Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hofstra Rallies to Beat UNCW

Last night as I entered the Mack Sports Complex 40 minutes before the start of the UNCW - Hofstra game, in a way, it was like returning to the scene of a crime.  A little less than a year ago, the same two teams played at the Mack Center.  It was a night where you could say the Pride and Charles Jenkins "murdered" the Seahawks 93-54.  But it was also much more than that.

For those of you who remember (or just read the above linked story),  during the game, Charles Jenkins had an eight point play, which was unreal if you witnessed it live.  Apparently the media thought it was unreal as well, as the eight point play received national attention.  Combine the final score with the eight point play, and it was probably a very publicly embarrassing moment for a UNC- Wilmington team that was at the time 7-14 and was 7-25 the season before.

Well apparently the public spotlight of their struggling program was the final straw for the UNCW administration.  Two days later,  Seahawks coach Benny Moss was "reassigned".   As I noted my article from last season (which is the link on the previous sentence),  I had thought Moss deserved to finish out the season.  However I also noted how bad a defensive team the Seahawks were and that you "could just see the lack of effort on defense".  They were a very undisciplined team under Moss.

After a coaching search that took longer than the Falklands War (kudos to Beach on that classic nugget), UNCW hired Buzz Peterson, who had been coaching Appalachian State, to be the new head coach.   Peterson had a tall task in his first season as his team had combined for 14 wins the two previous seasons  and several players including forward John Fields, now at Tennessee, left the team.

But as Wilmington Star News writer Brian Mull terrifically put it in a article yesterday, Charles Jenkins saved UNCW basketball.  Peterson's team entered the game last night with a 9-9 record, including a 3-3 conference record.   Based on a talk I had with Brian Mull after the game, Peterson has also rejuvenated the UNCW fan base.  The attendance for their home game against VCU was 5,126, which was more than double their attendance from a year ago in their previous home game with the Rams (2,375).  And that was with school not in session (Kudos to Mull for that nugget).

As for Hofstra, they were recovering from their first loss of the conference season against ODU.  But despite that loss, no one would have thought in Mo Cassara's first season as head coach that they would be 5-1 in conference.  The Pride have a huge road win over Drexel, their first road win vs the Dragons since 2007 and a win over Mason, their first win over the Patriots since 2007.  Not bad for a team which a year ago only had a 2-7 record in conference when they faced UNCW.

So while the PA System was playing AC-DC's "For Those About to Rock" right before tipoff, you had the backdrop for last night's UNCW-Hofstra game.  Two teams, both with completely new coaching staffs this season, both significantly improved from a year ago.  Unfortunately, only a small crowd of 1781 would see a much more competitive game this time around.

The Seahawks came right out and gave notice that this wasn't your Benny Moss Seahawks.  UNCW's terrific duo of Chad Tomko and Keith Rendleman gave a preview to the Seahawks scoring on the night as they combined to score all their team's points as UNCW led 7-3 early.   The Seahawks would still be up 9-7 with 16:04 left in the first half.

But Hofstra would go on a 20-5 run over a ten minute span as four of the Hofstra starters; Charles Jenkins, Mike Moore, David Imes and Brad Kelleher would score all the points during the run.  The score was 27-14 with 5:45 left in the first half.   It seemed like the Pride were about to have another blowout on UNCW.

However, where last season's Seahawks would have likely folded the tent, Buzz Peterson's team would show a lot of heart.  Rendleman led a 11-2 Seahawks spurt scoring nine of the eleven UNCW points as the Hofstra lead was now only four, 29-25 with 2:35 left.   Rendleman's athleticism forced the Pride frontcourt into foul trouble.  Greg Washington and Roland Brown each had two fouls and Paul Bilbo and Imes each had one as they could not defend the quicker, bouncier Rendleman.

Hofstra would extend the lead back out to eight by halftime, as unlike the game against ODU,  Jenkins pass to a wide open Kelleher would lead to a three pointer by Outback Brad at the buzzer.    The score was 35-27 at the half.   The score differential was due in large part to Hofstra' shooting from three, as the Pride were 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.  Hofstra's four starters had all their points (Jenkins and Moore each had 10, Kelleher 9 and Imes 6), while Rendleman led all scorers with 11 points.

The start of the second half saw Hofstra score four quick points to extend their lead back to twelve, 39-27 with 19:04 left.  Then Peterson called a 30 second timeout.  Whatever he said, it sure worked.  The Seahawks offense went to work while their zone forced the Pride to shoot errant threes.  As a result, UNCW went on a stunning 23-6 run over the span of ten minutes.   Tomko would lead the run scoring ten points, the last of which, a patented Tomko three pointer gave the Seahawks a 50-45 lead with 9:17 left.

During this Seahawk run, an ironic thing happened.  I noticed the Hofstra women's lacrosse team, who had been recognized at halftime for their academic achievements, were walking down the stairs behind the Hofstra basket with their lacrosse sticks.  I turned to my friend Jeff Silberfeld and told him a story about last season when the lacrosse team "tossed" T-shirts to the crowd with their lacrosse sticks during a timeout.

It just so happens that last year one of those girls whizzed and I mean, whizzed, a t-shirt into the first couple of rows.  And she smacked someone not paying attention right in the face with the T-shirt.  Well wouldn't you know it, they came out again during a TV timeout and "tossed" T-shirts into the crowd again.   During this time, I stupidly turned to say something to Jeff and I got nailed right in the shoulder with a T-shirt. Jeff was like "why didn't you catch it?!"  And I replied, "Because I was about to turn to talk to you on the game."  Lesson learned...again.  Always pay attention during a Hofstra Women's Lacrosse T Shirt Toss.

OK, back to our main story.   Mo Cassara called timeout as the Pride were down five, 50-45 to a Wilmington team that came to play.  You knew what was coming.  No doubt that Cassara was calling on "The Man" as Beach refers to him, "The Power Guard" as Brian Mull calls him, or my nickname for him ,"The Force of Nature" to take matters into his own hands.  And he did.

Jenkins first assisted on a three by Shemiye McLendon to cut the lead to two, 50-47.  Then after Rendleman put the Seahawks back up by four, Moore and Imes hit baskets to tie the game at 52.  Then it was another episode of "Charles in Charge".   Jenkins would score the next seven points for Hofstra, the last two coming on free throws to put Hofstra up 59-52 with 3:14 left.   Later, his two free throws extended the lead to ten, 64-54 with 2:09 left.   The Pride would eventually win 66-57.

One more funny story from the game.  Late in the game,  UNCW's Matt Wilson was called for an intentional foul while he was trying to knock the ball away on an inbounds play.   Wilson was clearly going for the ball.  The call was so bad that the Hofstra fans by me couldn't believe it was called an intentional foul.  Finally, my friend Mal yelled out to the ref, now by us, "Hey, I'm a Hofstra fan and I think that's a terrible call!"  Funny.  Then a little later, Tomko literally pushes Moore down on an inbounds play.  That was much more an intentional foul and though a foul was called, the ref didn't call an intentional.  Makeup call.

Jenkins had 22 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line.  He also had six assists and two blocks.  Moore added 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting.  He also had 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and unfortunately 6 turnovers.  Imes had his fourth double double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  Kelleher, who I tweeted before the game as key player since a) he had to guard Tomko and b) needed to not turn the ball over on offense, added nine points, all threes in the first half.  He also had zero turnovers in 34 minutes, a major improvement considering he had fourteen turnovers combined in his last four games.

As for UNCW, they played so much better than last season's game and if not for Jenkins, they may have very well won the game.   Tomko and Rendleman combined to score 35 points on 15 of 31 shooting.  Rendleman also had eight rebounds while Tomko had six assists.  Unfortunately they combined for nine turnovers.

After the game, while the Hofstra crew worked on the court,  I chatted with Beach's lovely wife Michelle, as we waited around while Jerry did his post-game conference interviews.  We also waited for Brian Mull, who was there covering the game, and is as a good a person as he is a writer (and as you may know, I link to his blog on this site).  Read his game article, which contains a classic Buzz Peterson quote on Jenkins.   Here's Beach good work as usual as well.

The four of us ended up having a late dinner at the Colony Diner in East Meadow as we chatted generally about CAA hoops and the rising fortunes of both Hofstra and UNCW.   After a great dinner at the diner, the four of us agreed we would have dinner again in Richmond while there for the CAA Tournament in March.  It's funny, but that's only five plus weeks away.  And since we agreed that there seems to be no clearcut favorite right now, it could be the best CAA tournament ever.   Five weeks eh?   I know I am looking very much forward to it.

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