Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day Two at the Holiday Festival - McKillop Comes Full Circle

I was at MSG last night for day two of the Holiday Festival. The consolation game featured two mid major teams that I am quite fond of - Hofstra and Davidson. The teams also share a common bond beside my fondness for them. That bond is one Bob McKillop, a Long Island native and head coach of Davidson.

McKillop played at Hofstra and is one of Hofstra's all time great players. After playing at Hofstra, McKillop would coach at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville then later on at Long Island Lutheran High School, where he would make the school a major power winning five state championships. And then there is a third bond between the teams. At Long Island Lutheran in 1984, McKillop would hire current Hofstra coach Tom Pecora as an assistant coach, where Pecora stayed for three years.

McKillop would then of course take the head coaching position at Davidson. McKillop has led the Wildcats to five NCAA tournaments and four NIT appearances in 20 seasons. But he is most well known of course for leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. Of course he had one Stephen Curry and also a great point guard in Jason Richards. But it's McKillop's style of play that allowed Curry, Richards and the 2007-08 Wildcats to realize their potential. Ball screens, back door cuts, solid fundamentals. Watching Davidson is a thing of beauty. It's old school basketball at it's finest.

So in the consolation game last night, McKillop's Wildcats took on his alma mater, the Hofstra Pride. Davidson lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Cornell on Sunday 91-88 due to Ryan Wittman's 30 foot three pointer at the buzzer. Meanwhile in the second game on Sunday, Hofstra was up five with less than seven minutes left before St John's finished the game on an 18-1 run to beat the Pride 72-60.

It was a defensive struggle early on as one of the best defensive teams in the CAA, Hofstra clamped down on Davidson's outside shooting as the Wildcats only shot 3 of 14 from beyond the arc in the first half. However, McKillop had a defensive game plan of his own - swarm Charles Jenkins on his drives to the basket and force other Hofstra players to score. The plan worked well the entire game but especially in the first half as Jenkins was only 1 of 8 from the field. Chaz Williams would keep Hofstra in the game with 9 points in the first half as Davidson led only 23-20 at halftime.

The second half was a different story. Davidson made a concerted effort to drive to the basket and score inside. It also resulted in the Pride fouling..a lot. In fact, Hofstra fouled so much, the Davidson fans starting chanting "Hofstra Football", a reference of course to Hofstra recently ending the school's football program.

The day before, Davidson's failure to hit free throws down the stretch resulted in Cornell tying the game late and sending the game to overtime, where Wittman won the game with his 30 footer. Last night, Davidson made Hofstra pay for their fouls by going 14 of 17 from the charity stripe in the second half. That would be the difference in the game. Hofstra had more field goals than Davidson 23-20 (though Davidson had more three pointers 5-3). But Davidson was 16 of 20 from the line while Hofstra, which came into the game first in the CAA in free throw shooting, was only 3 of 5.

Meanwhile Hofstra seemingly came out in a fog and allowed Davidson to outscore the Pride 21-11 over the first 12 minutes to go up 44-31. The lead would be 53-41 before Hofstra went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to five, 53-48 on a Charles Jenkins three point play with 2:27 left. However, the Pride, who never led at any point during the game, never got closer than five the rest of the way.

The play that sealed Hofstra's fate was when down five 57-52 with 51 seconds left, the Pride failed to foul Jake Cohen, who struggled in his free throw shooting the night before, in the back court. Cohen would get the ball back and was ironically fouled by Jenkins as he hit a layup. Cohen's free throw would put the Wildcats up eight, 60-52 and the game was over there.

Cohen had a very solid second half scoring 12 of his 18 game leading points, six of which came from the charity stripe. Williams would finish with 14 points to lead the Pride. But the freshman, who came into the game with a 3.2 to 1 assists to turnover ratio, had 6 turnovers but no assists, by far his worst game as a point guard. Jenkins had a better second half and finished with 11 points. But Davidson's constant harassment of Jenkins resulted in a 5 of 15 shooting night, his second worst shooting night of the year (he was 3 of 14 against Manhattan but the Pride won that game).

So at the end it was the teacher, McKillop, teaching the pupil, Pecora, a lesson in how to win a game. On the offensive end, work the ball inside, draw fouls and go to the line. On the defensive end, shut down the drive penetration of the opposing team's two best players and force the opposing team to find other scoring options.

In the end, McKillop learned a lesson himself last night. You can go home again. And win.

By the way, there is another common bond between Davidson and Hofstra. McKillop's #1 assistant coach is Jim Fox, whose brother is Jeff Fox, a reserve player on Hofstra's back to back NCAA Tournament teams in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 (which Pecora as Wright's top assistant was of course a part of as well). I happen to know Jeff relatively well because Jeff is also a 2004 graduate of Hofstra Law School (where I work), and that's how I first found out his brother worked for McKillop. I got a chance to say hi to Jeff at the first day of the Holiday Festival. I never got a chance to ask Jeff who he would have been rooting for last night.

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