Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seawolves Ring in the New Year on a High Note (Recap of Rider vs. Stony Brook)

Last night was the second game I saw in Pritchard Gym in three days.  On Wednesday, Stony Brook gave up a twenty point lead to Cornell but won in overtime 68-59.  This time the defensive minded Seawolves were hosting the Broncs of Rider.  It was the last non-conference game for both teams before conference play truly begins (MAAC teams each have already had two conference games, America East teams start conference play next week).

The Seawolves were trying to win their second game in a row in a string of three straight contests at Pritchard Gym.  On Monday, they start conference play at home vs. Vermont.  Stony Brook was looking to keep the momentum against a Rider team that has struggled on the season.  The Broncs were coming into the night having won two games in a row after losing ten of their first eleven.  This season has been a far cry from last season for Coach Tommy Dempsey as the Broncs were 23-11 last season and finished third in the MAAC with a 13-5 conference record.

Pritchard Gym wasn't as filled as it was for the Wednesday night game against Cornell.  But there was still a solid crowd and a lot of kids would be a part of the Cotton Eyed Joe dance performance later on in the evening.  The crowd would also be treated to another solid Stony Brook performance as well.

You could immediately tell that Rider was in for a long night when the Broncs started the game off with a shot clock violation.  In fairness to Rider, Stony Brook's man to man defense was quite stingy last evening.  The Broncs had a turnover in four of their first five possessions (including the shot clock violation).  This allowed Stony Brook to jump out to a 14-4 lead with 14:35 left as six different Seawolves scored.

Rider rallied to cut the lead to 16-12 as Virginia transfer Jeff Jones buried two three pointers.  Jones played three seasons at Charlottesville, but decided to transfer to Rider probably due to a lack of playing time.  Watching him hit five shots from beyond the arc on the night, you could see he certainly is a high level talent.  Unfortunately he waited three seasons before making his decision.  Now he only has this season left to play.

Four points would be the closest the Broncs would get the rest of the way.  That's because Stony Brook went on a 18-2 run over the span of nearly nine minutes.  That was due mainly the Seawolves using their staple, the three point shot.  Stony Brook hit three shots from beyond the arc during that span to go up 34-14 with about two and half minutes left.

But the Seawolves run also came due in large part to the hardest working player in the America East, Tommy Brenton.  Watching Brenton hustle all over the court, force turnovers and see him work the glass is an absolute treat.  He is only six foot five, but he plays like he is six foot nine on the boards.  He started the run with a jumper and kept one possession alive with an offensive rebound, one of his twelve rebounds on the night.

But my favorite Brenton play would not show up on the stat sheet.  Later in the first half when Rider missed on a long jumper, he literally cleared his man out, backing into him with his arms spread out making sure that player never had a chance to touch the ball.  Another Stony Brook player grabbed the rebound, but it was a literal clinic by Brenton on how to box out your man.

Rider went into the half down 37-19.  They only had twenty shots in the first half while Stony Brook had thirty three.  A lot of this was due to the Seawolves having nine offensive rebounds and forcing ten Broncs' turnovers.  Meanwhile, Stony Brook only had one turnover in the first half.  Ball possession is always key in basketball and the Seawolves did an excellent job of that in the first twenty minutes.

Rider came out in a half court trap in the second half trying desperately to get back in the game.  And it slowly worked for the Broncs.  Rider finally used its height advantage and went inside to Daniel Stewart.  Stewart scored nine of Rider's seventeen points over the first seven and half minutes.   Stewart's last points of the span cut the lead to 46-36 with twelve and a half minutes left.   The Broncs finally were back in the game.

But Stony Brook stretched the lead back out to sixteen, 52-36 with 11:15 left as back to back three pointers by Bryan Dougher and Dave Coley.  It meant Rider would have to work hard again to get the lead back to single digits, eating up precious time and effort.   The Broncs would get as close as nine points, 59-50 with a little less than seven minutes left, as four of their last five baskets in that time frame were three pointers.

In Wednesday night's game, the Seawolves' intrepid mascot, Wolfie, pulled out a "shake weight" in the second half.  And he used that as a distraction to the Cornell players shooting free throws, as they missed three free throws in a row.  So sure enough, last night in the second half Wolfie tried the "shake weight" distraction again.  However it had no effect on the Rider players as they hit every free throw when he tried distracting the players.  Wolfie finally slumped his head in disappointment on the last free throw made.

But that was the only disappointment on the evening for the Seawolves, as they  would score twenty of the last thirty two points in the game to win 79-62. And it was a team effort as four Stony Brook players scored in double figures led by Coley, who had sixteen points.  Dallas Joyner had fifteen points while Dougher scored fourteen and Al Rapier added twelve points.  Brenton just missed a double double with nine points and twelve rebounds.    Rider was led by Jones' seventeen points, Stewart added eleven and Brandon Penn had a double double with ten points and eleven rebounds.

As the teams left the court, one team, Stony Brook, left knowing they would ring in the new year on a high note.  They shot forty nine percent on the night and had only seven turnovers on offense.  Coach Pikiell had to be pleased with his team's effort last night.

The other team, Rider, left wondering what has happened in the span of several months.  They had eleven losses all last season.  Now they have as many losses this season after just fourteen games.  Coach Tommy Dempsey must be shaking his head at this moment in disbelief

As for Rider's sudden turnaround, all I can think is what Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall once said in an interview with Kyle Whelliston, "The game will hurt you".

Friday, December 30, 2011

Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Hempstead (Recap of Iona vs. Hofstra)

Exactly a year ago, Mo Cassara's Hofstra Pride traveled to New Rochelle to take on Tim Cluess' Iona Gaels.  It was the first season for both as head coaches in Division I Basketball.   On that night, it was all Iona, as they dominated Hofstra, winning 87-62.  It was the second worst loss of the season (next to a forty two point drubbing by eventual Elite Eight member North Carolina) for a Pride team that won twenty one games and finished third in the CAA.  It was also a Pride team that featured three time Haggerty Award winner and two time CAA Player of the year Charles Jenkins, who now plays for the Golden State Warriors.

So when Iona rolled into town last night sporting a 10-2 record, having won six of their seven previous games on an eight game road trip to face a Hofstra team that has struggled this season at 5-7, things did not look too good for Pride fans.  Throw in the fact that starting point guard Steve Mejia was again out due to a hamstring injury against a Gaels team that loves to press and create turnovers, it seemed like a perfect storm.

Iona is one of the best offensive teams in the country this season. Fourth in points per game at 85.9 points per game. Second in assists in 20.2 per game.  Fifth in field goal percentage at 50.9 percent.  They are ranked eighth in Ken Pomeroy's effective field goal percentage at 56.8 percent , fifth in two point field goal percentage at 56.2 percent and thirty third in the country at offensive turnover percentage at 17.9 percent.  And having seen them in person put up one hundred points twice in home wins over LIU and St. Joseph's in overtime, simply put, they are an offensive juggernaut.

The Gaels were going to be a tall task for a Pride team that had won two in a row after losing their four previous games prior to that.  But Hofstra had faced a similar challenge during this season when they met undefeated Cleveland State, another team highly talked about as potentially getting an at large NCAA bid due to their non conference wins. The Pride handed the Vikings their first loss of the season in Rhode Island, so the potential was there to pull off another upset.

This was the second game of a doubleheader.  The first game was a women's basketball game, where a fundamentally sound Princeton team held off a Hofstra team that had won nine of its first eleven games.   My older son and I had been there for the entire first game, so we were now entering hour three of our hoops festival.

Due to Iona receiving a lot of publicity on the local and national levels because of their high octane offense and their 10-2 record, a large late arriving crowd started filling the Mack Center.  Included in the crowd was New York radio show host Mike Francesca, who sat in the first row of the section next to me.  He was there just like everyone else, wanting to see two of the better New York City metro area college basketball programs square off in the final scheduled non conference game for both teams this season.

Hofstra came right out and made a statement to the crowd of 4,200 plus in attendance. David Imes and Nathaniel Lester combined to score the first eight points as the Pride took an early 8-4 lead.  But Michael Glover had three monster dunks and Kyle Smyth's three pointer gave Iona its first lead at 13-12 with about twelve minutes left in the first half.

Over the next couple of minutes, the teams exchanged leads back and forth.  The game was tied at twenty two with eight and half minutes remaining in the first half.   Hofstra fans had to be pleased that the Pride were going toe to toe with the Gaels, unlike their matchup last season.  What they were about to see in the next fifteen minutes of game action was stunning and completely unexpected.

The warning signs were already there for Iona.  In the first eleven and a half minutes, the Gaels had committed an uncharacteristic eight turnovers for one of the better teams that statistically holds onto the ball.  A lot of credit goes to the Pride defense for their inspired play.  But for the rest of the first half, Iona would actually top that total.  Over the last eight and a half minutes, Iona would commit another ten turnovers.

And Hofstra took full advantage of that.  The Pride would outscore the Gaels 21-6 in that span.  That was due in large part to Imes and Mike Moore, who combined for fifteen of the twenty one Hofstra points.  Imes was particularly impressive as he was very aggressive on the boards, with eight rebounds, three on the offensive end, as Hofstra had nine offensive rebounds in the first half.  

The Pride entered the half up 43-28 much to the delight of the Pride faithful in the crowd. Statistically, it was as if the world had turned on its axis.  The team that prides itself on ball possession, Iona, had turned the ball over eighteen times.  That allowed Hofstra twelve more shot attempts and seven more baskets.than Iona.   Plus Hofstra was outscoring Iona on second chance points nine to one, as a result of Hofstra's nine offensive rebounds.

You could tell Coach Tim Cluess was not happy with his team at the half, because the Gaels came out of the locker room several minutes early.  The team anxiously awaited on the sidelines for several minutes as the halftime CYO game was still being played.  It seemed like Iona was ready to make a run at the start of the second half.

However, inline with the last part of the first half, the Pride continued their onslaught on the Gaels.  The lead actually swelled to nineteen, 57-38, with fourteen and a half minutes left in the game.  Iona had no answer for Moore, who scored eight of the first fourteen Hofstra points in the second half.

But a team doesn't win twelve out of its first twelve games without the ability to rally.  Sure enough, the Gaels finally made their run.  First it was Glover, Momo Jones, and Rashad James who combined for a 11-1 spurt to cut the lead down to nine, 58-49 with a little more than ten minutes left.  The large Iona fan contingent in the arena had finally come to life in support of their Gaels.

Then came the three point barrage.  First it was Nathaniel Lester, who had a huge second half for Hofstra, trading three pointers with Iona's Smyth.  Even Moore got in on the act with Smyth, hitting his own shot beyond the arc.  But Smyth got the final long range shot in, as his third three pointer in the span of two and a half minutes cut the deficit to seven, 67-60 with less than six and a half minutes left.

But Iona would never get any closer than seven points the rest of the way.  Try as the Gaels might, Imes, Lester and Dwan McMillan would combine to score thirteen of the last sixteen points Hofstra would score on the night.  As John Templon, the author of the terrific Big Apple Buckets website noted to me at halftime, fifteen points is a large hole to dig out of as far as comebacks.   Hofstra came away with a hard earned, well deserved 83-75 victory.

The Pride had a balanced attack with four scorers in double digits.  Moore again lead the way with twenty four points, but he had a lot of help.   Lester had a double double with twenty one points and ten rebounds.  Imes had his own double double with sixteen points and fifteen rebounds.  And McMillan nearly made it three double doubles on the night with ten points and nine assists.  He outplayed his more highly touted high school teammate, Iona's Scott Machado, who had ten assists, but only six points before fouling out.

Glover led the way for Iona with his usual double double, twenty points and thirteen rebounds. Jones added twenty points as well.  Finally Smyth added twelve points, all on three pointers.  But the Gaels shot 42.6 percent from the field, well under their season average.  The turnovers killed them, as Hofstra had an eight point advantage on points off turnovers, which was the margin of victory.

So one year later, the tides were turned.  It was Hofstra that dominated most of the game last night, similar to what Iona did to them the year before.  Just like last year,  many fans shook their heads in disbelief as they headed for the exits not expecting the outcome they just witnessed.  The Pride will be ringing in the New Year on a high note. A three game winning streak should fill them with confidence for the battle with VCU on Monday.  Meanwhile the Gaels will have to regroup for conference play on Tuesday at MSG vs. Siena.

That's the wonderful thing about college basketball.  Expect the unexpected.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Forty Five Minutes in a Sea of Red (Recap of Cornell vs. Stony Brook)

If red is your favorite color, then last night's Cornell vs. Stony Brook contest was the game for you.  You had the Big Red taking on the Seawolves, whose motto on their tickets is "Get Your Red On, It's What We Do".  Needless to say, the crowd was dressed for one of the preferred colors of the holiday season.

The last time I saw Cornell was at Madison Square Garden in December of 2009. They had just won the Holiday Invitational, defeating St John's, who of course are the Red Storm, thus we are continuing with the red motif.  The Big Red would eventually make the Sweet Sixteen that 2009-10 season, which actually wasn't that much of a surprise to me, having seen them play.

Since then, Steve Donahue parlayed that Sweet Sixteen and the two previous seasons' NCAA Tournament bids into a head coaching position at Boston College.  Meanwhile after Donahue left and Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote all graduated, Cornell struggled to a 10-18 record last season.  Of the five players that remain from that Sweet Sixteen team, only Chris Wroblewski, a starter that season, saw significant minutes in 2009-10.  The Big Red entered last night's contest at 4-6.

The last time I saw Stony Brook, they were putting a whipping on FDU, beating the Knights 70-46.  It was their last win going into last night.  Still, the Seawolves had another good crowd fill Pritchard Gym last evening despite school not being in session due to the holiday break.  They also had a lively and talented pep band that during pre-game warmups chanted out the names of the Stony Brook players similar to the Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures.

But unlike the FDU game,  there was no Mick Foley in attendance last night.  Perhaps he had a date with Mr. Socko.  Also, I can't confirm whether or not James or Marilyn Simons were in attendance last night, though they certainly could afford season tickets.

The game started off with both teams struggling to put the ball in the basket.  Similar to their game against FDU,  Steve Pikiell's Stony Brook team played excellent man to man defense on Cornell.  The Big Red often put up their shots with little time left on the shot clock.   Meanwhile Stony Brook only attempted three shots in the first nearly five minutes and they scored all their points on free throws by Tommy Brenton.  With a little more than fifteen minutes left in the first half, the score was tied at 3-3.

Finally, the Seawolves briefly broke the scoring drought on a layup by Al Rapier to go up 5-3.  Baskets were still hard to come by in the first ten minutes.  With Stony Brook hitting the occasional three, the Seawolves starting inching out their lead, going up 14-7 with less than nine minutes left in the first half.   However, it seemed there was a good chance that neither Stony Brook or Cornell would break twenty points by halftime.

But then Bryan Dougher caught fire for the Seawolves.  He preceded to score eight straight points which was part of a 19-2 Stony Brook run over the span of eight minutes.  The Seawolves were now up 27-9 with less than five minutes left in the first half.  After the media timeout, Cornell managed to finally hit some shots, scoring more points in four minutes and twenty three seconds, eleven, then they did in the beginning fifteen plus minutes of the game, nine.  They cut what once was a twenty point lead down to fifteen as Stony Brook went into the half up fifteen, 35-20.

Stony Brook not only has a talented band, but also a very talented mascot in Wolfie.  Now Wolfie looks like a regular wolf, not a seawolf (whatever that looks like), and he is very involved in all aspects of the game.  First and foremost, he leads the team cheers and is the lead distraction when the opponent shoots free throws.  Second, he leads the late second half media timeout kids dance to "Cotton Eyed Joe".  Wolfie also has his own Twitter account, @WolfieSeawolf.  He is so talented that he was twittering game updates while refereeing a faculty staff halftime game at the same time.  Wolfie would become a huge factor late in the second half.

Whatever coach Bill Courtney said to his players at halftime worked, because I saw a different Cornell team in the second half.  They came out in a half court trap defense which threw Stony Brook off their game as they had eleven turnovers in the second half.  Now it was the Seawolves who were struggling to score on offense.  They would only score sixteen points over the next twenty minutes.

On offense, the Big Red looked much more alive, working the ball around for open looks.  Combine that with their successful half court trap and as a result, Cornell started slowly cutting into Stony Brook's lead and briefly had it down to single digits.  Still with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Seawolves were still up eleven, 49-38.

But that's when Cornell made their first run of the game.  Over the next five plus minutes, the Big Red outscored the Seawolves 13-0.  This was due in large part to a) Stony Brook committing five turnovers in this span, b) The Seawolves taking too much time off the clock on several of their possessions late in the game and c) Drew Ferry, who buried three shots from beyond the arc, the last of which put Cornell up 51-49 with 1:18 left in the game.

The Big Red might have had a bigger lead had it not been for Wolfie.  During the second half of the FDU game, Wolfie pulled out a "Shake Weight" and used that as a distraction when the Knights shot a couple of free throws late in the game.  Wolfie pulled the "Shake Weight" out again last night.  Sure enough, the distraction worked, as Cornell missed three free throws in a row due to Stony Brook's industrious mascot.

Still, the Seawolves needed to tie a game where they had been up by twenty points at one time. And Stony Brook got that on a layup by Ron Bracey with fifty seven seconds left.   The Big Red now had a chance to win the game, but Ferry missed an open three pointer.  Cornell got the rebound and worked down the clock for the final shot.  But Galal Cancer missed a jumper and we headed for overtime tied at 51.

In the overtime, it came down to mostly a free throw shooting contest.  The Seawolves scored nine of their fifteen overtime points from the charity stripe. Tommy Brenton had seven points during the extra period, five from the line.  The other two came on a breakaway dunk that ended the game as Stony Brook defeated Cornell 68-59.

Dougher and Bracey each had sixteen points to lead the Seawolves.  Brenton added twelve points and Dave Coley had ten points.  Ferry led the Big Red with fifteen points and Shonn Miller added ten points.  The big difference came at the line.  Stony Brook was 19 of 28 from the charity stripe while Cornell was only 8 of 17.  Give Wolfie a big assist on that statistic.

The Seawolves' next home game is Friday as they take on the Raiders of Colgate.  It just so happens that Colgate's road uniform color is maroon, which is of course an off shoot of red.  Hey, it is the preferred color of choice this holiday season.  Guess I will have to find something in red to wear for Friday night's game.

Just remember to bring the red "Shake Weight", okay Wolfie?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Recap of Hofstra vs Marist Women's Basketball - Best Game. Of Season. So Far.

Once in a while, I actually have a good idea.  Realizing that my brain was running on fumes, I took a half day off last Thursday and started my Hofstra Holiday Break early.   I used that time to head over to the Mack Center to watch the championship of the New York Life Holiday Invitational Women's Basketball Tournament between Marist and Hofstra.

I got to my seat in the Mack Center during late in the second half between Central Connecticut State and Auburn consolation game, won by the Lady Tigers.  The crowd was small, not surprising for a Thursday afternoon right before the holidays.  But as usual, the Marist Lady Red Foxes brought a good contingent.

And it wasn't surprising to me, since I know full well the success of Brian Giorgis and his program up in Poughkeepsie.  Since they play in the same conference as Tony Bozzella's Iona Lady Gaels, I have seen Marist play Iona many times.  And without fail, though often very close games, the outcomes were always the same, with the Lady Red Foxes winning.

As I noted, the Lady Red Foxes have a large following.  I remember well seeing the Iona play Marist at the McCann Center back in February 2010 for "Pack the House" night.  It was right out of an Indiana high school basketball game.  Three thousand fans packed into a wood paneled gym.  I wrote an article about that night called "Hoosiers on the Hudson".

Over the past eight seasons, Marist has won the MAAC Women's Basketball Championship seven times and thus have been in the NCAA Tournament seven out of the last eight seasons.  They have won four NCAA Tournament games during that stretch, and the Lady Red Foxes made the Sweet Sixteen in 2007.  They have finished undefeated in MAAC conference play twice during that stretch as well.

The Pride certainly were no slouch entering the game at 8-2.  Their only losses were at nationally ranked Gonzaga and at Hartford, who won the America East Championship last season.  They have wins over St John's and Seton Hall as well as defeating Kansas State and Drake in the Cancun Challenge.

The game started out with Marist jumping out to an early 6-0 lead as the Lady Red Foxes used their staple, the the three point shot as Corielle Yard and Leanne Ockenden buried shots from beyond the arc.  Both three pointers came off offensive rebounds as Marist had an early 7-1 rebounding edge on Hofstra.

But then the Pride's Shante Evans and Candice Belloccchio took over, scoring ten of Hofstra's first twelve points, as they cut the lead to 13-12.  A Candace Bond three pointer put the Pride in front 16-15, a lead they would not relinquish until late in the game.

If there is one word that aptly describes Evans, it is "relentless".  On each of her first two baskets, she grabbed two offensive rebounds with Marist players hanging all over her.  Evans is probably the strongest player in the CAA and she also has a nice shooting touch which she displayed in the game by hitting several jumpers.

Bond's three pointer was part of a 12-2 run that saw Hofstra extend their lead to 27-17 over Marist.   By this time, the Pride caught up to the Lady Red Foxes on the boards, thanks in large part to Evans.   With a little over five minutes left in the first half, Evans already had a double double.

But Marist would cut the lead down to three, 35-32 by halftime, due in large part to a couple of three pointers.  It was an entertaining first half, though neither team shot the ball well (Marist 33%, Hofstra 31%), but Hofstra dominated the boards in the first twenty minutes with a 37-18 rebounding advantage.  Evans had twelve of those rebounds, while Bond added seven boards of her own.

During halftime, I went and got lunch.  As was the case when I entered the arena, there was a New York Life agent by the concession stand trying to get me interested in life insurance. With my hunger in full force, I respectfully declined, got my food and went back.  I have no qualms against New York Life and actually appreciate that they sponsored the tourney.   Just college basketball and nourishment take precedence for me over speaking to life insurance agents.

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The start of the second half saw the teams trade points back and forth for the first minute.  Marist had two chances to take the lead but missed both.  Hofstra made them pay for those missed chances by going on a 12-0 run over the span of a little more than three minutes.  Katelyn Loper was responsible for most of the run, scoring eight of the twelve points.  And Evans had the other four points for the Pride.

The score was 49-36 Hofstra with 15:56 left in the game.  The Lady Red Foxes were on the ropes.  But teams with a long recent history of success like Marist have a deep confidence in them.  A confidence that they are never out of any game.

And the Lady Red Foxes would respond to the challenge.  Kristina Danella would score eight points to lead her team on a 20-8 run over the next seven minutes.  Hofstra was now up only one, 57-56 with a little less than nine minutes left.   We now had the setup for an exciting finish.

The Pride maintained the lead for the next several minutes and were actually up six, 64-58 with five minutes left.  Then Corielle Yarde took over for the Lady Red Foxes.  She hit two of the next three Marist baskets, both on layups to tie the game at sixty four.  Then Casey Dullin hit a layup and the Lady Red Foxes had their first lead, 66-64 since 12:37 left in the first half.  The pro-Hofstra crowd was stunned.

But the Pride went back to the person mainly responsible for their success for most of the game - Evans.  She had not scored over an eight minute span which mainly coincided with the Lady Red Foxes' rally.  But she was determined to not leave the Mack Center without a win.  She hit two foul shots to tie the game at sixty six.  Then after Marist took the lead, again Evans went to work.  She rebounded a Yarde miss, then hit a layup to tie the game at sixty eight with thirty two seconds left.   We had the setup for an exciting finish.

Marist wasted no time in getting the ball into the hands of Brandy Gang for an open three pointer, but she missed.  The Pride got the rebound and Bellocchio went in for a layup and missed.  But there was Evans for the offensive rebound.  She got fouled as she hit the putback.  Evans completed the old fashioned three point play and Hofstra was up 71-68 with twelve seconds left.

The game now came down to coaching.  Hofstra made the first move as Krista Kilburn-Steveskey had her team foul Marist's Ockenden with four seconds left.  Ockenden hit the first free throw and then Giorgis called timeout to setup the old missed free throw rebound attempt.  Ockenden did just that on the second free throw and on the rebound scramble, Evans was called for traveling.   Marist had one more chance to tie or win the game with a three.

Kilburn-Steveskey called timeout to setup her defense, likely trying to deny Marist's three point staple.  The Lady Red Foxes got the ball to their best player, Yarde, who missed a jumper.  On the ensuing rebound, Dulin put up a shot as the buzzer sounded that went in.  Originally the referee called the basket good.

As they usually do on field goals at the buzzer, the officials went to the scorers table and reviewed the replay.  They ruled the shot came after time had expired and then after some confusion, the game was ruled over.  Hofstra won the New York Life Invitational 71-69.

And they won in large part due to Evans.  She scored the last seven points for her team.  She had game highs in points, twenty nine and rebounds with eighteen.  But statistics can't aptly describe the game Evans had last Thursday.  She literally willed her team to victory.

Evans wasn't the only Pride player with a double double.  Bond had fifteen points and fourteen rebounds. Loper added fourteen points for Hofstra.  Yarde led four Lady Red Foxes' players in double figures with fourteen points.  Dulin had fourteen points as well for Marist.

Having seen many women's basketball games over the years, which includes a Women's First Round NCAA Regional in Storrs, I can tell you this was a first round NCAA Tournament game.  It was that good and it was the most exciting game of the college basketball season, and yes folks, that includes the St Joseph's vs Iona overtime game I saw in New Rochelle the day before Thanksgiving.

It was that good of a game. Best game.  Of season.  So far.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Hofstra Gives Hope for the Holidays (Recap of Colgate vs. Hofstra)

Several days after their twenty point win over Binghamton, Hofstra was looking to make it two wins in a row against Colgate.  The Pride needed to get on a roll going into next week's important game against Iona, a team that many think is the best team in the local New York City area (with all apologies to Seton Hall fans).

It was the second Hofstra basketball game that I would be attending yesterday.  I took a half day off yesterday to watch the women's team rally and win an exciting contest over Marist 71-69 to take the championship of the New York Life Holiday Invitational.  Shante Evans dominated the court with a twenty nine point, eighteen rebound performance for the Lady Pride.   Now it was up to the men's team to provide a suitable encore in the nightcap.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year.  But they are also a detriment to the attendance of college basketball games.  The fall undergraduate session ended a few days earlier and there was barely any students in the Lions' Den Section last night.  The overall announced crowd was a little over 1,400, but it felt less to me, especially without rowdy students to harass the Colgate free throw shooters.

The game started out with Hofstra's number one gunslinger, Mike Moore shooting away at the Raiders. Moore buried three shots from beyond the arc and the Pride jumped out to a 17-7 lead with 15:13 left in the first half.   At the time, they were five of nine from the field and it looked like Hofstra, especially Moore, would shoot Colgate out of the Mack Center.

But as has happened many times over the course of this season so far, the Pride would suffer one of their extended shooting slumps.  Over the last fifteen plus minutes of the first half, Hofstra would shoot four of twenty one from the field, including missing their last six shots in the half.  This allowed Colgate to slowly work their way back into the game.  Over the last five plus minutes of the first half, the Raiders outscored the Pride 16-7 to cut the deficit to one, 35-34 at the half.  

Moore had nineteen of Hofstra's thirty five points in the first half.  The problem was the rest of the team combined for sixteen. On top of that, the Pride were shooting thirty percent from the field and no other player had more than five points.  

The halftime event was another CYO basketball game where the teams' colors were actually the same as the Colgate colors.  I had to check to see if we were at Cotterell Court in Hamilton, New York (home of Colgate University).  And actually, the Raiders brought a decent rooting section with them behind their bench.

At the start of the second half, Colgate had a chance to take their first lead of the game, but Mitch Rolls would miss a jumper.  It was the last chance the Raiders would have to take the lead the rest of the game. How the Pride would secure the win in the second half was possibly the most interesting dynamic so far this  season.

Before the game, Bryant Crowder left the Hofstra men's team for personal reasons.  He had been suspended most of the season and I happen to see in person two of the three games he played in for the Pride.  Combine that with starting point guard Steve Mejia out due to a lingering hamstring problem and Hofstra had only an eight men available to play last night.   It meant everyone had to step up for Coach Mo Cassara last night and they did so in the second half.

 But before they did so, a play occurred early in the second half with an interesting subplot, well perhaps interesting to only yours truly.  Colgate's Pat Moore committed a hard foul on Hofstra's Mike Moore, sending him crashing to the floor.  A flagrant foul was called resulting in free throws, Hofstra retaining the ball and Pat Moore being public enemy number one for the Hofstra fans the rest of the night.   There should be a law against "Moore on Moore Violence", especially when the author shares the same last name as the two players involved.  Also it should be noted that Pat is probably short for Patrick, which happens to be my older son Matthew's middle name as well as mine.  After the play, I publicly disavowed to my fellow season ticket holders around me of any relation to the Raiders' Moore.

After the "Moore on Moore Violence" occurred, Hofstra started to slowly pull away from Colgate.  What was once a one point lead was now, 54-43 with twelve and a half minutes remaining in the game.  There were encouraging signs.  Nat Lester had scored the most recent basket to put Hofstra up eleven.  It was his third field goal of the second half.  Also during this 19-9 run, Dwan McMillan had four points and three assists.  

The Raiders would continue to hang around for the next few minutes.  They actually were only down nine, 59-50 with about nine and half minutes left.  It seemed the Pride wouldn't be able to shake them.

But then Hofstra would seal the deal with a 14-3 spurt over the next five minutes.  And every one on the Pride contributed, as you can see pictured.  David Imes hit several shots. Shemiye McLendon buried jumper after jumper.  Dwan McMillan drove the lane, hit layups and had several more assists.  Moore ended the spurt with a layup and Hofstra was up 73-53 with a little more than four and half minutes left.  

The Pride would go onto win the game 82-57.  Hofstra would shoot nearly sixty eight percent from the field in the second half, outscoring Colgate 47-25 over the last twenty minutes.  The most amazing stat was that Mike Moore only contributed five of the forty seven points scored in the second half.  It was everyone else who "Put one foot in front of the other", to coin a famous holiday song, that gave the Pride their twenty five point win.

McLendon, the second coming of Vinnie Johnson, had seventeen points for the Pride, while McMillan had a double double with thirteen points and ten assists (with only two turnovers).  Imes added ten points and seven rebounds, while Lester also had ten points and nine rebounds.  And of course, Moore led the way with twenty four points.

The Pride gave the crowd a nice encore to the earlier Women's Basketball team's victory - a start to finish win.  And the Pride did it as a team, despite being shorthanded.  They gave their fans a nice early present before Christmas.  More importantly, Hofstra gave their fans hope that they can compete in the CAA when everyone on the team plays up to their skill level.  

And hope is what people, especially college basketball fans, need in the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hey St Joe's, Do the Right Thing!

Late this afternoon, a friend whose twitter feed I follow, Travis Mason Bushman, tweeted something about an article in SI.Com.  I followed the link and read Todd O'Brien's story called "St. Joe's won't release me to play at UAB and I don't know why".  O'Brien has a scholarship to play at UAB but is not able to play with the Blazers.  Herein lies one of the most interesting and appalling stories of the college basketball season.

O'Brien originally was recruited by Bucknell and played for the Bison in 2007-08, making the All-Rookie Patriot League team.   But O'Brien had aspirations to play in the Big Five like his uncle did.  So he transferred on scholarship to Saint Joseph's.

After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations, O'Brien played for the Hawks for two seasons.  In his first season, 2009-10, O'Brien played nearly twenty three minutes per game.  He led St. Joe's in rebounding, averaging  6.3 rebounds per game (which was 15th in the A-10 that season), while scoring 5.6 points per game.  O'Brien actually had four double doubles in the 2009-10 season and had a career high 20 points and 12 rebounds in an 82-69 win over Fordham on January 9, 2010.

But last season, O'Brien saw his minutes decrease dramatically.  He averaged only seven minutes during the season and actually did not play in nine games.  Since O'Brien had sat out a year, he was at the point where he could graduate.  He did this summer, but actually walked in the May graduation.   O'Brien decided he want to go to graduate school elsewhere and use the NCAA's Graduate Student Transfer Exception, which he was eligible for since he only played three years.

O'Brien then went to St Joe's coach Phil Martelli and told him that he planned to go to grad school elsewhere.  Martelli was apparently quite upset.  Then O'Brien went to see Don DiJulia, the Athletic Director at St Joseph's and told him of his intentions.  When O'Brien went back to Martelli, Martelli told him "Regardless of what the rule is I'll never release you. If you're not playing basketball at St. Joe's next year, you won't be playing anywhere."

After St. Joseph's gave him "a permission to speak form", O'Brien looked at other schools and was interested in UAB's Public Administration program.  Then O'Brien spoke with UAB's Associate Head Coach Donnie Marsh, who played high school ball in Lancaster County.  O'Brien is from Lancaster County and he went to UAB for an official visit. He decided to enroll at UAB.

But St. Joseph's would still not release him, so O'Brien appealed to the NCAA. My favorite organization, aka the No Clue At All, denied O'Brien's appeal, stating that based on their rules St Joseph's had to grant his release. Thus O'Brien sits in limbo and as a result wrote the CNN/SI article to plead his case.

First, for a coach to actually say to another school that O'Brien "wronged him", is childish, vindictive behavior.  O'Brien "wronged" Martelli by wanting to transfer to another school for graduate work?  I am sure Martelli didn't think O'Brien "wronged" Bucknell when he transferred from the Bison to the Hawks after his freshman year.  You didn't see Bucknell not grant O'Brien his release to transfer to St. Joseph's.

Second, what if was St Joe's was right and that O'Brien's transfer to UAB was ""more athletic then academically motivated"?  First of  all, O'Brien was averaging seven minutes per game last season.  It wasn't like he was starting or seeing significant minutes.  Second, Halil Kanacevic, a transfer from Hofstra, was now eligible to play this season, so O'Brien was going to see even less minutes had he stayed at St. Joseph's.  Third, O'Brien transferred to UAB, which is not another Big Five school, doesn't play in the same conference as St. Joe's, wasn't on the Hawks' schedule and is nowhere near the Hawks campus.

So what if O'Brien was athletically motivated?  Can you blame him?  It's his right to want to transfer to another school to play.  Basketball players on scholarship do this ALL the time, transferring to other schools to get more playing time. And by the way, Kanacevic is playing twenty five minutes per game, averaging 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, numbers pretty close to what  O'Brien averaged in the 2009-10 season.

O'Brien's history is very similar to a student athlete who played briefly in the CAA, John Fields. Fields originally played at East Carolina for two seasons, averaging nearly ten points and five rebounds per game his sophomore season.  Fields transferred to UNCW, sat out a year and then played for the Seahawks in the 2009-10 season.  For UNC Wilmington, Fields played twenty four minutes per game, averaging ten points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

After theoretically his junior season, Fields actually graduated from UNCW.  He used the Graduate Student Transfer Exception and transferred to Tennessee.  You could certainly say that the transfer to the Volunteers  was ""more athletic then academically motivated."  However, you didn't see the UNCW administration refuse to grant the waiver.  Fields played a lot more minutes and contributed a lot more than O'Brien did in his junior season.  And if you know that UNCW team from last season, they certainly could have used Fields for his last year of eligibility.

Martelli is certainly not the only one to blame here.  DiJulia could have easily overruled his coach.  Instead he goes along with Martelli's vindictive behavior.  And how does the NCAA not grant the appeal in this process after the evidence listed below;
...when Saint Joseph's turned in the requested paperwork to the NCAA about my transfer, school officials had selected "Yes" to the the question "Do you object to Todd O'Brien being eligible for competition this season?" Under the part that said "If yes, then why do you object" there was no reason.
It's obviously clear that St Joseph's HAD NO REASON other than a vindictive coach feeling he was "wronged".  Yet the NCAA didn't see it that way.

Now supposedly O'Brien was involved in a laptop theft and as Seth Davis notes in a tweet "Martelli went to bat 4 kid when he was involved w laptop theft."  An ESPN article states the "Philadelphia Daily News reported he was "peripherally involved with a laptop (theft) situation" and was benched for a game against Xavier as a result.

If that's the case and Martelli did stand up for him, then why would he care if O'Brien left the team. If he was "peripherally involved" in the laptop theft, then do you want someone like that on your team, especially if they are only playing a few minutes per game?  It just doesn't make sense to refuse to grant his waiver in that case.

But what it comes down to is you have a coach wielding power with no legitimate reason behind it (based on the original St Joseph's paperwork); an athletic director without the decency to do the right thing and a powerful, yet clueless organization that tows the company line instead of looking at the evidence.

O'Brien is the first player in NCAA history to not be allowed the Graduate Student Transfer Exception.  He certainly feels "wronged". O'Brien had no other forum to plead his case, except to write an article for a national publication to tell his story.

Already Seth Davis has taken to the Twitter world to push for O'Brien's case.  And you can see that other news organizations like ESPN have picked up the story.   It's time for St Joseph's to do the right thing and follow Henry Jones Sr's advice to his son in a climatic scene in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

"Let it go."

Yes, Phil Martelli, let it go and let O'Brien has his waiver.  Enough is enough.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

College Basketball in the Eyes of a Child (Recap of Binghamton vs. Hofstra)

With the eyes of a child
You must come out and see
That your world's spinning 'round
And through life you will be
A small part
Of a hope
Of a love
That exists
In the eyes of a child you will see  
"Eyes of a Child" by the Moody Blues
My life forever changed on July 26, 2005.  My first child, my older son Matthew was born.  When you are a parent, everything else in life happily takes a backseat to your children.  Things that used to bother you to no end are now inconsequential.  Your children's lives are the most precious thing to you and you want to be able to understand what they see.

For the better part of last season, I wanted Matthew to come to a basketball game with me. Matthew loves baseball and I thought he would enjoy college basketball even more.  But each and every time Matthew said no, for one reason or another.  Finally, on my birthday this year as a birthday present to me, Matthew came to the William and Mary vs. Hofstra basketball game.  I couldn't have picked a more exciting contest for Matthew to see as Charles Jenkins hit two buzzer beaters, one in regulation and one in overtime as the Pride defeated the Tribe.

My older son was hooked.  Even before the game ended, Matthew asked if he could come to the next game.  After the game, he raced around the basket by the Hofstra bench with other children.  When he came home, he played basketball in the living room until he went asleep.  Then the next day, he played basketball again, and the day after, and so on and so forth.  It was as if a whole new world was opened to him.

He came to the rest of the Hofstra home games last season.  When I went to the CAA Tournament in Richmond, he was very upset that he couldn't go.  I had to call him with updates of the Hofstra  vs. William and Mary quarterfinal. Then I called him after Hofstra lost to Old Dominion.  He couldn't understand that Hofstra's season ended.  Matthew didn't understand Kyle Whelliston's phrase that "the season always ends in loss".  As a result, he ended up going with me to a couple of Iona CIT tournament games.  He took up rooting for VCU in the NCAA tournament since VCU played in Hofstra's conference.  The kid was all into college hoops and very disappointed when the season ended.

This season, Matthew has attended all the Hofstra home games.  And you can find him intensely watching the game, cheering for Hofstra, raising his fingers when they shoot a free throw, or conversing with my friend Mal who he always sits next to for the games.   And he always has his pretzel and a bottle of water.  It's his pre-game ritual.

I always spend time during a Hofstra home game tweeting game updates to "My Marines", aka the few, the proud, my @gmoore21566 twitter followers.  But I realized during the game vs. James Madison that Matthew was conversing more with Mal than me on the game.  I wasn't jealous, but I felt bad that I was giving Matthew the attention he deserved.

Thus I decided that this Saturday I was going to spend the entire game conversing with Matthew about the basketball game.  I announced to my twitter followers that I wasn't going to tweet updates from the Binghamton - Hofstra game.  It gave me a further idea to write a recap around Matthew's view of the game.

Friday night, my family joined my department staff and I as we celebrated another successful end to another semester at a local restaurant.  There, I told Matthew of my plan to write a story about the game from his view.  I told him that I am writing an article for my site and for my friend's site and it's going to be about the Hofstra game from his perspective.

Matthew's response was "What's perspective mean?"

Yes, I often forget that he is only six years old.  After telling him what that meant, he nodded his head in approval of the idea.  Matthew was a willing subject for my latest recap.

When I picked him up Saturday afternoon from a playdate from his friend Brian's house, I could tell that he needed a nap before the game.  Sure enough, he fell asleep immediately in the backseat of my car.  When I got to the parking lot outside of the Mack Center about forty minutes before game time, I waited in the car so he could get a few extra Zs.  Finally I woke up Matthew and we headed in.

I got him his usual pretzel and water and we headed inside the arena.  It was free Hofstra cap day, so we each grabbed one and made our way to our seats thirty minutes before game time.  Matthew wasted no time in eating his pretzel.  I asked him "What do you think about today's game?"  With no hesitation, he replied "I don't know.  I will tell you when the game starts."

A few minutes later, Binghamton went onto the court and practiced shooting at the Hofstra basket. Matthew took a break from his pretzel and stated. "I will tell you one thing.  I am watching this team practice."  And he did exactly that, as he watched the Bearcats intently while noshing on his snack.

A few years ago, the Bearcats were the best team in the America East.  The coach at that time, Kevin Broadus brought a group of transfers and some recruits from some questionable diploma mill schools.  There were warning signs with the program as early as February 2009.  But Broadus was able to get Binghamton to win the America East championship and they went on to lose to Duke in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

But a few months later, the roof caved in on Broadus and the Bearcats' basketball program.  Several players were kicked off the team.  There were recruiting violations and a subsequent independent review of the basketball team.  Athletic Director Joel Shirer resigned, then shortly thereafter Broadus was put on an indefinite leave of absence and eventually was let go of his position.  The February 2010 independent audit report cited Binghamton's president Lois B. DeFleur, and Shirer for a lack oversight over the basketball program.  DeFleur resigned at the end of the Spring 2010 semester.

Since then, Binghamton's basketball team has declined steadily. The Bearcats were 13-18 in the 2009-10 season, 8-23 last season and so far were 0-7 this season coming into the game vs. Hofstra.  Ken Pomeroy ranked them 338th out of 345 Division I teams coming into Saturday's game. With the exception of their first loss to Colgate by four points, all their other losses were by fourteen points or more.

But last season at home, they forced overtime against Hofstra before eventually losing.  And that Pride team had two time CAA Player of the Year Charles Jenkins.  This season, with Jenkins now in the NBA, Hofstra entered the contest vs. Binghamton having lost four games in a row.  It seemed if the Bearcats might have a fighting chance in this game.

In the first few minutes of the game, Matthew noted to Mal and me "Why doesn't it say Hofstra on the scoreboard?"  And sure enough, he was right.  Normally, the scoreboard says "Hofstra" and the name of the school of the opponent.  But yesterday, it said "Pride" and "Bearcats".  Perhaps Binghamton was too long of a name for the scoreboard.  But only Matthew noticed, not the two forty plus year old adults sitting next to him.

As for the game itself, Hofstra went out to a 15-6 lead but Binghamton managed to cut the lead to 18-15.  During this time, Matthew yelled out "Mike Moore, where are you?" And sure enough, Mike Moore answered the call.  Moore would hit three of his four first half three pointers over the span of about seven minutes as part of a 15-3 Pride run.  The Pride were up 33-18 with four and half minutes left and Matthew blurted out "Hofstra is going to score 100."    Mal and I both laughed as Hofstra would end the half up 40-28.

At halftime, a Farmingdale PAL team played on the court.  I asked Matthew if he wished he was on the court playing.  Matthew turned to me and said "Oh yeah.  I could easily score in this game."  He had all the confidence of Mike Moore playing against Binghamton.

Apparently the Bearcats didn't get the message at halftime from Coach Mark Macon that they should shutdown Moore from the outside.  He hit three more three pointers to start the second half and the Pride went up 49-33.  With a little less than four minutes into the second half, Moore had tied the Hofstra record for most three pointers in a game with seven.

Every time Moore hit a three pointer, the Lions Den Student Section, or what there was of it due to finals, would chant "We Want Moore! We want Moore!"  And every time, Matthew would do a little dance in his seat in honor of his favorite player.

Things would not get any better for Binghamton.  Hofstra would go up by as many as twenty four, 61-37 with ten minutes remaining.  It was during this stretch where the Bearcats turned the ball over three times in about two minutes.  Out of complete disbelief, I turned to Mal and simply stated "Binghamton sucks."

I realized right then and there that was something I shouldn't have said in front of Matthew.  Immediately I said to Matthew "You didn't hear that."

Matthew came back with a big smile.  "Oh, I heard that."   Mal did his best to try to ease the situation, jokingly saying "Your dad was saying that Binghamton was good."

Matthew immediately turned and gave me an incredulous look that normally only my wife would give me. It was right then and there I knew how much Matthew was like his mommy.  The conversation ended there.

The Bearcats actually showed some heart the last ten minutes of the game. They actually cut the lead to fourteen, 70-56 before Hofstra coach Mo Cassara called time to get his team's mindset back in order.  It seemed to do the trick as the Pride got the lead back up to twenty and would go onto win 82-62.

The game was not exactly pretty as both teams combined for thirty five turnovers.   Hofstra did shoot fifty percent from the field, including eleven of twenty from beyond the arc.  Moore was unreal for the Pride, scoring thirty two points, shooting seven of eleven from beyond the arc.

Binghamton was led by Robert Mansell with nineteen points.  Their leading scorer on the season, Ben Dickinson was frustrated all day and held to half his season scoring average with seven points.  He showed hist frustration with a technical foul and then later fouled out on a flagrant foul.  Dickinson wasn't the only one to show his frustration.  One Binghamton fan showed up with a bag on his head.  He left before the game ended.

As we left the arena and headed out to our car on a cold December night, I asked Matthew what he thought of the game.  Matthew said "It was great.  It was everything I wished for."   For a six year old boy, he got what he wanted.  After losing four games in a row, his Hofstra team finally won.   And for him, that's all that matters.

Monday, December 12, 2011

For Drexel, Getting To The Free Throw Line Helps

Mike Litos, the Dean of CAA Basketball wrote a good article, as usual, last Friday about Drexel, entitled "There is Nothing Wrong About Drexel".  If you couldn't guess from the title, Litos breaks down some Ken Pomeroy statistics and correctly surmises the following;
"Take a look at how good Drexel’s defense has been, and how bad it’s offense has been. In the past seven seasons, only once has the offense finished better than 208th nationally, and only once has the defense finished worse than 92nd. All you need to see is the Christmastime look of the chart."
And he's exactly right, when you look at the aforementioned statistics, this is how Drexel plays.  Really tough defense and ugly offense.  Bruiser Flint's teams specialize in physical play both on the offensive and defensive ends.

But when I looked at the "Christmastime" statistics for Drexel, I noticed one area of concern.  If you look at that linked chart graphic and take a look at Pomeroy's FTR ratio for the Dragons, which stands for Free throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts Ratio.  Drexel's is 26.0, which is 319th in the country.  When Drexel had been successful, like last season when they won 21 games or in the 2006-07 season, when they won 23 games (and had a legitimate beef for being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament) or 2004-05, when they were 17-12, their FTR ratios were much better.

In fact, here are Drexel's FTRs for the past several seasons, where they ranked in the country in that category and their overall record.

2010-11 - 40.3 - 105  21-10
2009-10 - 36.1 - 215 16-16
2008-09 - 39.9 - 99   15-14
2007-08 - 37.5 - 140 12-20
2006-07 - 44.9 - 21    23-9
2005-06 - 33.8 - 228 15-16
2004-05 - 41.9 - 47    17-12

Notice that when their FTR was above 40, those were also Drexel's three best seasons under Bruiser since the 2004-05 season.  Yes, everyone knows that Bruiser's teams are excellent defensively and are also offensively challenged.  But the FTRs clearly show that Bruiser's teams are most successful when they get to the line.  Also since 2005-06, with the exception of the 2008-09 season, the Dragons have always finished in the top half in the CAA in free throw attempts (in 2006-07, Drexel was second to VCU in free throw attempts with 724).

Now I noted this to Litos in the comments field of his Friday article, also noting that Drexel was dead last in the CAA going into Saturday's action in free throw attempts per game, with fourteen per game.  He responded that he agreed with me about the FT rate. However, he noted  that " But Drexel has also been a terrible FT percentage team (which I certainly agree with).   It isn’t like they get a disparate number of points via the free throw."

But I responded by saying that when you get to the line a significant amount of times, even if you are not the best free throw shooting team, you will still get your share of free throws.  For example, let's say you shoot 61.6% from the line, which Drexel did last season.  If you get to the line ten more times than your opponent in a game, you will get six more points as a result.  When you play close games like the Dragons seemingly do, every little bit counts.

So that gave me an idea.  I reviewed Drexel's wins from last season where the margin of victory was seven points or less.  Thirteen of the Dragons' twenty one wins fit that category.   In eight of those thirteen wins, Drexel had more free throw attempts and free throws made than their opponents.  And in each case, it was significantly more free throw attempts than the opposing team.

Opponent Date # of FTA More than Opponent # of FTM More than Opponent Margin of Victory
Loyola Md 11/12/10 15 6 3
Rider 12/11/10 9 10 4
St Francis PA 12/18/10 22 12 4
Old Dominion 1/13/11 13 7 5
Hofstra 1/29/11 8 5 5
William and Mary 2/12/11 8 2 2
VCU 2/23/11 13 9 4
Towson 3/4/11 15 6 6

In all eight of those games, Drexel had at least more than eight free throw attempts than their opponent. And in each of those games, the margin of victory was due to the free throws made margin Drexel had over their opponent.  Simply put, Drexel won all eight of those games due to the charity stripe.

This past Saturday, Drexel won at home, 54-50 over Princeton.  In Saturday's game,  the Tigers had more field goals than the Dragons, 22-20.  The Tigers and Dragons each had the same number of three pointers, four.  What was the difference?  The foul line.  Princeton was 12 of 15 from the line, while Drexel was 20 of 24 from the line.  The Dragons had eight more free throws than the Tigers and they won only by four points.  Again, the charity stripe won the game for the Drexel.  Mike Litos even acknowledged this in his article from today (and yes Mike, Massenat, Fouch and Lee were huge).

Now I agree with Mike that Drexel needs to shoot better from the perimeter and Chris Fouch and Damion Lee combined to shoot 11 of 23 from the field against Princeton, so that's a good start.  But for a team that for the most part doesn't shoot well from the field, getting to the line much more often than their opponent can be a definite factor.  It certainly was last season for Drexel in about forty percent of their wins on the season.  Unless they start shooting the ball better from the field, it may need to be as well this season for the Dragons.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Slide Continues as Hofstra Loses to Manhattan

Two weeks ago, I was heading home from Kingston, Rhode Island.  I had just watched Hofstra beat Cleveland State 63-53 in what basically amounted to a rock fight at the Legends Classic SubRegional at URI.  It was a gutty, winning performance by a Pride team that took the Vikings best punch in the mouth and came back with multiple shots to their opponent's head.  They outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded a team that had won road games at Vanderbilt and Kent State earlier in the season.   Cleveland State hasn't lost a game since that loss to Hofstra.

As I drove back home to Long Island that night, savoring my victory burger and chocolate banana shake from the awesome Jake's Wayback Burgers in Mystic, Connecticut,  I couldn't help but think about the possibilities with this Hofstra team.  I had watched Bryant Crowder play his first two games of the season at Rhode Island.  He gave them an inside scoring presence, height and serious attitude.  The Pride now had a nine deep rotation, with Steven Nwaukoni, Shemiye McLendon, Dwan McMillan and Crowder giving good contributions off the bench.  And they had a legitimate big time scorer in Mike Moore.  

Even though they were only 3-3 after the win over the Vikings, the Pride had been competitive in all their games. They had the impressive win over LIU and a gut check win over St. FrancisThey hung tough against a good Oregon State team in Corvallis.  They lost by two to a Florida Atlantic team that had the best record in the Sun Belt last season.  And they rallied after being down nineteen against Rhode Island to keep the game close against the Rams.  I really thought the big win against Cleveland State was going to be the start of something special for the Pride.

But the next day the struggles began for Hofstra in the final game of the Legends Classic.  As I was following the game on my IPhone at my nephew's baptism in a church up in Wappinger Falls, they had a seven point lead over Boston University with ten minutes left.  They proceeded to shoot 2 of 15 the rest of the way in losing to the Terriers 68-61.  Starting point guard Steve Mejia injured his hamstring during the loss to BU and Crowder was suspended again for violation of team rules.

But last Saturday, despite being down two players, Hofstra started out well at home against James Madison.   They were up nine points at home on JMU with about eleven minutes left.  But, again they hit a cold spell, going 1 of  8 from the field.  They would lose to the Dukes 62-60 on a Humpty Hitchens jumper with three seconds left.

Then this Tuesday night, as I watched the Wagner streaming video feed at home, the Pride completely unraveled in the second half against the Seahawks, losing 58-43 to Team Hurley.  What I thought two weeks ago was going to be a springboard to a season of success turned out to be the last win Hofstra had going into today.  Hopefully home cooking would be the remedy to what ailed the Pride.

My son Matthew and I took our usual seats in Section 111, Row D.  It turned out to be Hofstra Fan Appreciation Day and there were a ton of boy scouts in the building today.  They came out on to the arena floor holding a giant American flag as the national anthem was beautifully sung.  Matthew and I had a feeling of hope that this was this day that Hofstra turned the tide.

But that hope was quickly dashed as they struggled out of the gate.   While the fans in my section stood at the request of the dance team until Hofstra scored a point, the Pride had three turnovers and missed their first three shots in the first nearly four minutes of the game  Amazingly, Hofstra was tied with Manhattan at two after a Moore jumper with 16:50 left.  We could finally sit down.

But the Jaspers would then make us wish we had stayed standing, as they went on a 21-4 run over the next seven minutes and forty five seconds.  Manhattan buried three three pointers and George Beamon hit an old fashioned three point play to put the Jaspers up 23-6 with nine minutes left in the first half.    I sat in my seat dumbfounded as Matthew sat next to me showing his frustration.

But Hofstra finally found their shooting touch and went on a 14-2 run of their own over the next four minutes. Moore's jumper made the score 25-20 with 5:04 left and the crowd was finally into the game.  After a missed free throw by Manhattan's Liam McCabe Moran,  Moore had a chance to cut it to two points, but his three pointer rimmed in and out.

The Jaspers would respond with a 9-1 spurt to end the half.  Hofstra would miss all seven of its shots and commit three turnovers in the last five minutes.  The Pride would walk into the locker room down 34-21 at halftime.

A youth basketball team from Syosset was the halftime entertainment as they played split squad half court games.  They handled the ball better than Manhattan and Hofstra, who had combined in the first half for twenty one turnovers.  Coach Mo Cassara was so upset at his team that they didn't go back onto the court until three minutes left before the start of the second half.

Unfortunately the long half time talk with his team didn't help the Pride.  The Jaspers actually extended their lead to fifteen, 52-37  with a little less than eight and a half minutes left .  Things were looking bleak for the Pride and I had not heard the Lions Den student section so quiet in such a long time.

However, the Pride didn't quit.  Nathaniel Lester, who had been quiet for most of the game and spent a good part of the second half on the bench, came alive in the final few minutes.  Lester and Moore keyed a 9-1 spurt over the next nearly two and half minutes.  A Lester layup cut the lead to seven, 53-46 with six minutes left.

But just when it seemed Hofstra was on the verge of making it a game, Manhattan responded.  Beamon buried a three pointer and Emmy Andujar followed with a layup, and the Jaspers were up by twelve, 58-46 with a little less than four minutes left.

The Pride would have one last mini spurt in them.  Lester would score five consecutive points and the lead again was cut to seven, 62-55 with three minutes left.  But once again, the Jaspers responded.  Rhamel Brown, who had his way inside in the second half for Manhattan, scored five of the next six points for the Jaspers.  Manhattan was back up 68-55 with two minutes left and many of the 2,800 that were in attendance headed for the exits.

Very few people were left in the stands when the buzzer sounded on Manhattan's 68-59 win over Hofstra.  Moore led all scorers with twenty points but he didn't have much help.  Lester scored eleven points, but most of them came in the final few minutes of the game.  Manhattan had much more balance as Beamon had fourteen points, while Brown had a double double with fourteen points and eleven rebounds. Andujar and McCabe Moran each added ten for the Jaspers.

Matthew and I made our way over to commiserate with Defiantly Dutch after the game. The Dutchman and I were both at a loss for words.  The Pride had now lost four in a row and both of us had to think about what good came out of the game. Finally, I said my goodbye to the Dutchman as Matthew and I had to head home to meet up with my wife and younger son to get a Christmas tree.

Two weeks ago, I was driving home, enjoying a delicious meal, looking forward to what seemed to be a hopeful season.  Tonight, I drove home dismayed and speechless.  Hofstra got outworked, out-shot, out-defended and out-rebounded by Manhattan.   I was left wondering if my team was going to be able to turn their season around.

It's amazing how one's perception can change in the span of fourteen days.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

College Hoops Again Provide a Welcome Respite (Recap of FDU vs Stony Brook)

Watching live college basketball games, something I absolutely love, has been an outlet for me since I really started following Hofstra in the early 2000's.  Previously, I had enjoyed college hoops for years and I attended many games at MSG.  But when I truly became a fan of college basketball and Hofstra in particular, I found an avenue for anxiety, stress, even loss.  I could completely become engrossed in a game; the nuances of ball movement and defenses, marvel at the athleticism and skill of players, and the game management of knowledgeable coaches.  Throw in an occasional yell at bad officiating and I had my two hour world of complete bliss, a welcome respite from the various things going on in my world.

This is a hectic time of season at work.  Four weeks each year, two in the spring semester and two in the fall semester, I am involved in administering exams to nearly eleven hundred students.  For students and administrators alike, it's a stressful period of time.  One where I desperately look for avenues to decompress.   Thankfully, I can rely on my old friend, college basketball.

I didn't originally plan to attend last night's Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Stony Brook contest.  But when I reviewed yesterday's college basketball schedule, I realized that I could make the game.  Thus, I jumped at the chance to drive out to the campus of Stony Brook.

The last time I was at Stony Brook, I was there in March of 2010 when they hosted a first round NIT game vs. Illinois, due to a conflict with Illinois' home court.   The game was held at Stony Brook Arena, which is now being renovated, That night, it was an entire sea of Seawolves' red,  The game was sold out with both student sections under the baskets packed with SBU fans hungry for a giant RLU.  Stony Brook jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but eventually Illinois overcame an electric partisan Seawolves crowd and won 76-66, spoiling Stony Brook's first ever Division I postseason game.

Stony Brook's opponent last night, FDU, is a school where I have some second person knowledge of their greatest all time basketball player.  Several of my Glen Cove friends, particularly my friend Mal, went to high school with Desi Wilson.  Desi, who is listed at six foot seven and about 230 pounds, was a two sport star at Glen Cove in basketball and baseball.  Mal describes Desi as laid back and very friendly.  Desi went on to star at FDU and was the NEC player of the year for the 1989-1990 season.  That season he averaged over twenty points per game and nine rebounds per game. He is also a member of the NEC's 25th Anniversary Team.

Desi left the Knights after his junior year after being drafted by the Texas Rangers.  He was traded to the San Francisco Giants with Rich Aurilia for John Burkett.  He was a career .300 hitter in the minors and played one season with the Giants in 1996, hitting .271 in 118 at bats.  Unfortunately, Desi didn't hit for much power and was back in the minors the next year.  He had a long successful minor league career and even played overseas.  Due to his ability to hit for average, he ended up becoming a hitting coach and is currently the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

The attendance for last night's contest was nowhere near the 4400 people that attended the Illinois game in March 2010.  Also, due to the arena being renovated, the game was held in the intimate confines of Pritchard Gym, which holds 1700.  Still, there was a good crowd for the game.  And again, there was a good amount of red in the stands, not just from the students, but from alumni and families that came to the game.  I was impressed with the support the Seawolves were getting and they didn't let their fans down.

The teams both struggled from the field in the first half but seemingly for different reasons.   Stony Brook played tough defense on FDU and caused numerous Knights' turnovers, twelve in the first half.  Meanwhile, the Seawolves were missing several open shots.   Stony Brook was only up two, 20-18 with five and half minutes left before they finished the half on a 10-4 run due in large part to guard Dave Coley.   The score at the half was SBU 30 FDU 22.  The Knights were fortunate to be only down eight thanks to their forward George Goode, who had eight points and eight rebounds in the first half.

Surprisingly there was no halftime entertainment, so the fans were left to their own devices.  In my case, it was a celebrity sighting.  Mick Foley, WWE wrestling star, lives in Stony Brook and sure enough he was at the game.  He spoke to the Stony Brook radio crew during halftime.  Alas, there was no confirmed sighting of Mr. Socko at the game.

No doubt spurred on by the appearance of Mr. Foley, the Seawolves came out and blitzed the Knights at the start of the second half.  Stony Brook started nailing those open jumpers and when they missed, they grabbed offensive rebounds and got second chance points.  Meanwhile, FDU committed five turnovers and missed on their first nine field goal attempts.  Barely six minutes into the second half, SBU was up twenty, 44-24.

And it didn't get any better for the Knights.  They only scored five points over the next seven minutes.  The score was now 57-29 with seven minutes left in the game. Yes, a lot of this had to do with Fairleigh Dickinson not being a good team whatsoever.  Even Desi Wilson in his prime couldn't have helped the Knights to a victory last night.

But Steve Pickiell's Seawolves played really hard for the entire forty minutes.  You could see why Stony Brook won the America East regular season title in the 2009-10 season and came within an eyelash of defeating Boston University in the America East championship game last season.  They continued to play tough defense even up by twenty eight points.

Pickiell worked the referees the entire night, getting underneath their skins.  After one conversation with an official, Pickiell walked away.  The official then shook his head in disbelief.  The Seawolves' head coach was as relentless as his team was last night.

When the game is for all intensive purposes over, you look for other things to keep you interested during the last few minutes  First, during the next to last TV timeout, the dance team brought out lots of kids from the crowd to dance to "Cotton Eyed Joe".  Then a few minutes later, as Goode attempted a free throw, the Seawolves mascot, Wolfie, shook a "Shake Weight" to try to distract him.  It didn't work, but it had to be the most creative distraction and best use of a "Shake Weight" so far this basketball season.

The Seawolves would end up winning 70-46.  Coley led all scorers with sixteen points.  Goode had a double double for the Knights scoring thirteen points and grabbing eleven rebounds.  FDU had more turnovers, twenty one, than field goals, seventeen.  You're not going to win too many games with stats like that.

As I headed for the exit, Mick Foley was still sitting in his seat, shaking hands with fans.  I came up to him and shook his hand as well, an added bonus to a fun night.   Once again, college basketball was a welcome respite to a long day.