Sunday, February 5, 2012

Six Degrees of Hofstra Separation Part 2 - Pride Continue to Play Hard Despite the Results (Recap of Georgia State vs. Hofstra)

When the CAA Tournament is over and I look back on this Hofstra season, I will remember all the incredibly close games that ended in loss; the last second losses to Florida Atlantic, James Madison, Delaware, Northeastern, Drexel and George Mason. There were the large second half leads that evaporated vs. Boston University and Old Dominion.

The most frustrating thing to all this is that there weren't just losses.  You could perhaps accept this team's fate had there not been glimmers of hope. However, there was the potential this team showed in wins over LIU, Cleveland State and Iona, three teams that are currently in first place in their respective conferences.  At one time, Hofstra was 6-7 until they lost nine of their last eleven games.  That's what has made this team so mind numbing for its fans and probably for Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara as well.

On Friday night, ESPNU showed a graphic of Cleveland State's NCAA Tournament resume.  The good wins included a road win over Vanderbilt, a likely team in the NCAA Tournament.  The bad losses included their loss to Hofstra at the Legends' Classic in Rhode Island.  Having been one of the few fans in attendance for that game, including one of the few people to see former Pride player Bryant Crowder, nicknamed Bigfoot by DefiantlyDutch, actually play in a regular season game, I can tell you that it was a good win for Hofstra.

But when I do a retrospect on this team's season, I will also know that this team always played hard and never quit.  They even showed togetherness when they weren't on the court.  I was at a Hofstra women's basketball home game vs. James Madison a few weeks ago.  As I sat behind the Hofstra basket with my older son Matthew, I could see to the right of me, sitting in Section 110 the entire men's basketball team rooting on the women's team.

They were all in for this season and lately the results were starting to come together. They got their first conference win two weeks ago, rallying late on the road to defeat James Madison 71-69.  Then on Wednesday, they drubbed Towson 74-49.   Yesterday seemed like a golden opportunity to get their third win in conference against a Georgia State team that had struggled lately, losing four of its last six games.

After watching Fordham lose to Charlotte in our first game of our tripleheader on the day, Tieff. Matthew and I raced over to Hofstra.  Along the way, I dropped Tieff off at his car at a friend of mine's house where we had met before traveling to Fordham.  We then got to the Mack Center with time to spare before the start of the game.

It was Staff Appreciation Day at Hofstra.  Staff, faculty and administration could get up to four free tickets and vouchers for pretzels and drinks. It was also Mardi Gras Day at Hofstra as there was a big party with music for the students after the game.  Thus there was a good crowd of about 3800 people and the Lions' Den student section was in full force.

Since I have my season tickets already, I gave my two of my four extra free tickets to someone waiting on line, then grabbed four pretzels and three drinks from my free vouchers.  Needless to say, Matthew was happy with his bounty of pretzels.  Now we were ready to see how good this Georgia State team now was under with new coach Ron Hunter.

Overall on the season, the Panthers have been so much better with Coach Hunter at the helm.  Basically taking over the same team that went 12-19 last season, Hunter, one of the main supporters of Samaritan's Feet, already has Georgia State with fifteen wins on the season and 7-5 in the CAA, good for fifth in conference.  They are first in the Colonial in field goal percentage defense, second in scoring defense, first in blocked shots and second in steals and turnover margin.

Hunter has a take no prisoners kind of approach to coaching.  Watching him on the sidelines yesterday, I can tell you that he is demonstrative, demands excellence of his team at all moments.  He spent most of the game yelling at his team during the action and during timeouts.  He makes Bruiser Flint seem mellow in comparison.  My favorite Hunter moment this season was after a poor effort in a win over Towson, he tweeted " I love my basketball team, but tomorrow practice will be epic. Bring your lunch pail."

The Panthers are now a reflection of their coach.  As I watched the first few minutes unfold on the court, I was really impressed with Georgia State. They are very active on the defensive end with a matchup zone and they challenge shots frequently.  Within the first four and a half minutes, the Panthers had three blocks.  As a result, Hofstra struggled to get good shots off against Georgia State. The Panthers did a really good job focusing on Mike Moore, as he did not score his first two points of the game until late in the first half.

Meanwhile, Georgia State was getting good looks from the perimeter.  They would hit six of their nine three point attempts in the first half as Devonta While and Rashard Richardson each connected on three of their shots.  The Panthers would shoot forty seven percent from the field in the first half.

The Panthers went out to a 16-5 lead with nine minutes left in the first half.  As Georgia State was putting on such a dominating defensive performance, one of the fans in my section that I am friendly with said to me "What's the NCAA record for fewest points in a half?"   Fortunately, the Pride scored thirteen more points to avoid such a fate, but the Panthers scored another fifteen to take a 33-18 lead at the half.

While a New Orleans style brass band played terrific halftime music, I was perusing stats with Defiantly Dutch and our good friend, Joe Suhoski who was covering the game on press row.  Interestingly enough, Hofstra had more field goal attempts than Georgia State, 29-21 due in large part to nine offensive rebounds.  But the Pride were an awful one of twelve from beyond the arc.

The start of the second half saw the Panthers maintain their large lead as they were up sixteen, 43-27.  But Hofstra was starting to solve Georgia State's defense, while they forced turnovers due to a trap they implemented at the beginning of the second half.   They would outscore the Panthers 12-3 over the next five minutes to cut the lead to 46-39.

Three times Hofstra had a chance to cut the lead even further.  But Moore missed an open three point look, then turned the ball over.  Then after a steal, Steve Mejia drove in for a layup against defensive pressure.  But as a symbol to the Hofstra season, the layup bounced on the rim a couple of times then went off.  Georgia State would respond with a 5-0 spurt to put the lead back up to twelve, 51-39 with a little less than six minutes left.  

From there, the Panthers clamped down on the Pride.  Hofstra would only score four more points the rest of the way and Georgia State went on to a convincing 59-43 win.  Four players scored in double figures for Georgia State who shot 55 percent from the field.  White led all scorers with fifteen points, while Jihad Ali had fourteen points, Richardson had twelve points and Eric Buckner had twelve points and six blocks.

Despite having seventeen more field goal attempts, in large part due to eighteen offensive rebounds, the Pride shot just 29 percent from the field.   Nathaniel Lester had a double double with fourteen points and ten rebounds, while Moore had eleven second half points to finish with thirteen.  Moore and Lester had to work for their points though, as they combined to shoot eleven of thirty one from the field.

It was again another tough loss for the Pride.  They battled the Panthers basically even during the second half, but they had dug themselves too big a whole in the first half.   They just need to keep plugging away and try to get a couple of wins down the stretch before the CAA Tournament.   It doesn't get any easier with two road games at George Mason and at Drexel, two teams tied for first in conference.

Nothing ever comes easy in the Colonial.  You have to keep playing hard and refuse to quit.

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