Game 28: Vines Bails Out Jenkins, Hofstra
by jjwagner
 Hofstra Star Charles Jenkins' Sophomore Season
Feb 21, 2009 | 8657 views | 0 0 comments | 134 134 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
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SAT 02/21/09

HOFSTRA 61, FAIRFIELD 56

HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 19-9, 10-6 CAA

PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 4th

JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 18.6 pts, 4.9 reb, 4.1 ast, 3.4 to

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The annual ESPN Bracket Buster, as originally established, was a great idea. For one weekend down the stretch of the college basketball regular season, it moved the national spotlight, cast primarily on the big conferences (like the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-10) all season, to instead shine on mid-major conference teams that often don’t get noticed on such a level until they later upset some of the big conference schools in the NCAA Tournament.

With only 18 teams participating, the Bracket Buster was perfect when introduced in 2003. However, the instant success of the Bracket Buster is paradoxically what has also taken away from the event. The pool swelled to 46 teams in 2004, to 64 teams in 2005, to a ridiculous 100 teams in 2006, and (for added silliness) to 102 teams this year.

Hofstra and Fairfield were two of those teams on Saturday. Like most of this year’s Bracket Buster participants, the Pride’s trip to Bridgeport, CT to play the Stags (15-12, 8-8 MAAC) mostly represented a temporary inconvenient break in conference play for a Hofstra team which has its sights set elsewhere.

The original idea of the Bracket Buster for a team like Hofstra was that beating a top non-conference team late in the regular season might help sway the NCAA Tournament selection committee enough to choose a team like the Pride from a mid-major conference like the CAA over a middle-of-the-pack Big East team like Cincinnati (17-10, 7-7 in the much tougher Big East this year).

That’s great, IF you’re a TOP mid-major, maybe…one of the top 18, as in 2003?

Of the 9 Bracket Buster winners (if things were still done as they were six years ago), maybe as many as 4 or 5 teams would earn an at-large bid with a Bracket Buster win putting them over the top if they would fail to win their mid-major conference tournaments.

But, with 51teams now winning Bracket Busters and only 34 at-large spots to fill, with historically a mid-single digit number of at-larges going to mid-majors, there’s no point for most mid-major teams taking part (other than the point with anything that doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface…money, of course, as in the extra money ESPN and its television affiliates make from growing the Bracket Buster to absurdity).

As Hofstra Head Coach Tom Pecora said after his Pride rallied to beat Fairfield, 61-56, on Saturday, “Well, that’s a Bracket Buster. I don’t know what bracket we’re busting…”

Pecora knows Hofstra’s victory over Fairfield didn’t even secure an NIT bid let alone have any effect whatsoever on being invited to the NCAA tournament should Hofstra fail to win the CAA Tournament next month to get qualify for the Big Dance via an automatic bid.

When asked if beating the Stags helped in earning an NIT bid, Pecora quickly dismissed the idea, saying “No, we’re trying to get to the NCAA.” Pecora now hopes, with a first-round bye at stake with just two regular season games (both in the CAA) remaining, is that playing in a virtually meaningless Bracket Buster doesn’t slow his team’s momentum after a five-game conference winning streak which helped Hofstra go from merely a mediocre 6-6 in the CAA to a very solid 10-6, surging from the depths of a 2-4 start in the CAA.

I say “virtually” meaningless when describing Hofstra’s win because there still WAS some usefulness in the Pride’s victory.

Selfishly, I enjoyed the trip, using the 7pm game at The Arena At Harbor Yard in Bridgeport to make a day of it, catching the Harlem Globetrotters for the first time in many years. They played at 1pm and were actually a lot more amusing (with some funny and cool new stuff added to the old favorites), than I expected. And, I recommend the nearby Barnum Museum (commemorating the life of P.T. Barnum) and Black Rock Oyster Bar & Grill (in Fairfield). But, you probably don’t care about that stuff, so back to the Pride...

There were five positives that came from Hofstra’s visit to the Constitution State, the last four of which could help the Pride in achieving the their goal of making the NCAA tournament in a way that its Bracket Buster win over Fairfield couldn’t:

1) Pecora feels a certain obligation to have Hofstra carry the mantle of keeping New York City area basketball strong...

That’s why he often recruits and schedules locally. “It was a pleasure to be able to play an hour from home, and it’s a great series,” he said” We’re excited about having Fairfield back at our place next year. We already play Iona and Manhattan every year, we play Fordham, St. Francis, hopefully, we’ll be back to playing St. John’s next year. So, there’s a lot of local, New York [City area] teams that we want to play, and Fairfield is one of them.” Hofstra and Fairfield tried to schedule each other this year but it didn’t work out with the dates because of each team playing early-season tournaments, with the Pride in Charleston and the Stags in Puerto Rico, but the Bracket Buster took care of that.

Now, to the more important three items, in terms of what’s left for this season…

2) The NFL isn’t the only league in which coaches copy what other teams do…

“They run great stuff,” Pecora said of the Stags. “I said to my guys, they ran a great zone cut against us, we gotta run that cut. So, I’ll go back and look at the tape and steal that. That’s what we do as coaches.”

3) When Jenkins struggles with his shot, he is a complete enough basketball player to do other things to help his team win…

At the postgame press conference, Pecora said, “I'm all alone up here, I'm not accustomed to being up here without Jenkins.” That’s how often Jenkins is a main part of any time Hofstra plays well and wins. Although, not that Jenkins needs it, because he usually says all of the right things and leads well by example (as Hofstra’s captain despite being the youngest player on the team), Pecora joked of Jenkins’ absence at the postgame conference table, “It’ll do some good, it'll keep him humble.” A couple of different factors led to Jenkins’ struggles on Saturday: one was the absence of point guard Greg Johnson, who despite a lot of limitations, makes Hofstra’s offense flow better when he’s on the floor. Johnson, who was out with a sore shoulder, meant that Jenkins had to assume point guard responsibilities instead of being able to focus on his scoring, slashing self. Throw in Jenkins having to expend a lot of energy on defense in a Queens-Brooklyn showdown, trying to stop former Bishop Loughlin High school star, 5-9 guard Herbie Allen, and it became a rough shooting night for Hofstra’s leading scorer. Jenkins ended up with a team-high tying 13 points, but that output came on just 4 of 17 shooting from the floor, about equally as poor in each half (from the field, Jenkins shot 2-for-8 In the first half and made just 2 of 9 in the second half). He also had trouble stopping Allen. Pecora said of Fairfield, “They shoot the ball very well, they were very well-prepared for everything that we do.” Allen was one of those players who shot well for the Stags, scoring all 9 of his first-half points in the first 5:55 of the game, burning Jenkins for 3 three-pointers to help Fairfield to a 13-3 lead… But, forward Zygis Sestokas, who has averaged 12.3 ppg over the past 4 games, on the strength 60 percent (15-for-25) shooting from three-point range over that span, went a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc to lead the Pride with 9 points in the opening half, as rallied to led 27-23 at the break. “Zyggy Sestokas again, by shooting 4-of-6 from three,” Pecora said, “Really created some space on the floor, and Charles Jenkins didn't have one of his best nights, but just about every other night this year, [he has], so he's allowed to have a night off on occasion, I guess.” Despite being off target, Jenkins’ two makes in the first half also helped bring Hofstra back, as he worked with forward Darren Townes. With the Pride down 21-14, Jenkins very patiently waited and communicated with just a nod and a look for Townes to set a high screen at the top of the key. That freed Jenkins up enough to make his first shot with a toe on the three-point line to cut the Pride’s deficit to 21-16 with 5:55 to go in the half. It worked once, so why not try it again? On the next possession, same exact thing. The nod and look, the step out by Townes, opening up Jenkins to hit a top-of-the-key three to bring Hofstra to within 21-19 with 5:15 left in the half. The duo tried it a third time on the next possession. Same spot, again a good look, but that time, Jenkins missed a little long. But, that was enough to get his team going and help Hofstra rally to its halftime lead. And, in the second half, Jenkins found other ways to lead without his shots falling, handing out 6 assists while limiting mistakes. “We had a lot of turnovers in the first half,” Pecora said (well, it just seemed worse; Hofstra actually had just one more in the first half, committing 9 of it’s 17 for the game in the opening 20 minutes). But, he was right about Jenkins taking better care of the ball in the second half and finding Sestokas throughout the game, saying “In the second half, Charles only had one [turnover]. He had four at the half, and he had nine assists again. With Zyggy on the floor, all of a sudden Charles’ assist numbers are going up because there’s somebody out there who’s making some shots.”

4) Hofstra is remains resilient and continues to win close games…

Pecora noted of his team, “We’ve had great success late in games, in close games this year.” The win pushed Hofstra’s record to 12-2 this season in games decided by five points or less. A big reason for that is the Pride’s resiliency. Three big runs against Fairfield decided the game… Jenkins’ aforementioned jumper which put Hofstra ahead capped an 11-0 run. Later, down 33-29, in the second half, the Pride responded with a 9-0 run to lead 38-33, after Jenkins made two free throws which were awarded after Allen threw the ball away in protest to a call (it was funny in a way; the ref T’d Allen up late, only after Allen had a look as if he knew what he did and didn’t really mean it, but it was too late to take it back). Then, down 51-45 with 4:19 left in the game, Hofstra again rallied with a 10-0 run to lead 55-51, with :37.4 remaining.

5) The Pride saw the latest example that on the infrequent occasion when Charles Jenkins isn’t at his best either offensively or defensively, the Pride is deep enough to have guys come off the bench, and step right in to save the day…

Besides being the best rebounding team and one of the best defensive teams in the CAA, another key strength for Hofstra in the conference is its depth. If the Pride make a run to a CAA Tournament title, it could be its depth that carries it there. Jenkins more often than not be able to lead his team, which will win, with enough complimentary contributions. But, the one night, the one half, or even the one key stretch that Jenkins is keyed on and shut down by an opposing defense, will be the time when others really will have to step up. At times this season, Hofstra has seen that from a number of different players. What was refreshing about Saturday’s game is that the help came from Cornelius Vines, a former starter who through lack of production, had been relegated to the bench as bench players like swingman Nathaniel Lester and Sestokas took a lot of Vines minutes as they have stepped up their games in recent weeks. Yet, Vines showed a lot of character, stepping in after a long stretch of relative inactivity, on both ends of the floor, and really, being the main reason Hofstra was able to pull out its fifth straight win. “Making shots on this team is really doing a good job. As a team we shoot like 38 percent for the year. If you can make shot and you guard a little bit, I’ll put you on the floor,“ Pecora said. Vines certainly did both. With Allen beating Jenkins (who played all 40 minutes) for 12 points on four three’s, Pecora brought Vines in to check Allen with 8:28 left in the game. “We made that switch because Charles gets worn down, he’s chasing around Herbie, and we know Herbie from the city, he’s a Loughlin kid, he came to our teen camp, we’ve known him a long time. There’s a long history of every time we play against kids form New York that we didn’t take or didn’t come [to play at Hofstra] or whatever, they always play very well. I though {Vines] did a good job of containing [Allen] a little bit and making him work a little bit harder.” As much of a key factor Vines stopping Allen was, it was the clutch shooting of Vines late in the game which was most noticed as the difference maker in the game. Earlier, Hofstra was having trouble with Fairfield’s zone. Pecora thought the Pride beat the zone over the top, but realized that Hofstra simply wasn’t shooting the ball well enough to accomplish that. “We’re not that good a shooting team,” he said. “Even if you are a good shooting team, you have to attack it inside out.” Thus, in the first half, he went to 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward Dane Johnson, who I personally call the “Black Hole” because when the ball goes into him, it’s a very safe bet it’s NEVER coming back out again. Sure enough, he tried to force his way to the hoop, putting the ball on the floor first, and as he often does lately, turned it over or forced a bad shot. Pecora said, “Every gray hair I have on my head I can blame on Dane Johnson this year. I love him, but why would you bring the ball down when you’re that big?” Pecora admitted that Johnson’s mere presence was beneficial, however. “Getting the ball into Dane helped soften up the zone and helped create some gaps for us to drive the ball.” Even more effective with Vines in over the final 8½ minutes though, was attacking Fairfield’s zone 1-3-1 zone with diagonal passes, which led to Vines knocking down some big shots. Vines scored 13 points playing only 13 minutes, scoring all 13 in the final 8:18 of the game. Jenkins assisted on the first of Vines’ 3 three-pointers down the stretch, cutting the Fairfield lead to 45-44, but the Stags went up 51-45. Jenkins again found Vines though, and the JUCO junior guard knocked down another triple, to pull the Pride to within 51-48 with 4:05 remaining. Lester then made 3 of 4 free throws to tie the game, 51-51, with 2:32 left. Vines then hit one last three-pointer, spotting up on the left wing, once again assisted by Jenkins, giving Hofstra the lead for good, 54-41, with :56.4 left. Two free throws by Vines gave the Pride a 57-53 lead, but Fairfield got to within 57-56 on a three with :23.2 to go. Jenkins then sank two free throws to put Hofstra up 59-56, with :21.8 remaining. Allen then had a great chance to score but blew an easy layup attempt. He chased down the offensive rebound on the weak side, but Vines came up with a huge steal. He was fouled and made two more clutch free throws for the final margin of 61-56. Not it mattered anymore after that point, but fittingly, Vines forced Allen into one final miss from three-point range and then pulled down the final rebound of the game.

Also fitting is that Vines’ game-winning three-pointer made Hofstra exactly 40.0 percent (18-for-45) from the field. Why fitting? Because with that shot, and with the win, the Pride is now a perfect 12-0 when shooting at least 40 percent this season. When it shoots under 40 percent? A drastically different, mediocre 7-9.

With Vines now coming off the bench to contribute, Sestokas knocking down shots, and several others, including Lester, playing main roles to supplement Jenkins, Pecora has two regular season games left to not only have his team fight for seeding, but to continue to peak at just the right time heading into the CAA Tournament. One of the biggest keys on that front is getting Lester, who has emerged as the most consistent 2nd guy to Jenkins, to not only keep playing well, but to play smarter. With :36.7 left, and Hofstra up only 55-52, Lester committed an ill-advised over-the-back foul trying for an offensive rebound. As the players walked to the other end of the court for Fairfield to shoot free throws, Pecora immediately called Lester over to lecture him. In reference to his earlier comment about Dane Johnson, Pecora said of the talented but not-yet-refined Lester, “That’s where all the other gray hairs come from. He competes so hard but he’s got to understand time and score and those [types of] things. And, then he leaves a guy open for a three. So, he does good things at one end but then not so much at the other. That stuff is coaching. That’s a reflection of him not understanding some of the things that we do every day in practice and I’ve got to find a creative way to get him to understand that.”

Hofstra fans should have faith that Pecora will be able to do that if recent trends are any indication. During the Pride’s resurgence, Pecora has pushed most of the right buttons, like knowing when to send Dennison and Vines to the bench in favor of Lester and Sestokas; or when to re-establish Vines to have him pull out Saturday’s win; or when to attack with a press on UNCW’s Chad Tomko, resulting in a great defensive play and pass by Dennison for a game-winner on January 28th; or knowing when to use Townes and forward Arminas Urbutis at the right times to allow them to be more effective of late.

As a result, the Pride, at 9-2 in its past 11 games, are the hottest team in the closest race in Division I college basketball (the CAA is the only Division I conference with more than five teams within two games of first place). Hofstra will look to finish strong, with games at Georgia State (10-18, 7-9 CAA) on Wednesday, before returning home on Saturday, for Senior Day, against UNCW (7-22, 3-13 CAA). Win out, and a little help, and Hofstra might get a first-round bye. After Wednesday’s game, I’ll recap all possible CAA seeding scenarios that affect Hofstra heading into Saturday’s final day of the CAA regular season.

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