HOFSTRA 57, NORTHEASTERN 52
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 11-7, 3-4 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 6th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 17.1 pts, 4.9 reb, 3.6 ast, 3.4 to
I must admit, on a late Saturday morning at Hofstra, with first-place Northeastern visiting 12 days after dismantling Hofstra up in Boston, the thing I was looking forward to most was the media room food of scrambled eggs and french toast (not that I don't appreciate the lunch or dinner spreads, but breakfast really makes me love the early noon starts!).
Much to my surprise however, the real treats of the day were witnessing the improved play of the Hofstra offense and that of Mr. Charles Jenkins returning to form.
Unlike the many poor starts Hofstra in many of its losses this season, the Pride came out of the gate fast against Northeastern (11-6, 6-1 CAA), which set the tone for handing the Huskies, who entered the game tied for first-place in the CAA with George Mason) their first conference loss of the season.
With the offense struggling of late, I suggested a change in offensive philosophy on the Hofstra section of the popular CAA message board CAAZone.com earlier this week. I figured that with no guards (not even Jenkins) shooting more than 37% from the floor on the season, and with many of the bigs shooting respectable percentages in the 40's and 50's, maybe it was time (at least in the short-term) to have the guards getting the ball into the big fellas, and getting forwards like Greg Washington, and in particular, Darren Townes and Arminas Urbutis, more touches and more shots (while still paying attention to a lot more ball movement, in general).
Townes (who started and played 28 minutes) got Hofstra off to a fast start, and Urbutis (8 points, 9 rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench) barely missed his first career double-double. After a fast break layup by Jenkins put Hofstra up 3-0, Townes was active early in the post and on the offensive glass, getting his hands on loose balls, making a tough layup, and slamming home a dunk to help the Pride to an 11-6 lead (a tremendous departure from the 11-0 and 16-2 leads that the Huskies had on the Pride when the two teams met on January 5th).
A coincidence with what I mentioned in those CAA Zone posts, the ball moved early and often for Hofstra like I hadn't seen all season. I counted dare I say, 7, even 8, passes on some possessions, usually leading to good things on the offensive end of the floor.
Hofstra Head Coach Tom Pecora joked, "There was one stretch in the second half where we made two jumpers in a row, and I got this tingly feeling all over my body. It was like, wow, when was the last time THAT happened?"
It was clear that Pecora had little patience for guys jacking up ill-advised shots without adhering to the new-found team effort of increasing ball movement. Case in point: Cornelius Vines, Hofstra's second-leading scorer (often the Pride's biggest culprit of shooting first and passing second this season), usually a starter, came off the bench this time, and played only 9 minutes. Why only 9 minutes? Because Pecora yanked him for the rest of the game with 4:00 left in the first half, immediately after Vines dribbled way too much under pressure, looked for no one, and hoisted an off-balance, contested three-pointer from about 25 feet away, leading to a Hofstra turnover, with the Pride down 19-18. Needless to say, those that stayed in the game for Hofstra, continued to move the ball well after that.
Jenkins meanwhile, again struggled to find his shot in the first half. After the early layup, he missed 6 of 8 shots to finish with 7 points on just 3 of 9 form the floor (1 of 2 from three-point range) in the first half. Jenkins and the Hofstra defense also struggled to defend Matt Janning, the sharp-shooting 6-4 guard from Minnesota, one of the best scorers in the CAA, as Janning was 3-for-7 in the first half, but 3-for-4 from behind the arc, scoring 12 points to lead Northeastern to a 29-26 lead by halftime.
That changed in the second half though, as Jenkins really clamped down on Janning, holding him to just two second-half points on 0-for-4 shooting from the field.
Jenkins said that shutting down Janning "Was very important. Matt Janning's a very good basketball player. He was a [CAA] Rookie Of The Year his freshman year. He was picked first-team all-conference. I think it was big for me to be able to defend him."
On the offensive end, Jenkins was finally back to his old self, scoring over 20 points for the first time since the game before he started his shooting slump (when he scored 21 points at Stony Brook). He scored 16 of his game-high 23 points (more than half of Hofstra's 31 second-half points), making 5 of 7 from the field after halftime, to finish 50% (8 of 16) from the floor. That was the first time since that Stony Brook game that Jenkins looked like the old Jenkins on the floor.
Jenkins really changed the game during a big 12-1 run in the second half, which turned 32-28 deficit into Hofstra's biggest lead of the game, 40-33, with 11:46 left. He scored 9 points during the run, laying it in all alone on a fast break, scoring on a nice drive in the paint, hitting a big right-wing three, and capping the run with another slashing, driving layup.
After the game, I asked Jenkins if his performance might signal an end to his slump. He said at least mentally, the approach was different. "Coach did a great job of getting [the ball] to me," he said. "I was sulking and that's something that he doesn't want me to do. So, instead of being the nice coach that I've known, he got into me. It's all mental. I play my game [best] from the neck up."
Credit Pecora for changing his own way of dealing with his best player. "Charles' Dad stopped by practice the other day," he said. "And, I told him I was gonna go after [Charles], and [Charles' Dad] said 'Have at him Coach, you go after him as hard as you want.' That's old school. Not a lot of parents say that anymore. And, [Charles] responded. Obviously, we're a different team with Charles scoring the basketball... when Charles is very aggressive, and I want him to be. "
Pecora acknowledged the change in the offensive mindset, saying "We got away from setting so many ball screens. I wanted to get a little more ball movement and we were able to do that. So much of that is dictated by the way your opponent defends you."
That's true to an extent. I think you should and can move the ball no matter what type of defense is thrown at you (unless it's a press -- that's of course a different brand of ball movement).
But, just the conscious effort move the ball and make the offense less stagnant than it had been paid huge dividends. Although Hofstra still scored only 57 points (about as low as it had in losing some games recently), the Pride shot a much better 42% (18 for 43) after living at around only 30% in some recent games. And, the 57 points were despite not making a field goal in the final 6:40 of the game, as the Pride made 11 of 12 free throws during that span, to ice the game. Jenkins' two free throws with :45.6 left put Hofstra up for good, 52-51. Then, up 55-52, Jenkins' smothering defense forced Janning into a turnover in the right corner. Jenkins pumped his fist a couple times in jubilation, knowing the game was won. He then made two more free throws in the final seconds, for the final margin of 57-52.
Guard Tony Dennison (9 points, 2-2 fg, 4-6 ft in 20 minutes) was the the player besides Jenkins sitting next to Pecora at post-game press conference table. In speaking of Dennison and the rest of the team, Pecora commented on what a great group he coaches, but knows that he can't coddle them. "Tony Dennision is too nice a kid." he said. "I want my son to grow up just like him. Maybe not as many tatoos on his arms. I don't mind if he has them from the elbow up. I want him to play with an edge on the court. I want to try to get him to be not such a nice guy on the basketball court. They're all great guys, so I want to be nice to them, but at the same time, if I'm nice to them, they're going to play like nice guys and then they don't play with an edge."
The win was a tremendous one for the Pride, and the perfect time for Jenkins to return to normal. Facing a possible 5th CAA loss in 6 games and a 2-5 CAA record, Hofstra instead not only sends a message to the rest of the CAA by beating a first-place conference team that it had already lost badly to, but it positions itself very well to get back to .500 in the CAA, and compete in the second half of the CAA season for an all-important top four seed and a first-round bye in the CAA tournament in March.
I'll be back at The Mack for Hofstra's next game, on Wednesday, when The Pride hosts the Tribe (I like how that rhymes). William & Mary (6-11, 1-6 CAA) will come to Long Island tied for last in the CAA.