Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hofstra 66, Stony Brook 65 (Or: The One Where We Reminded Everyone We’re #LongIslandsTeam)


Joe Mihalich regales Hofstra students with tales of how he drove the lemon tree back from Suffolk County.

A rivalry game that spent the previous five seasons on hiatus came down to one shot taken by a player who’d waited six years for an opportunity like this.

Dion Nesmith, the second choice to shoot the ball on the final play for the Flying Dutchmen, jumped—either four feet in the air or 14 feet in the air, depending on the view from the home and road benches—and let go of the ball from just inside the foul line with three seconds left.

The clock dwindled from three seconds to two as the ball hung in the air. The crowd of 2,726 tensed in anticipation, ready to either leap with joy or collapse in disappointment.

Swish.

A catch-and-throw by Roland Nyama looked halfway decent out of his hand but bounced harmlessly off the right side of the backboard as time expired and the Flying Dutchmen escaped with a 66-65 “Benatar Bowl” win over Stony Brook in an instant classic at the Arena.


Thirty years old this fall. Have a nice day!

“Just a great, great win for us,” Joe Mihalich said afterward. “Anytime you win a game at the buzzer you feel like you win three games instead of one.”

Especially Friday night, in a rivalry resumption game that lived up to the advance billing and then some before it was decided by a player who spent time at three different schools and played two different sports in the time it took for Hofstra and Stony Brook to partake in their Cold War.

“My college career has been very tough over the years,” Nesmith said.

Nesmith went to Northeastern to play football but redshirted during his freshman season in 2009, which turned out to be the last season Northeastern played football. As noted by our friend Vinny Simone of NYCBuckets.com, Friday marked the fifth anniversary of Northeastern’s 2009 season finale.

One day later, it became the program’s finale. Nesmith told The Hofstra Chronicle last week he decided to transfer and play basketball because he couldn’t bear the thought of possibly witnessing the death of another football program.

Nesmith transferred to Monmouth, in his home state of New Jersey. But the NCAA ruled he had to sit out the 2010-11 season because he transferred in order to play a different sport. #ThatsSoNCAA

Monmouth went 22-41 during Nesmith’s two years under King Rice, a head coach who didn’t recruit him, before he graduated and transferred to Hofstra, which went 10-23 last year.

Three years, and twice as many losses as wins. But Nesmith, perhaps sensing this season would be different, requested and was miraculously granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA.

“Coming back this year was a no-brainer,” Nesmith said. “Get another chance to play basketball, something I love to do.”

Nesmith chose to come back even after Mihalich made it clear the plan would likely entail less playing time than he received last year, when Nesmith averaged 13.3 points and 34.6 minutes per game in earning third-team All-CAA honors.

“I’m particularly happy for Dion,” Mihalich said. “He’s got a different role this year. He and I have talked about not starting, but being the finisher. No one finishes the game better than him, hitting a game-winning shot against one of your rivals.”

It was a Jenkins-esque effort in the clutch from Nesmith, who finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Six of his baskets gave the Dutchmen the lead, including all five baskets he hit in the second half.

His first basket, a jumper with 13:20 left, completed Hofstra’s comeback from a seven-point deficit and gave the Dutchmen their first lead since the three-minute mark of the first half.

Stony Brook responded with a 3-pointer by Bryan Sekunda, but Nesmith drained another jumper 29 seconds later. The Seawolves eventually retook a seven-point lead, which the Dutchmen erased on consecutive possessions via a 3-pointer by Ameen Tanksley (12 points, seven rebounds) and a four-point play by Brian Bernardi with 3:23 left.

But the Dutchmen didn’t take the lead again until Nesmith’s gorgeous scoop layup along the baseline with 33 seconds left. Stony Brook’s beastly Jameel Warney, who finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds as he ate up a Hofstra interior missing Moussa Kone, responded by scoring over a triple team with nine seconds left to set up Nesmith’s dramatic game-winner, which he shot after first choice Juan’ya Green (22 points) was draped by Kameron Mitchell.

“It was a heckuva game tonight,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said earlier in the press room. “They drew up a great play. Kid jumped 14 feet in the air, shot it over two guys.”

Fourteen feet?

“I thought it was four,” Mihalich said.

However many feet he jumped, it was enough to drain the shot that won a game Hofstra couldn’t afford to lose.

“Over the years, this kind of game, we would have lost,” Nesmith said. “For me to hit a shot like this means a lot. My team finally gets over the hump.”

The increasing sense of dread that Stony Brook could actually win this game—and not just keep it close—helped ratchet up the intensity in the Arena after an awkward and sludgy first half that felt a lot like the early stages of a heavyweight bout, or the first hour of a high school dance.

When Stony Brook took a 30-25 lead into the half, everyone was invested—the players who acknowledged they never thought that much about their Division I rivals on the Island prior to Friday as well as the fans and coaches.

“Tonight showed how important it is, how much fun it can be for everybody,” Mihalich said.

We thought winning in a rout would have been fun. Walking the emotional tightrope and the euphoria generated by watching Nesmith hit the game-winner and then get swallowed up by his teammates—only two of whom had ever played with him prior to this season—by the old visitors’ bench as the buzzer echoed in the air was even more fun.

“The buildup was great, really fun,” Mihalich said. “Just to be talking about it all week long—felt like a big game three days ago. They should all feel the same. But this one felt a little more special.”

In victory and defeat.

“Gotta give them a tip of the hat,” Pikiell said before a hint of defiance entered his voice.

“They got the home game first. We’ll have ‘em at home next year.”

Can’t wait.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Stony Brook, 11/21)
3: Dion Nesmith
2: Juan’ya Green
1: Ameen Tanksley

SEASON STANDINGS
7: Juan’ya Green
3: Dion Nesmith
3: Ameen Tanksley
3: Brian Bernardi
1: Rokas Gustys
1: Andre Walker

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

North Carolina State 76, Hofstra 64 (Or: The One Where We Covered Against An ACC Team)



I thought we'd lead forever but now I'm not so sure.

The Flying Dutchmen’s bid for a perfect season ended Monday night, when North Carolina State led wire-to-wire in a 76-64 win. It was the 12th straight loss for the Dutchmen against a BCS- or BCS-level foe*** dating back to the 2006-07 season, but only the fourth by 12 points or less.

(I felt like we had to count the 2013-14 game against SMU as a game against a BCS-level foe, since SMU played in the same league as defending national champion Louisville, which we counted as a BCS-level foe when it waxed the Dutchmen 97-69 last November, and as eventual national champion UConn. However, 2012-13 SMU, which played in the flustercuck that is/was Conference USA, doesn’t count as a BCS-level foe. Carry on.)

Anyway, despite the relatively lopsided final margin it was a relatively encouraging outing by the Dutchmen, and not just because they backdoor covered on Ameen Tanksley’s free throw with six seconds left. But who does that impact, really? I mean you’d have to be a real degenerate to gamble on Hofstra hoops!

Where was I? Oh yeah. Here’s five thoughts I had while watching the game in between navigating a nutty two-year-old between dinnertime and bedtime.

1.) Despite beating the wise guys in Vegas, the loss wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The Dutchmen, as they have in most of their last 12 losses against BCS schools, got off to a slow start that ended any hopes of an upset. Early nerves did in the Dutchmen, who turned the ball over on their first three possessions and missed 13 of their first 15 shots in falling behind 19-5. The Dutchmen outscored North Carolina State the rest of the way, but the Wolfpack wasted no time quelling any comeback attempts. The first time the Dutchmen moved within eight with 6:37 left in the first, the Wolfpack doubled their lead by ending the half on an 18-10. And North Carolina State went on a 17-8 run immediately after the Dutchmen shaved the deficit back to eight with 10:48 remaining.

2.) The Dutchmen held their own underneath with the bigger Wolfpack, who received 118 minutes Monday out of players 6-foot-5 or taller. The Dutchmen pulled down 17 of their 47 misses from the field and had almost twice as many defensive rebounds (29) as the Wolfpack had offensive rebounds (16). An ability to finish around the basket might have made this game pretty interesting: The Dutchmen, trailing by 11, missed five straight layups over a two-possession stretch slightly before the midway point of the second half. Later, they had two more possessions where they missed a pair of layups.

3.) Freshman forward Rokas Gustys drew his first start with Moussa Kone battling a knee injury and continued to evoke memories of freshmen bigs to whom we don’t want to compare him, for various reasons. Gustys pulled down 12 rebounds in just 21 minutes, which was reminiscent of Halil Kanacevic recording double-digit rebounds against Kansas and UConn within his first three games as a freshman. Gustys is the third freshman since the turn of the century to have at least 10 rebounds in his first two games, and we’re not going to mention the other two because nothing good could come of that. Let’s just say he looks as polished and ready for Division I ball as any first-year big we can remember.

4.) While reigning CAA co-player of the week Brian Bernardi had a rough game (three points on 1-of-5 shooting from 3-point land, one assist and four fouls in 29 minutes), Tanksley and Juan’ya Green proved they have a knack for doing a lot even when they don’t appear to have their best games. Green scored a team-high 19 points despite shooting just 6-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-11 from inside the 3-point arc. Yet he also pulled down eight rebounds and had four assists while playing all 40 minutes. Again: Stokes-esque (the good one). Tanksley played just 24 minutes thanks to early foul trouble but had 13 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and three turnovers, all of which he committed in the first three minutes. They have been as good as advertised thus far.

5.) Interesting notes about the three returnees: Kone missed his first game in three-plus seasons with the Dutchmen. Despite coming off the bench, Dion Nesmith played 31 minutes, second-most on the team, and scored 13 points. He also led the Dutchmen with four turnovers. Jamall Robinson, whose role seems most impacted and/or reduced, scored seven points in 19 minutes. He was held to seven points or less just 12 times in 32 games last season and never played less than 21 minutes in a contest.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. North Carolina State, 11/17)
3: Juan’ya Green
2: Ameen Tanksley
1: Rokas Gustys

SEASON STANDINGS
5: Juan’ya Green
3: Brian Bernardi
2: Ameen Tanksley
1: Rokas Gustys
1: Andre Walker

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hofstra vs. Stony Brook: It's about time

Hofstra, left. Stony Brook, right. (Sorry I'm totally stealing Jaden Daly's schtick, but it's funny and it's an hour before tip)


The Hofstra-Stony Brook matchup we all want to see won’t be taking place tonight at the Arena, or any night anywhere in the world at any point in the next one million years.

Which is too bad. Because placing a pair of podiums at the Arena, hiring a massive security force to lock the place down and having a debate (we’ve had those there before, right?) between Stuart Rabinowitz and Jim Fiore to determine who was to blame for the Cold War between Long Island’s only Division I athletic programs would have been a far more entertaining—and, one supposes, embittered—verbal tussle than the ones Barack Obama had with John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Alas, Fiore is no longer at Stony Brook after an ugly departure a year ago this week. And Rabinowitz is as likely to invite me to his house to watch the Super Bowl as he is to ever explain himself for anything.

So we can only go on what we know, particularly as Hofstra fans and alums, and what we know is this: The Cold War did more damage to Hofstra than Stony Brook.

The descent of the Flying Dutchmen basketball program during the Cold War coincided with the rise of Stony Brook’s. So the perception was Hofstra was ducking Stony Brook.

I don’t think that was true: The Dutchmen continued to play the Seawolves even when there was nothing to be gained by doing so in the early 2000s, when Hofstra was trying to establish itself in the better-regarded CAA while Stony Brook took Hofstra’s spot in the America East. Stony Brook even beat Hofstra in consecutive seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04 (and again in 2007-08), and the world kept spinning.

But still, perceptions can be overwhelming, especially when—sorry—your school drops football while the local rival is trying to upgrade all of its sports.

And Stony Brook, to its credit, has been aggressive in promoting itself as Long Island’s team, and has been successful in convincing the local media of it.

Of the 18 Stony Brook games Newsday covered last year, including two conference tournament games in Albany, 14 were covered by staff writers. Of the 17 Hofstra games Newsday covered, 10 were staffed by stringers.

Perhaps Hofstra would have received more beat-like coverage if the Dutchmen fared better the previous three seasons. On the other hand, Newsday hasn’t staffed the CAA Tournament since 2007.

Playing each other once a year in various sports wouldn’t have undone the damage made by the football decision. But perhaps Newsday would have known how to get to Hofstra.

The Cold War also made Hofstra look petty and vindictive, when Hofstra was not that far removed from advancing its athletic program and benefiting greatly because other schools put aside egos and differences for the betterment of an entire league.

It has long been believed Hofstra didn’t want Stony Brook to join the CAA. We finally got some concrete evidence last year thanks to the William & Mary blog Shades of 48, which employed the Freedom of Information Act to get some delicious emails detailing the CAA’s expansion plans and Rabinowitz’s opposition to Stony Brook being invited as an all-sports member.

To be fair, there are plenty of people at Hofstra with whom I am in lockstep on almost everything who are resolute in that Stony Brook shouldn’t be in the CAA. So there may be more to this than just an alpha male battle at the highest levels of two schools.

But still: Embracing a rivalry with Stony Brook, as infuriating as it might have been, would have been a nice acknowledgement of how far Hofstra athletics have come in the last two decades.

Sure, at the very least, Fiore was loud, didn’t pay proper reverence to established programs and demanded his burgeoning department be taken as seriously as everyone else.

You know who else did all of that two decades ago? Joe Gardi. Who coached—you got it—Jim Fiore.

And despite Gardi pissing off everyone in his way and then some, Hofstra managed to get into a football conference in 2001, seven years after the rest of the athletic program was stabilized when the North Atlantic Conference invited Hofstra to join the league in April 1994.

To get into the NAC, Hofstra—an independent left out in the cold when the East Coast Conference basically ceased to exist following the 1991-92 season—had to not only win over the established membership of a long-running conference but also Delaware and Drexel, who exited the ECC before irrelevance set in.

I can’t imagine any of them were all that enamored with the impact Hofstra would have on their basketball aspirations, yet enough of them saw the benefits of enhancing a regional-based league to add the Dutch.

How much better would the Long Island sports scene be if Hofstra and Stony Brook could find a way to co-exist in the same league, or at the very least continue to play each other annually?

Hofstra fans and observers older than me (yes, they exist) swear there was never anything better than the Division III football days, when Hofstra Stadium would be packed for games against nearby schools.

Of the 36 football games to draw more than 6,000 fans to Hofstra/Shuart Stadium, 10 were against the Island-based C.W. Post or Merchant Marine Academy. In addition, there were four other Division III-era games against Iona, Wagner and Post drew at least 5,600.

A common refrain/lament, even when Hofstra was building a I-AA powerhouse in the mid-90s, was that no national power coming to Hempstead would interest Long Island nearly as much as the Dutchmen hosting a school from just down the road. The numbers seemed to support such a theory: Even while playing a schedule filled with big-time I-AA schools, Hofstra drew crowds of 6,000 or more just 19 times following the stadium’s expansion prior to the 1996 season.

We don’t know if the Arena would see a similar surge in attendance over the long haul. But we know how much fun it has been sparring with Stony Brook fans online, and how tonight’s game just feels different than games against other semi-local rivals.

We know the stakes, and how good it will feel if (sorry, when) we win, and can imagine the forced smile and congratulatory message we’d utter through gritted teeth if Stony Brook channeled the 1980 U.S. hockey team and won.

Either way, it’s about time we felt this way. Regardless of who or why we had to wait so long and of who wins tonight, let’s do this again soon, shall we?

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tale of the tape: Hofstra vs. Stony Brook


Stony Brook, left. Hofstra, right (What? Mike Tyson spoke there a couple years ago. Advantage: Hofstra)

You will read a lot over the next two days about the long-awaited men’s basketball matchup between our beloved Hofstra and those dastardly, pesky, jaywalking, won’t-give-up-their-train-seat-to-an-elderely-woman-on-the-long-commute-from-Manhattan-into-Stony Brook upstarts from Stony Brook.

Players will be evaluated and coaches will be scrutinized as we try to figure out who will win the first game between the Long Island rivals since before a certain president’s fury over a certain athletic director’s aggressiveness left the two schools glaring at each other over the giant 40-mile wall that was erected to keep the peace.

I’m here to tell you that all that analysis is hogwash. You can find out exactly who is going to win by reading my arduously compiled tale of the tape between Hofstra and Stony Brook. Not only is this a foolproof way of figuring out who will win Friday night, but it is as fair and independent examination as you would read on a team- or league-run site, or see on Fox News. Without further ado!

HISTORY: Hofstra was born in 1935 as a satellite campus for New York University, one of the finest colleges in the entire world. The first building on campus, Hofstra Hall, remains intact at the center of campus. Stony Brook was founded in 1957 in Oyster Bay as the State University of Long Island. Not to say there’s nothing exclusive about being part of the SUNY system, but it reproduces campus at a Duggar-like rate. There’s so many SUNYs, in fact, that I’m pretty sure there’s one in my backyard. (Actually I live in Farmingdale, so there is) Plus, five years after its formation, the campus moved to Stony Brook, which means if there’s a Stony Brook Hall, it’s actually called Oyster Bay Hall, and probably houses Billy Joel’s motorcycles.

Advantage: Hofstra. It’s about time America honor its elders, as well as rewards exclusivity in an everybody-gets-a-medal-or-a-SUNY-campus society.

GEOGRAPHICAL ENROLLMENT DIVERSITY: According to Hofstra’s official website, which would never alter statistics in order to make the school look better, 47 percent of the student body comes from outside New York state. I was among the out-of-state population back in my day, and some of my best friends were from far-flung locales such as Oregon, California and Connecticut.

Per Wikipedia, which is the most reliable source in the entire world for anybody looking for an easy way to confirm his or her biases, only seven percent of the Stony Brook student body comes from outside New York state. So you know that jerk you hated in high school? If you go to Stony Brook, you’ll probably see him or her in your freshman lit class.

Advantage: Hofstra. Where you just might meet the love of your life, who grew up 15 minutes away from campus.

CULTURAL CONTRIBUTIONS: Tired simply of offering conferences that analyzed previous presidential administrations, Hofstra moved on to helping to decide the leader of the free world by hosting debates in 2008 and 2012. Hofstra also dominates pop culture, with pivotal episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond (created by a Hofstra grad) centered around the titular character’s alma mater. Entertainment titans such as Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy Award-winning director of The Godfather films, and Christopher Walken, who had the greatest monologue in movie history 20 years ago this fall, studied at Hofstra.

So he hid the watch the only place he could for seven years, or one year less than it took for Hofstra to play Stony Brook in men's basketball again.

Who went to Stony Brook? According to ever-reliable Wikipedia, a whole bunch of people you’ve never heard of. The band Blue Oyster Cult got its start at Stony Brook, but all anybody remembers about them is the Saturday Night Live skit starring…CHRISTOPHER WALKEN.


Advantage: Hofstra. Sure, John L. Hennessy is the president of Stanford University. But you’ve never seen his face on a bubble gum card, have you?


OLD NICKNAMES: The Flying Dutch used to be called the Flying Dutch. The Seawolves used to be called the Patriots.

Advantage: Hofstra. Hey Crain, should we check and make sure Stony Brook isn’t illegally videotaping Hofstra practices this week?

ON-CAMPUS ARENAS: Hofstra’s Physical Fitness Center exhausted its usefulness as a Division I arena long before the 20th century expired. Fortunately, Hofstra rung in the 21st century by opening Hofstra Arena on Jan. 2, 2000, about 15 months after construction began. The first game was a conference tilt between Hofstra and Boston University and the first basket was scored by future NBA star Speedy Claxton.

It took even less time to turn the new practice facility—located in the PFC—from dream into reality. Plans for the practice facility were revealed at Hofstra’s basketball media day in October 2013, and opened to the public for Hofstra’s basketball media day in October 2014.

After decades in Pritchard Gymnasium, which made the PFC look hip and happening. Stony Brook’s new arena opened with a Harlem Globetrotters game on Oct. 4. Not saying the Globetrotters will play anywhere, but they’ll be at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 28. TWICE. The new arena, by the way, was immediately christened Island Federal Credit Union Arena (say that five times fast, or slow, or however long it takes before you fall asleep). Construction of Island Federal Credit zzzzzzzz was slowed by the poor state and national economy. I believe plans for the arena were originally drawn up around the time Tyrannosaurus Rex began worrying about his long-term viability. As for a practice facility, I am of the understanding that Stony Brook players use Nerf hoops in their dorm rooms. Hey, is a Nerf hoop in a dorm room an impermissible benefit?

Advantage: Hofstra. The benefits of being a private school. I imagine being a state school is beneficial too, since the accompanying checks and balances would make it impossible for a school president to single-handedly get rid of a football program. But that would never happen.

FOOTBALL: Hofstra has sent 22 players to the NFL and currently has four active alums in the world’s most popular sports league. Hofstra grad Wayne Chrebet, who played for the Jets from 1995 through 2005, will be inducted into the Jets’ Ring of Honor on Dec. 1.

Stony Brook has yet to have a single alum play a single down in the NFL. In addition, Hofstra is 13-0 all-time against Stony Brook, which has refused to play the Flying Dutchmen since the 2009 season, even going so far as to avoid scheduling Hofstra even though the two schools are now in the CAA for football. I mean, it’s not like we dropped football or anything asinine like that.

Advantage: Hofstra. Seriously, why would a school with such a rich football tradition cease playing the sport? Absurd. Would never happen.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: Hofstra has sent seven players to the NBA, including the aforementioned Claxton. The Flying Dutchmen have also reached four NCAA Tournaments as a Division I program, including back-to-back appearances in 1976-77—during the school’s fourth and fifth seasons at Division I—and in 2000-01, when the Dutchmen had to win “neutral site” America East tournament games at second-place Delaware before beating Delaware in the title game at home.

As in football, Stony Brook has yet to send any basketball players to the highest professional level. And Stony Brook, which would still be in New Jersey Tech-esque purgatory if not for Hofstra leaving the sinking America East ship and opening a spot in the league for a Long Island-based school, has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament, despite winning the regular season title in three of the last five seasons. Per their alums and/or plentiful excuse-making friends in the media, the reason Stony Brook hasn’t won the America East is because it’s impossible for a favorite to win semifinal games over the home team at a “neutral site” in imposing places such as Hartford and Albany. The America East acquiesced to the wishes of Stony Brook and their many excuse-making friends in the media by deciding to play all tournament games at the site of the higher seed beginning this season. Of course, Stony Brook has lost the last two title games in which it has played, despite being the host team both times.

Advantage: Hofstra. Though Stony Brook only playing in the CBI once nearly tilted this in their direction.

MEDIA COVERAGE: Stony Brook has the local state-run media in its back pocket. Good for the Seawolves. Hofstra gets most of its coverage from a middle-aged blogger who rarely blogs and instead spends most of his time ranting about other stuff on Twitter.

Advantage: Hofstra. Hey you have to support independent media.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Hofstra is 5-1 all-time against Stony Brook, including a 92-65 win in the 2006 WNIT. To be fair, that game WAS at Hofstra. While the Flying Dutchwomen went to the NIT final eight in 2007, Stony Brook didn’t make it back to the NIT again until last season, when it lost at Michigan, 86-48. Big 10? Big deal says Hofstra, which beat 17th-ranked Michigan State in Lansing during the 2006-07 season.

Advantage: Hofstra. But at least neither school has ever played in the WBI, which isn’t related to the CBI but still gives me the shakes.

SPRING SPORTS: Stony Brook has three baseball players in the majors, including Joe Nathan, the active leader in saves, as well as Marlins rotation staple Tom Koehler and promising prospect Nick Tropeano. The Seawolves also made the 2012 College World Series. In addition, the Stony Brook-Hofstra rivalry resumed with a 3-2 walk-off win by the Seawolves in a softball game on Apr. 10.

However, Hofstra is 16-16 all-time against Stony Brook in baseball—not bad for a program that hasn’t sent a player to the majors yet—and 12-3 against the Seawolves in softball. In addition, the Mets hosted both the Hofstra softball team (which had just come within a base hit of the College World Series) and the Stony Brook baseball team on consecutive nights in June 2012. But while the Dutchwomen saw R.A. Dickey throw a one-hit shutout, the Seawolves merely got to see a combined shutout started by Johan Santana.

Advantage: Hofstra. And we didn’t even mention how the bad juju at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium cost Hofstra men’s lacrosse a trip to the Final Four in 2006.

FINAL SCORE: Hofstra 10, Stony Brook 0. It is abundantly clear Hofstra will run Stony Brook out of the gym tomorrow night. Because carefully crafted statistics never lie, and God help me if they do.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hofstra 94, Jacksonville 61 (Or: The One That Was Worth The Wait)


A jumper by Flying Dutchwomen guard Krystal Luciano rimmed out at the buzzer, which meant the Dutchwomen and Central Connecticut State (yay parents’ alma mater!) were headed for overtime in the opening game of Friday night’s season-opening doubleheader. Which meant antsy Flying Dutchmen coach Joe Mihalich, who was busting out of his skin by noontime, had another five minutes of basketball to fidget through before he could begin fidgeting through the half-hour between the games.

But he’d only waited 250 days to coach a game that counted. Three of his four new starters—Niagara transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley and SMU transfer Brian Bernardi—hadn’t played since March 2013. I don’t need to tell you how long ago that was.

The women’s game ended (boo parents’ alma mater) and warmups were barely underway when Green ditched his pullover, as if he couldn’t possibly handle another second of non-game action. Later, as the Dutchmen walked to the bench for pre-game introductions, Green began veering towards the spot near the paint where the starters would stand once their names were called.

FINALLY, the game started, and the three newcomers who waited the longest to play for the Flying Dutchmen wasted no time in beginning to provide ample evidence of just why this year might be different than all the rest.

Bernardi, Green and Tanksley combined for 52 points, 14 assists, four steals and two turnovers as the Dutchmen authored one of the most resounding season-opening wins in program history by walloping Jacksonville, 94-61, in front of an energized crowd of 2,208.

“We’re just glad the game finally came,” Mihalich said afterward. “It was a long wait for a lot of people. These two guys I’m sitting besides [Green and Bernardi]—I don’t even know what it was. Seemed like 18 months. Eighteen years.

“Long wait. It was well worth it. As you could see, these guys couldn’t wait to get back out on the court and play.”

The trio had a hand in each of the Dutchmen’s first 14 points – three points and three assists for Green, six points and an assist for Bernardi and the season’s first nostalgic three-point play for Tanksley—as Hofstra buried Jacksonville by the first media timeout.

For the record, it was 16-7 at that point, and the Dolphins never got closer than seven the rest of the way. Or within 10 in the final 31 minutes. Or within 20 in the final 19 minutes. Or within 30 in the final 11 minutes.

The Dutchmen averaged 1.27 points per possession and shot 55.2 percent (37-of-67), including 36 percent (9-of-25) from 3-point land. They made 11 of 15 free throws. They had 24 assists, eight turnovers and 10 blocks.

Ten players scored for Hofstra. Do you know how many times the Dutchmen played 10 players in a game last season? THREE!!!!

“Went pretty good,” Mihalich said. “Couldn’t ask for much more than that. Not just the final score, the fact so many people played well.”

Bernardi led five double-digit scorers for with Dutchmen with a game-high 22 points. Of his eight field goals, six were 3-pointers, one shy of the school record. For fun late in the second half, he dove after a loose ball with the Dutchmen up more than 30 points.

Oh and he also stole my wife during the first half.




“I always go into the game thinking I’m going to make every shot,” Bernardi said. “Once that first one goes in, I feel like I’m not going to miss after that one.”

“To expect that out of somebody isn’t fair to him.” Mihalich said. “But I tell you what, I’ll say this: You’re surprised when Brian Bernardi misses.”

Green, a first-team all-MAAC player in his final season at Niagara and a first-team all-CAA preseason pick this year, had 14 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and no turnovers. That was Stokes-esque. Loren, not the other guy.

“A lot of people would say ‘Well, what’s Juan’ya Green like?’” Mihalich said. “Well, this is what he’s like. Fourteen points, nine assists, five rebounds, no turnovers. So you want to know what Juan’ya Green’s like? That’s what he’s like right there.”

Tanksley scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, yet—spoiler alert—he didn’t even factor into the Three Stars. (yup, that’s back too). JUCO transfer Malik Nichols had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added three assists and a block. Freshman Andre Walker, whom Mihalich said was struggling in practice until this week, had 11 rebounds and six blocks. Another freshman big, Rokas Gustys, had 10 rebounds in 10 minutes.

“Nobody has to be ‘the guy,’” Mihalich said. “Juan’ya doesn’t have to be the guy. He can just play basketball and find Brian Bernardi when he’s open and shoot when he’s open and dump it to Malik Nichols when he cuts to the basket.”

As good as the box score looked, witnessing it live was even more impressive. Mihalich played with his new-found depth like a child at Christmas. It was like watching hockey shifts, except the first line looked as good as the fourth line.

The Dutchmen displayed ball movement skills we’ve quite honestly never seen before. Green had at least two behind-the-back passes for assists that were worthy of their very own highlight video.

“Thought the team was unselfish,” Mihalich said. “We had a couple San Antonio Spurs-like possessions where we moved the ball around pretty good. It’s fun to watch.”

Nor have we seen a team that has five players that can run the entire floor. In the second half, Nichols grabbed a rebound and raced up the court with the ball like he was Adrian Uter on a grainy YouTube video.

“They’re all guards, aren’t they?” Mihalich said.

We know we shouldn’t get too excited about this. It’s just one game, and all the clich├ęs and caveats apply about how it doesn’t guarantee anything. In the season opener three years ago, the Dutchmen recorded a raucous 89-71 win over Long Island, which ended up winning the Northeast Conference championship while Hofstra went 10-22.

But last night was beautiful for a fan base that is still quick to think the worst and which needed to see immediate proof that our unusual optimism was warranted.

For me, old habits were already cropping up just minutes after finishing my preview post, when I drove home from my mother-in-law’s and began analyzing the songs on the radio for a sign that the upcoming season would be better than everyone else thought.

I heard Cinderella’s “Shelter Me,” which comes from the same album as “Heartbreak Station,” which was the annual elimination song here way back when the CAA played its tournament in Richmond. It reminded me that I heard “Heartbreak Station” on the way to a home opener a few years ago. (No, I’m not weird, why do you ask)

So I figured this was a good sign, even if I was trying to avoid needing good signs. But to be safe, I changed the channel an hour or so later during our trip to the Arena, just in case Hair Nation and its absurdly limited playlist aired another Cinderella song.

Hours later, we got the best signs we could have envisioned. After the game, I saw Bernardi surrounded by kids who wanted his autograph. And Mihalich was besieged by adults who wanted to shake his hand, including a friend of mine who wrote me after the disastrous and heartbreaking 2012-13 season cost Mo Cassara his job and said he was done supporting the program.

He was vocalizing what a lot of us were thinking. But like a lot of us there Friday night, he found out it was easier said than done. As often as Hofstra tests our love affair with the school, the Arena in the winter remains our shelter. May it rock and roll this season like never before.

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Jacksonville, 11/14)
3: Brian Bernardi
2: Juan’ya Green
1: Andre Walker

SEASON STANDINGS
3: Brian Bernardi
2: Juan’ya Green
1: Andre Walker

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Friday, November 14, 2014

So you’re telling me there’s a chance! (Actually there is)



This has happened before. The Flying Dutchmen basketball team has been projected to contend for the CAA title before. I know it has.

In fact, I’m looking at visual proof of it, right here in a document titled “CAAPredictionsThru2013.” It contains, as you can probably surmise, the official CAA predictions every year since 2001, when Hofstra jumped from the America East in order to find a permanent home for its football program. No really. I swear.

Anyway, it takes a little scrolling down, but there it is in my favorite font (14-point Cambria, whatever that is):

2006-07
PREDICTED
1. Hofstra           

The 2006-07 season—i.e. the one after The Great Screw Job—was the first one in which Hofstra was picked to finish higher than fourth in the CAA. We entered November not only bursting with giddy anticipation, but also possessing vivid daydreams of the heartbreak from the previous March yielding the ultimate payback, hopefully at the expense of those bastards from Fairfax.

Except, of course, it didn’t, thanks to a season that was as heartbreaking, in its own way, as its predecessor. Mostly because the championship dream ended with a loss to those bastards from Fairfax in which Greg Johnson drove the lane down three as time expired, at which point we all forever turned into Charlie Brown following the 1962 World Series.


WHY COULDN'T JOHNSON HAVE DISHED THE BALL BACK TO THE WIDE-OPEN AGUDIO AT THE THREE-POINT LINE?

Over the subsequent seven seasons, Hofstra was never picked higher than fifth in the preseason poll – though, of course, we managed, every year, to find ways to delude ourselves into thinking the Dutchmen’s championship hopes were better than projected. For example:

2007-08: Sure, VCU has Maynor and the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but we’ve got Agudio, and this freshmen Jenkins might be really good.

2008-09: Sure, VCU has Maynor and the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but Jenkins is really good.

2009-10: Sure, the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax, and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, and Northeastern is a lot better, but Maynor graduated and Jenkins is really, really good.

2010-11: Sure, the bastards from Fairfax are the bastards from Fairfax and Old Dominion is Old Dominion and this Shaka guy from VCU seems like he might be a decent coach and all our good players left except Jenkins, but Jenkins is really, Really, REALLY GOOD.

2011-12: Sure, Jenkins graduated and VCU just made the Final Four and Old Dominion is Old Dominion and Drexel looks REALLY good, but the head bastard amongst the bastards from Fairfax left and we’ve got strength in numbers.

2012-13: Sure, VCU is building on the Final Four run, unlike the bastards from Fairfax, and Drexel just made the NIT quarterfinals and Old Dominion is Old Dominion, but we’ve got nine really promising new players and they’re all going to be good, unless two-thirds of them get arrested, but what are the odds of that happening?

2013-14: Screw it.


Fortunately, it didn’t take long to care again. A season of no expectations and little initial engagement reignited our passion for Hofstra basketball. For the first time in the CAA era, the Flying Dutchmen were the preseason pick to finish last. But they finished eighth, and it was the most glorious eighth-place finish ever.

Victories felt like they did in the winter of 1993-94, when each win was euphoric because it meant the Dutchmen were another win removed from being included in the discussion of the worst team in the land.

It was a pleasure to see newcomers such as graduate transfers Zeke Upshaw and Dion Nesmith, plus CAA Rookie of the Year runner-up Jamall Robinson, come in and not only begin to lay the foundation for the future but also maximize their opportunities, unlike the knuckleheads who immediately preceded them.

And it was a pleasure to watch Joe Mihalich, thrust into the seemingly unwinnable task of winning over fans who were deeply scarred by the events of the previous season and loyal to Mo Cassara, manage to win everybody over by just being himself and embracing Hofstra as Cassara, Tom Pecora, Jay Wright and Butch van Breda Kolff did before him.

The season ended March 8 with another narrow loss to eventual champion Delaware in the CAA quarterfinals. Mihalich unwittingly summarized the unusual affection we all had for the 2013-14 Dutchmen afterward, when he broke down at the press conference.

“There’s only one way to be for me—I don’t want to get corny on you here—and that’s to be totally invested,” Mihalich said this summer. “We were so close [in] so many games. Hey, only one team smiles, and every team wants one more. So it would have been great to get that one there and get in the semis.

“But it was a sad ending. It really was. There was so much emotion with what we did.”

The final buzzer was still echoing at Baltimore Arena when Mihalich and the rest of us realized the emotions and expectations would be different this season. With Niagara transfers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley and SMU transfer Brian Bernardi—i.e. the three guys we didn’t even want to think about last season—all eligible, the rebuilding plan was expected to take a sizable second step forward.

But that was before Mihalich landed Rokas Gustys, whose size (6-foot-9) and pedigree (he prepped at the legendary Oak Hill Academy) makes him perhaps the most promising big man Hofstra has ever recruited.

The preview magazines began hitting the newsstands in the summer, and they all had one thing in common: Hofstra in the CAA’s top three. And none were written by me!

CAA coaches and reporters covering the league agreed with the consensus and picked the Dutchmen third in the preseason poll—behind Northeastern and William & Mary—released at media day on Oct. 21.


Some knowledgeable prognosticators--such as the folks at SI.com as well as the great Zach Braziller of the New York Post--even picked the Dutchmen to win it all. Braziller went so far as to declare Hofstra was becoming New York City's team. (I should note I would think highly of Braziller, even if he hadn't beem telling me for more than a year that my pessimism about Hofstra hoops would soon be unfounded)

“Feels a lot different than last year—same level of excitement, but a different kind of excitement,” Mihalich said five days earlier at Hofstra’s basketball media day. “Last year we knew we had to coach every pass just to have a chance to win. If we play hard and get these guys to play together, who knows? Maybe we can be one of the teams in the league that come March can be playing the best basketball of anybody and do something special and climb up a ladder and cut down some nets.”

He said this 29 days ago, and my response now is the same as it was then:

AHHHHH THIS IS FREAKING ME OUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO REACT TO THIS WHAT IS GOING ON??

Sure, we began every year but last year with visions of an NCAA Tournament bid dancing in our heads. But we also knew our hopes were of the long-shot variety, that the Dutchmen would need the type of breaks that only the other guys ever seem to get.

So when seasons ended before the Dutchmen could even get to the CAA championship game, there was disappointment, sure, but not the agony we felt in 2007. And there was something oddly comforting about that routine.

But hitting November and believing we’re about to watch a Dutchman team that is a legitimate title contender is as fantastic as it is frightening. Do we want to open ourselves up to walking the emotional tightrope again?

Yes, we do. This just feels different, and worth going all-in on. And “this” feels like it is encompassing more than just the men’s basketball program.

It reminds me of 20 years ago this fall, when the resounding performances of the football, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer teams – the quartet went a combined 61-19-5 – only enhanced the excitement surrounding Jay Wright’s first Flying Dutchmen basketball team and fostered the notion that Hofstra, on the verge of Division I extinction earlier in the decade, was primed for a rebirth.

The circumstances are different this time. Now, Hofstra is trying to bounce back from the self-inflicted wound sustained by the demolition of football (did you really think I was going to go a whole piece without mentioning that?).

But the success this fall of the volleyball team (the likely CAA regular season champ), the men’s and women’s soccer teams (both of whom finished third in the CAA) and the field hockey team (which entered the final weekend of the season tied for second before missing the four-team tourney) has engendered the same feeling of anticipation heading into a new era of men’s basketball.

Now, like then, everybody who cares about Hofstra athletics feels united in optimism, instead of pessimism. One of my favorite Tweets of the year—and if you know me at all, you know I see A LOT OF TWEETS—came last Friday from Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway, who snapped a picture of the volleyball team cheering on the women’s soccer team at Northeastern.


(Plus, the sequel to the greatest and most quotable movie of my generation, Dumb and Dumber, opens today, one month shy of the 20th anniversary of the original. And I look forward to seeing Dumb and Dumber To at the campus movie theatre next spring, over and over again, with my wife and ex-roommate, just like we saw the original over and over again in the spring of 1995!)

Buying into the optimism doesn’t mean being blinded by it. Of the 11 players suiting up tonight, we’ve never seen eight of them in a Hofstra uniform. We know enough about them to know we should be excited, but we also know how dangerous it is to invest in the completely unknown.

That well-earned wariness—imagine lapsing in Catholicism yet becoming a Hofstra fan and you have my existence—makes it impossible to avoid worrying about the unexpected disaster that we are certain is on the horizon. For instance, even if players stay healthy and out of trouble, the Sharknado could always hit Hofstra Arena.

Joe Mihalich, right, tries to save humanity and Hofstra Arena by sawing thru a shark in this future file photo.

And as Mihalich says, only one team is left smiling. But hey. For the first time in a long, long time, we don’t have to delude ourselves into thinking we could be the ones smiling on the second Monday in March.

“The exciting thing is we know we can win the league,” Mihalich said Oct. 16. “We know we can finish eighth, too. But we know we can win the league. You just want to have a chance. You just want to have a chance.

“And I feel like we do.”

Us too. Finally.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The CAA Tournament (Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love symbolic gambling on Hofstra)

At least I haven't forgotten to make Molly's Florida costume yet.


When it comes to gambling, my Dad is better than anyone I’ve ever met—not at slots or roulette or poker or blackjack but at getting up and leaving the table at the peak of his winnings.

The rest of us who are fortunate enough to collect a tall stack of chips will not even consider leaving. Instead, our minds are racing with the thoughts of continuing to ride the hot streak and what we’ll do with all that money once we return home.

Of course, casinos are built on red-hot streaks that turn ice-cold, and most of us are familiar with the feeling of impending dread that comes with playing well beyond our peak and digging into the wallet to try and regain the magic as well as our profits.

But not Dad. He hasn’t been to a casino since well before my Mom died, but when he did gamble, the former stockbroker and perpetually cautious investor always knew exactly how much he had spent and how much he had profited, and once he’d decided he’d made a nice return on his initial ante, he’d cash out, go home and put his winnings into a section of his bedroom drawer reserved solely for gambling money.

I thought of my Dad and his gambling skills last night, when the eighth-seeded Flying Dutchmen advanced in the CAA Tournament by scoring the final nine points of the game to beat ninth-seeded UNCW Wilmington, 78-70, in front of what sure appeared to be a sparse crowd at Baltimore Arena.

If sports fandom is gambling—and really, aren’t we all sitting here hoping to someday hold the royal flush in our hands?—then we should by all means follow my Dad’s lead and step away from the table right now, before the Dutchmen take on top-seeded Delaware this afternoon.

The Dutchmen’s first CAA Tournament win in 1,097 days (but who’s counting?) provided profits, both obvious and symbolic, that should be stashed in a drawer and saved for next year. In providing us the anticipation of knowing another game awaited on the other side of slumber, the Dutchmen also reached double figures in wins for the first time in three seasons. There will be no banners or certificates printed up to commemorate a 10-win season, but a “10” under the win column looks and feels a whole lot better than a “9.”

In addition, the tournament win provides the tangible happy ending for the players whose career ends with the Dutchmen’s next loss as well as the beginning of a base for those who will return with hopefully higher expectations next season.

For the 22nd time in 32 games, graduate senior Zeke Upshaw (23 points) led the Dutchmen in scoring. Senior Stephen Nwaukoni, the only member of the Dutchmen who was on the court the last time Hofstra won a CAA Tournament game, produced the 10th double-double of his career with 10 points—including a slam dunk for the game’s final points with 13 seconds left—and 14 rebounds.

As for the underclassmen, junior Moussa Kone had 11 points and nine rebounds, graduate senior Dion Nesmith had 15 points and three assists (speaking of quitting while we’re ahead—Nesmith got a favorable ruling from the NCAA and will play a second graduate season next year, what were the odds of the NCAA ever tossing Hofstra a bone?) and freshman Jamall Robinson began the game-winning rally and gave the Dutchmen the lead for good by wading into a sea of aqua and putting back his own miss to begin a nostalgic 3-point play with 1:58 left.

By any reasonable standard, the Dutchmen have exceeded expectations and profited on this trip to the conference tournament. That’s far more than we got the previous two seasons, both of which began with similarly long odds—Ken Pomeroy gave Hofstra a 0.6 percent chance of winning this year’s tournament, the same percentage he offered last year, while in 2012 our friend John Templon had Hofstra winning the automatic bid a whopping 16 times in 10,001 simulations—yet ended with disappointment in the form of yet another narrow loss to Delaware last year and the most lopsided defeat in CAA Tournament history to Georgia State in 2012.

So we should push ourselves away from the table, cash out and invest nothing in today, right? It’s too much to ask us to not watch the game, but regardless of result—and let’s face it, CAA top seeds are 26-1 all-time against the no. 8 or no. 9 seed, so the result will probably be a loss—we should be content with our winnings from last night.

Except…except sports fandom is far more seductive than any winning streak at the poker table. We certainly know the likelihood of Delaware winning today, but I’m sure I speak for the other 17 Hofstra fans when I say we spent all of last night and this morning finding optimism in the two close losses to the Blue Hens during the regular season, concocting upset scenarios in our heads and envisioning the Dutchmen doubling their stack of chips and playing Sunday for a berth in the CAA title game Monday.

Such daydreaming only increases the possibility of heartbreak, of course, and all but ensures that if the Dutchmen lose today, our first thoughts will be of regret and what could have been instead of appreciating what we had.

But still. How can we not hope to parlay last night’s winnings into even more? It’s that time of year when you the outcome—exiting the table empty-handed—is all but inevitable. But we’ll keep on daydreaming and doubling down and playing for that royal flush, right until the last of our chips ends up atop someone else’s stack.

“There’s going to be some conference [winner] we’re going to be reading about in a week or two weeks,” Mihalich said earlier this week. “Somebody’s going to do it. And if you’re Hofstra, you hope it’s you.”

For one more game, at least, we’ve still got that. What more could we ask for?

(A win today.)

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.