Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review of the CAA Quarterfinals

The CAA Quarterfinals had just about everything you could ask for in a four games two sessions action packed day. You had the blowout game featuring #1 seed ODU on all cylinders vs. a bewildered Towson. There was the All Virginia War with VCU and Mason battling out in front of an almost capacity raucous Coliseum. Then you had the nip and tuck double overtime thriller between Hofstra and Northeastern. Then finally you had the second half rally of the three seed William and Mary versus the upstart eleven seed James Madison.

That brings us to the first game, which wasn't much of a game sadly. In the first three plus minutes, Towson did their best and after a Robert Nwankwo dunk, the Tigers were up 7-4 with 16:53 left. It was the last lead Towson had the rest of the game. ODU came back with a 7-0 spurt to go up 11-7. The Tigers hung in, keeping the deficit to four, 19-15 with eight minutes left as both teams struggled to score somewhat.

Then ODU remembered they were the #1 seed and proceeded to outscore Towson 20-6 the rest of the half. One thing became clearly apparent. Towson could not keep ODU off the boards. The Monarchs had second, third, FOURTH chances on possessions. It was just the most dominating rebounding performance I have seen in a CAA game, perhaps in any game.

So as the second half started with ODU up 39-21, Pat Kennedy had kept his team in the locker room quite long, probably giving them a severe tongue lashing. It didn't work. The Monarchs scored six of the next eight points and Kennedy immediately called timeout with his team down 45-23.

The timeout didn't work either. Over the next nearly eight minutes, ODU hit nine of their thirteen field goal attempts and the rout was on at 69-38. Blaine Taylor was able to rest all his starters over the final ten minutes of the game. But it didn't matter who was in for the Monarchs. They scored and rebounded at will. The final score was 86-56. All eleven ODU players saw at least ten minutes or more of playing time (and each scored three or more points). ODU outrebounded Towson 57-20 for the game, including 23-4 on the offensive end. It was quite an impressive performance by the number one seed.

The second game had the crowd in a frenzy as the two teams responsible for the last three CAA championships, VCU and Mason squared off for the right to face ODU. The game would live up to its billing.

After seven minutes the game was tied fifteen all and the crowd was loud. After every shot, VCU fans shot up from their seats with a roar of approval. Likewise Mason fans. The teams would trade blow for a blow like a prize winning fight.

The Rams would then go on a mini 7-0 spur to send their faithful in a frenzy with a 22-15 lead with ten minutes left. Then it was the Ryan Pearson Show for Mason as the sophomore forward would bring the Patriots back. Pearson scored nine of GMU's next sixteen points, capping his scoring with a layup to put Mason up 31-29 with 2:55 left. Mason would enter the half with a 35-32 lead.

The teams would trade body blows to start the second half. And if it wasn't the teams trying to outdo each other, it was the bands trying to outperform each other. The Patriots had the early hand going up 39-34 on an Andre Cornelius jumper. But back came the Patriots on a 7-2 spurt capped by a Larry Sanders two point jumper to put VCU up 44-41 with 12:54 left.

Again, Pearson brought Mason back to tie the game at 48 on a dunk with 12 minutes left. The teams would trade leads and a Mike Morrison free throw put the Patriots up 53-51 with 7:23 left. It was the last lead George Mason would have in the game.

VCU would respond with an 8-0 run on two Brandon Rozzell three pointers that got the VCU student section and the Rams fans in general rocking in delight. Pearson would calm the waters with a jumper to keep Mason in the game at 59-55. But all that did was briefly delay the inevitable.

The Rams would score the next six points as Rozzell nailed another three and then Rodriguez would hit three free throws after getting fouled on a three. VCU was up ten, 65-55 with 4:12 left and the Rams smelled blood in the water. And Mason did not help themselves as they abandoned their inside game that had worked so effectively and instead starting chucking up three point attempts.

Mason would only score five points over the last four minutes of the game and VCU sent the large percentage of the crowd to TJ Miller's happy with a 75-60 win over their hated foe. Sanders, Rodriguez and Rozzell did most of the damage, combining for 48 points on 18 of 37 from the field. Pearson had an outstanding game for Mason with 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting. But the rest of his team was only 14 of 43 from the field and shot 9 of 16 from the line (not surprising since Mason is the second worst team in the CAA in FT percentage).

We had been joined during the game by Mr. Beach who made the trip down with his wonderful wife Michelle (see, all the great women are named Michelle, like my wife and Tieff's, who spells her name with one L). We tried to hopelessly find a place nearby to eat during the break between sessions, to no avail. We headed back for what we considered the feature game, the rubber match between second seed Northeastern and seven seed Hofstra, who split their two games during the season.

It was a battle between two of the best players in the CAA, the CAA Player of the Year in Charles Jenkins vs. fellow First Team All CAA Matt Janning. And neither would disappoint. The first ten minutes proved to be a preview of the entire regulation as both teams struggled to score. A Baptiste Bataille three put Northeastern up early 10-8 with 10:43 left but Jenkins immediately tied the game with a layup. And midway through the first half, the game was tied at ten.

The second part of the first half was basically the same as the first ten minutes. Northeastern would briefly go out to a six point lead, 21-15 on two Janning free throws, but the Pride would keep it close 23-20. Neither team would be able to score over the last two minutes and we entered the half with a three point game.

The second half saw Northeastern maintain the lead for the first four and a half minutes as the Huskies were up 30-25. Then in the span of thirty seconds, the Pride tied up the game at 30.
It would be like this for the rest of the game, which turned out to be a long period of time.

Two Charles Jenkins three pointers put Hofstra up 36-34 with 11:47 left. The lead was extended to six on a Chaz Williams banked three pointer, 43-37 with nine minutes left. But as per the entire game, neither team could pull away. In this case, Northeastern rallied and tied the game at 43 with 7:48 left.

Hofstra would pull ahead by five, 51-46 on a Jenkins layup with three minutes left. The Pride were still up four on a Jenkins free throw, 52-48 with 2:22 left. Hofstra had several chances to extend the lead, but couldn't convert. Matt Janning would bring the Huskies back and his assist on a Kori Black layup tied the game at 52 and we went into overtime.

In the first overtime, Janning tried to will his team to victory, scoring the first four points for his team. Northeastern was up three 58-55 when Greg Washington nailed an alley oop pass to bring Hofstra within one but couldn't convert the potential game tying free throw. Again, the Huskies went up three, 60-57, but Cornelius Vines buried a three off a screen and the game again was tied at 60 and we went to a second overtime.

In that second overtime, again it was Janning and Jenkins trading blows and the game was tied at 67 with 1:09 left and the potential of a third overtime stood in front of the amazed fans. But Janning, who made every big shot in regulation and the overtime periods drained a long three with 45 seconds left. After Manny Adako's huge block of a Greg Washington three point attempt, Chaisson Allen hit two free throws to put the lead up five. After Allen missed one of two free throws with three seconds left, Hofstra tried a desperation three to no avail and the Huskies survived with the 74-71 double overtime win.

Sadly, as I am pressed for time with us checking out, I can't give the William and Mary-JMU game the attention the exciting game deserves. Quickly put, JMU had a nine point lead at the half as the Tribe had no answer for the one man wrecking crew, Denzel Bowles.

But in the second half, the Tribe tripled teamed Bowles and shut him down. Meanwhile, David Schneider and Danny Sumner powered the Mary back for a 70-65 come from behind win. It was a great win for a cinderella team and it was due to second half adjustments by a terrific coach, Tony Shaver. He spread the floor on offense while just throwing JMU's offense off kilter by collapsing in on Bowles.

As the Beaches, Tieff and I commiserated over Hofstra's double overtime loss with drinks and good food at Buffalo Wild Wings, we reviewed the day's action and talked the history of Hofstra hoops and what the future brings. It was another day of absolutely terrific memories. What today's semifinal action brings, who knows. But if it can match what we saw yesterday, that would be something else.

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