HOFSTRA 54, WILLIAM & MARY 44
HOFSTRA SEASON RECORDS: 12-7, 4-4 CAA
PLACE IN CAA STANDINGS: tied for 6th
JENKINS SEASON AVERAGES: 16.8 pts, 4.7 reb, 3.7 ast, 3.5 to
Maybe guys were still tired from staying up late, watching all of the historical Inauguration Day festivities from the night before. Whatever the cause, the first half of Wednesday night's meeting between the Tribe and the Pride was probably historical in its own right, but not for something positive as with the previous day's events in the nation's capital. No, this was a game of note for offensive futility in the opening 20 minutes. Well, actually, no one at the game was able to confirm for me if history was made for the lowest scoring half in the CAA, but I'm pretty sure it was at least the lowest scoring for The Mack Sports Complex (at least the lowest I've ever seen since attending nearly every game in that arena since the day it opened just over 9 years ago), with just 32 total points scored in the opening half.
An an assist from Charles Jenkins helped Greg Johnson make a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Pride up 5-2, 4:53 in. But, after JUCO guard Tony Dennison's free throw gave Hofstra an 8-6 lead with 12:19 left in the half, the Pride went scoreless for the next 9 minutes before Jenkins made a free throw with 3:18 left, igniting a personal 5-0 run that pulled Hofstra within 14-13. Jenkins helped extend the run to 7-0, assisting on forward Greg Washington's jumper with :39.6 left, before William & Mary's Quinn McDowell made a top-of-the-key three in the final seconds of the half, putting the Tribe up 17-15 at halftime.
In the first half, William & Mary shot just 26 percent (6-for-23), committing 8 turnovers; Hofstra committed 9 turnovers and shot only 25 percent (6-for-24).
Hofstra Head Coach Tom Pecora, who had plenty to say in the postgame, thought the team was flat in the first half. "Guys are not playing to their potential," he said. "You can't come in with 15 points in a half no matter who you're playing against. You have to bear down. You have to have pride in the way you play. You can't make a lazy pass, you can't not run through a cut, you can't miss a free throw [you should make]. We were thinking way too much in the first half. You just have to play with your instincts, get the ball to certain spots on the floor, and just make basketball plays, and we did that in the second half."
That was just the first of many comments from Pecora in the 15-minute postgame press conference (they normally last about half that time), who at its conclusion, joked, "That was the longest press conference I've ever done." Mine too, other than when I was a freelance reporter, covering the Patriots' win at Giants Stadium to go 16-0 last season. As usual though, it was worth sticking around for Pecora's insight.
I noticed Jenkins being very tentative in this game, seemingly deferring to teammates. That's fine (Pecora agreed), but he shouldn't go from one extreme (shooting too much) to the other. It's still about finding the right balance this season for the young but talented sophomore, who seemed to be back to his normally aggressive self in Hofstra's last game, a win over Northeastern.
Although Jenkins didn't shoot poorly in the first half (2 for-5), he mostly hung out on the perimeter, and didn't take a shot until he missed an open right-wing three-point 9:25 into the game. During that 5-0 run I mentioned above, Jenkins finally started to be a lot more aggressive, putting his head down, getting to the hoop with assertiveness.
The earlier passiveness by his best player had bothered Pecora. He said of Jenkins, "He was driving me crazy. I told him, 'If you're not going to play, I'll play someone else.' It's crazy. I'm telling him shoot more, drive the ball, make plays."
When I asked Pecora the reason for Jenkins laying back so much, he amusingly responded, "I don't know, I should be sitting on the couch and you should be getting paid $200 an hour." That would be fine with me, but since that isn't going to happen, I stuck with my reporter role and heard Pecora continue, "I don't now, and it's unacceptable, and it's something I gotta talk to him about because by him getting in the lane, he gets [his teammates] shots. And, when shots go up, our forwards get offensive rebounds. It confuses defenses and gets defenses all skewed."
Jenkins got the message from his coach at halftime, scoring 8 points on 2 of 6 shooting in the second half, to finish with 13 points, taking all 6 of those second-half shots in the first 9:30 of the half before leaving after a hard fall on a driving attempt in the lane. The word was that Jenkins stayed out because of a leg cramp suffered on that play. Jenkins didn't return until 3:25 later and didn't attempt a shot in the final 6:05, but he didn't need to that's two Hofstra second and third leading scorers (behind Jenkins), JUCO guards Cornelius Vines and Dennison, putting the game away while Jenkins was out.
First it was Dennison, with Hofstra up 31-29, and Jenkins recovering on the bench. Dennison went on a personal 8-0 run (8 of his 10 points in the game). He crashed the boards hard, just wanting the ball more than everyone, as a 6-3 guard (like Jenkins). That ultimately led to a Dennison three-pointer on that trip. He hit a another trey on the next possession, before making another jumper and assisting on a Greg Johnson jumper, helping Hofstra to a 41-29 lead.
Pecora said Dennison is beginning to play with more of an edge lately, saying "I yelled at [Tony] because he was smiling. I want him to have fun too, but when you're competing, you [should be] smiling on the inside but still growling on the outside. But, he is playing with more of an edge, not as much of an edge as I want him to, but we're a work in progress."
Dennison was happy to fill that role. "I knew somebody had to pick up the slack [with Charles out]," he said. "And, it had to be me or Cornelius."
The pesky, disciplined Tribe then responded with an 8-0 run. "They're a good basketball team," Pecora said. "They're a lot better than 1-7 [in the CAA]. "They're Princeton. I thought we did a good job of bearing down on them, getting stops, and getting out and getting some easy baskets. In the second half, we shot 46 percent because of that."
It was then Vines' turn to be the go-to guy and once again, give Hofstra the separation it needed. After a Jenkins free throw made it 42-37 with 4:44 left, Vines went on an 7-0 run of his own, making a free throw, before hitting a couple of big threes to put Hofstra up 51-37 with 2:40 left, and the Pride were never threatened the rest of the way. Vines scored all 15 of his team-high points after halftime.
After the game, Pecora, sitting at the media postgame conference table flanked by Vines and Dennison, spoke of the importance of Jenkins receiving some help. He said, "I love Charles Jenkins, but it's nice to be here with people other than him. That means we got a little bit more balance. I spoke to Corn about playing with a little more discipline. When he's locked in and gets good looks from three, he extends the floor and extends defenses. "When [he and Dennison] do that, they get Charles off the hook.
"It's been crazy," Pecora added. In the games Charles doesn't score 20, we haven't won. Tonight, we did, because we got balance with Cornelius and Tony."
Actually, Hofstra has won e decent amount of those games, but the point is correct. Hofstra is an impressive 6-1 when Jenkins goes for 20 or more, and just a .500 team (6-6) when Jenkins is held under 20 points.
The win was big for Hofstra. After 2-4 start in the CAA, two straight conference home wins give the Pride a .500 record in the conference, and stay within just a game of the chase for the all-important four seed and final first-round bye awarded in the CAA tournament, in March.
Pecora continued with more during the postgame conference...
On Dennison's performance, Pecora said:
"That's the Tony Dennison I recruited, when I saw him play at junior college the last two years, down in Florida [at Broward CC]. He was that aggressive, he was making spectacular scoring plays."
On recruiting JUCO guys at Hofstra compared to when Pecora coached as an assistant at UNLV early in his career:
"When we recruit junior college guys, we start tracking them in their freshman year, to make sure they're taking the right classes, so they can be able to get here. When I was at Vegas, a kid could have meatpacking, that was four credits, and that was good by us." Pecora believes it's important to have a certain mix of young talent recruited as freshmen (like Jenkins) and mature upperclassmen via the JUCO route, to win games at times, the way Vines and Dennison did on Wednesday night.
And, on the potential of his team, pushing his players to be their best, and seeing the results pay off, as Pecora witnessed in the second half of the Wednesday night's win:
"We haven't had a game yet where everyone's played their 'A' game. I'm waiting for it, and when it happens, we're going to be able to beat anybody."
"All you want as a coach, as a teacher, is for guys to reach their potential. It's the same as when I was teaching high school, and you have a kid who's smart as a whip and he's just getting C's, because he's just going through the motions. The kid who busts his ass to get a C, you're very proud of. But, we don't have any 'C' players on this team, we have all guys who should be playing at a higher level [than that] and that's the most frustrating thing for me as a coach, is to see guys with potential, [not meeting it]."
"If you don't push yourself out of your comfort zone to be a great athlete, you're never going to be a great one. I can't coach effort all the time. They have to take ownership. The expression we use all the time is 'Get out of yourself and get into your team.' And, they aren't selfish guys, but at 18, 19, 20, 21, who wasn't [selfish] by nature?"
"They came out in the second half and played the way I thought they were capable of playing."