Thanks to final exams, the Flying Dutchmen had a season-high six days off leading up to their game Saturday at Manhattan. But the players weren’t the only ones who spent the week studying.
Mo Cassara and his staff did some cramming of their own as they tried to figure out why the Dutchmen were so prone to first half funks that left them trailing at the half in four of their previous five games. Whatever it was that Cassara and Co. found, they remedied it at Draddy Gymnasium (heretofore known as The World’s Worst Place To Try And Park A Car) as the Dutchmen enjoyed their first wire-to-wire win over a Division I opponent in a 71-58 victory.
After receiving just three double-digit performance—two from Charles Jenkins and one from Mike Moore—in the last two games combined, the Dutchmen got impressive efforts from Jenkins (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point land), Moore (who followed up his worst game of the year by collecting 20 points and 10 rebounds in his second double-double at Hofstra) and Brad Kelleher (14 points).
But the most notable part of the game took place in Cassara’s seat, where the head coach mixed and matched in the first half earlier and far more often than he had in the comeback wins over Wagner, Towson and Binghamton and the loss to Florida Atlantic.
Cassara went to the bench for the first time Saturday with 16:56 to play and made 12 substitutions in the first half. Against Florida Atlantic Dec. 11, he made the first of his eight first half substitutions at 14:32. Against Binghamton Dec. 8, he made the first of his six first half substitutions at 13:15. Against Towson Dec. 4, he made the first of his six first half substitutions at 11:41. And against Wagner Nov. 26, he made the first of his 11 first half substitutions at 15:24.
The frequent subbing worked: The Dutchmen, who were outscored 74-48 in the final 10 minutes of the first half of those four games, outscored Manhattan 24-15 over the final 10 minutes of the first half Saturday to expand their lead to 13. The Dutchmen actually shot better in the final 10 minutes of the half (9-of-16) than in the first 10 minutes (6-of-12) and hit 5-of-6 3-pointers after going 2-of-4 from beyond the arc to open the half.
In addition, Jenkins sat for more than two minutes during two separate stints on the bench after resting just twice in the first half in the Dutchmen’s previous five games. He had just five points in the first half, which got him to exactly 2,000 for his career, but racked up 16 after the break.
“I think part of our team getting better is also part of our staff figuring out what we have,” Cassara said. “And we spent a lot of time, with some of the off-days, talking about our rotation and playing some different guys and making sure we get Charles some rest and really trying to analyze why we had some letdowns in the first half.
“We went back through all the games and we just felt that we had a couple times we had some bad lineups out there. So we were able to put more of a calculated effort into who we wanted to play and that’s why we put together a good half.”
The Dutchmen were certainly helped by the presence of Kelleher, who was much sharper in his second game since being freed from NCAA prison. Kelleher played 14 first half minutes, twice as many as he played the entire game against Florida Atlantic, and 32 minutes overall, the most of any Dutchmen reserve this season. He scored all 14 of his points in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point land, and drained three of his 3-pointers during the final 10 minutes.
Kelleher’s contributions also allowed Cassara to go with a small lineup on another night in which David Imes (one point and one rebound in a season-low 11 minutes) and Greg Washington (two points and five rebounds in 32 minutes) struggled. The Dutchmen played a four-guard lineup from the 16:56 mark through the 13:40 mark and from 8:33 until the end of the half.
“Brad now gives you another dynamic, but we’re going to have to move some guys in and out,” Cassara said. “We played small a lot tonight. We played Mike Moore at the four, but again, that puts us with four scorers out there and we needed to score some points.”
The Dutchmen did have a lull in the second half, when they were victimized for a 10-0 run by Manhattan that allowed the Jaspers to pull within 53-50 with 7:30 to play. But a well-rested Jenkins hit consecutive 3-pointers and Moore and Shemiye McLendon also hit 3-pointers during an 18-1 run that gave the Dutchmen a 20-point lead before Manhattan scored the final seven points to make the final score cosmetically close.
“We’re still learning and we’re still working and trying to find a way to not only win but to put teams away,” Cassara said. “We got a little lazy, turned the ball over a couple times and [had] a couple defensive breakdowns and all of a sudden they got back in the game. But one thing we were able to do tonight is get Charles [some] rest, we were able to bring him off the bench with fresh legs and then he was able to come back in and make a couple big shots for us.”
There’s still plenty of things on which the Dutchmen need to work. They had just seven offensive rebounds, which was actually two more than the Dutchmen had against Florida Atlantic. Imes and Washington extended their dual slumps by going a combined 0-for-8 from the field. Imes is just 3-of-14 in his last three games since a double-double against Towson and Washington has yet to score in double figures against a Division I foe.
But the first half surge and the success the Dutchmen enjoyed with a smaller lineup filled with sharp shooters also provided a hint at the potential that lies beyond the New Year and the real start to the CAA season. “If we have Mike Moore and Brad Kelleher shooting the ball well from the perimter, ultimately, [opponents are] not going to be able to [concentrate] so much on Charles,” Cassara said. “We’re going to have a chance to win some games.”
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Manhattan, 12/18)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Mike Moore
1: Brad Kelleher
Charles Jenkins 28
Mike Moore 10
Greg Washington 6
David Imes 6
Dwan McMillan 5
Shemiye McClendon 2
Brad Kelleher 1
Yves Jules 1
Stephen Nwaukoni 1