HOFSTRA 60, OLD DOMINION 51
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 16-9, 8-6 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 6th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 18.0 pts, 5.0 reb, 3.4 ast, 3.4 to
This time, it was a little easier for Hofstra.
The Pride’s three previous wins were each decided in the final minute, winning by one point, two points, and three points, respectively.
On Tuesday night, before 2,241 fans, including a loud student section, the Pride led wire to wire, building a 9-point cushion at halftime, before ultimately holding on to win by that same 9-point margin in a showdown between two of four teams fighting for the final first-round bye in the CAA Tournament in March.
It helps when you GET help, and that’s what Hofstra’s best player, Charles Jenkins, is finally getting from his teammates on a more consistent basis lately, as he tries to help make them better in return.
Though Jenkins led Hofstra with 15 points, that output came on just 5 of 15 shooting from the field, including just 1 make in 5 attempts from three-point range.
But, Jenkins also handed out 3 of Hofstra’s 12 assists while pulling down 8 rebounds to help his team to a 48-39 rebounding advantage against the team that’s second only to Hofstra in the CAA in rebounding. That accomplishment was noted by Hofstra Head Coach Tom Pecora, who said, “It was a really well-played game. They're an outstanding rebounding team and we were able to outrebound them by 9 and we had 15 offensive rebounds.”
One of Jenkins’ teammates who came up huge in the rebounding battle, as well as chipping in some scoring was sophomore Nathaniel Lester (Canarsie), who scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, for his second career double-double, his first this season.
Lester has come on of late, scoring in double figures in five of his past six games.
Pecora was impressed with the hustle of Jenkins and Lester at both ends of the floor.
“Charles made big plays when he needed to,” Pecora said. “Charles once again just does what you need him to do to win games.” He added, "Nathaniel Lester contested a lot of shots."
Another sophomore, Centereach’s 6-10 Greg Washington, chipped in with 4 points, making both of his field goal attempts (after hitting the game-winner in Hofstra’s last game), 8 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots.
Those three sophomores, Jenkins, Lester, and Washington, are what makes Hofstra go these days, but it was the play of Hofstra’s seniors which Pecora felt made the difference against Old Dominion (15-9, 8-6 CAA) tonight.
“I was so pleased that our seniors stepped up and helped contribute. It's nice to see the seniors do it, because I always say, you can only be as good as your seniors. The core of our team are sophomores, the guys who are putting up the biggest numbers, Charles, and Nat, and Greg Washington, for the most part, but our seniors have been tremendous, led by Darren, right here,” Pecora said, flanked by Jenkins, Lester, and senior JUCO forward Darren Townes, who scored a season-high 10 points, while grabbing 7 rebounds, and blocking a game-high 4 shots.
Hofstra’s defense was stifling except for a brief lapse at the start of the second half. “[ODU] came out in the second half and made seven 7 shots in a row (actually 6 of 8), and I was going bonkers in the timeout about that, but we really bared down, down the stretch."
The Pride led 28-19 at halftime, blocked 13 shots, and held Old Dominion to just 28 percent (19-69) shooting from the floor. Two of those blocks came from senior Arminas Urbutis (Lithuania), who scored 7 points and snatched 4 rebounds.
Pecora added of his seniors, “They work their tails off every day in practice, and that speaks in volumes for not only what kinds of players they are but what kinds of people they are.” Pecora was very pleased with his team’s extra exertion, and after sometimes not getting the whistle at home this season, the coach was happy that the game wasn’t called tight. “It was a solid win and I was pleased that it was a team effort,” he said. “We contested every shot and blocked a ton of them, so good stuff. That shows that you're playing with great energy. It was a great crew, they let us play, and that's to our advantage.”
Hofstra’s leading scorer all season, Jenkins was more than happy to let his teammates share the spotlight. “Coach always tells me not be a one-dimensional player,” he said. “There's always things I can do on the court to help my team. Get steals, loose balls, rebound...I don't want to... just worry about scoring... there's other things I can do for my teammates, getting into the lane, creating, getting my teammates open.”
And, that can be mutually beneficial for Jenkins and especially yet another contributing senior, three-point specialist Zygis Sestokas (from Lithuania, like Urbutis), who scored 9 points, making 3 of 6 from behind the arc.
Jenkins joyously spun and pumped his fist near midcourt after leading a break in the first half, stopping at the foul line, and kicking in the right corner to Sestokas, who buried a three-pointer which gave Hofstra an 18-10 lead. Jenkins, who has been spurred on lately by playing for his senior teammates (who he’s close to) as their time at Hofstra is running out, was so happy for Sestokas, that as he got into his defensive crouch, clapped his hands after the fist pump and sported a bright, wide grin the whole time ODU slowly walked the ball up the court.
“Zyggy's my man,” Jenkins said. “When we play open gym, we always run that play every time. I remember last game he struggled a little bit, and for him to hit that first shot it was big and I was excited for him as well as for myself. With him in the game, it takes a lot of pressure off me because if I get in the lane they have to worry if I kick it to him.”
That play occurred one Hofstra possession before Jenkins did a nice job of taking a pass at the foul line coming from the left wing, stopping, and popping for a smooth jumper that gave the Pride its biggest lead of the game, 20-10, with 9:25 left in the half. Hofstra would match that lead with :39.8 left in the game, when it led 59-49 on a pair of free throws by Lester.
With the game still very much in the balance, the value of Jenkins and Sestokas playing off of each other at the offensive end really paid off for Hofstra, when Jenkins made one of the nicest plays of the game, nicely splitting the Monarch’s defense after some help came as Jenkins started a drive. Jenkins was then able to hang in the air and after a double clutch through more traffic, before going off glass to give Hofstra a 51-43 lead with 2:56 left. That was pretty much the dagger as ODU never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We ran a cut for a three,” Pecora said of the play. “And, Charles saw an opening and drove down the lane and scored. We put Zyggy in just for that reason. [Zyggy] might not make a three in two weeks but that one [good] game… [can make] teams play up on him. If we put him in a corner and we bring Charles off a ball screen, they don't leave him. That creates some good space for Charles and then [Charles] can make some good decisions.”
The Hofstra coaching staff wasn’t sure Sestokas could even play tonight. Pecora said, “On Sunday, he comes in [to practice] with a 102 temperature, so we just send him back to his dorm room and get some medicine in him, and he comes to practice today and he's in great physical shape, he's always been that way. We were worried that he wasn't going to be able to play but he gutted it out. So, that says a lot about him.”
The win was a big one for the Pride, which moved to within just a half-game of fourth place (and a potential first-round bye) in the CAA Tournament while catching ODU in the standings for sixth place.
As many other coaches might do, Pecora doesn’t shield his team from what games like tonight mean down the stretch. On the contrary, he uses the pressure of big games as a motivational tool. Pecora posts updated standings and particularly for his seniors (and for underclassmen like Jenkins who always want to play hard for the seniors), he lists the numbers of games and practices left in the season.
“Sometimes as a coach,” he said, “You take things for granted and you think that they know things.” He joked, “I didn't know what day it was when I was 20 years old.”
But, he added, “Some people think it's undue pressure, but I think if you're going to compete at this level.... you don't get caught up and fold when you think, hey this is a big game. I want them to know about standings and about how important games are.”
Pecora believes his team is gelling now, and wants his players to share in his belief that they have the ability to achieve a lot more this season. “I tell them, you guys never think that if you win every game the rest of this season, you'll be considered one of the great teams that was here [at Hofstra]," he said.
“I don't think they look at themselves that way yet,” he continued. “I don't want them to think they're great prior to being it, but I want them to understand that it's something we're capable of achieving and working towards. I think tonight, they moved in that direction. Now, the next game's got to be better, and the next one, even more so. February is when good teams rise and hopefully, we continue to play well.”
The remaining conference schedule is very favorable for the Pride. Hofstra controls its own destiny for a five seed in the 12-team CAA, and still has a reasonable chance at that four seed and the first-round bye.
But, Pecora is careful not to let his team overlook anyone else with three of its final four regular season CAA games left against teams that are each well under .500 in the conference. “It doesn't matter who you're playing, especially when you go on the road. “Records go out the window,” he said.
Hofstra’s season was likewise going out the window after a 2-4 start in the CAA. But now, with a little more than a couple of weeks left before Tournament Time, increased balance, solid defense and rebounding, and Jenkins leading the way, could have the Pride finishing February strong and possibly making some noise in March.