We learned a lot this weekend, mainly that the fight for seeding (below Northeastern) is going to be a doozy. It was certainly nice to see Hofstra play a terrific second half in Wilmington, and outscore C by 19 in the second half. Don’t sleep on Mo Cassara’s team in Richmond – when you’ve got two talented guards, and guys that rebound the ball and play defense, you’ll have a shot.
This is long overdue, but it’s time to start hailing Joel Smith as a CAA Player of the Year candidate – not just a candidate, but probably a Top-3 contender. He’s the best player on the best team in the league.
His statistics are impressive, but not overly gaudy – he’s averaging 17 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game – but it’s the way he’s doing it that makes it so impressive.
Smith is shooting 48.9% from the field, which makes him the only guard in the CAA’s top 10 in field goal percentage. He routinely sits back and let’s his teammates do the scoring, before turning it on in the final minutes and leading the Huskies to victory. Last week against Hofstra, he hit a trio of 3s during the deciding run that put Northeastern up for good. Against Old Dominion, Smith routinely slashed through the Monarch defenders and got to the line, where he made 12-of-13 free throws. His 86.5% shooting from the charity stripe leads the CAA.
I originally discounted Smith because I expected that his numbers would be hurt by Jon Lee’s return. That in no way disregards Lee’s contributions – Northeastern is 12-3 with Lee in the lineup – but is truly a compliment to Smith. He scored 19 against Hofstra and a game-high 27 against Old Dominion. We’ll find out any minute who will be this week’s CAA Player of the Week, and my guess is Joel Smith.
It seems the tides could be turning for Monarch Nation. Key word – could. I don’t want to jump the gun too early because after all, it’s only been two games. But after breaking down those two games, it’s easy to see that this isn’t the same Old Dominion squad.
First, interim coach Jim Corrigan and company took down a talented Drexel squad on the road. Pretty impressive, but then came CAA leader Northeastern. 10-1 vs. 1-10 conference records, but this new-look ODU squad was not intimidated by its impressive opponent.
What would follow would be one of the better games the CAA community has witnessed all season. It was close throughout, and the end was the type to keep you on the edge of your seat. After a back and forth battle throughout the last minute, freshman Aaron Bacote executed a spectacular drive-and-dish to DeShawn Painter, who got the lay-in to send the game to overtime. Joel Smith took control in the extra period, and sealed a 79-74 Northeastern win.
Dimitri Batten channeled his inner-Kobe, attempting 20 shots on the night. He connected on nine of them, and collected a career-high 25 points. DeShawn Painter put on a performance that we’ve learned to expect over the course of the season, 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Despite the Monarchs’ impressive performances, they weren’t be enough to top Northeastern’s Joel Smith’s game-high 27 points on just 10 attempts from the field. He’s been the go-to man for the Huskies on offense this season as he’s been one of their top-two scorers in the last nine games.
A couple of telling stats from the game: the Huskies shot 86% from the charity stripe (25-of-29). The other was that the Monarchs connected on just 3.8% of their three-point attempts (1-of-26).
It’s safe to say no one doubts these Huskies. They still sit atop the CAA, and it would take a catastrophic fall from grade for that to change. Despite their struggles from behind the arc Saturday, I’m buying on the Monarchs. They’ve looked like an entirely different team these past couple games. Looks like the CAA may have found its spoiler team.
Hofstra has ended its road losing streak! After going over a year without a road or neutral court win, the Pride went to Wilmington and won 65-56, just two weeks after UNCW ended a similarly dismal streak on Hofstra’s home court.
At halftime, it looked like UNCW would cruise and Hofstra would pick up the all-too-familiar road loss. UNCW led 31-21 after 20 minutes of basketball. Hofstra struggled throughout the first half, committing 13 turnovers and shooting just 30.8%.
After halftime, the roles reversed. Hofstra played outstanding defense, and their pressure forced UNCW to make bad decisions that resulted in turnovers and poor shots. Especially notable was the exemplary defense Stevie Mejia played on Chris Dixon, holding the Dubmen’s top guard to just seven points, while forcing five turnovers.
Of course, we cannot talk about Hofstra’s defensive effort without a big tip of the cap to Jordan Allen who recorded seven steals in 22 minutes. His stellar defense led to a shootout in ESPN’s Pick’n'Roll. Rumor has it Briante Weber has a poster of Jordan Allen hanging in his bedroom.
Not only did Mejia play great defense, he also provided the explosion on offense. Mejia scored a game-high 18 points, and added in two assists. After rough first halves, Stephen Nwaukoni and Taran Buie both played significantly better in the second half, reaching double figures for the game.
Obviously, whenever there is a drastic change between the first and second half there will be questions about what the coach said at halftime.
“I actually almost didn’t say anything,” said Mo Cassara when asked what inspired the team at halftime. He went on to mention that one of the assistants ‘went bezerk’. Whatever was said obviously worked, because the team that came out of the locker room had energy, and turned it into good basketball.
UNCW has reason to be concerned.The Seahawks were well on their way to a win, before being absolutely taken apart in the second half. Perhaps it was complacency, and thinking the win was already secured. Maybe part of the issue is that the team does not have a true leader on the court. I suspect that the issue was a little of both (though having a true leader on the floor could easily solve the complacency issue).
For all of his talent, Keith Rendleman is not a natural leader (as a forward, it can be hard to be one). He is soft spoken, and is not the type to get in a players face to fire them up. Regardless of whatever caused the dispirited play in the second half, it should be addressed and left behind for the duration of the season. The team has overcome a rough start to show promise, and should not simply give up on the year now.
Meanwhile, Hofstra is heading home proud. The Pride did an outstanding job battling back after a disappointing first half, and now have the road monkey off its back. Next, Hofstra has the chance to start a road winning streak at Georgia State on Wednesday night.
A 79-72 win at the Patriot Center was exactly the kind of response Coach Monte Ross needed, after his Blue Hens were noncompetitive in a 20-point drubbing at Towson on Wednesday night. After allowing the Tigers to start each half with a big run, the Blue Hens came out of the gate early, and led George Mason wire-to-wire.
After a lackluster first half, Mason had to feel pretty good to be trailing by just four. The Patriots did not allow a field goal over the final 8:22. No Patriot, aside from Jonathan Arledge, was having a particularly noteworthy game.
About five minutes into the second half, Arledge picked up his third and fourth fouls in a six-second span. Despite finishing with four more field goals than Delaware, George Mason could not overcome the struggles of Sherrod Wright. Wright shot 4-of-16, and didn’t was unable to get to the line enough to compensate for a rough shooting performance.
One key sequence occurred midway through the second half. Wright drove baseline and had the ball stripped by Hagins (Wright was possibly fouled). Devon Saddler drilled a three in transition to put Delaware up 12, when the Patriots could have been going to the line with a chance to cut to within seven.
Erik Copes did everything he could to fill the void left by Arledge, as he finished with a career-high 13 points and 10 rebounds. Most of his production came in the second half .
We mentioned that the Blue Hens’ success hindered on getting to the foul line. The Blue Hens attempted twice as many free throws (25-of-30) as the Patriots, yet the Patriots (9-of-15) still missed more free throws. The Blue Hens’ ability to get to the line was not lost of Coach Hewitt:
“Every time we tried to string together some stops, we keep putting them to the foul line.”
Delaware (12-12, 7-4) gets a Monday night visit from Old Dominion in a game televised on NBC Sports (pretty sure that makes four consecutive televised games for the Monarchs). George Mason (14-10, 7-5) gets a few days to regroup before making a trip to The DAC on Thursday night.
We mentioned that Towson’s success would waver on the ability to hit shots against the zone defense, and boy did the Tigers do that. Towson shot 56.4% overall, and 13-of-21 from three, and took down Georgia State 90-82 in overtime.
The game was full of standout performances: Devonte White had 13 points and three assists in the first half, and 22 points on the day. Manny Atkins dominated in the second half, hitting 7-of-10 shots, including four 3-pointers, and tallying 20 points, before finishing with a career-high of 26. Unfortunately, their productive days couldn’t compensate for a rough game from RJ Hunter. Hunter received extra defensive attention, and finished just 3-of-16 from the field.
The difference was Towson’s Rafriel Guthrie. Guthrie had 17 points in regulation, and six more in overtime to finish with a career-high of 23. Guthrie seemingly had the answer to every big Georgia State basket, and his ability to penetrate the zone resulted in crucial buckets.
Jerome Hairston also scored 17 points, his third consecutive game with at least that many. The freshman hit 5-of-6 three-point attempts, and
I have a feeling a CAA ROW award may be in his future his great play earned him third CAA Rookie of the Week award.
An exciting first half ended in a 37-34 Towson lead. The Tigers had six first-half 3s, twice as many as the Panthers. The stars were not what you’d thought they’d be in the first half: RJ Hunter didn’t make a field goal, and Jerrelle Benimon didn’t even attempt one.
The second half was intense, to the point where Benimon picked up a technical foul for taking a swing at a Panther after a jump ball. The Panthers opened on a 9-3 run and held a brief lead, but Towson went back up, but never lead by more than two possessions.
Missed free throws allowed the Panthers to come back from being down five with 71 seconds to play, with White’s clutch free throws with 0.6 seconds left in regulation sending the game to overtime.
The Panthers did not score a field goal in overtime, which allowed the Tigers to get the eight-point win.
This game came down to the fact that Towson was just better shooting the ball from the field. The Tigers committed 17 turnovers, shot 57.7% from the foul line, and were still victorious.
A clash of two of the top three defensive teams in the CAA definitely lived up to its billing Sunday night as James Madison and Drexel stifled each other in a game where the Dragons came out on top 60-48.
Drexel limited JMU to only 12 points in the first half, which was the Dukes’ second-fewest first-half points in school history, while also keeping the Dukes without a single point for close to ten minutes during a 19-3 run that led to a 23-12 halftime lead.
The Dragons came out in the second half and continued to pose problems for JMU as the Dukes could not create anything on offense. Every possession seemed to see the shot clock continually wind down as the Dukes tried to screen and dribble-drive to create shots against a defense that shadowed every move they made.
The Dragons, who were 2-7 at home prior to tip, were led on offense by their usual suspect Frantz Massenat, last year’s All-CAA selection who had 14 points, and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career. Bruiser Flint’s gang was also aided by another solid performance from Derrick Thomas, who has certainly made up for an early season swoon by scoring 12+ points in five of the last six games.
JMU was led by freshman guard Charles Cooke who had a career-high 16 points, although most of them came with the game well out of reach. Cooke was joined in double figures by Rayshawn Goins and Devon Moore who had 11 points and 10 points, respectively. Apart from those three, the other seven players JMU used in rotation throughout the game combined for a paltry 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting.
With the win, Drexel moved to (10-14, 6-6) while the loss dropped JMU (14-12, 8-5) into fourth place in the CAA standings.
JMU returns to the court again on Tuesday night against Towson in a game televised on Comcast Sports Net while Drexel gets a break until continuing its four-game homestand Thursday against George Mason on The CBS Sports Network at 7 p.m.
There are weeknight games every night (except Friday, when you’ll probably be doing something else anyway).
Old Dominion (3-21, 1-11) at Delaware (12-12, 7-4) – 7:00 – NBC Sports
They just took the top team in the conference to an overtime, so the Monarchs should catch somewhat of a break for that loss. The 1-1 record does not give the Monarchs the credit they deserve for what they’ve done the past two games. That would be beating Drexel and giving Northeastern a scare while playing the best basketball we’ve seen from them this season.
No matter how well they play, pulling an upset on Delaware will be no easy task. First comes the task of slowing leading scorer Devon Saddler who is knocking down 19.4 points per game, and has scored 20+ in three consecutive games. He might require a different defensive scheme considering he scored 27 points in the previous matchup. Then there’s Jamelle Hagins who is averaging 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds.
DeShawn Painter will have the misfortune of battling Hagins down low. Painter is the only Monarch averaging double-digit scoring this season with 12.4 points per game. However, you never really know who to expect a big game out of from Old Dominion. This season we’ve seen exciting offensive bursts from Painter, Aaron Bacote, Richard Ross, Keenan Palmore, and most recently Dimitri Batten who scored a career-high 25 in the previous game. Batten is wildly unpredictable, but seems to have a newfound confidence under Jimm Corrigan.
The Monarchs are looking good lately, and the Blue Hens are fresh off a win against a tough George Mason team. Predicting this one just got harder. I’m betting on the fresh and exciting ODU team to show up.
ODU 67, Delaware 62
William & Mary’s record is disappointing, but I don’t think it’s an accurate indicator of the Tribe’s season. This team has all the necessary talent to win the CAA Tournament in March. Shaver’s group has already gone toe-to-toe with the first and second-place teams in the CAA, having taken both into double overtime on the road. William & Mary is fully capable of knocking off Northeastern at Kaplan on Monday night.
Joel Smith sits just two 3-pointers made away from Matt Janning for second all-time in Northeastern history. Northeastern has played the past two games without Dinko Marshavelski and Zach Stahl. I’m not sure if either will be available tonight, but no Marshaveski could mean another huge game for #Beasthoven, who dropped a career-high 25 points, with 11 boards and five swats to boot, before fouling out of the first contest. That was when (guess who) Joel Smith took over, finished with a career-high tying 29 points and led Northeastern to victory.
These teams are similar in that they both have talented starting fives, with unpredictable benches. Fortunately for the Huskies, their bench has been more productive than William & Mary’s. That eases the pressure on the starters and then, when you least expect it, the silent assassin Smith hits a few threes before you even know what happened.
Northeastern 66, William and Mary 64