Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History Does Not Repeat Itself as Hofstra Downs Towson

After Hofstra defeated Northeastern on Saturday in a very solid win, the Pride fan in me got excited over their 4-0 start in the CAA.  I knew that Hofstra had a good chance to go 5-0 in conference, since their next game was against winless Towson.  And I couldn't help myself to start thinking about the game following tonight's Towson game, which is a home game vs.  Old Dominion.  Saturday's game should be for at least a share of first place in the CAA.  But then part of me realized that tonight's Towson game is a trap game, just like five years ago.

As much as I try to be impartial, this blog started a little over five years ago, due to my two fellow Hofstra season ticket holders, Mal and Tieff.  And that was during the 2005-06 college basketball season, which to me was perhaps the most special college basketball season ever (last season is a close second).   And during that '05-06 season, Hofstra played Towson in the fifth conference game in CAA play.   That game was played January 12, 2006...exactly five years to the very day that tonight's game was played.
And it's a game that the Hofstra fan in me doesn't remember fondly, but remembers well.  Tieff and I had just got out of an Iona women's basketball game and we were able to catch the end of the game on the radio in the car.   As we followed the WRHU telecast of the game, we would end up listening to the Tigers upsetting the Pride 94-91 due in large part to Gary Neal's twelve points in the last two minutes of the game.   When I recently wrote an article about Neal, the Spurs new three point shooter off the bench,  it brought those memories back to the forefront.

When I think back to the January 12, 2006 Towson game, the "What If..." part of me comes out.  Hofstra lost four games in conference during the CAA 2005-06 regular season.   To me, three of the losses were understandable - at eventual CAA champion UNC Wilmington, at fifth place Northeastern, and at sixth place VCU (the Siegel Center is just such a tough place to win a road game against a team that would finish 11-7 in conference).   However, the loss to seventh place Towson, a team that finished under .500 in conference play at 8-10, to me was a bad loss.

The "What If" in me says that if Hofstra had not lost that game at Towson, they would have finished 15-3 in conference.  That would have given them the #1 seed in the CAA Tournament due to tiebreakers and who knows what might have happened in the CAA Tournament had that been the scenario.  Alas, life can not be made based on what if scenarios.

But the similarities between tonight's game and five years ago were too eerily familiar.   Both games were the 5th conference game of the season.  The game was of course at Towson.   And five years ago, chances are Hofstra was looking ahead to their game two days later against first place UNC Wilmington (a game that Hofstra won in a triple overtime classic).  And sure enough, tonight's game is three days before Hofstra's first place game against ODU. Now when I tweeted some of this info, Mr. Defiantly Dutch said "You shut up!!"  But being the Hofstra Basketball historian he is, he knows all too well the history as well.

So with a chance for redemption five years in the making, the Pride took the court to try to go 5-0 in conference while the Tigers were looking for their first win in the CAA.  Alas, the weather wouldn't allow me to even remotely consider a drive down the NJ Turnpike.  So it was the feed of the Towson Tigers' Tiger Zone live video stream of the game.

Right from the start, you could tell, the Pride were taking this potential trap game seriously.  Hofstra ran out to a 7-0 and 14-3 leads.  And it was obvious why they were able to do so.  The Towson announcers doing the play by play immediately commented on how the Pride was able to move the ball around so quickly as opposed to the Tigers on offense.

In a lot of games this season, Hofstra has struggled to get Charles Jenkins involved in the first half.  Tonight was not one of those games.  Jenkins, in front of NBA scouts such as Washington Wizards' Kevin Grevey, hit his second 3 pointer of the night, which put Hofstra up 17-8.  At that time, he had nine points - the aforementioned three pointers and an old fashioned three point play.  But again it wasn't just Jenkins, as his wingman, Mike Moore was also scoring points as well (both would have 12 in the first half).

Meanwhile, Towson was having a rough start to their night.  First, they struggled at the outset trying to score on the Hofstra zone.  Then the Tigers had a rough time keeping Hofstra off the offensive glass as the Pride got numerous second chance opportunities in the first half.  Finally, Pat Kennedy made a really questionable decision.  He left Braxton Dupree in the game with two fouls and he quickly picked up a third foul.   It only got worse as Kennedy inexplicably brought Dupree back later in the first half.  And of course, Dupree picked up his fourth foul.

The Tigers' only saving graces were forward Isaiah Philmore and guard RaShawn Polk.  Two Polk threes sandwiched a Philmore layup and kept the Tigers in the first half down 19-13. But a Pride 10-2 spurt sparked by Jenkins third three pointer of the half gave them their biggest lead 29-15.   Towson would cut the lead down to nine at the half 39-30. 

Despite the significant difference on the boards, the ball movement by Hofstra and the foul trouble of Dupree, the Tigers were fortunate to only be down nine at the half.  And Towson came out with their best run of the night, a 9-4 spurt which cut Hofstra's lead to 43-39 on a layup, by who else, Philmore with 17:11 left.

But Hofstra would respond.  First on defense, Hofstra switched from their zone, which they had used for the entire game prior, to a man to man defense.  Second, they got back in sync with their terrific ball movement.   As a result, the Pride would go on a 17-5 run over the span of a little over six minutes.  And though Moore, David Imes and Greg Washington did all the scoring during that time, everyone on Hofstra seemingly contributed to the run due to good ball movement and good defense.

In fact, one possession stood out to me in this game.  David Imes rebounded a Towson miss with 12:42 left in the game.   In twenty seconds, it seemed every Hofstra player crisply passed the ball around the Towson basket until Shemiye McLendon's last pass found Greg Washington for an easy layup to put Hofstra up 56-42.  This possession resulted in me tweeting "That last possession by was just a thing of beauty.  Absolutely terrific ball movement."  It really was beautiful to watch.

Towson would make one last run at the Pride, a 6-0 spurt that made the score 60-50.  The spurt was a result of Towson finally making a dent on the offensive glass and Philmore and Polk playing as well as they could for the Tigers.   Hofstra coach Mo Cassara wisely called timeout with seven minutes left and everyone knew what was coming.

What was scary was that for the first thirteen minutes of the second half and especially during that 17-5 run, Jenkins had not scored a point in the second half.  He certainly was involved in the offense as he had five assists on the night.  But Jenkins, who coming into the game was shooting 68 percent in the second half on the season, had missed on his only three shots of the second half.   Someone was very due.

It took a couple of minutes after the timeout with seven minutes left for Jenkins to come alive.  However, the Pride, thanks to Washington, Imes and McLendon had gone back out to a thirteen point lead, 63-50.   Then as I stated on Twitter "To paraphrase , 'The monster is out of the cage!'" Jenkins hit a layup to make it 65-50.   Then he hit another layup while fouled.  His free throw gave him an old fashioned three point play and Hofstra a 68-52 lead.  Then finally, Jenkins canned a long two pointer and the Force of Nature had put the Pride up 70-52.  The Pride would end up winning the game 74-60.

There were several impressive things that came out of tonight's game for Hofstra.  The Pride had entered the night as one of the leaders in the nation in three point FG percentage.  Despite shooting only 4 of 19 from beyond the arc, Hofstra still shot 49 percent from the field (the Pride shot 25 of 40 from 2 pt range).  The Pride had struggled most of this season in rebounding.  Yet tonight, Hofstra outrebounded Towson 39-30, 14 of which were offensive rebounds and had 21 second chance points as a result.

Finally, for Hofstra (5-0 CAA 11-5 overall), the key factor behind their four game winning streak has been the balanced scoring they have received.  That again was the case tonight as four players were in double figures for the Pride.  Moore led with 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.  Jenkins had 19 points, shooting 7 of 14 from the field.  Washington was 8 of 11 from the field for 16 points and added 7 rebounds, while David Imes added 11 points.  The Pride also kept up their torrid free throw shooting, shooting 12 of 15 from the charity stripe.

As for Towson (0-5 CAA, 4-11 overall), Philmore had a terrific night with 21 points, while Polk added 15 points.  Together, Philmore and Folk shot 15 of 30 from the field.  The problem was the rest of the team shot 11 of 32 from the field.  Dupree, who entered the game averaging 14 points per game, had a rough night.  Due to his foul trouble, he only had 4 points, which matched his fouls, though he amazingly didn't foul out.

The excitement of the new website, which will chronicle the soon to be built new Tiger Arena, couldn't propel the Tigers to a repeat performance of five years ago.   Then again as talented as Isaiah Philmore and RaShawn Polk are, neither of them is Gary Neal (and Tieff would tell you that neither is Lawrence Hamm either).

As for Hofstra, five years ago today probably didn't mean anything for them.  Obviously, none of those players were on the 2005-06 team.   And since this is a brand new coaching staff, none of the coaches knew the significance of today.  All they saw was a potential trap game and they handled it perfectly with good ball movement, solid defense and solid rebounding.

But certainly for those of us, like Jerry Beach and me, we all know too well what happened five years ago today.    And tonight, Beach and I are very happy to see this team made sure history didn't repeat itself.  As I told Beach, if Hofstra won, it would be as Bob Murphy used to say after Mets' wins, "Back with the happy recap!"  Somewhere, Murph is smiling right now.

With a win tonight at their backs, the first place Pride can now focus squarely on Saturday's 4:00 PM game vs. Old Dominion at the Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead.   Sole possession of first place in the CAA is on the line and a potential statement game if Hofstra can get the win.  If you are in the New York area and free on Saturday at that time, come to the game, because it should be a dandy.

It doesn't get any more important than that in January.

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