Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back Where It All Begins

There is nothing like the first home game to a new basketball season.  It's been nearly five years since I first started writing this blog.  Despite all the name changes, the different sites, even the various people who at times contributed to this blog, one thing has remained the same.  The home base is Hofstra.  So thus it's "Back Where it All Begins.", a nice lead in for an Allman Brothers song and the start of another Hofstra basketball season.   And today, November 13, 2010 marked that beginning of the Pride's 2010-11 basketball season as they took on Farmingdale State, a team with a very successful recent history in Division III.

But it was not just the beginning of a new basketball season, it was also the beginning of a new coaching era.  While Tom Pecora took his ball to the Bronx, where now "It's game time" for Fordham, Hofstra eventually found its way to its new coach, Mo Cassara.   To say Coach Cassara is excited about the opportunity to coach at a Division I level, well that might be the understatement of the season.

The night before, Tieff and I joined Jerry Beach at his usual seat, behind the basket near Hofstra's bench, as we all watched the Hofstra women take on Virginia.   And around halftime, the new Men's Basketball coach came by to say hi and ended up chatting with us for a while.   Coach Cassara is a down to earth, incredibly engaging person, and I know we all enjoyed talking with him very much.  You can see he is so grateful for the opportunity to be the head coach, truly appreciates all the support the Hofstra Community has given him so far and is a flat out workaholic, as most coaches are.   But most coaches don't go out and high five the first row of the student section like Coach Cassara did today before the start of the game.

And with that as the backdrop, the Pride hosted the Rams for the second season in a row in front of an energetic crowd of 3,727 at the Mack Center, over 1,000 fans more than last season's opener against those same Rams.  With three new starters in the Hofstra lineup and especially after a somewhat flat exhibition win over Molloy, one didn't know what to expect from this team today.

But the two starting seniors, defending CAA Player of the Year, Charles Jenkins and forward Greg Washington set out to alleviate any concerns Pride fans may have had.  The two combined for fourteen of the Pride's first seventeen points.   Hofstra quickly built a ten point lead, 22-12 as one of the Pride's six new faces (if you count soon to be eligible Brad Kelleher and transfer Mike Moore), freshman Shemiye McLendon nailed a three pointer.  The lead would eventually double in size when McLendon hit another beyond the arc to put Hofstra up 42-20 before eventually settling for a 46-27 halftime score.

Now it seemed like the Pride were playing much better than last season's game vs the Rams.  But upon closer inspection, in last year's game, the lead at halftime was 53-28 Pride and the shooting percentages were pretty close (28 percent for the Rams this game as opposed to 31 percent in last seasons' game).  So defensively, it was about the same.

But there were two reasons why there was a difference from last season's game   First, the crowd was much more into this game than last season's.  There was an energy here that was lacking at last season's game. Now the additional 1,000 fans definitely helped and it was clearly apparent in the student section.  The Lions Den was especially vocal throughout especially in their love of Charles Jenkins. The chant "Charles Jenk-ins. N-B-A" was a constant throughout the game.

And the second reason was the offense was much better in this game than last season's.  Jenkins for his part didn't disappoint the crowd.  The defending Haggerty Award Winner for best metro NYC player of last season scored 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the field, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. But Jenkins also added 8 rebounds and 8 assists while only committing 2 turnovers.

But Jenkins was not alone as the Pride shot nearly 59 percent from the field in the second half and nearly 54 percent for the game (compared to 44 percent in last season's game vs the Rams).  The freshman McLendon, who did not play in the Malloy exhibition, was an absolute revelation, shooting 6 of 10 from the field, and 4 of 7 from beyond the arc for 16 points.  Dwan McMillan had 15 points, including 9 of 10 from the free throw line, while adding six assists and zero turnovers.  Mike Moore only played 20 minutes, as Cassara gave McLendon quality minutes.  But in those 20 minutes, Moore had 13 points, including 6 of 6 from the line as he consistently drove the lane.  Greg Washington also had 13 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks.

But it wasn't just the shooting that was better.  Tieff and I noticed much better ball movement by the Pride as opposed to last season.  As Jerry Beach's wife, Michelle noted to me during halftime, it seemed the passes "were a lot crisper" in this game than last season.  And it showed in the box score.  Twenty five assists to thirteen turnovers which for a team with three new starters is pretty good.

Now the concern Tieff and I had was the depth of the frontcourt.  Washington played well as did David Imes with seven points, seven rebounds and four assists.  Stephen Nwaukoni again was active on the boards with eight rebounds in thirteen minutes (Nwaukoni could use some work on his finishes as he was scoreless on five attempts).  However, Rolando Brown and Paul Bilbo did not get into the game until six minutes left.  Brown did show some promise with four points and five rebounds during that time, so hopefully he will be the fourth man in that rotation.  It's also quite possible this season you might see Coach Cassara play four guards at a time if the bigs get into foul trouble.

The Pride would win the game 102-62.  Alas, there were no free tacos to be given out for Hofstra breaking the one hundred point barrier.   However, based on a loud and very happy crowd, no free tacos withstanding,  it was a very good day for the Pride and Coach Cassara.  Of course Division I competition awaits in the form of #9 ranked North Carolina in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tipoff on Thursday November 18, which is the Pride's next game.   But for the first step of a new era,  it was a very good beginning, especially for those of us where it's "back where it all begins".


  1. Great article!

    I was part of the Lion's Den last night and the place was the most electric I've heard it in all 4 years I've been here! The energy reminded me of the days of Speedy and our NCAA tournament birth. Coach Mo's got both the team and fans inspired this year, and Washington looks like a new player out there. Jenkins also, as always, failed to disappoint.

  2. Thanks and great work by you guys! It was also good to see Speedy and Norm Richardson last night as well. It did bring back the glory days. Hopefully Washington will keep it up and we all know Jenkins will definitely keep it up.

    Tell your fellow Lion's Den faithful to keep up the good work! The place was definitely electric yesterday. A great student section adds such a great atmosphere to college basketball and it showed yesterday.

    Again, thanks for the comment!