As you can see from the blog posts, Tieff and I were at the Mack Center tonight for the VCU-Hofstra game televised nationwide on ESPNU. You had unfortunately the perfect storm for Hofstra. The Pride were down two players due to injury - starting point guard Chaz Williams with a sprained ankle and forward David Imes with a knee injury. The Pride were already minus one player due to the NCAA still not having decided Brad Kelleher's eligibility. So the Pride were down to seven players (sorry Matt (not Josh) Grogan fans, the walk-on did not play tonight). And combine that with Larry Sanders just itching to play after having to sit out a game due to a CAA suspension for a thrown elbow, and you had the makings of a potential mismatch on national TV.
So how did it turnout? Well, let's put it this way. If Larry Sanders needed a highlight video to send to potential NBA teams interested in drafting him, he only needed to show a recording of this game. Sanders put on a clinic, scoring a career high 31 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the field and 9-12 from the line as VCU defeated Hofstra 81-68.
In the first five and half minutes, Hofstra came out strong, jumping out to an 11-5 lead. However, there were already warning signs on the horizon for the Pride. During this time, Joey Rodriguez missed several open threes. But over the next several minutes, Rodriguez would hit two open three pointers to put the Rams up 16-13 with 11:30 left, a lead the Rams would never relinquish.
It became very apparent to the fans in attendance that VCU was having its way with the Pride's first ranked CAA FG percentage defense. Whether it was Rodriguez or Ed Nixon hitting threes or Sanders posting up for easy baskets, the high scoring pace certainly favored the Rams.
Hofstra tried hanging in there and with a layup by Greg Washington, the deficit was only six, 27-21 with 8:08 left. VCU would then score 13 points over the final eight minutes, with Rodriguez and Nixon combining for 8 of them. Those eight points by Rodriguez and Nixon were double what Hofstra scored over the final eight minutes. During those final eight minutes of the first half, Hofstra shot 2 of 10 from the field and committed 6 turnovers. Mix in Rodriguez, Sanders and Nixon combining for 30 points as VCU shot 48 percent from the field in the first half and you had a VCU 40-25 halftime lead.
Those hoping for a comeback by the Pride got treated instead to watching Larry Sanders really make his case for a NBA draft pick. Hofstra tried their best to get back in the game, especially Charles Jenkins (17 second half points) and Cornelius Vines (10 second half points) and the Pride would cut the lead to seven, 48-41 with 14:37 left. But the Rams would go back up by double digits on a Sanders jumper 52-41.
Hofstra again would cut the lead to single digits 56-48 and had a chance to cut the lead further but Charles Jenkins airballed a three point attempt. Shortly thereafter, Sanders scored four points on free throws and a jumper and the lead was again double digits, 61-48 with 8:14 left.
The game was basically over after that, thanks to Sanders and his sidekick Rodriguez, who had 21 points for the game. From when the score was 57-48 with 8:54 left in the game till the final score of 81-68, Sanders and Rodriguez would be responsible for scoring the final 24 points scored by the Rams. Sanders and Rodriguez outscored the entire Hofstra team 24-20 the rest of the way.
And Sanders did this with an array of post moves that he didn't have last year. Baby hooks, up and under moves, fall away jumpers. It was downright impressive. In fact, he had an emphatic slam to put VCU up 74-60 with 2:01 left. It was so emphatic that he swatted the ball away after the dunk and got called for a technical (the second technical for VCU in the game as Shaka Smart was given one earlier in the second half).
What was really surprising was that Hofstra, a team that "prides" itself on good defense, did not double team Sanders, nor Kiril Pischalnikov for basically the entire game. Sanders scored at will on Hofstra. And in another surprising occurrence, which had Tieff and I just shaking our heads in disbelief, consistently late in the game Hofstra decided to foul Joey Rodriguez, a 76 percent free throw shooter, when he had the ball instead of Brandon Rozzell, a 62 percent free throw shooter when he had the ball (Rodriguez was 7 of 8 from the line). It was just plain mind numbing.
As for Hofstra on offense, well Charles Jenkins did his best, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the second half. But he really worked for it. as he was only 5 of 13 from the field and 6 of 7 from the line. Cornelius Vines did have 17 points and Miklos Szabo had a nice game with 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting (and he killed our section's Szabo foul pool by not getting his first foul until 6:47 left in the first half - which beats his last home game where he got his first foul in 27 seconds). And Hofstra did shoot better than it's season average on the night - 44 percent as opposed to 40.5 percent.
But the Hofstra offense is often too predictable - let Jenkins drive the lane and either dish or score. However CAA teams know the drill. They saw this with Stokes, then Agudio and now with Jenkins. The problem is Jenkins doesn't have Stokes top of the key floater in the lane, nor Agudio's step back on a dime fadeaway jumper. And this often leads to blocked shots and more importantly turnovers. Jenkins did have seven assists but he also had seven turnovers.
And that leads to the most important stats of the game. Hofstra had 17 turnovers while VCU only had 9. Points off turnovers - VCU 25, Hofstra 9. There's your ball game right there.
VCU evened it's season record at 3-3 and has hope to get over. 500 with a win at 1-3 Georgia State on Saturday. As for Hofstra, the Pride are now 2-4 with a road game vs. first place William and Mary Saturday afternoon. With Williams and Imes out for two weeks and a 2-5 record potentially staring them in the face, a first round bye in the CAA Tournament looks to be more and more out of their grasp.
Finally I want to say Tieff and I got to meet Kyle Whelliston of the Mid Majority tonight who was there covering the game. We got to talk to Kyle for a long time and simply put, he was great to talk to and just a really good guy. Kyle, enjoy the Penn-Temple game tomorrow night and I hope to see you at the CAA Tournament.