Friday, December 30, 2016

St John's Rallies to Beat Butler to Start Big East Play

Good game and great atmosphere at a sold-out Carnesecca Arena last night as St John's rallied from a ten point second half deficit to defeat Butler 76-73 in the opening Big East conference game for both teams. Even got a free Jack Kaiser Bobblehad doll and a souvenir t-shirt.  Red Storm shot 54 percent for the field in the victory.  For further details, see Jaden Daly's terrific recap of the game -  Here are pictures from last night.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hofstra Gives Their Fans an Early Christmas Present (Recap of Siena vs. Hofstra)

Last season, Hofstra was one regulation free throw away from winning the CAA Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Instead, the Pride lost in overtime to UNCW and ended up playing in the NIT, where they would lose a first round heartbreaker to eventual NIT champion George Washington 82-80.

During last season, Hofstra suffered its worst loss, certainly by point margin, at Siena.  The Saints would go out to a thirteen point halftime lead and coast to an 81-68 victory.  This season, a good number of Saints' fans made the three hour trip from Albany down to Hempstead, New York to see if Siena could make it two in a row against the Pride on Thursday night.   This time, Hofstra had the home court advantage at the David S Mack Arena and within a few minutes of game action, it was apparent that Siena would not win two in a row.

The Saints would actually go out to a 4-2 advantage on a layup by Marcus Wright.  From there, Hofstra would outscored Siena 25-7 over the next seven and a half minutes, keyed by five three pointers, to take a 27-11 lead.  The Saints would then go on a 7-0 spurt to cut the deficit to nine, which would eventually be the margin at halftime, with Hofstra up 38-29.

Siena would cut the Hofstra lead down to seven, 40-33, early in the second half.  But the Pride would go on a 15-4 spurt, thanks to, what else, three 3 pointers, two by Deron Powers to go up 55-37 and the game was basically over with 13:44 left in the game.   All that was left was for Hofstra to avoid fouling out their two big men - Rokas Gustys and Hunter Sabety and get Gustys into double figures in scoring, which gave him is twenty eighth career double-double (Gustys had 10 points and 15 rebounds).  The Pride would win handily 84-64.

When you did the post mortem of the game, it was easy to see how Hofstra won the game.  The Pride shot eleven of twenty one from beyond the arc, while the Saints were two of fourteen from the same distance. The Pride also had fifteen assists, eight of whom came from Powers.  Sabety added five of the seven Hofstra blocks in only eleven minutes of action (also had six rebounds).    

Powers led all scorers with twenty one points on seven of thirteen shooting, including four of five from beyond the arc.  Along with Powers and Gustys, Hofstra got double figure scoring from Justin Wright Foreman, who scored sixteen points off the bench, Eli Pemberton added thirteen and Brian Bernardi chipped in with eleven points.  Nico Clareth led the Saints with sixteen points.

The Saints did a poor job guarding the three point line.  In fact, Powers at least twice dribbled down the court, squared up and shot an open three.    Also, the game would had been a lot closer had Siena 's big men made the most of the open chippies in the paint that Hofstra gave them.  

As for Hofstra, Powers is incredibly quick.   He knifed through the lane several times and had a three point play on a layup and a foul.  That likely is why Siena's guards gave him repeat open looks for three pointers.   I also finally got to see Eli Pemberton in person.  The Hofstra freshman has a nice all around game and Coach Joe Mihalich and his staff should be commended for successfully recruiting such a talented player.

The Pride should try to get Gustys, who has solid post moves for a big man, more field goal attempts - he only had eight and was fouled only once in the act of shooting (and yes, he needs major work on free throw shooting.  He missed both.   The balance of scoring by the Pride offense was nice to see, though Ty Greer, who only had six points,  isn't shy shooting from anywhere, which mind you is a problem when you only go two of seven from the floor.

But in all, it was a very good end to the Pride's non conference schedule.   Their next game starts #CAAHoops conference play, a road trip to the Bob to play Delaware on New Year's Eve.   Outside of the decent size contingent of Siena fans, most of the nearly 1500 in attendance went home happy.  For Hofstra fans, the twenty point win didn't give them visions of sugar plums this holiday season.  It's that ever elusive NCAA Tournament bid that dances in their heads.   

Monday, December 12, 2016

Jaden Daly Previews the Pirates for the Seton Hall-South Carolina Game at MSG

Good morning, college hoops fans!  It's time for the annual Daly Dose of Hoops/College Hardwood preview swap as South Carolina takes on Seton Hall tonight at MSG.  While I preview South Carolina for Jaden Daly on his terrific Daly Dose of Hoops site,  Jaden previews Seton Hall for us on this site.  Enjoy!

Hi everyone, Jaden Daly from Daly Dose Of Hoops here, joining you once again to preview the Pirates of Seton Hall University as they take on South Carolina in the Under Armour Reunion event at Madison Square Garden.

My staff and I have covered Seton Hall extensively over the past few years, and have seen them in person three times already this season. Below you will find game recaps and postgame thoughts from each of those games: (Feature on Myles Powell)

Starting Guards
Seton Hall's strength is in its backcourt, and Khadeen Carrington leads the way following the transition of Isaiah Whitehead into the NBA. Still primarily used as a two guard, Carrington will move on to the ball and run the point during games, and still provide the same lethal scoring ability. Once predicted to be the all-time scoring leader before his career was over, Carrington leads the Pirates with a 20 point-per-game average, becoming the latest in a long line of scorers from Brooklyn. His shooting has picked up where it left off in the Big East tournament, shooting 55 percent both from the floor and three-point range. If the Hall needs a bucket, you can bet Carrington will be the first option for it.

Desi Rodriguez is more of a wing, but still a slasher at 6-foot-5 who can be a guard in a conventional lineup and a small forward in a smaller lineup. The most athletic of the Pirates, Rodriguez is the source of many highlight-reel dunks throughout the year, and will seek opportunities to drive the lane against South Carolina. With averages of nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game, his numbers have improved enough to where the offensive production vacated by Whitehead and Derrick Gordon is no longer a question. His defense is still a work in progress, though, so if the Gamecocks can exploit him on the perimeter, it could change the game.

Madison Jones usually gets the start at the point guard spot. A graduate transfer who came to South Orange from Wake Forest, Jones made a strong first impression with ten assists in the season-opening win over Fairleigh Dickinson, and has since continued to be a deft passer who knows how to thread the needle in almost any situation. Like Rodriguez, his defensive ability needs work, which has explained a slight dropoff in minutes while he learns the nuances of the defense-oriented Pirate system. But when he is on the floor, he will always look to get his teammates involved before taking a shot of his own.

Starting Forwards
Any mention of the Seton Hall front line has to start with Angel Delgado. By far the best big man in the Big East, the junior has been unceremoniously snubbed of all-conference honors in each of his first two seasons, and is still making his opponents pay every time out. The 6-foot-10 Dominican is a walking double-double, averaging nearly 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, all the while shooting 59 percent from the field. Delgado is, in my opinion, a cross between former Pitt forward DeJuan Blair and a player some of you may already be familiar with from Gary's past chronicles, Stony Brook's Jameel Warney. An evolving part of Delgado's game has been his ability to elude double-teams and pass out of the post, freeing up players like Carrington and Rodriguez; and even Myles Powell, for long-range jumpers or threes on the baseline.

Next to Delgado is Ismael Sanogo, who is the most underrated big man in the New York area. A 6-foot-8 forward built like a linebacker, Sanogo has a nose for the ball unlike any other, and makes so many defensive plays that box scores simply will not do any justice. Without Sanogo, the Pirate interior is significantly weakened, as there is no one else to do the dirty work under the rim when Delgado gets into foul trouble. His stats may not seem like much, but look at what Sanogo affects on the defensive end before you read a stat sheet.

The Pirates normally play a seven-man rotation for the most part, meaning Myles Powell and Michael Nzei are the two you will see in the game most often. Powell is a precocious freshman whose three-point shooting conjures up memories of former Seton Hall legend Jeremy Hazell. Having lost 45 pounds in the offseason, Powell is most dangerous on the perimeter as evidenced by his 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc. He can also step in and take a mid-range shot in a smaller lineup. Nzei is a 6-foot-8 high-energy forward, a lot like ex-Fordham center Ryan Canty. A redshirt sophomore, Nzei is developing more with each passing game to become an integral piece of the puzzle for the reigning Big East champions.

Should one of the bigs get in foul trouble, Rashed Anthony will likely see a handful of minutes, as will Veer Singh. Singh is a stretch four who has become a fan favorite for his tendency to shoot NBA-range threes and connect on a fair share of them.

This is where Seton Hall has undergone its biggest evolution. The improvement in Kevin Willard's execution over the last two seasons has been unparalleled. Once rumored to be on the hot seat after the alleged rift between Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs, which ultimately saw Jaren Sina transfer to George Washington, Willard stepped back and assessed the situation, and applied a renewed sense of energy into offseason workouts and practices prior to last season. The result paid off with a conference title, and with four returning starters back this season, the expectations in South Orange remain high. In some ways, Willard's upward trajectory is quite similar to that of Frank Martin. Take a look:

2010-11: 13-17, 7-11 Big East
2011-12: 21-13, 8-10 Big East (second round of NIT)
2012-13: 15-18, 3-15 Big East (dropoff due to younger team, first true post-Bobby Gonzalez roster)
2013-14: 17-17, 6-12 Big East
2014-15: 16-15, 6-12 Big East
2015-16: 25-9, 12-6 Big East (conference champions, lost in NCAA round of 64)
2016-17: 7-2, picked in a fourth-place tie in Big East

Seton Hall was picked low presumably because those unaffiliated with the program really did not know what to expect as the Pirates adjusted to life without Isaiah Whitehead. Their 1-2 record in November's Advocare Invitational proved that much more remains to be accomplished, but wins over Hawaii and California in the Aloha State last week also serve as proof that the core of last year's championship squad remains very much alive.

The best part of this roster is that only one player, Madison Jones, is a senior. Assuming no one else takes their talents to the professional ranks, the Hall has a chance to potentially three-peat in the Big East, which would establish them as the first true dynasty in the league since it was restructured in 2013. Reaching the NCAA Tournament as sophomores, albeit overachieving, was a significant feather in the cap of the program in that the resurgence Willard spent a half-decade building toward came a year ahead of schedule, with the realistic opportunity to use last year as a foundation.

With in-state rival Rutgers coming up one week from Friday, the Pirates get yet another strong test to prepare them in the form of South Carolina. The loss of Sindarius Thornwell presents a huge opportunity for Seton Hall to take advantage, as does Angel Delgado against an undersized front line. The biggest key to victory, however, will be what happens at the free throw line. Foul shots have been Seton Hall's Achilles' heel all season, and if they leave points at the charity stripe, the door will be open all night for the Gamecocks to push through.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

St Bonaventure Rallies Late and Defeats Hofstra 81-75

Last night in Hempstead, St Bonaventure, down four points, 72-68 with 5:15 left, outscored Hofstra 13-3 the rest of the way to win the game 81-75.  The Bonnies' win broke a three game winning streak for the Pride, while the Bonnies won their fifth game in the row.  It also avenged a home loss last season to the Pride up in Oleana, New York.

We're going to do a new segment here breaking down games on the College Hardwood.   It's called "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

The Good - For St. Bonaventure, the dynamic duo of Jaylen Adams (31 points) and Matt Mobley (23 points) combined for fifty four points, twenty rebounds and shot seven of thirteen from beyond the arc.  This is a nightly occurrence for the two players, who both average over twenty points per game.  The Bonnies also out-rebounded the Pride 32-22.

For Hofstra, it was the return of Rokas Gustys' offensive game.  Gustys just missed a double double with twenty points and nine rebounds on nine of fourteen shooting from the field.  It was the most field goal attempts he had all season and only the third time this season where he had ten or more field goal attempts.   For someone who shot sixty six percent from the field last season and fifty one percent this season, that's just simply not enough field goal attempts for the big man.

Other than Gustys, freshman Eli Pemberton continues to impress, scoring fifteen points, his eighth double figure scoring game of the season.  Deron Powers had six assists and only two turnovers.  Also, Hofstra did a good job in the second half on defense, holding St Bonaventure to thirty three points and forcing sixteen turnovers the whole game.   However, see "The Ugly".

The Bad - For St Bonaventure, sixteen turnovers, compared to Hofstra only having eight, eliminated any advantage they had on the boards.  Consequently the Pride had seven more field goal attempts.  The Bonnies also had significant foul trouble last night with three players having four fouls, including their two starting front court players, Denzel Gregg and Josh Ayeni,  Fortunately, David Andoh gave St. Bonaventure good minutes off the bench, plus eleven points and five rebounds, along with the two starting guards Mobley and Adams combining for twenty boards.

For Hofstra, where to begin.  First, any time your assist-to-turnover ratio is 2-1 on the night, seventeen assists to eight turnovers, you should win the game.  Alas, the Pride went scoreless over the last five minutes and fifteen seconds of the game to negate that.

And it was easy to see why.  Shot selection. After Ty Greer's tip in made it 72-68 Hofstra with 5:15 left, the Pride were one of ten from the field to end the game.   Their next three shots were three point attempts, with Bernardi hitting one of them.  After that, it was either Deron Powers throwing up bad layup attempts (3 of 13 from the field) or the Pride taking three point attempts or outside jumpers.

After Rokas Gustys scored on a tip in with 6:44 left in the game, he touched the ball on offense only once the rest of the game, getting fouled on a put back attempt with less than a minute left in the game.  He missed both free throws, more on that later, but that's not the point.

This was eerily similar to the 2016 CAA Championship Game between Hofstra and UNCW.  In that game, with 12:30 left, Gustys made a layup to put Hofstra up 56-48.  It was his eighth field goal in only ten attempts at the time.  It was also his last field goal attempt of the second half and he didn't even get fouled and go to the foul line those last twelve and half minutes!  To me, that was the main reason why Hofstra lost in overtime to UNCW (Gustys would hit his only field goal attempt in overtime to finish with eighteen points in the championship game).

To be perfectly blunt, if you cannot get the ball to your leading scorer, a fifty percent plus field goal shooter, in the last six plus minutes of a close game, you deserve to lose.

The Ugly -  For the seventh time in ten games, Hofstra gave up eighty or more points.  It looked like it was going to be another ninety points plus allowed, as St. Bonaventure had forty eight at the half. Amazingly in these seven games, they are 3-4.  But given their record, that also means they are undefeated, 3-0, when they give up less than eighty points.  Simply put, you cannot win consistently night in and night out when seventy percent of the time you are giving up eighty plus points per game.

As aforementioned, I've been saying how Hofstra must get the ball in the hands of Gustys more.  Consequently, he needs to shoot MUCH better from the free throw line.   He has been simply awful, shooting eighteen percent from the charity stripe this season compared to forty three percent last season.  Gustys needs to get to at least shooting fifty percent from the line, otherwise he won't get the ball more down the stretch. 

St Bonaventure will give #CAAHoops folks a chance to compare the two teams from the 2016 CAA championship game, as they next host UNCW on Saturday.  As for Hofstra, they get Kentucky in the Barclays Center on Sunday.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gamecocks, Tiger Burns and Black Bears Oh My (Recap of South Carolina vs Maine Women's Basketball Game)

Last night, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, and I took in our first University of South Carolina Women's Basketball game of the season.  Weeknight games usually consist of my wife dropping off Matthew where I work, USC School of Law (by the way, in South Carolina, as Ian McCormick would tell you, the University of South Carolina is USC, not Southern Cal).   We then have a quick dinner at the Wendy's across the street, then we walk down Greene Street to Colonial Life Arena (CLA to us USC folks).

Yesterday evening, we took a detour.   It's Clemson Week, as the Gamecocks will play their annual football game against the Tigers on Saturday in Death Valley.  So Monday of Clemson Week means "The Tiger Burn", where students gather together for the annual event at the intramural field near CLA, which consists of music, festivities and where a giant, thirty foot constructed Tiger is set fire and burned to the ground by fireworks (which is then put out by the Columbia Fire Department).

I first saw the Tiger Burn four years ago with my good friend Tieff (if you don't know who Tieff is, then you are not a regular to this blog.  But peruse some back articles and you'll learn quickly).  We watched it from the Thirsty Fellow, an establishment conveniently located across from the intramural field.  There's nothing quite like having a good beer and watching a very large bonfire. 

Matt and I stayed around for a few minutes.  Then we realized it would be several more minutes before the Tiger got lit more than Notre Dame's defense did in the second half vs. Virginia Tech on Saturday college football action.  So we made our way to our seats at CLA to watch USC take on Maine.

But when we got there, there was another game in progress; the third quarter of Saint Peters vs. Hampton.  USC was actually hosting three other teams in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge and they would all play each other over a three day span starting on Sunday.  On Sunday, USC had already defeated Hampton 92-38, while Maine downed Saint Peters' 59-43.   The last day's slate of games on Tuesday will be Hampton vs. Maine and St. Peter's vs. USC.

As for this game, well the Peacocks were certainly not the Gamecocks.  And that was just fine with the Lady Pirates. Their first four opponents on the season had been Northwestern, Iowa, NC State and South Carolina, all losses, with the lowest margin of loss being nineteen to the Wildcats.  So a non Power-5 Conference St Peter's team was a welcome change and Hampton took full advantage.  The Lady Pirates ran rings around a slower MAAC team that had won only four games all last season.   Hampton downed St Peter's handily 71-42.

Then we got to the main event.   South Carolina had struggled from the field early against Hampton. They only led 21-15 after the first quarter, before ramping up their game, outscoring Hampton by forty eight points the rest of the way.   There was no such issue against from the outset vs.  Maine.  A'ja Wilson hit the first three baskets for the Gamecocks.  Then after Kaela Davis made one of two free throws, Alaina Coates made two baskets.   South Carolina made seven of their first nine field goal attempts.

Meanwhile, the Black Bears shooting was as cold as typical winter day in Orono, Maine.    They missed their first eight shots.  And when they weren't missing their shots, they turned the ball over five times in the first five plus minutes of the first quarter.  South Carolina's height was just too much on both ends and thus the score was 15-0 Gamecocks with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

Maine finally got a basket and actually outscored South Carolina 5-4 over the last four minutes of the first half.  The Black Bears went to a 2-3 zone to force USC to shoot from the outside.   Maine actually got within twelve a few times in the second quarter, the latest being 22-10 with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the second quarter.  From there, USC would outscore 21-9 the rest of the quarter.

USC went up by thirty eight late in the third quarter, 60-22.  Then coach Dawn Staley brought in her freshmen to play most of the fourth quarter.   The final was 79-42 USC.   With transfers Davis and Allisha Gray, with Wilson, Coates, returning point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore and talented freshman reserve Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, the Gamecocks have plenty of balanced scoring. as the six players mentioned scored between seven and fourteen points, with five of them in double figures (Cuevas-Moore had seven points).

Today is the last day of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.   Maine and Hampton get to see in the first game which team will finish with two wins in the tournament.  Meanwhile, St Peter's looks to have another tough day in store as they play South Carolina.

At least for the Peacocks, they won't be burned to the ground like a 30 foot tiger effigy was last night.  There will be a tomorrow for St Peter's. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Back to Where It All Begins

Ten years and two days ago, my dear friend Tony Terentieff, known on this blog as Tieff, was driving another dear friend Mal Galletta, now head coach of the St John's University golf team, and I home from Richmond, Virginia.   We had just seen Hofstra rally from a halftime deficit to convincingly defeat George Mason in the 2006 CAA Semifinals.   The Pride had won their previous game in the quarterfinals against VCU basically on the Rams home court of the Richmond Coliseum.

Charles Jenkins FT - Feb 15, 2011
We were riding home, convinced that we had seen Hofstra, the alma mater of Tieff and I, at least get in the NCAA tournament as an at large.  They had a terrific RPI, a 14-4 conference record and swept the Patriots, another team in contention for an at large bid and once nationally ranked in the polls.   We couldn't stay for the CAA Tournament championship due to Tieff having an important meeting that Monday.

For those of you who follow college basketball religiously like I do, you know what happened.   Despite a heroic comeback by Hofstra after being down 23 points to come within 3 points late,  UNC Wilmington held on for the 78-67 victory and the CAA championship.   Hofstra was forced to wait to watch their fate on Selection Sunday.  And we all know what happened...

George Mason got an at large bid and ended up going to the Final Four.   Hofstra got snubbed and went to the NIT, winning two games there before losing to fellow CAA conference rival ODU in the NIT Quarterfinals.

That 2005-06 season was also the College Hardwood blog's first season of covering college basketball.  The site had a different name back then and it's evolved over the years.  Amazing that it is ten plus years later.  It was a terrific first season, albeit it had a bittersweet ending as far as being a Hofstra fan.

Matt with Hofstra Pride Club T-Shirt
The next season, 2006-07 was supposed to be OUR season.  The Pride were favored to win the CAA with Lethal Weapon 3, the superstar guard trio of Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera leading the way to the championship.  

It never materialized as Tom Pecora never recruited a frontcourt to replace Adrian Uter and Aurimas Kieza, two key players on that 2005-06 team.   The season basically ended again on the Richmond Coliseum court, being unceremoniously knocked off by, who else, George Mason, in the CAA Quarterfinals 64-61, basically three weeks after knocking off the Patriots on their home court.

We were there again for that tournament and sat near the Hofstra basket for that quarterfinal game.  We watched Hofstra roar back from a fifteen point halftime deficit to cut the lead to three and had a chance to tie, only to see Greg Johnson vaper lock and try to drive in for a layup.  Somehow George Mason vaperlocked too and two Patriots' players went after Johnson.  We waited for the kickout to an open Hofstra player on the wing.  It never happened as Johnson actually TRIED hitting a layup and missed.

BracketBuster Game vs. Wright State - Feb 2011
Unlike the year before, where we had an ecstatic ride home, we drove home stunned, knowing there was again only the NIT bid.  For two Hofstra graduates, two long time Dutchmen basketball season ticket holders, it was the ultimate punch in the gut.  For me, 2007 actually hurt more than 2006.  Unlike 2006, where Hofstra seemingly had a chance to make the Tournament, but never truly was the favorite during the season, in 2007 Hofstra was the team favored to win the CAA.   2007 was supposed to be OUR time.

It turns out it would be another ten years before it was truly a chance to be our time again.

The man, the myth, the ultimate Hofstra fan, Defiantly Dutch,  poignantly wrote early this morning this paragraph on his terrific blog post "Tonight is What It Means To Be Young".
If we’re being honest, the only time in life it’s probably acceptable to invest any sort of self-identity in a college sports team is those four or five or six years we’re actually in college. Those are the years where the players are our peers, in which we attend class with them, eat lunch next to them in the cafeteria and throw back beers with them at the bars near campus.
And Dutch nailed that for the most part.   Unless you're someone who ended up working at his alma mater right after graduation for nearly a quarter of a century.  Someone like me.

Hofstra Winning at Drexel - January 2011
When I graduated with a computer science degree back in May 1988, I didn't plan that I would end up working at Hofstra for such a long time.   It just worked out that way.  An opening for a systems manager position at Axinn Library, where I had been a student assistant, led to my first full time job.  Nearly five years later, a director of IT position at the now Maurice A. Deane School of Law would continue my long standing relationship with Hempstead, New York.   I would later become an Assistant Dean there, proof positive that anyone can become an Assistant Dean.

For twenty eight straight years, four as an undergraduate student, twenty four as an administrator, Hofstra was my home.  I met my wife of nearly twenty years, Michelle, my first day at the School of Law.  Just about all my friends are directly or indirectly through Hofstra.

Along the way, I became a passionate supporter of Hofstra Men's basketball.  I was there in 2001 when the Dutchmen cut the nets for their second straight automatic NCAA Tournament bid in the America East, their last season in the conference.   And for the past 15 years, I have been a Hofstra season ticket holder, even after I moved down to South Carolina (more on that in a second).

Defiantly Dutch w "Hostra" Ticket
I've seen my share of lows and highs with the Dutchmen/Pride.   I've had so much fun on so many different road trips, trips for Delaware barbecue (Delaware played "Hostra" that day), a Bracketbuster trip to Wright State,  You always celebrated a win with a DQ blizzard!

And there were so many crazy games.  There was the 2010 blizzard game against Drexel where there were more 3.0 scholar athletes in attendance than the rest of the fans. And finally, one of the best birthday presents I ever got, an overtime win on my birthday, courtesy of The Wolf, Charles Jenkins.  That game was the beginning of my older son Matthew's love of basketball.

There were so many #CAAHoops Tournament road trips to Richmond, nine in total.  In fact, there was one  #CAAHoops road trip which I did with that crazy Defiantly Dutch fellow, the only one that I ever covered from press row (experience of a lifetime).  

Hofstra vs. ODU - 2011 CAA Semifinals
But you can't be a Hofstra fan without your share of heartache.  And there was so much heartache in the CAA tournaments.  As mentioned, 2006 and 2007 come to mind.  There's also 2010 with Hofstra blowing a late lead and losing to Northeastern in the quarterfinals.  Oh yeah, the last second loss in 2009 to ODU in the CAA Quarterfinals, the only CAA tournament I didn't go to in the span of ten years, due to my younger son's surgery.   And 2011 was tough too, because it was the last tournament with The Wolf.

March 2012 was the last time that I was in attendance for a CAAHoops Tournament.   During the summer of 2012, I accepted my current position as Assistant Dean for Academic Technology for the University of South Carolina School of Law.   I moved down to Columbia, South Carolina in August 2012.

Matthew pitching Sunday in USSSA Travel Ball Tourney
Since then, my life has changed radically, albeit for the better.  Since he was two years old, Matthew has loved baseball and thank goodness for him, he has a lot more talent than his equally baseball loving father ever had.   I've been fortunate to coach him and his younger brother Jonathan these past few years.
Baseball just happens to start in February in South Carolina and the fall season runs through November.  I've become very involved in our local little league down here, Trenholm Little League and currently, I am the league president.  In the span of barely three years, I have countless memories of the games and experiences of my two sons.

Gustys layup  as Hofstra defeats Sacred Heart
With all the responsibilities of being a league board member and a coach for ten months of the year, other than my full time work responsibilities, I don't have time for other things.  Thus my college basketball writing has been little to non-existent.   I find time when I can to cover basketball, like when I was in NY for the holidays for the "Jordan Allen Invitational", where the Pride didn't look anything like the eventual 2015-16 CAA Regular Season Champions.

So when the CAA Tournament started this weekend with Hofstra as the #1 seed, unlike years prior, where I would have a prime seat at Richmond Coliseum for three days straight, I was in a ballpark in West Columbia, South Carolina with Matthew and ten of his equally talented and wonderful teammates.

Thus I never got to see any of Hofstra's quarterfinal win on Saturday as I was in a dugout keeping score in our second win of the day, a 10-2 victory.  But I was literally wearing Hofstra on my sleeve, as underneath my Columbia Thunder travel ball coach's shirt, I was wearing my long sleeve Hofstra basketball shirt.

The combination had brought us such good luck that I wore the same combination, albeit after a washing, yesterday.   Matthew started at pitcher in our third game of the tournament.  Playing one of the better AA teams in the state, Matthew only gave up two runs on two hits in three innings, struck out three with one walk.  We would eventually win the game 6-5.

Since we had a long break before our championship game, we were able to go home and watch a good part of the William and Mary/Hofstra CAA Semifinal game on NBCSN.   It was like being in the stands, screaming happily at times, other times yelling angrily when the Pride failed to cover an open Tribe shooter.

But we had to leave for the ballpark with the Pride trailing by two.  On the twenty minute drive there, I had the phone mounted on the dashboard with the ESPN play by play gamecast on my screen.   I gave Matthew updates as we got close to the field.  Then Koon gave the Pride a 69-67 lead.  As I parked the CRV, the final came across.  Hofstra won 70-67.  Matthew and I high fived and then went to our game.

Hofstra wasn't the only team that won yesterday.  We won our championship game 8-3.  It was our second tournament title of the Fall 2015-Spring 2016 10U AA season.  It's a wonderful group of players, all of them from our Trenholm Little League and the core of them have played together since their District 3 winning Coach Pitch Baseball All Star team back in Spring 2014.

I have never been to a #CAAHoops championship game.  All those years I went to the CAA Tournament, I never stuck around till Monday.   So when Defiantly Dutch asked me today if I was coming up to Baltimore, I told him that I couldn't.  Too much going on here.   But I will be my home in Forest Acres at 7:00 PM, wearing my Hofstra basketball long sleeve shirt underneath my Columbia Thunder coach shirt.   I have learned if it ain't broke, don't change a thing.

Next year, the CAA Tournament comes to my neck of the woods, Charleston, which is 90 minutes way from me.  Guaranteed I will be there for that tournament and likely the championship.  But that's then, this is now.  .

We're "Back to Where It All Begins". Back to when the College Hardwood first started.  Back to Pride vs. Seahawks for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Figures the only two times Hofstra has been in the finals, UNCW has stood in the way.

May this time be a different, happier ending for the Pride. The Pride owe the Seahawks one.  As Moonlight Graham so eloquently said in Field of Dreams "Win one for me, boys".


Monday, January 18, 2016

Sessions' Late Free Throw Allows South Carolina to Survive Texas A&M

After a heavy morning rain, the clouds subsided and the sun came out in Columbia, South Carolina on Sunday, just in time for the Gamecocks to face the #15 Aggies of Texas A&M,  It was the third game of an eleven game gauntlet for South Carolina where they face nine ranked teams over the span, including finishing up with five ranked teams in a row.

Sun, Jan 10 - 83-58 win over #20 Missouri
Thu, Jan 14 - 73-62 win at #9 Kentucky
Sun, Jan 17 vs #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Jan 21 @ Auburn
Sun, Jan 24 @ #7 Mississippi State
Thu, Jan 28 vs Ole Miss
Sun, Jan 31 @ #15 Texas A&M
Thu, Feb 4 vs #9 Kentucky
Mon, Feb 8 vs #1 Connecticut
Thu, Feb 11 vs #20 Florida
Mon, Feb 15 @ #13 Tennessee

That's not a schedule for the faint of heart. The crowd of 15,406 that packed Colonial Life Arena for the 12:30 PM EST was ready for the third game in this brutal stretch of games for the #2 Gamecocks. So were the #15 Aggies.

Before the game started, South Carolina Junior Center Alaina Coates was awarded a ball for scoring her 1000th career point in the home win over Missouri a week ago.  Coates had a double double in the win over the Tigers.

Texas A&M, similar to #20 Missouri when they played the South Carolina, came out physical against the Gamecocks.  However, unlike the Tigers, the Aggies matched their physicality with athleticism and hot shooting.  Behind guard Courtney Walker's hot shooting, Texas A&M jumped out to a quick 13-6 lead.  

But South Carolina responded with a 10-0 run over the next five plus minutes. Tiffany Mitchell had four points and an assist during that spurt, which was capped by a Coates layup to put the Gamecocks up 16-13.  But Texas A&M responded with the last four points of the quarter to take a 17-16 lead. 

In the second quarter, the teams traded leads six times over the ten minute period.  After A'ja Wilson gave South Carolina a 26-25 lead, Wilson followed up with a block of a Courtney Williams layup attempt on the other end.  It appeared that the Gamecocks would run down the clock for the last shot in the second quarter, but Khadijah Sessions dribbled into traffic and Walker stole the ball and went the length of the court, laying the ball in before the buzzer sounded.  Texas A&M was up 27-26 at the half.

It was clearly a test of wills in the first half as Texas A&M collapsed on the South Carolina bigs, Wilson and Coates.  But Coach Dawn Staley continued to have the Gamecocks work the ball inside, knowing the high percentage shot is usually the best shot.  

So while the Aggies were able to bottle up Coates the whole game, Wilson became their go to player. That's due in part that the six foot four Wilson is so athletic, she can take the ball from the free throw line and drive to the basket.  She scored the Gamecocks last eight points in the first half.  And the game plan didn't change at the start of the second half as Wilson scored the first six points for the Gamecocks.   Her layup put South Carolina up 32-29.    Coates followed with a layup of her own and the score was 34-29.

But Texas A&M once again was resilient, as they responded with an 8-0 spurt.  Jordan Jones was responsible for six of those points, a three pointer and an old fashioned three point play, which gave the Aggies a 36-34 lead.  Chelsea Jennings capped the run with a layup and the Aggies led 38-34.  But Sessions responded with a layup of her own to cut the deficit to two to end the third quarter.

Sessions' layup would be the start of a 9-2 run for the Gamecocks.  Wilson and Mitchell would each hit two free throws and then Bianca Cuevas buried a three pointer to put South Carolina up 43-40.  A few minutes later, a Sessions layup would extend the lead to four, 46-42.   However, Jordan Jones would nail a three pointer and follow with a layup to put A&M back in front 47-46 with a little over six minutes left in the game.

But once again, the Gamecocks responded with another 9-2 spurt.  It started with a Cuevas three point play and ended with Wilson scoring the last three points on a layup, then later by hitting one of two free throws.  Colonial Life Arena was rocking as South Carolina went up 55-49 with two and a half minutes left in the game.

The Aggies would not quit, cutting the lead to two, 55-53 with Anriel Howard and Walker assisting each other on baskets.  However Wilson would respond with a layup and one.  She missed the free throw though and the Gamecocks were back up four 57-53 with 1:14 left in the game.

South Carolina would have chances to put the game away.  But Mitchell turned the ball over with about 30 seconds left in the game.  Walker would hit two free throws after on foul on Sessions to cut the deficit to two, 57-55 with twenty seconds left.  

After getting fouled, Mitchell had a chance to possibly put the game away but missed both free throw attempts.   A&M had a chance to tie with four seconds left but Jones missed a free throw of her own.  Jones hit the second and the score was 57-56.  The Aggies fouled Sessions, who missed the first free throw but hit the second to put the Gamecocks up two, 58-56 with three seconds left.  We now had the setup for one of the wildest endings to any basketball game this season.

Off the inbounds pass, the Aggies' Taylor Cooper was able to find Jennings on an outlet pass and she was able to lay the ball in to tie the game at 58 with one second.  But with the game tied, on the South Carolina inbounds pass Texas A&M's Shlonte Allen, who was seeing her first minutes of the game, inexplicably grabbed Sessions as she was trying to drive down the court.   Allen was called for the foul, and lucky for A&M's head coach Gary Blair, Allen wasn't called for an intentional foul, as she made no attempt to go after the ball.   The brain freeze on Allen resulted in two free throw attempts for Sessions to win the game with .8 seconds left.

However, Sessions added to the excitement of the finish by missing the first free throw.  With the crowd imploring her, Sessions hit the second free throw to put South Carolina up 59-58.  Mitchell would then steal the desperation inbounds pass at mid court and the Gamecocks held on for a truly exciting 59-58 victory.

Wilson was dominant the entire game for the Gamecocks and nearly had a triple double with twenty six points, eight rebounds and eight blocks.  Mitchell was the only other South Carolina player in double figures scoring with eleven points.  Cuevas had nine points, Sessions added eight and Coates was held to five points, though she had eleven rebounds.

The three guard attack for Texas A&M - Jones, Walker and Jennings each scored in double figures and combined for forty seven of the Aggies' fifty eight points.  The Aggies actually out-rebounded the Gamecocks 43-33, which included seventeen offensive rebounds.

The Gamecocks survived the third game of their gauntlet and now go on the road to face Auburn, a pretty respectable 12-6 team with a 2-3 conference record.  One of those wins was earlier in the conference season over #7 Kentucky.  

Such is the life in the SEC.  Even the unranked teams are pretty darn good.