Saturday, December 3, 2011

Humpty Causes Hofstra a Great Fall

Sometimes, there are long stretches where one team has another team's number.  When Hofstra first joined the CAA in 2001, they lost their first three games in conference with James Madison and had lost four in a row overall to JMU.  But starting in 2004, the Pride have gone on a twelve game winning streak vs. the Dukes.

Though the series record indicates one team's dominance over another, the results have been quite close.  During Hofstra's streak vs. JMU, nine of the twelve games were decided by seven points or less.  Three of the games went into overtime; a 92-90 win in January of this yeara 99-96 double overtime game in February 2009 and the all time gem, a 95-88 triple overtime game in February 2005.

So when the Dukes made the all familiar trip to Hempstead yesterday to face the Pride in the conference season opening game for both teams, it seemed one thing would be certain. It would be a close game.  And sure enough, the game lived up to that billing.

My older son Matthew was looking forward to yesterday.   For not only was there a basketball game, but Saturday was the long awaited day for putting up the Christmas decorations outside our house.  Now for me, I actually enjoy decorating for Halloween, not so much for Christmas.  But to placate a six year old boy and his four year old brother, I took down the decorations from the garage and spent the better part of the late morning and afternoon hanging Christmas lights and getting out several decorative inflatables.  Needless to say I was happy to leave for the basketball game when it was time.

The game started out with JMU's leading scorer on the season, A.J. Davis picking up two quick fouls in the first five minutes. But Madison hung in there, thanks in large part to their offensive rebounding. In the first half, the Dukes had eleven offensive rebounds which led to eleven second chance points.  JMU took a 22-17 lead with 7:45 left in the first half on a three pointer by Armon Marks, which was their only successful three point shot at that time.  The Dukes, the best three point shooting team in the CAA, would be only two of eleven from beyond the arc in the first half.

While JMU's leading scorer was on the bench with as many fouls as points, two, Hofstra's leading scorer for the season, Mike Moore, was basically unstoppable.  Moore hit four three pointers in the first half  (Hofstra was 5 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half) and scored twenty of Hofstra's thirty one points.  After the Dukes had taken that five point lead, the Pride would go on a 14-2 run, with Moore scoring half those points.

However, JMU coach Matt Brady made a critical decision with a minute left in the half.  He went for a two for one possession.  The Dukes would miss two three pointers on their first possession and a Moore jumper would be the final points for Hofstra in the first half.  But due to the two for one possession, the Dukes got the ball back and called timeout.  Off the timeout, Humpty Hitchens, another transfer from Akron, hoisted a sixty foot prayer right before the buzzer.

As the buzzer

The officials reviewed the play to make sure the shot came before the buzzer, which it clearly did from our vantage point.  The officials confirmed that it was good.  And due to the Dukes second only successful three pointer in the half, instead of Hofstra going into the half up seven, they were only up four, 31-27.  Hofstra coach Mo Cassara was none too pleased, as if he knew that shot might come back to haunt the Pride.

At half time, there was your classic youth basketball game for entertainment.  But Matthew was pleading for me to get him a pretzel.  And since I can't say no to my cute six year old son, we waited on a long concession line while I tweeted updates on the game.

It was clear at the start of the second half that Coach Matt Brady told his team "Whatever you do, don't let Mike Moore beat us."  And the Dukes took him out of the game.  For the better part of the last twenty minutes, Moore barely touched the ball.  He would only have five shot attempts in the second half, hitting only one of those.

But early on, it didn't seem to affect the Pride.  Hofstra actually extended it's lead using a 10-2 run.  After Nathaniel Lester hit his first three pointer since the first game of this season, the Pride were up 43-33.   The lead was still ten, 47-37 after a Stephen Nwaukoni layup with a little more than eleven minutes remaining in the game.  JMU looked off in their shot selection and the rest of the Hofstra players were chipping in despite Moore being held scoreless.

But twice already in this early season, Hofstra had similar leads, only to see them evaporate and lose the game.  Against Florida Atlantic, the Pride were up 36-27 before going on a three for eighteen shooting drought and lost 62-60.  Against Boston University, the Pride were up 42-35 before shooting two of fifteen for the rest of the game and lost 68-61.  

Unfortunately for Hofstra, history would repeat itself yesterday.   With Moore being held scoreless, the Pride would shoot one of eight from the field over the next seven minutes. Meanwhile, JMU's vaunted three point shooting came to life.  Hitchens nailed two three pointers and Julius Wells added one as well.  The Dukes went on a 13-3 run and tied the game at fifty on Alioune Diouf jumper with six and half minutes left.

The Pride would retake the lead in large part to guard Shemiye McLendon.  First McLendon gave a pretty feed to forward Moussa Kone for a resounding dunk.  Then McLendon channeled his inner Vinnie Johnson (they wear the same jersey number, 15), and buried a slightly off balance eighteen foot jumper.  Hofstra was back up 56-52 with three minutes left.

After the teams traded turnovers and Hofstra's Dwan McMillan missed an open jumper, Davis came alive for James Madison.  First, he buried a three pointer to cut the lead to one, 56-55.  Then after a turnover by McLendon, the Dukes called timeout.  My friend Mal predicted that they would call a play for Davis.  Sure enough, off the inbounds play, they got it to Davis, who hit a layup and was fouled by Kone.   He would hit the free throw for the three point play. James Madison was up for the first time since four minutes remaining in the first half, 58-56 with a minute left in the game.

But Hofstra finally got Moore involved after JMU's imposed nineteen minute sabbatical.  Moore hit two free throws for his first points of the second half and the game was tied at fifty eight.  But Hitchens, the proverbial thorn in the Pride's side, nailed a jumper to put Madison up two, 60-58 with thirty nine seconds left.

To Hofstra's credit, they didn't waste time with the ball and went after a good shot immediately. That good shot was a Moore layup that tied the game at sixty with twenty six seconds left.   JMU wound down the clock and with about three seconds left, Hitchens hit another jumper over McMillan's outstretched hand.  The Dukes were up 62-60, but Moore had one last chance.  He hoisted a sixty footer from almost the same exact location Hitchens hit his three pointer at the end of the first half.

As the buzzer sounded...nothing...but...backboard.

James Madison had won 62-60.  Hitchens' sixty footer at the end of the half did come back to haunt Hofstra.  He led JMU with twenty points, while Davis had ten of his twelve points in the second half.  Moore had twenty four to lead all scorers, but the Dukes holding him in check in the second half was huge.  David Imes was the only other double figure scorer for Hofstra with ten points.

For once, a Humpty caused someone else's great fall.  All the Hofstra players and all the Hofstra fans couldn't keep the streak alive again.   After twelve straight losses, the Dukes finally had a win against the Pride.

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