Monday, November 28, 2011

The Paul Westhead Invitational

Yesterday was an exasperating day.  I can't get into details, but I was agitated when I got home.  Thankfully, salvation was only ninety minutes away, for I had this game between LIU and Iona circled on my calendar.  I knew I was going to see a game that "The Guru of Go" would truly love.

Westhead is the creator of "The System".  It's based on simple math - More Possessions + More Shot Attempts = More Points.  And there are no two better examples of  "The System" than LIU and Iona, led by their proponents, Blackbirds' coach Jim Ferry and Gaels' coach Tim Cluess.. Last season, LIU was fourth in the nation in scoring at 82.7 points per game and fifth in the country in possessions per game at 70.6.  Meanwhile, Iona is currently first in the country averaging 94 points per game and second in assists at 21.3.  

"The System" has worked for both teams.  LIU made the NCAA Tournament after winning the NEC championship.  Meanwhile Iona made the MAAC Conference Tournament finals, then the CIT finals and are the heavy favorites to win the MAAC this season.  This was going to be the basketball version of the Penn Relays (Google it).  I had the over/under for points scored for last night's game at 180.

I was hoping to bring my basketball buddy, my older son Matthew to the game last night, knowing he would love this fast pace, high scoring game.  But he had homework to do, so daddy went off by himself to New Rochelle.  As I got there, there was another good crowd on hand at the Hynes Center.  Not as good as the game vs. St Joseph's last Wednesday, but the one side of bleachers was basically full.

As expected, the game got off to a rip roaring, albeit sloppy start.  The Gaels went out to an 11-2 lead.  But the Blackbirds came back and cut the deficit to four, 23-19.  By this time, both teams had a combined nine turnovers, but of course forty two points.  After Jermel Jenkins hit a three pointer to make it 26-19, the Gaels had eight possessions where they used 10 seconds or less of the shot clock.

The game was still close, 33-29 with a little less than six minutes left when Iona when on a 21-9 run to end the half.  It was led by their two best players, Michael Glover and Scott Machado, who combined for twelve of the twenty one half ending points.  The Gaels were up 54-38 at the half.

The halftime entertainment consisted of two of my favorite things.  One, a local catholic school boys team played at the half.  And they emulated the two college teams by playing end to end action.  The other was hearing the always terrific Iona Pep Band playing songs like "Peg", "Brickhouse" and some Stevie Wonder and KC and the Sunshine Band tunes.   While all this was going on, I honestly thought I might see more points scored in the second twenty minutes than the first twenty minutes.

And at the start of the second half, Iona came out with the intention of doing exactly that. Within barely the first eight minutes, the Gaels outscored the Blackbirds 33-17.  During this time, Iona forced eight LIU turnovers.  Meanwhile, Glover was terrorizing the Blackbirds, scoring at will inside while Jermel Jenkins scored at will from the outside with three point bombs.  With twelve minutes left, Iona was up 87-55.  The  game for all intensive purposes was over and the question was, when would the Gaels score one hundred points?

Someone though forgot to tell the Blackbirds the game was over.  LIU outscored Iona 19-3 over the next nearly eight minutes.  The Gaels actually went scoreless for about four and a half minutes during that stretch. The score was 90-74.  But a layup by who else, Glover, made sure the score didn't get any closer.

Iona finally scored one hundred points on a layup by Machado 2:19 left. At that point, the crowd started to file out.  The Gaels would not score again, but they already had done enough damage.  LIU managed to score their season average from last season, eighty two, but lose by eighteen, 100-82.   Had Iona not had that scoring drought in the second half, the teams would have easily eclipsed the point total for the first half.  But ninety points in the second half certainly wasn't bad.

Glover had another double double with twenty eight points and fourteen rebounds. Machado had another double double as well with fourteen points and ten assists.  Jamal Olasewere led LIU with twenty points.  The two teams combined for forty two assists and forty turnovers.  Iona now heads out on the road for the entire month of December. Meanwhile, LIU already has to start defending its NEC conference championship on Thursday against an improved Wagner team.  No rest for the weary.

As I left the Hynes Center and headed to my car, I thought of one thing.  Someone should send Paul Westhead a plane ticket to New York.  He should catch a couple of Iona and LIU games.  He would be so proud.

Thoughts from TicketCity Legends Classic in Rhode Island

Though I only attended three of the six games that were played this weekend up at the Ryan Center on the campus of URI,. I saw more than enough to make the following observations;

  • Had it not been for a mistake by the timekeeper in their game against Cleveland State, Boston University would have swept the entire subregional.  The Terriers played really inspired basketball all three days and rallied twice to beat Rhode Island and Hofstra. They also controlled most of the action against Cleveland State.
  • The reason the Terriers are now my favorite to win the America East is that they have a terrific trio in Darryl Partin, Patrick Hazel and D.J. Irving.  
  • Partin had a terrific three games.  He averaged twenty three points and five rebounds per game in the subregional.  He needs to work on his free throw shooting; 16 of 25 from the charity stripe. But considering he averaged eight attempts per game means he is not just a jump shooter (though he was 4 of 10 from beyond the arc vs. Hofstra).
  • Hazel and Irving also had a good three games for the Terriers.  Hazel averaged thirteen points, nearly nine rebounds and three blocks per game in the subregional.  Irving averaged sixteen points, four assists and nearly three steals per game.
  • One of the keys for Hofstra this season was whether Mike Moore would step up his game after the graduation of Charles Jenkins.  He certainly proved it this weekend.  Despite being taken out of the game vs. Cleveland State, Moore had a terrific rest of the subregional.  He poured in twenty seven vs. BU and twenty five vs. Rhode Island.  He also averaged nearly eight rebounds per game in the subregional. 
  • Moore has fifty two free throw attempts on the season, shooting seventy-seven percent which is under his average of last season (eighty five percent).  But still he is averaging over seven free throw attempts per game.  In his last five games, Moore has averaged nine free throw attempts per game.
  • Speaking of free throw attempts, Hofstra averaged twenty six free throw attempts in three games.  When you get to the line that many times and you average 73 percent from the line (as they did this weekend), you will stay in games.
  • Outside of the first ten minutes vs. Rhode Island and the last ten minutes vs. Boston University, Hofstra played very well in the tournament.  With the addition of Bryant Crowder, the Hofstra rotation now goes nine deep. 
  • So far, Crowder seems to be a nice find for Coach Mo Cassara.  He might be the most athletic big man Hofstra has had since Adrian Uter.  He has energy, attitude, very good leaping ability and even a nice touch around the basket.
  • The rebounding continues to be solid for the Pride.  The Pride out-rebounded the Terriers yesterday, dominated the physical Vikings on Saturday and hung in there vs. the taller Rams. They are much improved from last season.
  • The Pride have a nice bench now with Crowder, Stephen Nwaukoni, Dwan McMillan and Shemiye McLendon. 
  • With ten minutes left in the game yesterday up 52-45, Hofstra was shooting 17 of 32 vs. Boston University.  They ended the game shooting 2 of 15.  It's hard to win when all your points come from free throws when the other team is hitting baskets.  
  • Nathaniel Lester missed all nine of his field goal attempts.  The Pride need Lester to be Moore's wingman to be consistently successful.  
  • Outside of those ten minutes against BU, Hofstra shot the ball well. Fifty one percent vs. Cleveland State, which I think is remarkable considering their defense, and forty six percent vs. Rhode Island.  The Pride are shooting forty four percent on the season.
  • Cleveland State just manhandled Rhode Island.  They forced twenty turnovers on the Rams, and URI missed all eight of their three point attempts.
  • D'Aundray Brown is a very good all around player for the Vikings.  He is not only their leading scorer but their best defender.  He just has to stay out of foul trouble. 
  • URI's Jonathan Holton is a dynamic talent, but as a freshman he is a work in progress.  After scoring twenty points vs. Hofstra, he only scored a combined sixteen points in his next two games. 
  • After a good first fifty minutes, Rhode Island had a bad last fifty minutes in the subregional.  They blew an eleven point lead against Boston University and got hammered by Cleveland State.  Heck, they nearly blew a nineteen point lead against Hofstra.  They are a better team than their 1-5 record indicates, but they need to find consistency.
  • I think I saw the best team in the America East and I certainly saw the best team in the Horizon this past weekend.  I also think that Hofstra will be right in the mix in the CAA.   I love URI's length and athleticism.  But again, the Rams have to play a full forty minutes game in and game out.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hofstra Beats Cleveland State at Its Own Game

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day in Rhode Island.  The temperature was around sixty degrees as I left my hotel and took the short drive down to Newport.  I spent part of the morning sightseeing, first around town, then I visited the Newport Shipyard.   I had never seen so many large expensive boats in one place in all my life.

As I walked back from the shipyard past the Marriott where the Hofstra team was staying, an older gentleman came up to his wife by the dock and said "The Hofstra University basketball team was having a team meeting in one of the rooms...". I didn't hear the end of the conversation, but I smiled as I made my way back to town.  It was nice to hear your home team making an impression on someone in Newport.

I got to the Ryan Center about an hour early before game time. When I sat down in my seat, the Pride were practicing on the floor.  Hofstra assistant coach Patrick Sellers was working with reserve Matt Grogan about defensive positioning.  After watching the game between Cleveland State and Hofstra, it definitely felt that the entire team was listening to Sellars.

When I watched Cleveland State play Boston University in the first game on Friday afternoon, I could see why the Vikings knocked off Vanderbilt and Kent State.  They play an aggressive man to man defense and every shot, pass and move are contested.  Watching two rows from the court yesterday, I can honestly tell you that Cleveland State is literally in your face.  They are literally on their man and it creates a very intense atmosphere.  You need to bring your lunch and be up to the task of playing them.

In the first half, it was clear that Cleveland State's had two game plans on defense.  The first was to come out with a press defense similar to the one that Rhode Island did so effectively against Hofstra.  The Pride were somewhat affected by the press, but not to the degree it was against the Rams.   The second was to take Hofstra's Mike Moore out of the game. D'Aundray Brown was assigned to Moore and he stuck to him like glue.  Moore attempted only three shots in the first twenty minutes, missed them all and only had one point.

However, the Pride found another scoring option in the first half and it came from an unlikely source. Reserve sophomore forward Stephen Nwaukoni came off the bench and sparked Hofstra with eight points, several of which came from offensive rebounds.  Nwaukoni had a career high with twelve points on the game.

The teams played evenly for the first twenty minutes as the largest lead by either team was four points.  The Pride took a late three point first half lead on two free throws by Nathaniel Lester.  But Jeremy Montgomery buried a long three pointer just before the buzzer and tied the game at twenty nine at the half.

Hofstra came out and took its biggest lead of the game at that time, 33-29 on two layups by Lester and Steve Mejia.  But the Vikings came back with a 13-4 run and took their largest lead of the game, 42-37 as Brown, their leading scorer on the season, scored the last two points of the run on a layup.

But the Pride followed back with a huge run of their own.  Over the next seven minutes, Hofstra outscored Cleveland State 20-4.   The Pride were mostly lead by their reserves Nwaukoni, Dwan McMillan and Bryant Crowder,  They combined to score sixteen of those twenty points.  Hofstra was up 57-46 with six and half minutes remaining.

The Vikings were frustrated on offense, as the Pride held them to 37.5 percent shooting on the field.  And when Cleveland State missed, Hofstra cleaned up on the glass.  In the second half, the Pride outrebounded the Vikings 20-8.   Cleveland State had only two offensive rebounds in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Cleveland State's frustration boiled over on one play late in the game.  On a fast break, Crowder was going in for a dunk attempt.  The Vikings' Aaron Pogue clearly intentionally fouled Crowder, who crashed to the floor and then was writing in pain on the court.  As the fans booed Pogue, Crowder was helped off the court.  Lester hit one of two free throws.   Hofstra would go on to win 63-53.

The bench came up huge for Hofstra.  Besides Nwaukoni's career high twelve points, McMillan matched him with twelve points and Crowder added eight.  The Pride Bench outscored the Vikings bench 32-14.   Lester and Mejia each had ten points.  Moore was held to five points overall, fifteen less than his season average. Hofstra shot 51 percent for the game, including 57 percent in the second half.

As for Cleveland State, they were led by Montgomery who had twelve points and Brown, who fouled out, had ten points.  The Vikings only had eleven free throw attempts as opposed to thirty one for the Pride.   Cleveland State was held to four of nineteen shooting from beyond the arc and scored their lowest point total of the season.  The Vikings had twenty nine fouls on the game and coach Gary Waters was clearly not happy with the officiating.

After a tough loss against the Rams on their home court, the Pride rebounded with their best effort of the season against a team many think could be the favorite to win the Horizon League.   And they did it in large part on the defensive end.   Hofstra truly beat Cleveland State at its own game yesterday.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pride Fall to the Rams

The last time I was in Rhode Island for a Hofstra basketball game was eight years ago when the Pride traveled to Providence to take on the Friars.  How long ago was that?  NBA player Ryan Gomes was still in college, playing for the home team.  Meanwhile Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera were freshmen playing their third games for Hofstra.  The Friars defeated the Pride 69-56 in a game that wasn’t really indicative of how dominant Providence was in the second half of the game.

So here I was sitting behind the Hofstra bench hoping for a much better result at the Ryan Center last evening.  After barely anyone showed up for the first game between Cleveland State and Boston University (they missed a really great, wild ending), the crowd filled in for their hometown Rams.  Having suffered some close losses, Rhode Island was 0-3 and looking for their first win of the season.  Meanwhile, Hofstra was looking to bounce back from a tough two point loss at home to Florida Atlantic.

The game was also very important to one Steve Mejia.  Mejia played his first two seasons at Rhode Island before transferring to Hofstra and sitting out a year.  He had played his best game of the season against Florida Atlantic, scoring fourteen points.  There was no doubt Mejia wanted to play well here, especially when the Rhody faithful booed his name every time it was announced during the game.

The start of the game did not go well for the Pride.  The very long, very athletic Rams came out in a full court press and that seemed to bother Hofstra to no end.  Rhode Island forced several turnovers in the backcourt.   As a result, the Rams jumped out to a 27-9 lead ten minutes into the game.  Jonathan Holton, a six foot nine inch freshman who looked like he should be playing for North Carolina, scored fourteen of those first twenty seven points for Rhode Island.

The lead had swollen to nineteen, 37-18 with about eight minutes left in the first half and it looked like the Pride were going to get blown out of the Ryan Center.  But as this Pride team has shown early on in the season, it has a lot of talent and heart.  And one Hofstra player decided to go on his own run.   Mike Moore scored twelve straight points over the next couple of minutes.  Suddenly it was a game, 37-30 with a little less than five minutes left in the half.

The Pride cut the lead even further to four on a three pointer by, whom else, Moore.  But the Rams got a basket from Nikola Malesevic and the score was 45-39 at the half.   All things considered, for Hofstra to only be down six at the half was a moral victory.  They were very much now in this game.

The halftime entertainment consisted of a very unique version of musical chairs.  Several people dribbled around the chairs.  When the music stopped, they had to go hit a layup, then dribble back and sit in the chair.  I thought it was a pretty neat game and Hofstra should try that at their games in the future.

The second half saw the teams go back and forth.  Every time it looked like Rhode Island would pull away, Hofstra would come back and keep the deficit within four to five points.  Moore was getting help from his usual dynamic duo partner, Nathaniel Lester.  But he was also getting help from a new source.

Bryant Crowder was playing in his first ever game for the Pride and the six foot ten athletic forward felt right at home in this game.  He showed his leaping ability with two monster dunks, plus showed energy and a nice touch around the basket. Between Moore, Lester and Crowder, the Pride kept the game close.

After Moore hit two free throws, the Pride had got within three points, 61-58, their closest margin since five minutes into the first half.  But over the next six minutes, the Pride could get no closer than that.  However, after a layup by Crowder, the score was still within reach at 74-69 with just about four minutes left.

But Hofstra would not get any closer.   Senior Jamal Wilson, who entered the game averaging twenty points per game, was huge down the stretch from Rhode Island with his all around play.  He scored five points, including a huge jumper to put the Rams up nine, 80-71 that basically sealed the game for Rhode Island.    The Rams would end up winning 85-73.  Holton lead URI with twenty points, while Malasevic added eighteen points and Wilson had fifteen points.

For the Pride, Moore had another fine game leading all scorers with twenty five points.  Lester added twenty two points and Crowder, in his first ever box score had thirteen for Hofstra.  The Pride shot 20 of 25 from the line but had way too many turnovers, seventeen as compared to eleven assists.

For Hofstra, there are still two games to play in this “tournament”.  Today the Pride face undefeated Cleveland State and tomorrow it's Hofstra vs. Boston University.  They can still leave Rhode Island on a high note.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Rhode Island Less Traveled

A few months ago, when I first started planning  to see four basketball games in two days in Rhode Island, it was supposed to be my first ever road trip with just my older son, Matthew, and me.   Matthew loves basketball, especially Hofstra basketball.  So he was very excited about the prospect of seeing two Hofstra games in two days.

Then about three weeks ago, we adopted a new dog.  Walter is a pug that was a rescue dog from a puppy mill.  We saw him at a Halloween dog parade and noticed he was up for adoption.   He might be the calmest dog I have ever met and quite friendly.  Matthew and my younger son, Jonathan, were smitten.

So about ten days ago, shortly before I was going to make reservations to stay at a hotel, I asked Matthew "Are you still going with me to Rhode Island for the basketball trip?"  Matthew's response was "No, I want to stay home and be with Walter."

Needless to say I was stunned.  Then I decided to follow up with a question that turned out to very much humble me.   I asked, "So, you would rather be at home with Walter than be with your dad on a basketball trip?"

His response was a soft, yet very short and to the point.  "Yes."  I realized right there that my six year old son definitely had a lot of my wife in him.  He's very sweet, but very honest and direct. I couldn't blame him.  Our dog is pretty cute.

So I alone went out this morning on my trip to the Ticket City Legends Classic Subregional at the Ryan Center on the campus of the University of Rhode Island.  The trip was actually a quick one, about three hours. Apparently too many people were at the mall early today to be out on I-95.

Since I was saving my trip to Newport for tomorrow morning, I hung around Kingston before the game. Kingston is your typical sleepy New England town that you would find in a Stephen King novel.  Speaking of novels, I went into a new/used Kingston bookstore.  The owner greeted me as I walked in to the place.  They were having a 50% off sale due to their landlord forcing them to downsize their bookstore.  I found a good children's book for $3.25.

As I got to the Ryan Center, it's located in the back of URI.  You have to drive down Plains Road, which is aptly named, and loop around to the back of the campus.   It's a very nice facility that seats about 7,700.  Unfortunately, Cleveland State and Boston University are not much of a draw.  From my vantage point, there are maybe about one hundred spectators in the building at the tipoff of their game..

The Ticket City Legends Classic "Tournament"  is run by the Gazelle Group, the same folks that bring you the 2K Sports Classic "Tournament".  As I wrote in an article on my College Hardwood site last year, these so-called tournaments are not real tournaments. The top four Power Six conference teams that were chosen are guaranteed to play in Madison Square Garden or the Meadowlands.  They play a "regional" on their home court, which guarantees them two home games against mid major foes.  Then they play the last two rounds of "the tournament" at either MSG (2K Sports Classic) or in this case,. the Meadowlands.

Meanwhile the mid major teams that played in the TicketCity Legends Classic regionals play round robin in subregionals.  One is in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on the home court of Bucknell.   The other is here in Kingston, Rhode Island, home of URI.  Four teams in each subregional and each team plays three games.

If this had been a real tournament, one of the two teams I saw in the first game, Cleveland State, would have been at the Meadowlands.  Cleveland State upset Vanderbilt 71-58 on the Commodores home court in the "regional".   Instead of the opportunity to play in New Jersey, the Vikings got to play in Rhode Island.  All things considered, I'd rather be near Newport myself.

The Vikings have had a terrific start to their season.  They are 4-0 and have the win over Vanderbilt, plus another impressive road win over Kent State, who had defeated West Virginia on the road prior to that contest.  Cleveland State is an experienced team.  Their four leading scorers are seniors who went to the NIT last season.  Now minus Norris Cole, who was taken in the second round of the NBA draft, the Vikings were looking to sweep the subregional and enhance their non-conference resume for a potential NCAA at large bid.

Cleveland State's opponent, Boston University, made the NCAA tournament last season.  Their best player from last season, John Holland, also graduated.  But unlike the Vikings, the Terriers have struggled, losing their first three games of the season.  They were hoping to leave Rhode Island with at least one win and they would have three chances this weekend.

The first half saw Cleveland State jump out to an early 9-4 lead.  But the Vikings quickly got into foul trouble as their two leading scorers on the season, D' Aundray Brown and  Trevon Harmon, each picked up two fouls.  Meanwhile, Darryl Partin was leading the way for Boston University.  He scored ten first half points as the Terriers went into the locker room up 24-21 at halftime as both teams had a hard time finding the basket.

Cleveland State scored the first two baskets of the second half and went up 25-24.  But just as it appeared the Vikings were going to gain control of the game, the Terriers responded.   For most of the second half, BU controlled the action.  The Terriers were up by as much as eleven, 45-34 with nine and half minutes left.

Partin continued terrorizing Cleveland State, as he would actually score more points in the second half than he did in the first.  Hardin had help in the second half as Patrick Hazel and D.J. Irving contributed from the field.  BU was playing really hard and maintained a nine point lead, 52-43 with six and a half minutes left.

However, the Terriers had numerous opportunities to put the Vikings away, especially from the free throw line.  But BU wasted a lot of those charity stripe opportunities, missing sixteen of forty four free throw attempts on the game.  Partin scored twenty four points on the night, but missed half of his twelve free throw attempts.  If you were watching the game, you had the feeling in the pit of your stomach that this might come back to haunt the Terriers.

And sure enough, Cleveland State's Brown caught fire and scored ten straight points for the Vikings, including a three pointer to cut the lead to one, 54-53.  After BU went up by four again, again Cleveland State got a three pointer, this time by Harmon, to cut the lead to one, 57-56.   Again, the Terriers went up by four 62-58, but again, Harmon buried another three, and again the lead was one, 62-61 with 5.6 seconds left.

What happened in the last few seconds of the game was simply unreal.  BU's Matt Griffin struggled to inbound the ball, but appeared to finally do so when the whistle blew.  The game clock was started before the Terriers could inbound the ball.  The referee ruled that the play had to be done over.  And sure enough Griffin again had problems inbounding the ball.  This time he lost the ball and fouled Cleveland State's Jeremy Montgomery during the scramble for the ball.  Montgomery calmly nailed both free throws with three seconds left.  The Vikings won 62-61 and absolutely broke the heart of the Terriers.

In large part due to a mismanaged clock, one team, Cleveland State, remained undefeated, while another team, Boston University, remained winless. The outcome truly seemed unfair to the Terriers. This was proof positive that this game will hurt you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catholic School Shootout

This article is also on the Mid Majority 800 Games Recap Site.

Before last night, the last time I saw an Iona Men's Basketball game was March 30 of this year, when the Hynes Center hosted the championship game of the CIT as Santa Clara played Iona. With the recent advent of the College Insider Tournament (CIT), the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), as well as the seventy three year old NIT, which was won this season by Wichita State, some mid major teams' seasons now don't always end in loss.   The home team had a chance to end their season with a win.  Alas for the Gaels, it was the Broncos' season that didn't end in a loss, as Santa Clara downed Iona 76-69 to win the CIT championship.

The Gaels expect a lot more than a CIT berth this season.  With the addition of  Lamont "Momo" Jones, a transfer from Arizona, to a team that is returning Michael Glover and Scott Machado, Iona is the favorite to win the MAAC.  And if not for one Robbie Hummel, they might very well be undefeated.  The Gaels, who entered the contest with a 3-1 record, have averaged ninety one points per game, which is second in the country in scoring.  Iona is also second in the country in assists per game, averaging an incredible twenty two assists per game.

Iona's opponent, St Joseph's was also 3-1, with their sole loss being to Seton Hall.  St Joe's was looking to improve on last season, their second season in a row with twenty plus losses.  The Hawks have their own star in Carl Jones, who is averaging over twenty three points per game, shooting fifty six percent from the field and a ridiculous fifty seven percent on his three point attempts.

When I left my house in North Bellmore last night at 6:00 P.M., I was sure that I would not make it to New Rochelle until well into the first half.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel days of the year as well as the biggest party night of the year.  I expected a lot of traffic on my route to Iona, especially on the usual traffic spots like the Northern State/Grand Central  Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway and the Hutchinson River Parkway.   Much to my amazement, the only traffic I encountered was on the will call line at the Hynes Center for my ticket.

After I got my ticket, I entered the gym shortly after tipoff.  Glover made two free throws to put the Gaels up 4-3.  I noticed the Hynes Center was pretty much full, which was somewhat surprising considering the school was on break for the long Thanksgiving weekend.. However, Iona had received a lot of local press as perhaps the best team in the local New York City Area.  Going into the game, the Gaels were the top ranked team in John Templon's Big Apple Buckets NYC Power Poll.  And given St Joseph's long history as a mid major basketball power, it made sense that the gym was near capacity.  And the 2,611 that were in attendance were treated to one hell of a game.

St Joseph's showed early on that they had about as much talent as Iona had on offense.  Langston Galloway's three point barrage and C.J. Aiken's all around play riddled the Gaels defense early on in the game. The Hawks had a 33-20 lead midway through the first half.  Up to that point, Iona's defensive play was seriously lacking.

The Gaels called timeout and then turned up the pressure defense.  As a result, Iona went on a run, forcing a lot of Hawks' turnovers and actually tied the game at thirty nine with a little less than three minutes left.  Iona's offensive plan was a simple one.  First, it was Machado driving the lane, often "Feeding the Beast", as in get the ball to Glover, who scored at will on the Hawks.  However if Machado saw St Joe's trying to concentrate on Glover,  Machado would either hit the layup or kick it to Kyle Smyth for an open three pointer.

St Joe's would regain the lead and entered halftime up 45-43.  Both teams got a rousing ovation from the fans as they left the court together by the Gaels bench for the locker room.   The halftime entertainment started off with the typical dance team performing with lousy canned music.

After that mercifully ended,  the fans were treated to the Iona Pep Band's terrific renditions of popular songs.  The Iona pep band is made up of  older gentlemen and plays only at men's games.  They play during most timeouts, at halftime and at the end of the game.  Their renditions of Steely Dan's "Peg", Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein", Rick James' "Brickhouse", and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic's "We Want the Funk", among others, are absolutely terrific.  After the game, my friend Mal and I actually went over and thanked them for playing.

The second half was a back and forth affair. It was very close for the last twenty minutes of regulation, with no team getting a lead larger than five points. For Iona, Glover and Machado continued to score at will, but Smyth was now added to the mix, as he contributed several three pointers. But Galloway, Aiken, Carl Jones and Ronald Roberts kept St Joe's right there.

With 30 seconds left, the Hawks were up two, 83-81.  Machado was fouled and had a chance to tie.  But he only made one of two free throws and Iona was forced to foul.  However, Carl Jones returned the favor and missed his second free throw.   Machado found Taaj Ridley for a layup to tie the game at eighty four with eight seconds left.   With the fans stomping and chanting defense, Iona forced a turnover and the game went into overtime.

In overtime, Iona was up two 93-91 and had the ball on an inbounds play with about thirty seconds to play. Momo Jones was trapped by the Gaels bench, but the ball appeared to be knocked out of bounds by a Hawks' player.  However, the referee ruled St Joe's ball and Iona's coach, Tim Cluess was livid.  The Hawks would tie the score at ninety three and we went to a second overtime.

During the break before the start of the second overtime, Cluess had to be restrained by his assistant coaches and his players from going after the referee who made the call.  As the fans booed the referee's call, Cluess was fortunate that he wasn't called for a technical foul.  But his senior point guard wouldn't let him down.

Machado took over from there.  He would score seven of the Gaels' nine points in the second overtime.  The Hawks, who only really had a seven man rotation, seemed gassed at the end.  Iona would make the fans' holiday drive home a happy one, winning 104-99.  Glover had a huge double double with 34 points and 15 rebounds, while Machado's double double was 33 points and 10 assists.  Carl Jones led St Joe's with 25 points while Roberts had 20 points for the Hawks.

As we left the Hynes Center, I knew I would be back here soon.  Iona plays their next home game Monday night vs. LIU.  The Blackbirds were one of the top scoring teams in the country last season, averaging eighty two points per game.

Just the kind of tempo the Gaels like to play.

Lightning Can Strike Twice as Florida Atlantic Beats Hofstra Again

It was a rainy Tuesday night in Hempstead, New York.  I guess that was partly the reason for the sparse crowd at the Hofstra Mack Center.  The other reason might have been that there were no classes for undergraduate students on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Thus the Lions Den student section was not even half full.   I wonder how many of the 1,436 that were in attendance last night knew that this was a return match up from last season.

Last December on this very court, Florida Atlantic held off Hofstra 63-59 as Greg Gantt and Raymond Taylor combined for 31 points in the victory.  The Owls also out-rebounded the Pride 30-21.  Gantt, Taylor and five other Owls from last season returned for FAU in this contest.

The Pride's Mike Moore was looking to have a much better game this time around after only scoring eight points in last season's contest.  Hofstra was shooting 48.6 percent from the field on the season. Moore was largely responsible, shooting 50 percent from the field entering the game vs. FAU while averaging 20.7 points per game.

The two teams played a very close first half.   There were three ties and the largest lead by any team was five points (twice by Hofstra).  There was a large disparity in free throws as the Owls were 5 of 8 from the line while the Pride were 11 of 14.   Throw in Hofstra outscoring FAU  7-1 on second chance points and thus you had a Pride halftime lead at 32-27.

Even though the Lions' Den section was decimated by turkey day travel plans, they were very creative when it came to the Owls' diminutive guard Raymond Taylor, who is generously listed at 5 foot 6.  The Lions' Den serenaded Taylor with chants of "Booster Seat", "Ooompa Loompa" and of course everyone's favorite "Gary Coleman".  Due to Taylor's four fouls, his time with his new admirers was limited.

After saying hi to an old friend up in the second level,  my older son Matthew and I headed out to the Mack Center lobby during halftime and signed up for the free Junior Pride Club membership.  Matthew got a free T-shirt and wasted no time in putting it on before the start of the second half.

Hofstra also wasted no time at the start of the second half.  Baskets by Steve Mejia, who had his best game all season for the Pride, and Moore put Hofstra up nine, 36-27.   It looked like the Pride might be pulling away from the Owls.

But during a timeout, Mike Jarvis did a hockey line change and that seemed to awaken FAU.  The Owls went on a 13-0 run capped by a Omari Grier three pointer, one of eight on the night for Florida Atlantic, and FAU was up 40-36.   After Hofstra responded with four straight points to tie the game at 40 with 12:22 left, Mike Jarvis brought Gantt back in the game.

Gantt took over the game from there.  He hit a three, then followed with a layup to put the Owls back up five, 45-40.  However, the Pride came back with the next six points, with Moore scoring four of them to put Hofstra back up one, 46-45.   The Pride would maintain the lead, 51-49 with 5:08 left, but Gantt wasn't done yet.

Gantt would score on FAU's next four possessions.  The last one was a huge three pointer that put the Owls up two 58-56 with 1:24 left after Moore had hit three free throws to put Hofstra up one.  But when Gantt responded, Moore responded back.   Moore would hit another two free throws to tie the game at fifty eight with fifty eight seconds left.  Hofstra called a thirty second timeout.

Here's where a coach's decision led to the final score.  In this case, Mike Jarvis did something that my friends Mal, Tieff and I believe in, but rarely see.  I turned to Tieff during the timeout and asked "Do you think Jarvis will do a 'two for one' here?"   This means that the Owls could quickly get a shot off within ten-fifteen seconds on their first possession. Then the Pride would have at most thirty five seconds to take their shot, leaving time left on the clock for one more possession/shot by FAU.   Thus, a two for one possession.

Well, FAU took only fourteen seconds as Alex Tucker hit a jumper to put the Owls back up two, 60-58.  Hofstra quickly responded, as who else, Moore, hit two free throws to tie the game at sixty with twenty six seconds left.   But this setup FAU for the last possession with the shot clock turned off.  The Owls ran time off the clock.  With the clock winding down, Tucker again took the shot, an off balance layup that somehow bounced into the basket.  There were only 2.4 seconds left on the clock and Hofstra was down 62-60.

Coach Mo Cassara called timeout and setup a play.   When Hofstra came out in their set, Jarvis immediately called timeout to change his defense.   With all the fans standing up, Hofstra inbounded the ball.  Mejia tossed the ball to Lester on the baseline, who threw a baseball pass down the court trying to hit Moore.  However, both Moore and the FAU defender both went for the pass.   The ball deflected off them and as time expired, Shemiye McLendon literally batted the ball into the basket.

However, it was clear from our vantage point that the buzzer had clearly sounded before McLendon hit the ball.   After the officials reviewed the play and officially stated no the basket, Jarvis raised his fists in triumph.  FAU had held on for the 62-60 victory, their second consecutive victory over Hofstra.  It was also their third victory over a CAA team this season (the Owls also defeated George Mason and Georgia State).

Gantt was dominant in the last final twelve plus minutes, scoring fourteen of his twenty one points on the night.   The only other Owl in double figures was Pablo Bertone with eleven points.   FAU shot eight of nineteen from beyond the arc and shot forty two percent on the night.

Moore led the Pride with twenty points.  Mejia added fourteen and McLendon came off the bench to add twelve points.  The Pride shot twenty of twenty three from the free throw line, but they had by far their worst outing from the field on the season.  Hofstra shot twenty six percent from the field in the second half and thirty percent overall. Strangely, the Pride were four of seven from beyond the arc.  The bright side is that Hofstra continues to improve on their rebounding from last season.  The Pride out-rebounded the Owls forty two to thirty four, which included twenty offensive rebounds for Hofstra.

We said our goodbyes to Tieff, as well as Defiantly Dutch and his much better half, Michelle.  As my older son and I made our trek back to our car in a cold downpour, it seemed appropriate for the evening.  For the second year in a row, Gantt rained on Hofstra's parade, so why shouldn't Mother Nature rain on ours as well.

I hope she is more kind when I head up to Rhode Island on Friday for a weekend of hoops.

(This will also be posted on Mid Majority's 800 Games Played Project.  I will link to that here when it is on the site.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pride Hold Off Pesky Terriers

Hofstra started their season with a convincing win at home over LIU.  Then on Wednesday, they traveled to Corvalis, Oregon to play Oregon State. The game was close throughout.  But in the end, the Beavers prevailed 82-72 over the Pride.   Hofstra came back home for a chance to rebound against another NEC team, Saint Francis.

Even though Saint Francis was 0-2, both games were close losses.  The Terriers had Seton Hall on the ropes, leading most of the game before eventually falling to the Pirates at the Prudential Center in overtime 75-71.  Then Saint Francis traveled to Lafayette.  They had a six point lead midway in the second half before losing to the Leopards 79-73.  This was their third of nine straight games on the road for the "Rise and Fire" Terriers, who had forty nine 3 point attempts in their first two games (St Francis had made nineteen of those attempts).  I noted in a tweet earlier today (@gmoore21566) that their motto should be the Intellivision B-17 Bomber game's cry "Bombs Away!".

After a birthday party for my younger son Jonathan at Chuckie Cheese in Hicksville, my older son Matthew and I made our way to the Mack Center at Hofstra University in Hempstead.  After we entered the arena, we found out it was a free Hofstra team poster day.   Matthew gladly took his poster along with his pretzel and we made our way to our seats.

It was clear early on that, offensively, this was going to be a contrast of styles.  Saint Francis was content to look for the open three on the Hofstra two-three zone, while the Pride looked to drive to the basket on the smaller Terriers.   And the end result was going to be a close game.  Saint Francis' largest lead of the first half was four, 17-13, after, what else, a P.J.Santavenere three pointer.

In the first half, the Pride behind Mike Moore and Nathaniel Lester were taking their defenders to the hole.  In particular, Moore was having success, often by being fouled.  He went to the line eight times, hitting seven of his free throws, on his way to scoring fourteen points in the first half.  Lester was also effective, scoring seven points before having to sit part of the half due to two fouls.  Hofstra's biggest lead of the first half was six, 28-22, after a David Imes three pointer.  The Pride only had three 3 point attempts in the first half.

Meanwhile, St Francis was living up to their B-17 Bomber reputation.  Of their twenty seven first half field goal attempts, fifteen of them were three pointers, connecting on five.  Leading scorer Travis Nichols buried two of those five three pointers, scoring eight points.

The Terriers three pointers offset the Pride's advantage in free throw attempts in the first half, nineteen to six.  What made things closer was the Pride only made twelve of those three point attempts.   And the Pride didn't help themselves on the boards, managing not even one offensive rebound in the first half.

So it was no surprise to anyone that the score was 32-30 Hofstra at the half.  During halftime, the crowd's attention was drawn to an interesting contest where students competed in a rapid fire free throw shooting contest for a round trip JetBlue ticket.

At the start of the second half, the Pride picked up where they left off on offense.  Nathaniel Lester scored the first four points for Hofstra, as the Pride continued to work inside for layups.  However, the Terriers changed their offense at the start of the second half.   They worked the ball inside to Akeem Johnson, who scored seven points in a little over three minutes and Saint Francis was up 42-39 with a little over sixteen and a half minutes left.

Over the next twelve minutes, the lead changed back and forth often in the second half (eight times overall in the game). The Terriers had a three point lead, 57-54 with 6:24 left.  But the Pride went on a 7-0 spurt, culminated by who else, Mike Moore with a turnaround jumper to put the Pride up to stay 61-57 with a little more than two and a half minutes left..

It was during this time that the Pride's most improved player, Dwan McMillan was directing the team.  McMillan was supposed to be the backup point guard for Hofstra this season now that Rhode Island transfer Steve Mejia was eligible to play after sitting out a year.  But Mejia has struggled early on in the season and McMillan's inspired and tenacious play, along with his ability to hold onto the ball and create opportunities, has resulted in a significant amount of playing time.  During the last six minutes of the game, McMillan, not Mejia, was on the court.

The Terriers would not quit.  Nichols would hit a jumper off a set timeout play to cut the lead to 61-59.  Then after a few empty possessions by both teams, Saint Francis' Dre Calloway was fouled on a layup attempt.   The Lions Den student section, hungry for a chance to make a difference, screamed as loud as they possibly could on the free throw attempts.   To them, Calloway was fresh meat.   And Calloway obliged, missing both free throws badly and the Pride had another chance to put the game away.

But last season's second best free throw shooter in the CAA, Moore, missed both of his free throw attempts.  Again, the Terriers had a chance again to tie or take the lead.  But Calloway again played the goat, turning the ball over.  Shemiye McLendon stole the ball from Calloway and immediately was fouled.  The man nicknamed "Ice" by Hofstra Blogger Jerry Beach, aka Defiantly Dutch, calmly buried his two free throws.  Hofstra held on for a hard fought 63-59 win.

Moore led the way for Hofstra with a double double, twenty three points and ten rebounds.  Lester nearly had a double double of his own, thirteen points and nine rebounds.  Nichols had twelve points to lead Saint Francis, while Johnson added eleven points.  The big difference in the game was free throw attempts.  Hofstra had thirty six attempts, though they only made twenty three.  Saint Francis only had thirteen, making ten. And of course, the Terriers matched their season average on three point attempts, attempting twenty five three pointers on the night, hitting only seven.

For Saint Francis, their long November road doesn't get any easier with a Tuesday night game vs. St John's. As for Hofstra, they are home again to Florida Atlantic, also a Tuesday night game.  Another night at the Mack Center, another recap for the 800 Games Project.

I wonder how the Lions Den feels about Owls.

(This article is also posted on the 800 Games Project on the MidMajority Site)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lady Gaels Rally Late to Down Seawolves

The mark of a good team is how it bounces back from a loss.  After watching Iona lose to Villanova in the championship game of the Iona Tip-Off Classic last Saturday, the Lady Gaels won their next game at Bryant on Tuesday by thirteen points, 66-53.  Last night in New Rochelle, the Iona Women's Basketball Team looked to continue their winning ways as they hosted Stony Brook.

The game started with a brief moment of silence in respect to the tragic passing of Oklahoma State coaches Kirk Budke and Miranda Serna due to a plane crash (you need to read Mechelle Voepel's wonderful article about Budke).  Then the Lady Gaels won the opening tip and immediately scored the first basket on a layup by Danika Martinez.  But it would be the only one of two baskets Iona would score for sixteen and half minutes. The Lady Gaels would commit six of their eleven first half turnovers in the first six minutes and proceed to shoot 3 of 21 in the first half.

A lot of the credit for Iona's first half struggles has to go to Stony Brook who came out and played a stifling defense.  Seawolves first year head coach Beth O'Boyle was the former associate head coach at Canisius. From MAAC conference play, she knows the Lady Gaels' offensive sets quite well.   Stony Brook disrupted Iona's handoff offense and the Lady Gaels struggled to get off shots in the first half (21 shot attempts compared to the Seawolves 31 shot attempts). Stony Brook also controlled the boards in the first half (the Seawolves outrebounded the Lady Gaels 45-37 on the night) and had numerous second chance opportunities.

Fortunately for Iona, Stony Brook was also having their own offensive struggles, shooting 6 of 31 in the first half.  The result was the unseemly score of 17-7 at halftime.  It just happened to be the same score of last night's Oklahoma State - Iowa State football game at the half.  It turns out both games would end in a similar fashion.

During halftime, Iona tried to have their dance team perform a routine.  But the dance team's performance was delayed due to problems with their music on the sound system.  It was once again a reminder that perhaps Iona should have their solid pep band play at the women's games as well.

The second half was a complete antithesis of the first half.  Both teams came out scoring as the Lady Gaels' press sped up the game's tempo.  Stony Brook and Iona scored as many points in the first eight minutes as they had scored in the entire first half.   The Seawolves extended their lead to as much as fourteen, 32-18 on a Whitney Davis jumper with 11:30 left in the game.  The Lady Gaels couldn't seem to really cut into the Seawolves lead.  Then with the score 34-23, my friend Mal finally showed up for the game. He apparently brought Iona some luck with him.

Even though Iona was still down eleven, the pace favored the Lady Gaels. Their press was starting tire the Seawolves.  On the offensive end, Iona  showed much more patience.  They only had four turnovers and shot over 48 percent from the field in the second half.  And the Lady Gaels' best player, one of their senior captains, was going to lead the way.

For the entire first half,  Iona's Kristina Ford struggled.  She scored just three points on 1 of 7  shooting and three turnovers in the first twenty minutes.  But in the second half, Ford channeled her inner Charles Jenkins and just went off on Stony Brook.  She scored seven of Iona's first eleven points in eight and a half minutes.  Then with the score 34-27, Ford went on another run of her own.  In the span of nearly six minutes, Ford would score twelve points and dish out three assists.   She scored her last points of the span calmly burying a three to tie the game at 45 with 1:42 left.  The crowd went nuts as Coach Tony Bozzella decided to call a 30 second timeout to set up his defense.

After Stony Brook missed on their next attempt, Ford continued her impression of Sir Charles.  She neatly fed Aleesha Powell for an open three and Powell buried it to put the Lady Gaels up 48-45 with 57 seconds left.  It was their first lead in thirty eight minutes.  But the Seawolves Dani Klupenger downed another big three, her third of the game, and the game was tied with 33 seconds left.

Here's where an interesting decision was made that I believe may have had an effect on the outcome of the game.  O'Boyle called a thirty second timeout, the last timeout Stony Brook had in regulation.  She subbed out her leading scorer Klupenger, who had fourteen points, for Jessica Previlon, apparently for defensive purposes.

Iona inbounded the ball and everyone knew who was going to get the ball.  Ford.  The question is could Stony Brook deny her the chance to get it.  But the Lady Gaels' senior point guard Suzi Fregosi was able to drive the lane and find Ford on a backdoor play.  Ford got her last two points of the game on a layup and the Lady Gaels were back up two, 50-48 with ten seconds left.

After assistant Ashlee Kelly wisely noted that the Lady Gaels had two fouls to give, Bozzella called timeout to have his players use those fouls to disrupt the Seawolves' offense.  But O' Boyle never inserted Klupenger back in the game. After Iona fouled Stony Brook twice, there was five seconds left.  Klupenger was still sitting on the sidelines while the Seawolves had one last play to run to either tie or win the game.

Iona starting guard Tomica Bacic really struggled for the first twenty minutes.   She was 0 for 2 from the field and missed two free throws.  She sat on the bench for nearly ten minutes before being reinserted late in the first half.  In the second half, Bacic contributed, scoring all eight of her points in the last twenty minutes. But she was about to give her biggest contribution of the game.

After Iona's sixth foul of the second half, Stony Brook got the ball in Previlon's hands.  She drove the lane and was going for a game tying layup.  But Bacic stood her ground in the lane and took the charge as Previlon barreled into her.  Previlon was called for an offensive foul and the Lady Gaels got the ball back.   Suzi Fregosi was then fouled and calmly sank two free throws to put Iona up by four with one second left.  Klupenger was subbed back into the game, but it was too late.  Iona completed their second half comeback, winning 52-48. With the win, the Lady Gaels improved to 3-1 on the season.

As the finally fixed sound system played "Back in the New York Groove", it was appropo for the second half.   Down fourteen with eleven and a half minutes left, Iona faced serious adversity.  But the Lady Gaels found their groove and outscored the Seawolves 34-16 over the last eight and half minutes of the game

Overcoming adversity is another mark of a good team.