric Maynor around. Maynor led VCU with 18 points, but also got help from guards Brandon Rozzell and Bradford Burgess who combined for 23 points. The Rams shot nearly 55 percent from the field. Joe Dukes led all scorers with 24 points for the Panthers.

The 7500 fans in attendance for the afternoon session were treated to a dandy in the second game of the afternoon session. #4 seed ODU took on #5 seed Hofstra. It turned out to be a battle of the All CAA First Team Members, the Monarch's Gerald "General" Lee and Charles "Call me Mister" Jenkins. And what a battle it was.

It didn't look that way early on as ODU stormed out to a 9-2 lead with Lee scoring seven of the first nine points. It was evident that Blaine Taylor's game plan was to get it to Lee at all costs. Meanwhile Hofstra's offense struggled during this time and there was the possibility that this could be a blowout. But it was going to be a game of runs. Hofstra went on a stunning 20-2 run as Jenkins got hot and got help from Nathaniel Lester, Zygis Sestokas, Cornelius Vines and Miklos Szabo. Hofstra had the lead 22-11 and I remember telling Tony Terentieff, who was over my house watching the game with me on MSG Plus 2, that they need to keep this lead at going into the half.

But remember, this was a game of runs and thus a 13-2 Monarch run, led by who else but the General Lee, the game was tied at 24. Lee scored seven of the thirteen points during that run. Hofstra would pull ahead and lead by one, 29-28 at the half. Lee had 18 of the Monarchs 28 points while Jenkins had 14 of the 29.

The second half saw both teams struggle. In the first six minutes, only six points were scored, five by ODU. The lead was 33-30 with 14 minutes left before ODU outscored Hofstra 9-2 over the next four plus minutes to take a 42-32 lead. Hofstra during this time missed eleven of twelve shots. But, once again, this was a game of runs. And the Pride, led by Jenkins and Lester, had one more run. Hofstra would outscore ODU 15-4 and take the lead on a Jenkins three pointer, 47-46 with a little more than two minutes left. Of course, Lee would answer for ODU with four consecutive points and the Monarchs were up 50-47 with 39 seconds left. Jenkins and ODU's Darius James traded free throws and the Monarchs were up 52-49 20 seconds left.

This setup the big ending. Jenkins hit a jumper to cut it to 52-51 with 1o seconds left. Hofstra called a 30 second timeout to setup a press defense off the inbounds. It worked, as James lost the ball and Cornelius Vines recovered the ball as Coach Tom Pecora called time out. Hofstra ball, 3.8 seconds left in the game with a chance to win.

As everyone in the building and watching on TV or video streaming feed knew, Jenkins got the ball. But as he went up to shoot a jumper, Jonathan Adams blocked the shot to save the day for ODU and gave them a one point win, 52-51. It is ironic that Adams saved the day, considering it was Adams that saved ODU in their previous win over Northeastern. Adams hit a game tying three in regulation that sent the game into overtime, then won the game on two free throws.

As for the battle of the CAA First Team players, Lee had 30 points and 1o rebounds. Jenkins had 27 points for Hofstra. Neither team had any other players score in double figures.

Then it was onto the evening session and back to the video feed, while watching the championship games on ESPN2 as well (and later the Horizon semis on ESPNU). The first game was James Madison and George Mason, the defending CAA champions. Early on, James Madison tried to dictate the pace and jumped out to a 14-7 lead as "Them Dukes" guards Devon Moore and Pierre Curtis showed how quick they are. But Mason went to their bread and butter, the inside game. Second Team All CAA Darryl Monroe (who should have been First Team All CAA) and super frosh forward Michael Morrison scored eight of the next eleven points for the Patriots and Mason went up 18-14.

The Dukes were not fazed and scored the next seven points as Moore and Kyle "Hungry Man Dinner" Swanston put Them Dukes back up 21-18. The teams would go back and forth and Madison went up one, 25-24 at the half. The second half saw Mason pull out to an early lead, with the largest being six, 35-29 with 16:26 left. The Dukes would battle back as Curtis and Andrei Semenov, part of the Madison freshman trifecta (along with Moore and CAA rookie of the year Julius Wells) would put the Dukes up for the final time 42-41 with 10:43 left on a layup by Curtis.

George Mason would immediately take the lead back on two foul shots by Monroe, 43-42 . Juwann James hit only one of two to tie it up at 43. Then again it was the inside game for Mason as Birdsong hit a layup to put Mason up to stay 45-43. Moore and Curtis would keep Madison in it as the Dukes still within one, 51-50, with 4:12 left. Them Dukes would get no closer, as Mason, without Monroe (who fouled out with 5:41 left), outscored JMU 10-3 the rest of the way.

It was a typical Mason outing. The Patriots held JMU to 27 percent from the field including 4 of 21 from beyond the three point arc. Curtis and Moore combined for 10 of 20 shooting for 29 points but the rest of the team shot a dismal 7 for 42 from the field. This included Wells, Swanston and James shooting a combined 3 of 28. Monroe of course led Mason with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the field. Cam Long also had 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting (Monroe led the CAA in FG percentage for this season and Long was fifth). Vaughan also had 10 points.

So that left the final game, Towson vs. Northeastern. As I mentioned, there was one upset on the day and as I predicted, Northeastern was going to be the victim. I just never thought it would be Towson doing the dirty deed for the second day in a row.

The game was certainly unlike the Friday game where Towson jumped out to 24-4 and 39-15 leads. This was much closer. In fact Northeastern scored six of the first eight points and it looked like midnight and Cinderella's coach was about to turn into that pumpkin. But the Tigers responded with a 12-2 run and were up 14-8 thanks to again Junior Hairston, star of the Drexel rout.

Northeastern would hang in the game thanks to Manny Adako and the Huskies would actually lead 21-20. The game would be tied up at 24 until Towson's Calvin Lee would put the Tigers ahead. The Tigers would actually score eight of the last nine points over the final three minutes of the half and were up 32-25 at halftime.

At the start of the second half, Northeastern would respond immediately with a 14-2 run led by Adako and Nkem Ojougboh. The Huskies were up 39-34 and finally it looked like the end of the dream run for Towson.

But as has been the case with Northeastern the latter half of this season, the Huskies had a cold shooting spell in the second half. More like an arctic front. After hitting six of their first nine shots in the second half, Northeastern would hit on only 6 of 15 for the rest of the game, including 2 for 6 over the last five minutes. During this time, Towson would catch Northeastern as Hairston and Troy Franklin hit back to back threes to put the Tigers up 50-48 with 5:49 left. The Tigers would take the lead for good at 52-50 when Robert Nwanko dunked a rebound off a missed layup by Franklin with 2:26 left. The Tigers would make it 56-50 on a Hairston dunk and Brian Morris' two free throws with 36 seconds left.

But the game was not over yet. Chaisson Allen buried a three pointer with 20 seconds left to cut it to three. Then the Huskies fouled Franklin who missed the front end of a one and one. Now with a chance to tie the game with a three at 56, Baptiste Bataille was fouled as he went up for the tying attempt with a little more than 5 seconds left.

Three shots with an 89 percent free throw shooter at the line. So what happened?

He clanked the first free throw.

Bataille made the second then purposely missed the third. Rebound by Nwanko and an immediate foul by Allen on Nwanko put Nwanko on the line with 5 seconds left with Towson up two, 56-54.

One and one free throw attempts with a 52 percent free throw shooter on the line. So what happened?

Nwanko hit both free throws.

Is the CAA wacky or what? Adako led all scorers with 24. Hairston had 14 and Franklin had 13 points for the Tigers. Matt Janning, all CAA first team (more on that in a later post) went 3 of 13 from the field for a total of nine points (he was also only 2 of 4 from the charity stripe).

Towson now has upset Drexel and Northeastern and looks for the trifecta against Mason? Unlikely? Yes. But this is the CAA.

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