HOFSTRA 99, JAMES MADISON 96 (2OT)
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 18-9, 10-6 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 4th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 18.8 pts, 5.0 reb, 4.0 ast, 3.4 to
Usually, a picture is worth a thousand words.
But, if you missed Hofstra’s wild 99-96 double overtime victory over CAA rival James Madison (17-11, 9-7 CAA) at The Mack Sports Complex in Hempstead on Wednesday night, the verbiage of Charles Jenkins and Pride Head Coach Tom Pecora put a big win into proper perspective, while painting a much bigger picture for their team’s season.
“Even though we won, that’s not how we play. We base our team on defense, rebounding, and running,” said Jenkins, while Pecora called the important conference triumph “fool’s gold.”
More than any time all season, Hofstra’s offense was clicking, led by Jenkins, who scored a game-high-tying 32 points, just a point short of the career-high 33 he posted at North Carolina-Wilmington on January 28th. Jenkins played perhaps the best game of his college career offensively, shooting a sizzling 11-for-16 from the floor, making 10 of 12 free throws, grabbing 7 rebounds, and handing out most of Hofstra’s 20 assists, tallying a career-high 13 (shattering the old mark of 9 assists set against Fordham on December 3rd), while committing just 4 turnovers.
With Jenkins guiding his team, the Pride shot 54 percent (35-for-65) from the field for the game, the first time it reached at least 50 percent all season, including a blistering 68 percent (21-for-31) after halftime.
And, of course, Hofstra won, rallying from a 24-17 first-half deficit. So, what was the problem?
Well, as Pecora and Jenkins pointed out, Hofstra was forced to beat JMU (and nearly didn’t) at the Dukes’ own game, rather than imposing its will and its own style on JMU.
“We played JMU Basketball instead of Hofstra Basketball. That’s exactly how they want to play. We want the game in the 60’s,” Pecora said.
Well, actually, the game WAS in the 60’s in regulation, and scoring-wise, it was almost a carbon copy of the first meeting between the two teams, a 69-68 Hofstra win, back on January 24th. Wednesday night’s game was very similarly tied at 67-67 going into overtime, and JMU led both games by the identical halftime score of 34-30.
However, Pecora’s message was accurate. Hofstra Basketball, as Jenkins intimated, has been predicated on (in addition to getting Jenkins to at least 20 points) playing solid team defense and rebounding. Yet, JMU shot a consistent 46 percent (at least 6-8 percent higher than Hofstra is used to allowing), going 11-24 from the floor in each of the first two halves, en route to finishing 51 percent (30-for-59) for the game.
Obviously, none of that pleased Pecora, who said “It was a gutty win [but] we played Hofstra Basketball for [only] about eight minutes in the second half and that’s what allowed us to catch up and then take the lead. But, I am not going to coach a team that runs up and down the floor and let’s the other team score. I’ll caddy and bartend before I do that.”
Understandable frustration, but with Hofstra at 18-9 and 10-6 in the CAA, and right in the mix for a crucial top seed and first-round CAA tournament bye, Pecora doesn’t appear to be carrying golf clubs are taking tips at your local pub any time soon.
Imagine what Pecora might have thought had his team lost.
Thankfully for the Pride, Jenkins received a lot of help to make sure that didn’t happen. While Jenkins scored a game-high 12 points in the first half, making 6 of 8 shots from the field, fellow sophomore swingman Nathaniel Lester (Canarsie High School) nearly had a double-double in the opening half, scoring 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor, while pulling down 8 boards to keep Hofstra within striking distance.
In the second half, while Jenkins scored a team-high 10 points and Lester added another 9 points, a pair of senior forwards, JUCO transfer Darren Townes (season-high 15 points, 6-7 fg) and Zygis Sestokas (career-high 19 points, 7-11 fg, 5-8 three-point fg) each scored 8 points in the second half to pace Hofstra to the biggest lead of the game, 53-45, with 7:49 left in the second half, outscoring JMU 23-11 after halftime to that point.
That’s when Hofstra became especially lax on the defensive end of the floor, allowing 51 points over the final 17:49 of the game (including two overtime periods).
“Our goal was to lock them up and we didn’t do it,” Pecora said. “We got up eight and we thought we had the game won, and we didn’t guard them, they made shots, and they tied the game and we had to gut it out in overtime.”
JMU forward Kyle Swanston (11 points) made consecutive three-pointers, scoring 8 points during a 12-4 run that pulled the Dukes even, 57-57, with 4:15 left in regulation.
Jenkins set up his teammates though, to bring the Pride back, driving and kicking to Sestokas for a three-pointer to put Hofstra up 60-57, before later, feeding Townes for a powerful dunk as part of a three-point play that put Hofstra up 65-62, with 2:07 left in the second half.
Perhaps more than in any other game this season, Jenkins did an outstanding job of playing in control and not forcing tough shots, while getting the ball to his teammates in spots where they could make shots. The star guard credits the recent work that Pecora has done with him in that regard. “Coach always tells me to get in the lane. I don’t always have to make shots, [but] make plays,” Jenkins said. He added, “He tells me to play hard but be patient at the same time, and by doing that, I was able to see the floor.
Part of that development is Pecora teaching Jenkins through studying video of top NBA guards like Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, and other top guards in the college ranks. Jenkins said, “Coach let’s me see films of the top guards in the nation and recently, I’ve been watching [Pittsburgh’s] Levance Fields a lot, how he handles double teams a lot and how he’s able to make decisions, and I watch how he’s able to handle pressure in the Big East and I was able to see things a lot different tonight and I was more patient on the court.”
Although Jenkins helped get others involved, JMU freshman forward Julius Wells, wouldn’t let his Dukes go down easily. Wells
scored 8 first half points making 5 of 6 at the foul line, but he connected on only 1 of 6 shots from the floor in that half. He was on fire the rest of the way however, finishing with 32 points, making 10 of his final 14 attempts from the field.
Wells tied the game, 65-65, on a left-wing three-pointer with 1:58 remaining in the second half. Jenkins then made a beautiful drive through some tough traffic, to put the Pride back up, 67-65, with 1:16 to go, but Wells answered again, tying the game, 67-67, on a layup with :55.6 left.
Hofstra then survived regulation after a Jenkins turnover in the backcourt led to two missed shots and a block by Townes in the final seconds, causing Pecora to later reflect on his team’s defensive lapses late in the second half, particularly that of Lester, despite Lester finishing with a career-high 22 points on and a career-high-tying 11 rebounds.
Just before his postgame opening statement to the press, Pecora told Lester, sitting to his left, “If you didn’t give up four three’s, we would have ended this thing in regulation.” When Lester responded with a slight smile, “Pecora replied, “I’m serious.”
Lester seemed to be just a little annoyed with that, thinking he had played a good game, and Pecora recognized Lester’s offensive game, saying “Offensively, Nathaniel did a good job, getting another double-double, but he’s gotten to the point where he’s elevated his game to where he gets 22 points and 11 rebounds and I’m mad at him.”
“I think that speaks in volumes,” he continued, “Because I expect more from him, especially at the defensive end… “He’s playing within his basketball skin. He’s doing things he can do. He’s not trying to do things he doesn’t do well. He’s playing within himself, and we smartened up to a certain degree, and we’re getting him the ball in certain spots on the floor that are allowing him to be successful. He’s just a player, he can play three different positions, the 2, 3, or 4 for us… and that’s a great weapon to have… “He’s just got to get used to me yelling at him sometimes. That’ll come.”
The coach’s earlier criticisms were warranted and were simply the result of trying to make his team see the bigger picture.
Though Pecora is happy with any win, he said “I’m coaching to win a CAA championship.”
Jenkins appears to have the same hunger whether or not Hofstra can earn a coveted first-round bye in next month’s CAA tournament, saying “There hasn’t been a championship around here in a long time, and no matter where we are in the standings, we not only want to get there, but win.”
On Lester, Pecora repeated an often-used mantra from the days of former Hofstra stars Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio, saying “With greatness, comes responsibility.”
“Now you know how Charles feels,” Pecora said to Lester, “Because Charles goes out and gets 25 points] and I bring him in the office and I yell at him because I see what he can be.”
In the first overtime, Jenkins scored 5 points, making 3 of 4 free throws before hitting a layup, to give Hofstra a seemingly comfortable 78-71 lead with 1:40 left, but Wells again brought JMU back, making a layup to bring the Dukes to within 80-77, and making another layup, tying the score at 81-81, with :33.4 remaining. Hofstra then held for the final shot. Jenkins had an opportunity to drive but pulled up at the top of the key and hit guard Corenelius Vines on the right wing, but Vines missed a three-pointer, and time expired on the ensuing loose ball, forcing a second overtime.
That set the stage for the heroics of Sestokas, who had been buried on the bench most of the season until recently becoming a significant part of the offense over the past five games.
While heating up, Sestokas said he felt the same as usual. “Every game, I’m feeling the same, I guess, but sometimes it goes in, sometimes not,” he said.
Despite averaging just 12.3 minutes per game and missing 9 of Hofstra’s 27 games this season, the Lithuanian sharp-shooter had no problem staying on the floor for a career-high 43 minutes.
Hofstra was without point guard Greg Johnson for most of the game (he played just 7 minutes due to a first-half shoulder injury) and Greg Washington missed the entire game with the flu, but Pecora recognized Sestokas along with those two as being three of the best-conditioned players on the team. Pecora said, “Zyggy, and Greg Johnson, and Greg Washington, can just run and run and run. They just don’t get tired. They’re in tremendous shape.”
Realizing the importance of Hofstra’s stretch run this time of year, Sestokas added “We’re not allowed to be tired right now.”
And, he certainly wasn’t as he was locked in a fierce shooting duel with Wells in the final extra session. A Wells layup put JMU ahead 86-83, capping a 5-0 Dukes’ run, but Sestokas tied the game, 86-86, with a left wing three-pointer on an assist from Jenkins.
Wells and Sestokas then traded three-pointers, to tie the game for the 11th and final time, 89-89, with 1:54 left in the game. With 1:10 to go, Sestokas made a right-wing three to put Hofstra up for good, 92-90, before a heads-up play by Jenkins which all but iced the game. Jenkins stole an inbounds pass to the left of the Hofstra basket, and alertly turned and fired up court to a breaking Lester who made a shaky but successful layup for a 94-90 Hofstra lead with :42.3 remaining.
After a 30-second timeout, Townes committed an ill-advised foul, causing Jenkins to act like the captain he is, grabbing Townes by the jersey and getting in the senior’s ear. Jenkins later said, “I told him to just contain and contest without fouling, and I was a little upset with him, I was telling him it was a bad play and we needed him on the floor, but you live and you learn.”
Wells made it interesting with yet another three-pointer with :05.6 left, cutting the Pride’s lead to 98-96. Senior forward Mike Davis-Saab scored his only point of the game, making a free throw after missing one, and then having a second miss wiped out by a JMU lane violation with :03.5 left.
JMU had one last chance but missed a very long, contested, desperation three-pointer as time expired on what ended up being the highest-scoring game in the 10-year history of The Mack Sports Complex (ironically, the previous highs for points by one team, and combined points for two teams, were in Hofstra’s 95-88 triple overtime win February 9, 2005).
Jenkins admitted that the game was entertaining (even to play in) but was in line with Pecora’s view of it. Of the 56 college games he’s played in, Jenkins said “This was the most exciting, but [the] best game? Nah, because we didn’t play like we were capable of playing. We’ve played better games.”
Hofstra next has a chance to do that on Saturday, but not within the conference. With the Pride winning 8 of its past 10 games, Pecora would probably rather not travel to MAAC member Fairfield for Saturday evening’s ESPN Bracketbuster game in favor of continuing Hofstra’s push toward gaining the best seeding possible for the CAA tournament. Chuckling a bit, Pecora said of the Bracketbuster game, which almost certainly won’t help Hofstra get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, “It is what it is, it's Bracketbuster on Saturday.”
Jenkins had a slightly different take, saying “Every game, whether we win or lose, we watch film and learn from our mistakes, so it gives us another chance to play out different scenarios that could possibly happen when we’re in the [CAA tournament].”
With so much parity in the CAA this year, Pecora believes that tournament “is gonna be a wild one.”
If it’s anything like Wednesday night’s JMU-Hofstra game, it will be.
Jenkins’ 32 points against JMIU gives him 944 career points. With 3 regular season games remaining, if Jenkins maintains his current average of 18.8 ppg, he will become the first sophomore ever at Hofstra to reach 1,000 points during the regular season of a sophomore year (Hofstra’s all-time leading scorer, Antoine Agudio, reached that mark as a sophomore, but not until the CAA Tournament.