Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Night Away From Hofstra Basketball. Well, Almost

Last night was date night for me. It's the rare occurrence, where my wife, Michelle, affectionately known to me as Chelle, and I can go out without the kids. So after her parents came by to play grandma and grandpa, we drove to Hicksville and took the 4:53 into the city for dinner and a broadway show.

Now I am going to share something with you all. I wanted this night to be special. Chelle and I don't get out often by ourselves. In fact the last couple of times we have been out by ourselves have sadly been wakes. I think the last time we really went out by ourselves was a friend's wedding at the end of August, which was fun. But unfortunately I also got to see her best friend, a former long time friend and former employee, who I once considered very dear to me. She introduced me to her now boyfriend as "my old boss", and she knows I hate that term. Nice. Maybe that's a story for another day.

So if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. First, it had to be a Saturday night, because Chelle (pictured left) works Sundays (she is off on Fridays, but Fridays are harder to setup). Second, I got tickets on Stubhub for "Wicked" (more on that in a second). Third, I made reservations at Tony's DiNapoli in Midtown, perhaps the best family style Italian restaurant in New York (Carmine's, where I have been as well, is up there too).

So we made our trip into the city. Once we got into Penn Station, we did the rare thing and decided to get a taxi. Normally, since both of us like to walk, we would have walked from Penn to the Times Square area where Tony's is located. But since we only had 15 minutes before our reservation, I didn't want to chance losing our reservation. Everything pointed to the show being great. First the stairwell by the Duane Reade in Penn Station is painted as one giant advertisement for Wicked. Cool. Second, during our cab ride, our taxi driver had a religious show on the radio. The announcer mentioned a bible passage and used the word "wicked". Nice segueway into the evening.

Tony's is on West 43rd Street near the Heartland Brewery. The place is always crowded with good reason. The food is terrific. We made it by 6:00 pm and waited at the bar only for a short time. We took our drinks and followed the hostess to our table. It was perfectly placed in the corner location of the restaurant, on a sofa. We ordered stuffed mushrooms as the appetizer, caesar salad and then Tony's chicken for the main course.

Tony's chicken is two huge (and I mean huge) breaded chicken fillets cover with their unique sauteed tomatoes. I can't even explain how delicious this is. If we made two mistakes, it was one, we didn't get Tony's Sangria, which is terrific, but neither of us was in the mood to drink a pitcher of sangria. Second, we should have passed on the caesar salad and not eaten all the yummy bread, and saved room for the monster desserts, which we have had before.

So after dinner, we walked to the Gershwin Theatre. Now Times Square on a Saturday night is one of the most hopping places in the world. And since it was a relatively warm Saturday night in January, this was no exception. With Broadway now closed off in this area to pedestrian traffic only, it's actually now even more of a gathering place. David Blaine had an area where he was doing Magic for Haiti and every block, there was someone yelling "Comedy show tonight. Discount tickets available!" New York City basketball may be on a downturn, but Times Square is always at the top of its game.

So we made our way to the Gershwin Theatre, just a beautiful place to see a show. As you will see shortly , the stage set work for Wicked is fantastic. Loved the dragon on top. When you see the photos, you will notice that the shots are taken from very close to the stage. Well, I said I wanted to make the night special. I decided to splurge for the girl I have been with for the last 16 years (we started dating this month in 1994), so I got fifth row from the stage seats.

Now the show "Wicked" is somewhat based on the novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West", which I haven't read (but eventually I will). The premise is the following - It takes the story of the Wizard of Oz and turns it well, upside down. The wicked witch of the west, Elphaba, is a girl that's actually born out of wedlock. Her green color is due to a green elixir her mom and her mom's lover would drink when they were together. Elphaba is considered an outcast and only gets to go to an elite school to take care of her sister. It his here that Elphaba becomes best friends with Glinda (yes, the good witch) and here she learns she has a special talent for spells. This eventually leads her to the Emerald City and the Wizard, neither of which is what they seem to be.

I thought the show was very good, but it wasn't quite Spamalot (which I saw on opening week on Broadway with the original cast and is my favorite all time Broadway Show). Wicked is very humorous at times and the musical numbers are quite good. And the scene where Elphaba truly becomes the Wicked Witch of the West is a great example of Broadway set magic. Glinda is my favorite character in the show and I can see why Kristin Chenowith was the original Glinda. I really think the character for the show was made specifically for her. If you have ever seen her guest role on Glee, you would agree.

The picture to the left is the giant screen curtain before the show starts. Of course with my skewered sense of humor, I thought of the Emerald City as Richmond, where the CAA tournament is every year. And right now the Richmond Coliseum is not what it seems to be. The rest of the parts of the map that make up Oz, Munchkinland etc were all the CAA member schools. These are the moments where I think I spend too much time on college basketball and the CAA in particular.

So you are all wondering, outside of the Richmond being "The Emerald City" reference, what does this have to do with basketball? Now here's the kicker. For those of you who read this column, I am a Hofstra Men's Basketball season ticket holder. And if you know the Hofstra Men's basketball/CAA schedule, games are played on Saturdays and Hofstra home games, with rare exception, start at 4:00 PM. Since our night had to be a Saturday night, I wanted to make sure I did it when Hofstra was on the road and ideally, the game was not locally or nationally televised.

So when I planned this out shortly before Christmas, one day stood out. January 16. Hofstra was on the road at William and Mary and the game was not locally or nationally televised (don't snicker on that last part of the sentence). If there was any night to do this, last night was the night. I know what you are saying. You planned your special night out around Hofstra basketball. Well...yes, guilty as charged.

It doesn't mean I didn't check up on Hofstra and the Mary. As we were in the Gershwin Theatre before the show started, I checked up on the game on my cell phone. Several times. The Pride and the Tribe were playing a close game going back and forth in the first half. It was 30 all around the time I turned the cell phone off before the show started.

At intermission of the show, I turned my phone back on. I had a feeling of what the score would end up being. And when I pressed six for CAA Scores on my favorites on my phone, my feelings were confirmed. Final - William and Mary 73 Hofstra 66. I waited till we got on the train back home to read the AP recap from my phone. Close game throughout, teams went back and forth with the lead. We got back around 12:15 this morning, so I was too tired to do a post mortem on the game.

It wasn't until this morning that I decided to do the autopsy by reading another of Jeremy Kniffin's always great press release recaps of the game (and by the way Jeremy must be the fastest at putting up recaps and box scores of college basketball games), followed by reading over the play by play in the game.

After reading the play by play, I wanted someone to cue up Same Old Song by the Four Tops (and by the way I own the CD pictured - great CD). And the lyrics, "It's the same old song, but with a different meaning since you've been gone" should be dedicated to Brad Kelleher after that NCAA committee ruling. But it's the fifth game this season, where Hofstra has a five -nine point lead midway through the second half, only to lose the lead and game. Here's the lowdown on those five games.

November 17 vs UConn - The Pride are up 54-45 on the #13 Huskies with 9:10 left after a Cornelius Vines three. But five minutes later UConn takes over the lead for good. Hofstra is still within one, 67-66 with 1:29 left but UConn holds on for a 76-67 win and a golden opportunity for a major RLU is wasted.

December 27 vs. St John's - Hofstra is up 59-54 with 6:58 left after a Charles Jenkins three. But Hofstra scores only one point the rest of the way in a 72-60 loss to the Jonnies.

January 2 vs. William and Mary - The Pride are 35-27 with 13:25 left and never trail in the entire game until 17 seconds remaining in the contest. But Kendrix Brown's three point play and a strange ending to the game give the Mary the win 48-47.

January 4 vs. George Mason - Hofstra is up six, 50-44 with 7:52 left and were still up one 53-52 with 4:30 left. But the Pride have no answer for Ryan Pearson and the Patriots come back for a 67-63 win.

January 16 vs. William and Mary - The Pride are up seven, 55-48 with 9:14 left. But the Mary go on a 20-5 run over the next eight plus minutes and win the game 73-66.

Now when you have five games with similar patterns and similar outcomes, there is usually a reason for the repeat occurrences. And I believe I have the reason for the repeat occurrences, an unhealthy reliance on Charles Jenkins in late game situations.

Case in point, last night's loss to the Mary. At halftime, the Pride were up 38-37. They had balanced scoring with Halil Kanacevic with 10 points, Jenkins had 9 points (on three 3 pointers), Lester had 7 points and Chaz Williams had 6 points. In the second half, Jenkins had 10 points and Williams had 6 points. But Lester only had one point in the second half and Kanacevic only had 2 points.

A closer look shows Jenkins had twelve field goal attempts in the second half which is double the amount of attempts Kanacevic, Lester and Williams had combined (six). Jenkins had four field goals out of those twelve attempts, and all four were in the first twelve minutes of the second half, the last with 8:21 left put Hofstra up 57-51. But Jenkins would miss his last seven field goal attempts, which was nearly half of the field goal attempts the Pride would have in those last eight plus minutes (fifteen, of which they made two).

And that's not a one time occurrence. In that 72-60 loss to St John's, Jenkins went 3 of 11 in the second half and they didn't score a field goal the last nearly seven minutes of the game. Against UConn, in that last nine plus minutes of the game, Jenkins scored three of the four Pride field goal attempts made and had three of the five free throws they made.

You see, you can't win when one player is attempting to do all the scoring late in the game. And as much as I think Jenkins is a terrific player who doesn't shy away from crunch time, he can't do it himself. And it's a combination of factors. One, veteran players like Lester and Greg Washington disappearing during criticial moments of the second half. Two, Kanacevic and Williams are freshmen who by their nature aren't consistent yet. And three, a game plan that doesn't allow for diversity in offense.

The Pride could be 14-5 right now if they had a second scorer down the stretch. But as someone once said "If Ifs, Ands or Buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas." The fact of the matter is the Pride, at 2-5 in the CAA, are four games out of a top four spot in the CAA, which results in a first round bye (W&M, ODU, Mason and Northeastern are all 6-1). And the team that's in fifth, VCU (4-3 CAA) has a two game lead on them and the tiebreaker, an 81-68 win this past week.

With the Pride losing seven of their last nine games, things look as gray as they do outside my window right now. But the Pride were in a similar boat last season and an above .500 conference record was still accomplished. For that to happen this season though, the Pride must find that elusive second scorer. It's not going to be Brad Kelleher, but maybe someone else will step up. Hey you never know. Even "Wicked" had a happy ending.

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