HOFSTRA 80, NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON 78
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 14-7, 6-4 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: 5th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 17.9 pts, 4.8 reb, 3.5 ast, 3.6 to
What a difference a couple of weeks can make and what a bizarre yet great (overall) game tonight for Charles Jenkins.
Two weeks ago to the night, things were looking bleak for the Pride. Hofstra was routed at Drexel, it's fourth loss in five games; it was only 2-4 one-third of the way into this season's CAA schedule; and Jenkins was held under 20 points for the 9th straight game, averaging just 12.2 ppg while mired in a bad shooting slump over that stretch.
Since then, Jenkins has averaged 22.8 ppg, scoring 22 or more points in three of the past four games (all Hofstra wins), and the Pride, at 6-4 in the CAA, is suddenly riding a wave of momentum heading into its showdown against pre-season CAA favorite Virginia Commonwealth (15-6, 8-2 CAA) Saturday at noon, on what will be a special day at The Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead.
Jenkins and Hofstra figured to have a big offensive game tonight at North Carolina-Wilmington (5-17, 2-8 CAA), which entered Wednesday night's contest ranked last of 342 teams in Division I, allowing 88.1 ppg. However, although Hofstra leads the CAA as the only team allowing under 40 percent shooting from the field, UNCW came into the game right there with CAA scoring leader VCU (73.3 ppg), averaging 73.2 ppg.
So, other than the Pride not winning the game a little easier than it did, the 80-78 Hofstra win with Jenkins leading the way wasn't a major surprise. How the game got there was interesting, however. It was a good one. Hofstra's biggest lead was only 6, UNCW's only 4, in a game that featured 13 ties and 24 lead changes.
Again, not a shock that Jenkins led all scorers with 16 points on 4 of 9 shooting at the half. But, those points didn't come via the usual Jenkins signature mix of lane penetration and mid-range jumpers. No, instead, it was Jenkins lighting it up from downtown. Entering the game just 31 percent from three-point range, Jenkins made his first four from three-point range before finally missing his final three-point attempt of the game with 4:45 left in the first half. That's a bad sign for Hofstra's future opposing defenses. If Jenkins can ever develop a consistent enough three-point shot to force defenses to play off of him, he'll be that much more lethal with his main strength of driving past and around defenders, and slashing his way to the hoop, something he's already developed very well in less than two seasons of college ball.
Jenkins' first-half output kept the Pride in the game despite allowing a very uncharacteristic 53 percent from the field in the first half, which allowed the Seahawks to hold a slim 41-38 lead at halftime.
Tonight's game made me question just how good Hofstra's defense has really been despite what the numbers have said for most of the season, and despite first-hand, seeing them shut down teams in games this year. Head Coach Tom Pecora said earlier this week, "In the 25 years I’ve been in coaching, I’ve never been around a team that’s been able to win as many games as we have while shooting less than 40 percent. I keep telling them, there’s no pressure, I have faith in you. We’re grinding it out, and if we have to win ugly, so be it.” Pecora's squad IS a pretty good defensive team, but the competition I think, makes the numbers somewhat misleading. Why do I say that? In earlier games against better competition, teams that can really score: Hofstra allowed a season-high 98 points on 51 percent shooting against the Clemson (from the ACC) in the Pride's season opener; and against UMass, from the Atlantic 10, Hofstra was similarly torched for 97 points on 53 percent shooting. And tonight, here's a much worse UNCW team which can still score, and it did the same thing to Hofstra in that opening half.
Hofstra did tighten up the defense in the second half. The Seahawks duplicated the same 5 of 11 from behind the arc that they made in the first half, but they were held to 42 percent shooting overall in the final 20 minutes.
In the second half, Jenkins picked up where he left off before the break, making 4 of his first 5 shots while scoring 10 of Hofstra's first 17 points of the half to keep the Pride close, down 54-52, with 15:45 left.
Jenkins had 26 points at that point, but then missed his next 4 shots from the field, going without a field goal until a key jumper (giving him a career-high 32 points, one more than the 31 he had against East Tennessee State on November 16th) that tied the game at 75-75 with 2:02 left in the game. Jenkins was 4-for-4 at the free throw line in that stretch, the last of those four free throws coming with 12:10 left, giving Hofstra a 58-56 lead.
As I said, a great, yet bizarre, game for Jenkins. After all, how many times do you see the type of game in which a player scores a career-high and a game-high 33 points (the next closest was UNCW's Chad Tomko's 19), scoring a very balanced 16 in one half, 17 on the other, despite going without a point for 10:07 and without a field goal for 13:42 in one half? Imagine the game Jenkins could have had (40 points? 50 points?) had he not had that one long, bad stretch tonight! Strange game indeed for the captain, but it was just enough to keep his team in the game, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.
During hid drought, Jenkins had some help, as he's had during the current 4-game win streak which has seen Hofstra's offense revive itself. Canarsie's Nathaniel Lester, who had 18 points for the game, just two short a career high, did some damage in the second half, and Tony Dennison (10 points) came up big down the stretch.
A Dennison jumper with 1:13 left brought the Pride within 78-77, and Jenkins was able to make only 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game 78-78 with :34.3 left.
Later, UNCW called a timeout and set up a play with :12.2 remaining. Pecora didn't like Hofstra's chances in overtime, so instead of hanging back, he pressured the ball and UNCW's best player, Tomko. That forced a steal by Dennison who drove at the other end and tried to beat the clock. Dennison collided with Tomko (incidental contact, no foul), and ended up on the floor with the ball. With the clock running down, Dennison attempted a shot while sitting in the lane, but left it short. A heads-up Arminas Urbutis, trailing the play, snatched the ball out of mid-air with less than a second to go and made a layup as the final buzzer sounded. Rare ending, rare type of career-high for Jenkins, but a winning formula to keep Hofstra rolling.
A lot tougher than expected against one of the worst teams in the CAA, but maybe the type of win on the heels of three previous wins, with Jenkins back to his old self of late, that could give the Pride the type of sustained momentum it needs for Saturday's big showdown with the Rams, than if Hofstra had won easily over a bad team tonight.
A loss would have taken a lot of wind out of Hofstra's sails. But now, Saturday should be fun day. Two-time defending CAA regular season champion VCU coming in. Early noon start. MSG-TV. Four-game win streak on the line. And, the pre-game honoring of a player whose footsteps might very well be followed by Jenkins -- one of the greatest players in Hofstra history, 9-year NBA veteran and NBA title-winning Craig "Speedy" Claxton, who will have his number 10 retired prior to the game.
Hofstra is 9-1 this season in games decided by 5 points or less.
Hofstra is 8-1 when Jenkins scores 20 points or more, and 6-6 when Jenkins is held under 20 points.