Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - The College Hardwood Year in Review in Pictures

2010 was a wonderful year to follow college basketball. And it was a lot of fun being able to write about a lot of great live college basketball. Perhaps the best way to describe it is in pictures.

The 2010 calendar year for this blog started on January 2nd with Hofstra hosting a William and Mary team that had already defeated Wake Forest, Richmond, and Maryland, all of which would eventually make the NCAA Tournament.  At this time, the Mary, as Tieff calls them, were considered a serious contender for an at large berth.  Sadly, the Tribe would suffer a couple of bad losses to lower level CAA teams but would make the NIT.  Here, the Tribe would rally to defeat the Pride at the Mack Center.

The week after, on January 6th, I would see Hofstra defeat Towson, as shown above.  More importantly, I would be able to get home and watch the second half of the Cornell - Kansas game.  The Big Red gave the Jayhawks everything they could handle and more before losing at Allen 71-66..  But having seen Cornell in December of 2009, I wasn't surprised, for I thought the Big Red were for real.  And we would find out later in March.

On January 12, on a nationally televised game on ESPNU, VCU dominated Hofstra 81-68.  Actually it was "The Larry Sanders Show on the U", as Sanders scored 31 points in front of numerous NBA scouts at Hofstra's Mack Sports Complex.  The performance had to help him, because Sanders would be drafted 15th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.

In the middle of January, I wrote an article called "There's Something About the Mary's" which sang the praises of William and Mary and St Mary's.  As I noted before, William and Mary eventually made the NIT.  St Mary's would finally dethrone Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Final and then make the Sweet 16.

On Wednesday, January 27, I got to witness what many called was an eight point play during Hofstra's 93-54 win over UNC Wilmington.   It would also be the last game Benny Moss coached for the Seahawks as he was fired, or shall I say "reassigned" two days later.  It would also be the beginning of one of the bigger coaching search messes that I have ever seen/heard of in the years I have followed college basketball.

On February 5th, I went up to Poughkeepsie to see Marist host Iona in women's basketball on 'Pack the House Night", or as I called it "Hoosiers on the Hudson" at a sold out McCann Center.   Both teams were tied for first place in the MAAC at 9-1.  Marist would win in front of their raucous home crowd 68-58.

One day later, I was back at Hofstra as they hosted Northeastern in men's action.  The Huskies hit the Pride with a 16-0 "Noreaster" run and the Huskies would go on for a 75-55 win.   Hofstra would gain revenge and beat Northeastern on their home court later in the month.  That would setup the rubber match at the CAA Tournament.

On Wednesday, February 10, 2010, Long Island got hit with a major snowstorm, not unlike the one we just got this past Sunday.   However, unlike the Philadelphia Eagles, the Drexel vs. Hofstra game was not cancelled, since both teams and officials were already in the area.  So that night, in front of a crowd of 893 (and trust me it wasn't that many), the Pride downed the Dragons 75-64.  It also featured a classic Bruiser Flint moment.

A little more than a week later, I was in New Rochelle to watch the William and Mary vs Iona televised ESPN Bracketbusters game.   After hitting the Beechmont Tavern across the street for dinner and watched Northern Iowa defeat ODU in another Bracketbusters' game, we got back to see the Gaels down the Tribe 69-53.  That national TV loss probably ended any hope the Tribe had of making the NCAA's as an at large.

The next day, two of the New York/New Jersey region's best players, Hofstra's Charles Jenkins and Rider's Ryan Thompson put on a show as Hofstra won 92-89.  Thompson had 38 points while Jenkins had 31.  The win gave the Pride their seventh win in their past eight games.

The weekend after saw me seeing three games in the span of 24 hours.  First, I traveled to New Rochelle to see the rematch between Marist and Iona in women's basketball.  In a very exciting overtime thriller, Marist squeaked by Iona 82-80.  Marist would eventually win the MAAC Championship and Iona would go to the WNIT.

The next day, I took my older son Matthew to the Garden to see Pittsburgh take on St John's.  In front of a crowd that was one third the capacity of MSG, we stayed for the first half only as the Panthers downed the Red Storm 61-54.   This probably put the nail in Norm Roberts coffin.   We had to head back so I could see the third game in 24 hours.

That third game was senior day at Hofstra as they hosted Georgia State.  The Pride would win their ninth out of ten games with a solid 87-74 win.  It would setup a rematch between the two teams in the first round of the CAA Tournament.  It also featured the craziest thing I ever saw on a scoreboard as all five players on the court for Hofstra had exactly seven rebounds.  Sevens were wild that night!

Then there was March.   Before the true March Madness, there was the madness of the CAA Tournament, which I was at for three days.   The day session first round games saw two blowouts as Towson crushed UNCW and VCU downed Delaware and its one fan pictured above.  The evening session games were much different as Hofstra's Greg Washington hit a jumper with 16 seconds left then denied Joe Dukes of any game winning shot attempt as the Pride won by one over Georgia State.  Then James Madison upset Drexel in the evening in an absolute foul-fest.

Then came day two, the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament.  The first day session quarterfinals game wasn't much of one as #1 ODU routed #9 Towson.  The second game was an all out Virginia war as #5 VCU held off #4 George Mason.  The evening quarterfinals were very exciting as Northeastern outlasted Hofstra in double overtime while William and Mary rallied to defeat James Madison.

Then came day three, perhaps the most exciting CAA semifinals ever.  In front of what basically was a Rams home crowd, ODU had to rally furiously to force overtime vs. VCU.  The Monarchs would then defeat the Rams in OT.   Then in the second game, Northeastern rallied furiously from a fourteen point deficiti in the second half to take a lead against William and Mary.  But the Tribe bounced back to take the lead then fended off the Huskies in the wildest 30 seconds of the CAA season to advance to the finals.  ODU would beat William and Mary for the CAA title.

Before the madness began on Thursday, March 18, Wednesday March 17 was the tale of two other post-season games.  In front of a crowd of only 952 (barely more than the crowd listed for the snowstorm Drexel game), Hofstra lost to IUPUI in the first round of the CBI. It would be a game where it was so quiet you could hear everything on the court.  And it would be the last time I would ever say anything in support of the CBI.

Meanwhile, that same night, we thankfully left after the first half of the Hofstra-IUPUI game to go to Stony Brook.  There, Stony Brook hosted the first round of the NIT game due to a scheduling conflict for Illinois.  In front of a sold out, raucous crowd of Seawolves' fans, the Illini held off the Seawolves to advance to the second round of the NIT.  It was truly a fun atmosphere, the complete antithesis of the Hofstra - IUPUI game.

Then came perhaps the greatest day in the history of mid major college basketball.  On the first day of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 18, six mid-major teams- Old Dominion, Murray State, St Mary's, Butler, Northern Iowa and Ohio all won their first round games.  The second day of first round games saw mid majors Cornell and Xavier advancing as well.  The season of the mid-major would continue in the second round as Northern Iowa stunned number one seed  Kansas, St Mary's rolled past Villanova, while Butler beat fellow mid major Murray State.   Then Cornell would wax Wisconsin and Xavier would gain revenge on Pittsburgh for the previous NCAA Tournament.

Five mid-major teams would make it to the Sweet Sixteen (we'll give Xavier an exemption this time and this time only).  Of the five that made it to the Sweet Sixteen, sadly, only one, Butler, would stand out.  While the other gallant mid major teams all lost (including Xavier's classic double overtime loss to Kansas State), Butler moved on.  And boy did they ever.  The Bulldogs stunned #1 West Seed Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, then knocked off #2 Kansas State in the West final to make the Final Four.

But before the NCAA Final Four would take place, the NIT final four took place at the Garden and I was there.  In what many thought (including myself) was going to be the last NIT, North Carolina would outlast Rhode Island in overtime in the first game.  Then in the night cap, Dayton downed Mississippi in the nightcap. The Flyers would eventually win the NIT.

April came and so did the Final Four.  For the first time since George Mason in 2006, a mid major team made the final four.    Butler, however, was no cinderella in my eyes.  They had been one of my top sixteen teams all season.  However, in the eyes of most of the country and even the college basketball world, they were the living embodiment of "Hoosiers".   And the Bulldogs did their darnedest to live up to the movie.  They would knock off Michigan State in the semifinals.  And in the finals versus Mighty Duke, Butler fought toe to toe with the Blue Devils.  And the Bulldogs were just a fraction away from a three point field goal at the buzzer from winning it all.  And thus ended the 2009-10 college basketball season.

But there is always an off-season and there was truly a coaching carousel this off season.  In the span of a little more than a month, Hofstra had three coaches - Tom Pecora, who left for Fordham, Tim Welsh, then after Welsh resigned to a DUI arrest, Mo Cassara was correctly hired off Welsh's staff to be the head coach.  Bobby Gonzalez got canned at Seton Hall, who then hired Kevin Willard from Iona.  Iona then hired Tim Cluess, formerly of C.W. Post.  UNCW needed nearly eighty days to hire Buzz Peterson as their head coach.  Then there was the despicable act at Wake Forest where Dino Gaudio was fired, AFTER leading Wake Forest to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for a coach who never won a NCAA Tournament game.

The summer came and went.  And with late Fall, comes the new basketball season.  For me, it started with a weekend double header.  After watching the Hofstra women lose to a good Virginia Cavalier squad Friday, November 12,  Hofstra hosting Farmingdale State at the Mack Center on Saturday, November 13.  In front of an energized 3727, the Pride easily handled the Division III Rams.

November basketball means pre-season tournaments.  And I went to two pre-season tournaments.  First there was the 2K Classic, which really wasn't a tournament.    But there were two good games at the Garden.  First Pitt was impressive in knocking off Maryland.  Then Texas gave Illinois the two step and the Longhorns beat the Illini in overtime.

Then there was the NIT Pre-season Tipoff before Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving, both days that I attended.  On the party night of the year, Tennessee held off VCU  and then Villanova knocked off UCLA in the semifinals.  On the second day, VCU defeated UCLA in the consolation game, with help from their terrific Rams Pep band.  In the championship game, which we left at the half, Tennessee upset Villanova to win the championship.

The two days of the Pre-season NIT Tipoff were part of my four games in twenty five hours marathon.  The third part was Hofstra overcoming Wagner and Bill Murray that Friday night.  The next day on Saturday, the Iona women defeated Brown for their first win of the season.

December came and I got to witness history at Riverdale, New York.  On a cold Saturday night on December 18,  Charles Jenkins would score his 2000th point for Hofstra in the first half of a solid win over Manhattan.  On this night, he would also pass Speedy Claxton on the all time Hofstra scoring list.  Claxton was in attendance scouting Jenkins for the Golden State Warriors.

Finally, a few days ago, I got to see how good the Iona Gaels were under their new coach Tim Cluess as Iona hosted Hofstra.  The Gaels using a balanced attack, dominated the Pride, winning 87-62.  It was as impressive a performance I had seen live by one team in the past year.

So there you have it.  365 days of college basketball this year.  It may have been the most exciting year of college hoops that I can ever remember.  Can 2011 top it?   There's only one way to find out.  Come 12:00 am, January 1st, we'll get to see what the New Year brings.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Iona's Balanced Attack Runs By Hofstra

Things in life often don't go as planned.  Take for instance this morning.  I woke up at 5:15 and I figured, well I could lie in bed and try to go back to sleep, or I could use the time productively and write about last night's Hofstra vs Iona Men's Basketball game.  The productive side in me won and as I sat down in the entertainment room, I quietly gave myself a congratulations for the initiative.  But literally as I started typing the first sentence of this article, I heard my younger son Jonathan crying in the bedroom he shares with my older son.

Yes, at 5:15, my younger son Jonathan was fully awake.   One serving of milk, four mini pancakes and a Little Einsteins episode on Fios On Demand later resulted in a delay of this article.  So much for initiative and so much for the plan I had made.

One of the good things about working in an academic institution is that I am off between Christmas Eve and New Year's.  This year, my break started the day before Christmas Eve and I gladly needed the extra day off.   When I woke up yesterday morning, I did as often do on a day off or on the weekend.  I grab any t-shirt from my dresser drawer, then collect the rest of my clothes for the day and take a shower.  I got out of the shower, shaved and then put on my t-shirt.   Then I noticed what I had selected.  An Iona T-Shirt that I got at one of the Iona women's basketball games that I went to in the past.    It was as if somebody was trying to tell me something about how last night's game was going to turn out (though I did my best to balance it by wearing a Hofstra cap).

As I met up with my friends Tieff and Mal to head out to New Rochelle, privately I was hoping for a better result than a year ago when I took the drive to Iona by myself.   When I think about things in life not going as planned, in the past 365 days, I have often thought about what happened that night, which was almost one year ago to the very day of last night's Iona game - my accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway.  I was fortunate that night when a minivan came into my lane spun my car out at 55 mph that I hit a grass embankment head on instead of a concrete barrier.  I was able to walk away and actually drive my car home.

Thankfully, as Tieff drove us up to Iona last night, there was no accident, likely due to the slim odds of a minivan coming into our lane again.  As we entered the all too familiar entrance to Iona College, we immediately noticed the number of Iona personnel directing traffic and the number of fans milling out in front of the Hynes Center.  And it wasn't surprising given an up and coming Gaels team that knocked off Richmond and gave Syracuse fits was facing a Pride team that had won six of their last seven and has the best player in the NYC area in Charles Jenkins.    The game also featured two head coaches each in their first year of Division I coaching - Hofstra's Mo Cassara and Iona's Tim Cluess, who somebody at one time recommended for the Hofstra job.

We got our tickets from will call and Mal picked up a program.  As we made our way to our seats, each of us ran into somebody we know and chatted for a while.  College basketball, especially between two local teams, is often a small little world and it just makes it a little more special than other sports.

When we finally sat down, the first thing we noticed was the Iona Pep Band playing a very good rendition of "Peg" by Steely Dan.  That's a great song you never hear played by a band or a PA system during a game.  Then Mal noticed that on the scorecard back of the program (which by the way is a nice little touch),  the incorrect players were listed for the Pride and asked who these players were.   I knew immediately what team it was as soon as I saw "Evan Fjeld".  It was Vermont, who Iona had hosted on December 22 and lost to 84-79.  It was as if this was another sign of things to come last night for Hofstra

The game started off with Iona scoring the first five points of the game as Mike Glover immediately made his presence known by getting fouled twice and hitting three of four free throw attempts.  Then after a Rashon Dwight dunk, Cassara wisely called timeout and righted his team.  Mike Moore and David Imes would score nine of the Pride's first eleven points and the game would be tied at 13 all with ten and a half minutes left in the first half.

Despite the game being tied, the pace of the game seemed to dictate that either Hofstra was struggling to find an offense against Iona's zone or the Pride was purposely trying to slow down the Gaels high powered offense.  A definite indicator that it might be the former was that Charles Jenkins had only one field goal attempt in the first nine and a half minutes of the game.  However, if it was the latter, the Gaels were about to change the pace.

Another dunk by Dwight would put the Gaels up for good 15-13.   Layups by Glover and Chris Pelcher, plus Pelcher hitting one of two free throws extended the lead to 18-13.  After Charles Jenkins hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 18-15, Iona responded with a 10-0 run.  After Iona missed on their first four three point attempts, Jermel Jenkins and Kyle Smyth starting busting Hofstra's zone with two three pointers.  Jermel Jenkins would then hit a two point jumper to put the Gaels up 28-15 with less than six and a half minutes left in the first half.

Mike Moore did his best to keep the Pride in the game by scoring the next four points to cut the deficit to nine, 28-19.   But again, Hofstra had no answer for Glover inside as he hit a monster dunk on an alley oop play, then he hit two free throws on a foul by Imes to put Iona back up by thirteen.  After a Greg Washington jumper and two Moore free throws again cut the lead to nine, Smyth hit two three point bombs and the lead was now fifteen, 38-23.  Charles Jenkins finally hit his first field goal of the game, a three pointer to cut the deficit to twelve.  Hofstra had a chance to get it down to ten or even nine with a three pointer, but a Washington turnover led to a Jermel Jenkins layup and the score was Iona 40 Hofstra 26 at the half.

When the Iona Pep Band played "Frankenstein" during the game, they must have had Glover in mind.  In the first half, Glover had eleven points, six rebounds and was causing fits for the Pride's frontcourt.  And if it wasn't Glover, it was Smyth who had three bombs from the outside.  The Gaels shot 58 percent in the first half (14 of 24).  

Hofstra actually had three more field goal attempts than Iona, but the Pride were only 10 of 27 from the field.  More importantly, Charles Jenkins only had three of those field goal attempts and only had five points.  In large part, Moore kept the deficit to fourteen thanks to his eleven first half points.

As the pep band kept playing great renditions of songs during halftime, including a very cool version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir",  the Pride stayed in the locker room till about two minutes left before the start of the second half.   The first noticeable chance the Pride made was to come out and play man to man defense.  And Iona's Scott Machado immediately took advantage.

Machado, who only had two first half points on free throws, quickly had two layups as blew by the Hofstra defense.  His second layup made the score 46-28.  Another three pointer by Smyth, his fourth of the game extended the lead to twenty, 50-30 with not even three minutes gone by in the second half.    The rout was on.

The lead was still twenty, 54-34 with 15:10 left when Charles Jenkins decided to takeover the Pride offense.  "Charles in Charge" would score the next nine Hofstra points during a four minute span.  However, Jenkins barely made a dent in the deficit as Iona still lead 60-43 with 11:12 left. That's because Glover would score five points during that span including one hellacious dunk that brought a lot of oohs, ahs and wows from the crowd.

From there on out, it was not a question of whether Iona was going to win, it was a question of by how much.  Jenkins tried as much as he could, but Iona's balanced attack was too much for Hofstra.  Machado kept kniving into the Pride defense for layups and assists for easy baskets.  Machado would have 15 points and 9 assists in the second half alone as the Gaels lead swelled to over twenty again, 73-51 by who else, Machado, with 6:11 left in the game.

Hofstra made one last little spurt to get the deficit under twenty as Moore finally appeared from the second half witness protection program he apparently was in.  Moore, who hadn't scored a point since two free throws ninety seconds into the second half, hit a three pointer to make the score 79-60 with 3:50 left.  But the Pride appeared gassed from keeping up with the high octane Iona offense.   And Hofstra was playing only a seven man rotation due to the illnesses of both Yves Jules and Dwan McMillan.   The Gaels would end the game on a 8-2 spurt and win convincingly 87-62.

It was a dominating performance by Iona.  The Gaels shot even better in the second half, shooting 63 percent and shot 61 percent for the game.  Machado nearly missed a triple double as he had 17 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds.  Glover had a double double as he dominated inside with 16 points and 12 rebounds.  Alejo Rodriguez was equally effective inside with 15 points and Smyth added 16 points.  Iona did a wonderful job controlling the ball as they had 22 assists to only 9 turnovers and added 10 steals.  Iona is seventh in the nation in assists with 18.5 per game.

For Hofstra, Jenkins (20 points) and Moore (18 points) combined for 38 points on 13 of 28 shooting.  The problem was the rest of the team shot 8 of 28, including a combined 0 of 15 from guards Brad Kelleher and Shemiye McLendon.  A bright side for the Pride was that they shot 16 of 18 from the line (Iona was 16 of 22 from the charity stripe).

For both teams, it was the last non conference game of the season (sans the Bracketbusters in mid February).  Now it's onto conference games.  Iona, who showed they can score equally as well versus zone and man to man defenses, has a big road game at Siena on January 3rd.   A win would give the Gaels a 3-0 start in conference and based on what I saw, Iona has an excellent chance to be very successful in the MAAC this season.

Meanwhile, Hofstra, who now knows they have to get Jenkins involved early in the game, also plays a huge road game vs. 9-2 Drexel.   The Pride will face a much different style of basketball in the low and slow physical pace of the Dragons.  Hofstra must a get better showing from their frontcourt if they want to win at the DAC.

During our drive out to New Rochelle, Tieff, Mal and I finalized our plans for our overnight trip this weekend. The trip involves the Jets game on Sunday afternoon, followed by a trip to Atlantic City, capped by the Monday night game at Drexel.   And oh yes, dinner at Maggiano's in Little Italy.  Live college basketball and good italian food.   Wouldn't have a road trip to Philly any other way.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hey Newsday, We Know Who the Heck Gary Neal Is!

As you know by now either reading or watching the news, we are in the middle of a blizzard here on Long Island.  And yesterday morning, I wanted to make sure I had news to read while I was snowed in.  So I quickly got some gas, then got a Newsday Sunday edition at the 7-Eleven clone store, known as Rite Stop by me.   I had some hot chocolate while reading the Sports Section, which used to be a separate section on Sundays, but ever since the geniuses at Cablevision bought the paper, its now at the back of the main section. Once again, thanks Dolans!

While working my way backwards towards the start of the sports section, I came across Alan Hahn's "NBA Hotshots" section and saw a short article titled "Who the heck is Gary Neal?".  Gary Neal is the shooting guard for San Antonio, who came to camp with the Spurs from Europe and made the Spurs team.  He only scored 22 points in his most recent game.   Now, in fairness to Hahn, the article does talk about Gary's career at Towson and briefly discusses why he transferred from LaSalle, but the article doesn't do his Tigers career or Neal proper justice.

As all of you fellow longtime CAA fans already know, Gary Neal was a scoring machine at his two years in Towson.  I personally got to see several of Neal's games.   There was the 36 point night at Hofstra in 2006 in a losing cause.  Then there was the 31 point night at Hofstra in 2007 in another losing cause for the Tigers.  There were the two years of CAA Tournament games in which the Tigers played three games, including the 2007 quarterfinal game vs. Old Dominion.  The Tigers nearly knocked off the eventual NCAA at large bid Monarchs behind 22 points from Neal.  But ODU's Gerald Lee broke a tie with less than four minutes left in the game and Old Dominion held on for the 58-55 win..

But the game I will remember Neal most of all was the end of the game I listened to on the radio on January 12, 2006.  My friend Tieff and I had just got out of the Iona women's game in New Rochelle, which was a loss to Canisius.  We got into our car and turned on 88.7 FM WRHU.  And somehow, we managed to get the faint broadcast of Hofstra at Towson.   I had written in my blog on January 11, 2006 that I thought this would be a trap game.

Unfortunately I was right.  Hofstra trailed most of the game but we heard them make a rousing comeback, tying the game at 86 with 1:13 to play.  But Neal scored several key points down the stretch, including twelve points in the last two minutes of the game as Towson upset Hofstra 94-91.

Yes, the Pride shot only 22 of 36 from the line, and yes they were missing Adrian Uter due to injury.  But despite the Pride shooting 15 of 27 from beyond the arc, Neal was awesome.  Neal was 9 of 18 from the field, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc and was 10 of 13 from the line for 34 points on the night.  Neal did get help that night from Lawrence Hamm, one of Tieff's favorites, who had 22 points.   And if you look at the boxscore, guess who had a double-double with ten points and ten assists?.  Yup, former CAA All Rookie in 2005-06 Tim Crossin..  Someone please explain to me how he lost so much playing time after his freshman year, which resulted in me starting the "Tim Crossin Burial Watch".

Hofstra only lost four regular season games in conference all season, all of which were on the road.  The losses at UNC Wilmington, Northeastern and VCU were understandable because all those teams were over .500 in conference.   However, Towson was under .500 in conference, and though Neal and Hamm made a nice duo, the Pride should not have lost that game.

I believe that loss to Towson cost them the #1 seed in the CAA Tournament.  Had the Pride overcome Neal and Hamm, they would have finished 15-3 and would tied George Mason and UNC Wilmington for first place.  Hofstra would have been the #1 seed based on tiebreaker of overall record vs. the other two teams (Wilmington had split with Hofstra and Mason, while Hofstra swept Mason).  But alas, Wilmington and Mason tied, Wilmington got the #1 seed based on a better record vs. #3 Hofstra and the rest is history. Thus Neal will always be remembered by me for that January 12, 2006 game.

Of all the players in the CAA Tieff, Mal and I saw in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, we thought the most likely pro was Neal.  In fact in the aforementioned 31 point night in 2007, I wrote in the next day article that "Gary Neal is a legitimate NBA player."   I truly believed that.   So when the NBA draft came and went in 2007 and Neal was not drafted, I was stunned.

Neal to me was the prototypical two guard.  A legit 6 foot 4 inch guard who was muscular, could drive and more importantly, bury the three.  Neal in 2005-06 averaged 26.1 points per game, shot 44.5 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three (62 of 153).    In 2006-07, he averaged 25.3 points per game, shooting 44.6 percent from the field, though his three point percentage dropped to 34 percent (93 of 278).

What probably hurt Neal's draft chances was that he didn't have too much defensive help from his Tigers' teammates.  In those years, Towson was one of the worst defensive teams I ever saw (and they have been probably for even longer than that).   In his two seasons at Towson, the Tigers were 12-16 and 15-17 respectively.  Both years, the Tigers were 8-10 in conference.

Now the Newsday article glossed over Neal's college career.  He was a top prospect for LaSalle and played there his first two seasons, averaging over 18 points a game for the Explorers.    Then along with another player, Mike Cleaves, Neal was charged with rape of a University of New Haven women's basketball player during a camp at LaSalle.   Neal sat out the 2004-05 season while the case was brought to trial.  Both Neal and Cleaves were acquitted of the charge in November 2005 though the Dean of Students for LaSalle, Joseph Cicala noted ""the behavior discussed in the courtroom was reprehensible".

As a result, Neal left LaSalle, went back home to the Maryland area, and walked on the Towson campus.  Yes, I just said Gary Neal was a walk-on in the 2005-06 season.  The Towson board had to approve whether Neal could play for the Tigers in 2005-06.   After the board's approval, Neal's first game was December 21, 2005 vs. VMI.

After his two seasons at Towson and after going undrafted, Neal had a nice career in Europe, which included playing last season for Benetton TV in the Italian A League and leading the league in scoring.  Neal then was in camp with the Spurs and made the team.  He is averaging nearly eighteen minutes a game, averaging eight points a game and is shooting 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Neal is the third CAA player from the 2005-06 season currently playing in the NBA.  Jose Juan Barea was a senior for Northeastern that season.  He was also undrafted, but made the Dallas Mavericks out of camp in 2006 and has been with them since that time.   Barea is averaging nearly twenty minutes and seven points per game.  Finally, Eric Maynor was a freshman for VCU in 2005-06.  He of course was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by Utah.  He was later traded to Oklahoma City where he averages nearly fifteeen minutes and five points per game.

So Mr. Hahn, before you ask "Who the Heck is Gary Neal?", check with some of your fellow college basketball staffers at Newsday.  I would like to hope one of them remembers what Gary Neal did in the CAA and especially to Hofstra, since that's one of the teams they cover.  And if not, you can always contact The College Hardwood.  We'll gladly tell you all about "The Real Deal", Gary Neal.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas We Get, We Deserve

One of my favorite all time Christmas songs is "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  This is a live version from a charity event up in Albany in 1994.  If you know the song, it's a honest realization of Christmas.  And the last lyric in the song, "The Christmas we get, we deserve" is something I have believed in ever since I first heard the song.

So with this great song in mind, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season and a great New year.  And I have certain wishes for some for the holiday season and the new year.

For Butler -  A Diamond Head Classic Championship, so we can stop hearing from so-called experts that Butler has been a disappointment so far this season, which is completely bogus.

For Bruce Pearl - Lots and lots of coal.  You've been a very bad boy this year, Bruce.  You're lucky your only real punishment so far is the SEC suspending you.

For Jim Calhoun and UConn Men's Basketball Program- Whatever Pearl gets as far as coal in his stocking, you should get triple that amount. And Calhoun, how can you not know about all those text and phone messages.  Seriously.

For Charles Jenkins - The Hofstra scoring record and a long career in the NBA.  By all reported accounts and people in the know, Jenkins is a wonderful human being as well as a wonderful player.  Both achievements would be a deserving reward for him.

For My Friend Tony Bozzella - A MAAC Women's Basketball Conference Tournament Championship.  That would mean an automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Tournament.  Nobody deserves this more than Coach Bozzella.

For Jerry Beach, aka Mr Defiantly Dutch and all Hofstra fans - CAA Tournament Championships for the men's and women's basketball teams, and a College World Series appearance for the terrific softball team.

For the NCAA  - A complete and thorough investigation of your policies by an outside organization, which results in a complete overhaul for your corrupt organization.  After all the inconsistent rulings involving basketball players, The No Clue At All pull off this gem as far as the Ohio State football team.    The five Ohio State players violate the NCAA rules, there's a suspension involved for next season, but they can play the bowl game.   Just an awesome ruling.

For my fellow CAA fans - A great CAA Tournament and a multi- NCAA Tournament bid in 2011.  Right now, if all things stay the same, that would mean ODU would have to lose in the CAA semifinals and get an at large bid (of course I have Hofstra winning from the above wish).  But that's OK Monarch fans cause I wish you guys...

For Old Dominion Fans - A Sweet 16 appearance for one of my favorite current NCAA teams.  Nothing says Christmas like "Ground and Pound".

For West Coast Conference, Missouri Valley and Horizon League fans - Multi bids for the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well.  Hey, I am in the giving mood this year and your leagues deserve them anyhow.

For the Antichrist, John Calipari, this song.   But I will give you some rare credit, I really like your team this year.  They are fun to watch.

For All Mid Major/Atlantic 10/Conference USA Basketball Fans - One of your teams runs the table and wins the big dance!   We were so close with Butler last season, so why not break on through to the other side and win it all because then...

For Kyle Whelliston - A season that doesn't end in loss.  So close to having that last season. Let's hope this season it finally happens in the last 100 game season for the Mid Majority.

Again, I hope you all get the Christmas and New Year that you deserve.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Agudio and Jenkins Reunite as Hofstra Defeats Holy Cross

In 2007, I got to see Hofstra take on Holy Cross live twice.   In the February 17th Bracketbusters game in Hempstead, Carlos Rivera hit two free throws to give the Pride an exciting 65-64 win over the Crusaders.  Holy Cross would eventually win the Patriot League Championship in the 2006-07 season and make the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Southern Illinois in the first round.   Hofstra would be upset by George Mason in the CAA Quarterfinals and made the NIT, where they lost to DePaul in the first round.

On November 10,  2007, I drove up to Worcester, Massachusetts to see Hofstra take on Holy Cross in a return matchup of their Bracketbuster game.  It was the first game of the season for both teams and both teams were rebuilding.  The Crusaders had lost their two best players, Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas to graduation, leaving Tim Clifford as their best player.  Meanwhile, two thirds of Hofstra's great guard trifecta, Loren Stokes and Rivera had graduated, leaving Antoine Agudio as their best player.

The Crusaders would win that rematch 61-47 as Pat Doherty would have his second best night of the 2007-08 season for Holy Cross with 18 points, while Clifford only had 6 points in the game.  Meanwhile, outside of Agudio's 28 points, Hofstra struggled to find a second scoring option.   A redshirted freshman guard named Charles Jenkins scored 5 points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field in his first ever game for the Pride (though he did have 9 rebounds).

Despite the win, Holy Cross would struggle in 2007-08 .  Clifford did his best, averaging 18 points per game on 57 percent shooting from the field.  However, the rest of the team did not pick up the offensive slack as no other player averaged double digits in scoring.  The Crusaders would finish the 2007-08 season 15-14 and would lose in their first round Patriot League Tournament game to American.

In the case of the Pride, as the 2007-08 season progressed, Jenkins would become the second scoring option for the Pride as he averaged 15 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the field while averaging 4.6 rebounds per game.  Agudio was as Mike Litos called him "Antoine Agreatio", averaging nearly 23 points per game, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game.   As dynamic a duo Agudio and Jenkins were, there was not much other help on that Pride team and they struggled to a 12-18 season and a first round loss in the CAA Tournament.

However, for Agudio and Jenkins, there was much to be proud of for this Pride duo.  Agudio would become the all time leading scorer in Pride history and was a first team All CAA Player for the second season in a row.   Meanwhile Jenkins would be the CAA Rookie of the Year, a sign of things to come for the now reigning CAA Player of the Year and the two time Haggerty Award winner.

A little more than three years later, the dynamic duo would reunite as Hofstra again faced Holy Cross for the first time since that November 2007 game. This time, the game was back at the Mack Sports Complex.    Agudio was in the crowd  (seated third row behind the team bench) to watch as Jenkins received a special basketball by Coach Mo Cassara to commemorate him scoring his 2000th point vs. Manhattan last Saturday.   Then Agudio got to watch as the Pride gave some payback to the Crusaders for that November 2007 game.

Hofstra struggled early on, as both of their starting frontcourt players, Greg Washington and David Imes, each picked up two fouls in the first six minutes of the game.  Also, Crusader guard Mike Cavataio played excellent defense on Jenkins, who could not get a shot attempt off  for the first twelve plus minutes of the game.  Holy Cross would take a 10-8 lead as Jordan Stevens assisted on two Eric Obeysekere jumpers, the second a three pointer with 11:24 left in the first half.

But the Pride would respond by going to a smaller lineup, which included one Shemiye McLendon.   McLendon would key a 16-0 run by Hofstra over the span of four plus minutes by hitting three 3 pointers in a row.  Jenkins would also finally score on a three point play, courtesy of a Cavataio foul.   Outback Brad Kelleher would cap the run with a layup to put Hofstra up to stay 24-10 with 7:10 left in the first half.

The last seven minutes of the half basically saw Hofstra hold serve.  The Pride would take a 34-22 at halftime lead as they shot 50 percent from the field, 14 of 28 including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc.  The most unusual thing was that Jenkins only took two field goal attempts in the entire first half, hitting both.  A lot of credit was due to the defense by Cavataio.  But Jenkins found other ways to contribute in the first half with three assists, three rebounds, a steal and two blocks, one of which where he swatted a layup attempt into the second row of seats behind the basket.  No truth to the rumor that Jenkins was trying to purposely knock the ball into Mr Defiantly Dutch while he was tweeting "WORCESTER BIAS" during the game.

The second half started out much like the end of the first half.  Mike Moore was fouled again on a successful three pointer.  But unlike the game vs. Manhattan, Moore couldn't convert the four point play and missed the free throw, thus Hofstra was only up 41-29 with 16:46 left in the game.  At that point, it looked like Hofstra was going to coast to a twenty point win.

But just like the game vs. Manhattan, the Pride saw their opponent make a run.   Thanks to some terrific passing by Andrew Keister and Andrew Beinart, the Crusaders went on a 9-2 mini-spurt, capped by Keister making one of two free throws to cut the Hofstra lead to 43-38 with 12:55 left.   A relatively large contingent of Holy Cross fans that made the trip started making a lot of noise as a result.

But as they did against the Jaspers, the Pride responded to the run with a three point barrage, with the barrage coming solely from the hands of Moore.    Moore would hit three 3 pointers during a 21-7 run over the span of six minutes.  With 6:43 left, the score was 64-45 Hofstra and all was left was to warm up the Crusaders bus.  The Pride would eventually win the game 71-56.

But what was really impressive about the run was that Jenkins had very little to do with it from a scoring standpoint.  Normally a one man wrecking crew in the latter twenty minutes of a game, Jenkins would only score eight points in the second half and thirteen total points on the night.  He only had seven field goal attempts, though he hit all five of his free throws.  However, the stat sheet stuffer did have six rebounds, five assists and those two blocks, including the Beach seeking guided cruise missile of a swat.

The Pride showed their balance as seven players had at least six points on the night.  Moore led the way with 15 points, including his four three point bombs.  The frontcourt duo of Washington and Imes combined for 18 points on 8 of 10 from the field.  McLendon scored all nine of his points during that span of the first half, while Kelleher added 7 points and Dwan McMillan chipped in with 6 points.    The Pride again were deadly from three, shooting 8 of 15, shot 47 percent overall from the field and were 11 of 14 from the line.

The Crusaders were held to 34.6 percent shooting from the field.  They did though have three players in double figures as Keister had 12 points along with 8 rebounds, Stevens had 11 and Devin Brown added 10 points.  The fifty six points scored by Holy Cross marked the ninth time out of eleven games on the season that Hofstra held an opponent to sixty three points or less.

It was the second game in a row where a Hofstra great took in one of Jenkins' games.  Last Saturday night, Speedy Claxton was at Draddy Gym scouting  Jenkins as he not only scored his 2000th point but then passed Claxton on the all time scoring list.   Last night, it was Agudio who was in attendance. As Agudio watched from his third row seat from behind the Hofstra bench, I wonder if he thought at all about that November 10, 2007 game where he played with Jenkins for the first time in an actual game.  Did Agudio know that his teammate would follow him as the next in a great line of Hofstra guards?

One thing is for certain.   There were two fantastic guards there last night at the Mack Sports Complex.   And they could play for my team anytime.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holy Cross Batman!

It's the Crusaders taking on the Pride at Hofstra's Mack Center. Follow my updates on gmoore21566.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Charles Jenkins Gets His 2000th Career Point as Hofstra Rolls By Manhattan

Two years ago, Tieff and I made the drive up to Riverdale to see Hofstra play Manhattan.  We got up there late and found out that the parking lots were full, and that we had to find a parking spot somewhere on a side street.  It felt like we were looking for a spot forever and when we finally found one, it seemed like we walked half of Riverdale in the dark to get to the Draddy Gymnasium on the campus of Manhattan College.

Having learned from that experience, I left shortly before 5:15 to make the trek up there again for the 7:00 PM start time.  This time, it was a solo trip since Tieff was suffering from a bad cold.  I made it up to Riverdale in 45 minutes, and even though I got slightly lost (and that was even with my GPS),  I made it to the entrance to Manhattan College a little after 6:00 PM. 

When I asked the guard if there was a lot I can park in, I was dreading the response.  The guard simply pointed to the first lot to the right of the entrance and said, "You can park there."   It was a small lot for maybe 40 cars, but there was maybe a total of five when my car made it six.   It made sense because Manhattan was probably on holiday break and the Jaspers were also struggling at 2-8.  However, apparently I was fortunate to get there early.  That's because Mr and Mrs. Beach, aka Defiantly Dutch and the First Lady of Defiantly Dutch, came around game time and they told me of their parking horror.   Needless to say I wasn't surprised and I told them of our tale of woe from two years ago.

After walking three different sets of stairs across campus, I finally made it to the front of the Draddy Gymnasium.  Draddy Gymnasium is a 2500 seat multipurpose gym that includes the largest indoor track in New York City.   Probably due to that large track and the high ceiling, it kind of reminds me of the Armory Track and Field Center in Washington Heights where I ran a few winter track events in high school.

As you can see by the photo, for basketball games, the gymnasium is cut in half.  The first half is the open entrance where they put up a make shift concessions stand.  Behind that is the row of seats with the seat backs for season ticket holders or premium seating for the basketball court.  The rest of the seating for the basketball court is bleacher seating.

I sat on the opposite site of that section with the seatbacks, which also happened to be the side where the players benches were on. Then I saw the sign pictured on the left that said "Welcome to the Jasper Jungle".  Due to the lack of a crowd, I felt like I was more at a zoo, because the animals were pretty sedated Saturday night.

During warmups, half of the sound system's speakers in the old gymnasium temporarily blew out which left the other half which was coming from the corner on the right to me.  It was kind of like listening to headphones with the headphones not plugged all the way in to the jack. Though they fixed the problem shortly before game time, the speaker blow out was a sign of things to come Saturday night for the Jaspers.

It had been six seasons since Manhattan's last NCAA Tournament team, the 2003-04 Jaspers who knocked off Florida in the first round of the tournament.  Luis Flores' 26 points buried a Gators team that featured NBA star David Lee.  Manhattan then barely lost to Wake Forest in the second round that season.  It was the second season in a row that Manhattan had made the NCAA Tournament.  The season before, the Jaspers lost to Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Manhattan's last claim to postseason fame was the 2006 NIT, where the Jaspers went to Maryland and upset the Terrapins before losing in the second round to Old Dominion.  Shortly thereafter, coach Bobby Gonzalez, who wore out his welcome at Manhattan with his fiery and often too combative personality, headed for Seton Hall.  He was fired there after a few seasons, basically in an epic meltdown of monumental proportions.   Meanwhile the Jaspers have struggled with losing records in three of their last four seasons.  And with their record of 2-8 going into the game vs Hofstra, it sure looks like it's going to be four of their last five seasons.

I looked at all of the banners hanging from the rafters of Draddy Gymnasium.  Among those banners were their NCAA and NIT banners for men's basketball, along with all the banners for their other sport championships.   Then, I noticed one of the banners was the list of 1000 + point men's basketball scorers.  Luis Flores' name was on the banner, and in fact, he is a member of the 2000 point plus club at Manhattan.

And it's ironic that someone Saturday night was also going to be a member of a 2000 point plus club.   Charles Jenkins was five points away from being a select member of Hofstra's 2000 point group.  And in attendance was another member of that Hofstra group, Speedy Claxton, who recently retired from the NBA and is now a scout for the Golden State Warriors.
The game started out with a steal by David Imes which led to a layup by Dwan McMillan for a 2-0 lead.  Imes then hit a free throw to make the score 3-0.  Basically in that one minute and ten seconds was Imes' night.  He picked up two fouls in the first half and only played eleven minutes.  And since Manhattan played a zone for most of the evening, Coach Mo Cassara wisely responded with a smaller lineup for most of the rest of the game.

The first half was relatively close for the first ten minutes.  Recent Alabama transfer Demetrius Jemison kept his Jaspers close by scoring seven of his team's first twelve points.  A George Beamon layup would cut the Hofstra lead to one, 15-14 with 10:47 left.

Then Hofstra started pulling away and created a little history in the process.  Jenkins started the 10-2 mini-spurt with a three and finished the spurt with a layup to put Hofstra up 25-16 with 7:47 left.  With the layup, the Hofstra fans in attendance that were in the know cheered and gave him a mini standing ovation.  Then the PA announcer graciously told the crowd that with the layup, Jenkins had reached the 2000 point total for his career. 

But those were the only points that Jenkins scored in the first half.  However, the Pride first half offense didn't need Jenkins.  Brad Kelleher was inserted into the game early on and he made a definite impression in only his second game ever for the Pride.  As I noted earlier, the Jaspers played a zone for a good part of the game.  And Outback Brad made them pay by nailing four three pointers in the first half and scored 14 points overall.  His fourth three pointer of the first half gave Hofstra their largest lead of the half 39-23.

But Kelleher was not alone in the first half scoring festivities for the Pride.  A small group of Lions Den fans made the trip for the game and ended up sitting behind the Hofstra basket in the first half.  And they chanted "We want Moore!" every time that junior guard Mike Moore scored from Hofstra.  And he scored often in the first half with 12 first half points.  Thanks to Moore and Kelleher, the score was 42-29 Hofstra at the half.  The Pride shot 53.6 percent in the first half which included 7 of 10 from beyond the arc.

I was sitting with Jerry and his lovely wife Michelle, aka the First Lady of Defiantly Dutch.  And at the half, Jerry, Michelle and I talked about this was one of those games where Hofstra needed to win by 20 and not allow Manhattan to get back in the game.  And you know, when you talk like that, the basketball gods that are listening tend to try to even things out.

But early on in the second half, it seemed the basketball gods weren't paying attention to the "Beach-Moore Halftime Rival Blogger Summit".  Jenkins and Moore scored the first eleven points for Hofstra.  The final four of those came on a Moore four point play as he was fouled hitting a three and the Pride were up 53-40 with 12:23 left.

Then the basketball gods made their presence known as did Manhattan.  The Jaspers went on a 10-0 run over the next nearly five minutes.  Beamon capped the run, by scoring two of his twenty two points on a layup.  And suddenly the Hofstra lead was down to three, 53-50 with 7:30 left.  The mild Jasper Jungle faithful now were suddenly in the game as was their team.

But as I have seen over the years, there are certainties in life.  Death, taxes, the Meadowbrook Parkway becoming a parking lot by the Roosevelt Field Mall during Christmas season, and now for the past four seasons, Charles Jenkins having a monster second half.  And when the Pride were on the precipice of giving up once was a sixteen point lead and with the shot clocking winding down, Jenkins came through once again.  He nailed a NBA three to put the Pride up 56-50.  And even though Jenkins hit the three, Coach Mo Cassara noticed that his team was still struggling to move the ball on offense and thus wisely called timeout after the basket.

Whatever Cassara said to them worked, because the first Jenkins three was followed by another Jenkins three.  Then a Shemiye McLendon three, then a Moore three.  Despite the gym ceiling, the Pride were raining down shots from beyond the arc.  Before you knew it, once what was a slim three point lead became a 20 point margin, 71-51, thanks to a Hofstra 18-1 run over a five minute span.  With 2:39 left, the Jasper Jungle faithful were heading for the exits.

During garbage time, Manhattan would score the last seven points to trim the final margin to 13, as the Pride won 71-58.  During his sixteen point second half barrage, Jenkins would actually pass Claxton on the all time Hofstra scoring list with 2016 points.  Moore added a double double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.  Kelleher didn't score any points in the second half, but he did his damage in the first half with his 14 points.

The Pride as a whole shot 45 percent but that was including a blistering 12 of 21 from beyond the arc (57 percent).  Manhattan was led by Beamon's 22 points on 8 of 14 shooting, but he was the only Jasper in double figures as the rest of his teammates only shot 11 of 31 from the field. 

As I made my way across campus heading back to my car, going down through those three different level of stairs, I called my friend Mal.  He had been texting me during the latter part of the game. I told him about the game and how Speedy was now a Warriors scout.  We imagined Jenkins and Stephen Curry in the same backcourt and joked that we would have to get Warriors jerseys if that happened.  Then I called Tieff while I warmed up the car in the parking lot, talked about the game briefly, then wished him some rest to get better.

Amazingly, I didn't hit any traffic again on the Cross Bronx Expressway (apparently people were in the malls instead) and made my way home with a new frog magnet for the refrigerator.  And yes, that's my Bally sitting next to him.  As I put the frog magnet on top of the refrigerator, I realized I was hungry.   As much as I try to be impartial, I am at heart a Hofstra fan.  And as always, after a good win, I have a celebratory snack.  In this case, it was a bologna and cheese sandwich on a roll.

Food always tastes better after a good live college basketball game...especially after a Hofstra win.