Saturday, November 27, 2010

Four Games in 25 Hours - Part II - Hofstra Overcomes Basketball and Comedic Royalty By Beating Wagner

After leaving the NIT Tip-off championship game at halftime, Tieff and I made the 6:07 out of Penn Station to head to Mineola train station where our cars were parked.  Tieff warned me that this is one of the slowest trains from Penn and yesterday was no exception.  Apparently, there was a disabled train ahead of us and thus we were delayed 15 minutes.  Two days, two delayed trains.

During the now longer ride to Mineola, I intermittently caught up on the Villanova score, while catching a few Zs.    Finally our train made it into Mineola and we raced to our cars and headed to the Mack center to see Hofstra take on Wagner, where there was a lot of basketball and comedic history on hand last night.  Unfortunately, the game was not on 88.7 WRHU, Hofstra's radio station, so I was going to go into the arena completely surprised by the score, but not surprised by who was coaching there.

In the basketball world, there are few basketball families more well known than the Hurleys.  Bob Sr is a legendary coach at St Anthony's in Jersey City.  He has had over 950 wins in his high school career, three national championships, 25 state titles, and he is only one of three high school basketball coaches to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame.  Hurley has had numerous star players at his school including Seton Hall's Terry Dehere and his two sons, Bobby Hurley, who of course was a star at Duke and Dan Hurley, who was a good player in his own right at Seton Hall.

In the Spring, I thought that Wagner pulled off one of the coups of  the coach hiring season by hiring Dan Hurley.  Dan Hurley was a very successful coach at St Benedict's in Newark, where his teams were consistently were some of the best teams in the country.  Dan then hired his brother Bobby to be on the coaching sidelines with him.  Hurley also hired Bashir Mason, a name that should be very familiar with CAA, Drexel and Hofstra fans.  Mason was the former point guard for Drexel in the mid 2000's including the 2007 NIT team and was the CAA's defensive player of the season in 2003-04 as a freshman.  Mason played for Hurley at Saint Benedict's.

Rounding out Hurley's staff is Luke Murray, who has been a successful AAU coach and last season was  an assistant at Arizona.   While as an AAU coach, several of his players have gone to several Division I schools including UConn, BC and Memphis.   This was his first season on the Wagner staff.

But Luke Murray also happens to be the son of one Bill Murray, yes the comedic legend pictured to the left.  And sure enough, unbeknownst to me at the time, Murray was at the Mack Center last night rooting on his son's team.  And I wonder if Bill said "It's in the Hole!" every time Latif Rivers drained a three for Wagner last night, because if so, Bill was saying it often last night.

Now Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara has his own family lineage in basketball.  His dad was a long time coach at Saint Lawrence and one of his dad's former players happens to be Wayne Morgan, former head coach at Long Beach State and Iowa State.  Morgan is now one of the assistants on Cassara's staff, along with assistant coach Steve Demeo, a longtime well known recruiter, and Allen Griffith, a very good point guard in his own right at Syracuse.   It was one coaching family tree vs. another at the Mack Center.

I beat Tieff to the arena and when I walked in, I was completely surprised as Wagner was up 15-6 with 12:53 left.  And a lot of that was due to the one man freshman wrecking crew Latif Rivers.  Rivers started the game with a three and added two free throws for the Seahawks who were shooting 5 of 10 from the field and had four free throws.  Meanwhile all of Hofstra's points came by two threes by Mike Moore, who was already sitting on the bench with two fouls.

But perhaps my presence inspired the Pride (yeah right), as they went on a 7-0 minispurt, capped by Shemiye McLendon's three pointer and Hofstra was only down two, 15-13 with 11:13 left.   But Rivers and Naofall Folahan scored nine of the next fourteen points for Wagner, and the Seahawks extended their lead back to 29-22 with 2:54 left in the first half.

It was Wagner's last two points in that spurt that really hurt the Pride, as Mike Moore picked up his third foul and headed to the bench as the Seahawks' Danny Mundweiler sank two free throws.  Hofstra would cut the lead to as little as three, but once again, Rivers buried another three and Wagner was up at the half, 35-28.  Rivers had 13 points to lead all scorers at the half, while Folohan and Tyler Murray combined to add 15 for the Seahawks through 20 minutes.

Notice I didn't mention someone's name at all so far.  Yes, that name is Charles Jenkins.  And there's good reason why I didn't mention Jenkins so far.  With most of the credit going to Wagner's defense on him, Jenkins scored only two points in the first half on two free throws.  He was 0 for 6 from the field.   Moore's eight points before his third foul helped, but it was an unlikely duo that was keeping the Pride in the game.

Through their three games at the Puerto Rico Tipoff Tournament, the Pride frontcourt had struggled and that's being very kind.  The combination of starters David Imes and Greg Washington, along with reserves Stephen Nwaukoni and Roland Brown had combined to shoot 9 of 40 from the field and 27 points, or as many points as Charles Jenkins scored by himself vs. Western Kentucky.   The Pride's lack of frontcourt scoring was one of the main reasons why Hofstra went winless in the tournament.

So far through the first 20 minutes of this game, Washington was again invisible, with zero points on 0 of 2 shooting from the field and had two fouls.   But Imes and Nwaukoni joined forces to keep the Pride in the game.  They combined for eleven points and eighteen rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end.  That was very important, considering the Pride were only shooting 32 percent from the field.  Had they taken more advantage from the free throw line (only 9 of 16 in the first half), the game would have been even closer.

The second half saw Washington awake from his coma to score Hofstra's first four points. But another Rivers three and two free throws by Folohan on Washington's third foul kept Wagner in front 40-32.   But right after Washington's first basket on the day (he had also two free throws), he picked up his fourth foul and he was replaced by Nwaukoni.  

With Wagner up eight, 42-34 with 14:51 left, Hofstra made a run and it was led by their star player.  Once again proving you can't keep a good man down, Jenkins responded by scoring ten points during the Pride's 14-3 spurt, capped by a jumper in the paint by Jenkins to put Hofstra up 50-47 with 8:06 left.   Jenkins was in the zone and Wagner could do nothing to stop him.

What was really interesting during this time was the lineup that Hofstra had on the floor during basically the last fifteen minutes of the game.  With Moore and Washington each with four fouls and on the bench, the Pride turned to a lineup of Jenkins, Yves Jules, Dwan McMillan, Imes and Nwaukoni.  And late in the game, outside of substituting McMillan out at the end, Washington and Moore were basically observers as the Pride looked to pull away from Wagner.

But Bill Murray must have inspired the Seahawks by reminding them of this scene in Stripes, because Wagner came back with two Rivers free throws and a Murray three pointer to tie the game at 52 with 5:43 left.  But Nwaukoni  and Jenkins each drained two free throws to put Hofstra back up 56-52 with 5:19 left.  Imes would later hit two foul shots of his own and the lead was 60-54 with 4:15 left.   But again, the freshman one man wrecking crew Rivers buried a three pointer and hit two free throws to cut the lead to one, 60-59 with 3:29 left.

But Nwaukoni continued his coming out party by hitting a key jumper in the paint to put the Pride back up three, 62-59 with 2:56 left.  Then Murray sandwiched four points around an Imes layup (pictured here), and the lead was back to one, 64-63 with 18 seconds left.   Dan Hurley called timeout to setup a defensive play, but Hofstra got the ball to Jenkins who was fouled by Rivers.   Jenkins sank both free throws to put the Pride up three, 66-63 with fourteen seconds left.

Cassara responded with a timeout of his own to setup his defense.  Then crowd of 2500 plus (it seemed like more) got up on their feet ready to watch the final few seconds.  It didn't take analysis by Bobby Knight to figure out what the Seahawks were going to do.  It was pretty obvious who Wagner was going to have take the potential game tying shot.

Rivers had been money for 39 minutes and 46 second for the Seahawks.  He was shooting 50 percent for the field and 6 of 9 from beyond the arc and was also a perfect 10 for 10 from the line for 28 points  With the reigning CAA Player of the Year and the Haggerty Award winner on the court in Jenkins, Rivers had been the best player out on the Hofstra hardwood on Friday.  And he was going to get the ball.

The Seahawks moved the ball around and got it to Rivers who was basically at the top of the key.  With the whole crowd watching, Rivers launched his shot with his defender, Jules close by him.  For one of the rare times last evening, Rivers' shot was no good and who else but Nwaukoni got the rebound with four seconds left and was immediately fouled.  Nwaukoni calmly hit the first free throw to put the game away.  He missed the second but McMillan snuck in for the rebound and the game was over.

The Pride had held onto a 67-63 lead for Cassara's first win over a Division I team (his first win as a Division I coach came against Division III Farmingdale State).  Jenkins was simply Jenkins in the second half with 17 points including 7 of 8 from the line.  But it was Imes and Nwaukoni who saved the day for the Pride.  Each of them had a double double with Imes scoring 14 points on the day to go with 17 rebounds.  Nwaukoni had 10 points and 13 rebounds in his fourth game as a freshman.  Meanwhile, Murray had 14 points and Folohan had 10 for Wagner.

The Seahawks had a lot to be proud of.  They played a very competitive game and they had good fan support as the whole section behind the Wagner bench was filled with Seahawks faithful.   Wagner is 2-2 now on the season, but that includes a big road win over Stony Brook, the 2009-10 America East Regular Season champion.  The Seahawks are considered one of the teams vying for the America East crown.  Dan Hurley has his team going in the right direction. Don't be surprised if they win the NEC in the next couple of years.

As for Hofstra, Mo Cassara had to be pleased with his team's second half performance.  Hofstra shot 52 percent from the field and were 12 of 15 from the line.   He also had to be pleased with his frontcourt's performance, which is desperately needed for balance.  It wouldn't surprise me if Nwaukoni starts playing over Washington.  Nwaukoni works hard, is an excellent rebounder and actually gives the Pride a post presence that's sorely lacking.  

After a very tough road trip, Nwaukoni and Imes gave the Pride and their fans something to be thankful for the day after Thanksgiving.

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