GEORGIA STATE 76, HOFSTRA 55
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 19-10, 10-6 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 5th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 18.6 pts, 4.8 reb, 4.1 ast, 3.4 to
For many less-than-hardcore college basketball fans who believe the regular season is meaningless, the season will begin next week, as the calendar turns to March.
But, those who follow college hoops more closely, particularly at the mid-major level, know that NCAA tournament bids can often be won or lost throughout the entire regular season.
When you play in a traditionally one-bid, mid-major conference like the CAA, you’re chances for an at-large bid to March’s Big Dance can often hinge on your out-of-conference results in November and December.
If you don’t do enough in those games (or if you win, but don’t schedule tough enough), every game in conference play is of utmost importance, as a single loss at any time within your own league can doom your conference tournament seeding and your one chance at getting to NCAA tourney via an automatic bid.
And, if you’re the 2008-09 Hofstra Pride, and you know you’re only road to the NCAA Tournament runs through Richmond and winning the CAA Tournament, you have to make sure you take care of business and take advantage of every late-season opportunity that you can get.
History shows that in CAA tournament play, a team seeded lower that fourth, which has to play on the tournament’s initial day, can get to a CAA Final. Fifth-seeded Wiliam & Mary made a surprise run to the finals just last year. However, history also shows that unless you receive a first-round bye as a top for seed, simply getting to the CAA finals, and winning it, are two different things (only top-four seeds have ever won the CAA tournament in its two-plus decades).
That’s what made Hofstra’s game at Georgia State (11-18, 8-9 CAA) on Wednesday night so crucial as the Pride (19-10, 10-7 CAA) battled three other teams (Old Dominion, 19-9, 11-6 CAA; Drexel, 15-12, 10-7 CAA; and James Madison, 18-12, 9-8 CAA) for the fourth and final first-round bye in the CAA tourney.
And, what an inconvenient time to lay an egg, especially with Drexel losing at home to third-place Northeastern (18-10, 12-5 CAA) the same night.
Hofstra, which had been playing so well in its push for that four seed (holding teams to under 40 percent shooting from the floor; gelling and getting several guys into the mix and playing well; and winning 8 of 10 in the CAA, 9 of 11 overall, after a 2-4 start in the conference) suddenly forgot how to play perimeter defense, and returned to its earlier-season issues of leaving Charles Jenkins to go it virtually alone.
Against a team that was dangerous going in, but that Hofstra certainly could have beaten with a much better effort, the Pride fell behind early, 18-4, and never really recovered despite a Jenkins-infused run which provided some hope early in the second half.
The Pride had been a prefect 12-0 when shooting 40 percent or better from the field, but lost for the first time despite shooting over that mark in each half, finishing the game shooting 44 percent (20-46) from the floor.
That’s because The Pride allowed the Panthers to make shots from virtually around the entire state of Georgia. The Panthers shot 62 percent (16-26) from the field, including 64 percent (7-11) in the first half. Most of the damage was done by two players: Leonard Mendez (game-high 27 points on 9-14 shooting from the field), scored 18 points, going 6 of 9 from the floor, while making 3 of 5 three-pointers in the first half; Trae Goldston (15 points, 5-9 fg, 4-6 3-point fg) meanwhile, scored 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the floor, including 4 of 5 makes from downtown in the opening half.
Hofstra in the first half, aside from Jenkins, made half its shots (8-16) from the floor, but only one of those players attempted more than 3 shots (Greg Washington, 2-4 fg), while Jenkins struggled to a 2-for-7 first half, despite making 5 0f 6 at the free throw line to lead the Pride with 9 points at the break.
After the poor start, Hofstra got to within 32-23 on a 19-14 run, but the Panthers responded with a 14-2 run to take it’s biggest lead of the half, at 46-25, before leading 46-27 at halftime.
Jenkins did all he could early in second half to help his team mount a comeback. He made 5 of his first 6 shots from the field after the half, and just 4:48 into the second half, the Pride were back in the game, trimming a 21-point deficit to just eight (47-39).
But, leading 52-43, Georgia State put the game away with a 13-0 run that upped the lead back to 22 (65-43) with 7:54 left in the game.
Jenkins finished the game just above his 18.6 ppg average, scoring a team-high 19 points, finishing with a pretty good shooting percentage, making 7 of 15 shots form the floor.
Granted, a small excuse could be made with a key piece of late, in 6-7 JUCO forward Darren Townes, missing the game with the flu, and Mike Szabo being worked back into the picture with 10 rusty minutes after missing 10 games with a broken arm. But, so much a part of Hofstra’s resurgence which put them in position to get that CAA tourney bye was not only Jenkins getting near 20 points or more, but getting good look for a lot of his teammates. After Jenkins, two other players took just 6 shots (Greg Washington 4-6 and Nathaniel Lester 0-6), one player took 5 shots (Cornielius Vines, 1-5), and everyone else ranged between no shots and four attempts.
Although better in the second half, the defense was also un-Hofstra-like overall (allowing 53 percent field goal shooting for the game) for a team which has allowed its opponents to shoot just 39.6 percent from the floor this season.
With Drexel losing and opening the door in CAA the regular season’s final week, it wasn’t exactly a good time for Hofstra to completely abandon the style of basketball at both ends of the floor, which brought it success and made it the hottest team in the conference over the past several weeks.
Heading into it’s final regular season game at home against last-place North Carolina-Wilmington (7-23, 3-14 CAA) on Saturday, a win at Georgia State would have given Hofstra control of its own destiny for the four seed and the first-round bye (by virtue of Hofstra’s victory over Old Dominion in the lone regular season meeting between the two on February 10th).
Conversely, letting that opportunity slip by, Hofstra now needs help.
Looking at it completely optimistically, one could say the loss at Georgia State might be the best thing for Hofstra in the grand scheme of things.
How is that possible, you say?
Two Big Reasons:
1) The Pride obviously had weaknesses to work on which were exposed on Wednesday night, which might not have been, and which might have not have been addressed in time for the CAA tourney had Hofstra continued to roll as it had been with five straight wins before the Pride’s trip to Georgia… Suppose for instance, Hofstra had won in Atlanta on Wednesday, then wins its final game of the regular season, and locked up the four seed and was feeling pretty good about itself riding into the CAA tourney on a 7-game win streak while sitting out next Friday with a first-round bye. And, then, imagine Hofstra, perhaps not completely focused, getting picked off by the 5 seed in an even matchup the following day, going home one-and-done like last year… But, having lost by 21 to eighth-seeded Georgia State, do you think Head Coach Tom Pecora and his staff now have the undivided attention of his team which includes a talented but still maturing core of sophomores? I would count on it.
2) The CAA tournament in Richmond, Virginia has been dominated by top southern-based teams over the more recently-joining northern based teams like Hofstra over the years. The Richmond Coliseum is designed to be a neutral site, but any time a northern CAA team plays a southern CAA team in a big CAA tourney game, it’s a virtual road game for the Northerners. Despite some first-round rest, a fourth-place finish for Hofstra could mean a quarterfinal game against a fifth-seeded, Virginia-based Old Dominion. A sixth-place finish would mean an extra game, but against an 11 seed which Hofstra should beat (and frankly, if it didn’t the Pride would deserve to go home anyway). And, a 6 seed might mean a quarterfinal game against a third-seeded, Massachusetts-based Northeastern. Hofstra is capable of beating both ODU and NU, and has this season. So, why not opt for the true neutral game over the pseudo road game, regardless of the seeding?
There’s also first time for everything, and with a CAA season appearing as wide open as it has ever been in recent years, this might be the season that a seed lower than a four finally breaks through for a CAA Tournament title.
Still, the goal is to secure the highest seed possible, so here’s what to keep an eye on for the CAA’s final day of the regular season, should Hofstra take care of business against the Seahawks after a pre-game ceremony to retire the number the number 21 (the same number worn by Townes, the last to wear that number at Hofstra) of former Hofstra great Richie Laurel, who led Hofstra to its first-ever NCAA tournament berths in 1976 and 1977:
To earn (or back into) a bye, Hofstra needs to win and see both Old Dominion and Drexel lose on Saturday, which isn’t that unlikely, considering ODU will be an underdog, and just about any game on the road (where both ODU and Drexel will be) is a tough one in the CAA.
Here are the other remaining possibilities for HU:
If Hofstra loses…
The Pride are locked into the 6 seed.
If Hofstra wins…
The Pride get the 5 seed with either an ODU or a Drexel loss.
The Pride get the 6 seed if both ODU and Drexel win.
Hofstra does have timing in its favor on Saturday. With a win, the Pride can put a lot of pressure on both the Monarchs and Dragons. Hofstra plays at 4pm on Saturday, and will finish by around 6pm, just in time for the start ODU’s game at Northeastern at 6pm, one hour before Drexel tips off at William & Mary at 7pm.
But, first thing’s first. Forget the seeding at 4pm. Hofstra just needs to beat UNCW on Saturday, play well, and return to form. Otherwise, even with a bye, the chances of an early CAA tourney exit are good.