21
Feb

I’ll readily admit that I questioned Towson after it dropped a game at Wilmington early last week. It’s just logical to question the team that gives up the win to the team on the 14-game skid, especially when that first team was the preseason pick to win the league. Towson had a lower effective field goal percentage at Trask than it did at Allen Fieldhouse. The Tigers are undeniably talented, but occasionally look like a collection of strangers depending on their individual talents to defeat their opponents.

In the face of adversity, the Tigers have responded with three consecutive big wins, which has allowed them to separate as the clear-cut number two seed. With some luck, they’ll still have an outside shot to be the one seed in the CAA Tournament. For Pat Skerry’s team, the most impressive thing has been its ability to pull away from the opposition down the stretch of big games.

Here in the Association, a lot of close games are played — thus far, 15 of the 60 league games have been decided by four points of fewer. In the past three games, Towson has outscored William & Mary, Delaware, and Northeastern 76-41 in the final 10 minutes of the game. The Tigers trailed in two of those games, but exploded in the end to put the opposing teams away.

Keep in mind that’s 76 points in 30 minutes of basketball. In that span, Mike Burwell is averaging 19.7 points per game on 40% shooting from three. Sophomore Timajh Parker-Rivera has scored in double figures in three consecutive games. Rafriel Guthrie has been in double figures in eight of the past 10 games, and gives the team another talented slasher.

Jerrelle Benimon has been his usual awesome self, but it’s worth noting that, of the three times this season when he’s failed to eclipse double-figure scoring, two have come against Northeastern. In fact, he only attempted nine total field goals in two games against Northeastern. The rest of the CAA should take note.

We enter the regular season’s penultimate weekend still trying to assess this middle cluster of team. Things got even messier Wednesday, when Charleston Shavered William & Mary by shooting 14-of-22 from three and James Madison Bruisered its way to a win by holding Drexel to 30.4% shooting (1-of-12 from three).

Both of those box scores are worth a peak – Charleston’s numbers were gaudy across the board, and JMU’s underclassmen accounted for all 63 of the team’s points, and pulled in all but two of the rebounds.

In regards to seeding, let’s assume that William & Mary (8-5) avoids a complete collapse, and wraps up the three seed. Here’s some blind analysis on the race for seeds four through eight:

Charleston (6-7) — @ UNCW (2/22), @ Drexel (2/26), Delaware (3/1)
Drexel (6-7) – @ Delaware (2/23), Charleston (2/26), @ Northeastern (3/1)
James Madison (6-8) – Towson (2/26), @ Hofstra (3/1)
Northeastern (6-8) – @ W&M (2/22), Drexel (3/1)
Hofstra (4-9) – Towson (2/22), @ W&M (2/26), James Madison (3/1)

With three games left and only seven conference losses thus far, Charleston and Drexel best control their own destinies because they play each other, and have chances for a high-leverage win (in the event of a tiebreaker) against Delaware. Each squad also plays one road game, though Charleston’s trip to Wilmington looks far less daunting than Drexel’s voyage to Boston.

The difference lies in the fact that when Drexel visits Delaware tomorrow, it will be Senior Day at the Bob, where the Blue Hens will be trying to clinch a share of the regular season championship. Will next Saturday’s trip to Charleston hold any weight for Monte Ross’ group? That remains to be seen, but there’s a real chance that Delaware will have secured the one seed by then.

(Late edit: I just realized Jarvis Threatt and Marvin King-Davis could return in Charleston.)

At the moment, JMU and Northeastern look like they’ll avoid the play-in game, but both teams would be well served to keep winning. Those two split in the regular season. If it comes down to a tiebreaker Northeastern has a nice looking win against Towson to fall back on, but JMU still gets to go another round with that same Tiger team.

Obviously Hofstra faces an uphill climb, but with three games left the Pride need to be included in this conversation. By stealing one at home against Towson or on the road against a W&M team it ravaged by 17, the Pride could get in position to work its way out of the play-in game when JMU visits next Saturday.

I like Charleston’s chances to end up in the 4-5 game in Baltimore, and believe they’ll play whoever wins the Northeastern-Drexel game in the regular season finale. JMU smells like a seven seed to me, but I’m excited to see Matt Brady’s squad after a week of preparation for Towson.

Ultimately, it’s all massive speculation and we’ll know way more after this weekend.

Towson at Hofstra – 4:00 — Video 

It’s wild to think that the last time these guys met, they were both 3-2 in league play. Since then, Towson’s won seven of eight, with Hofstra mirroring in the opposite. Hot first half three-point shooting kept the Pride in Wednesday’s game against Delaware, and if Joe Mihalich’s team doesn’t beat itself with careless turnovers, it will have a chance here.

But the Tigers seem to be rounding into the team we thought they’d be before the season began. The seniors not named Benimon are making plays.

Tigers 77, Pride 65

Northeastern at William & Mary – 4:00 – CSN

Two weeks ago, the Tribe was well on its way to a blowout win before sloppiness in the waning minutes allowed things to get a little too close for comfort. The Huskies have played better ball on the road (4-3) than at home (2-5), so it’s reasonable to expect that they won’t fall into a massive hole like they did in the first matchup.

There’s no sense in panicking over two lousy games, but Marcus Thornton has failed to score in double figures in two of the past three games. W&M was most successful attacking the paint against Northeastern in game one, and I hope that’s the strategy that is employed the second go round. Let Thornton get into the flow of the game, and dominate in the second half.

After all of that analysis up there, it’s scary to think what a Northeastern win here could do to the standings. I think the Huskies could come up big here, but I’m not counting on it.

Tribe 67, Huskies 62

Charleston at UNCW – 7:00 

Charleston and UNCW were on the opposite ends of thrashings involving William & Mary. The Tribe hit 16 3-pointers in a 23-point home win over Wilmington, then allowed 14 3-pointers in a 33-point road loss at Charleston. Don’t let that lead you to believe this will be an easy victory for Charleston. If the first game between the league’s newfound southernmost rivals was any indication, this will be a battle.

After playing eight games in 17 days of February, the Dubmen finally returned to their own beds for a little shut eye and rest before this one. It’s homecoming, so expect the students to be out and supporting the Seahawks (for the first half, at least). It seems like Charleston has some positive momentum, but last Saturday’s home stinker against Northeastern says otherwise. As I said above, I like Charleston’s opportunity to get to the four seed, and that has to start here.

The cat gets the bird.

Cougars 65, Seahawks 62

Drexel at Delaware (Sunday) – 3:00 — CSN

It’s the second battle between two rivals with stud guards that play at different tempos and don’t turn the ball over. It’s also Senior Day for Saddler, Usher and Baptiste, and a chance to clinch a share of the regular season championship. Notable from Wednesday night was Kyle Anderson scoring 18 points, and posting his best conference game this season. He’d struggled in this previous three games, so it was big positive.

Drexel comes in desperate for a win, but I don’t think it works out that way. Pound it inside to Ruffin and Williams, and you might have a chance. Otherwise, I think Delaware concludes its regular season on a high note.

YoUDees 73, Dragons 66

17
Feb

We went into the weekend looking for clarity, and came out with the tiniest bit.

Indubitably, the biggest win of the weekend came from the Towson Tigers, who strolled into Williamsburg and defeated a hot William & Mary team by 15. Trailing by three with less than nine minutes to play, Towson scored on 13 of its final 14 possessions, using a 26-11 run (1.86 points per possession over the final 14 possessions, for those of you scoring at home) to pull away from the Tribe at Kaplan.

Sharpshooter Four McGlynn was the main culprit. He slammed the door by sandwiching back-to-back treys around a Tribe turnover, and locked it up by hitting five of six free throws down the stretch to help Towson maintain its double-digit lead. Trips up I-95 are never fun, but Pat Skerry’s squad had plenty to celebrate on the ride home.

Drexel helped paint the picture by defeating Hofstra by 74-63 at the DAC. The win put a two-game gap between the fourth-place Bruisers and the eighth-place Joes. As always, it’s great to see the forwards get involved for Drexel, and it’s even better to see Frantz Massenat continuing to play like a First Team All-Conference guy.

Beyond that, things got a bit murkier when Northeastern strolled into TD Arena and stifled Charleston by 16. We were wrong about the eventual winner, but we were right that the first team to 50 would be victorious. The Huskies held the Cougars below 30% shooting, and Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer were that Rodman/Van Damme Double Team down low. For a better analogy, they looked like they did when they beat Georgetown in November.

James Madison blew a second half double-digit lead, and got bailed out by Ron Curry, who lifted the Dukes to a 64-62 home win against UNCW. There were concerns about how he’d handle the point this year (he spent much of last season playing off the ball) but Curry’s come through in some big spots for the Dukes. Andre Nation tied a school record with seven steals, and  Yohanny Dalembert continues to flash promise. This was also one of Andrey Semenov’s better games this season.

At the moment Charleston, Northeastern, and JMU are all within one game of each other. Drexel found a pinch of breathing room, and Towson’s win set up a huge Monday night game…

Delaware (11-0) at Towson (8-3) – 7:00 – NBC Sports Network

A Monday night win in Baltimore would guarantee that the Blue Hens will return to the Charm City as the one seed in three weeks. The YoUDees were lucky to play four of their first five games without Jarvis Threatt and Marvin King-Davis at the Bob. Now, they’ll take on a Tiger team that’s 13-1 at SECU Arena this season (having fallen to Northeastern on a miracle bomb from David Walker).

Since the Delaware suspensions, Davon Usher is averaging 28.4 points per game, and you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking his 42-point game against Charleston is skewing that average significantly (13-point effort vs. UNCW is more of an outlier). He’s shot 18-of-35 from three while committing just six turnovers in that span. For a guy who’s playing 90% of the available minutes in one of the nation’s fastest offenses, that’s pretty remarkable. In a season where Threatt and Saddler have both missed chunks of time, Usher’s been the rock.

You’re well aware of the fact that Towson has a supremely talented player of its own, but Jerrelle Benimon’s supporting cast has given Towson a lift in some big road games. Before the big run Saturday, Mike Burwell was carrying the Tigers en route to a career-best 23 points. Rafriel Guthrie is a mini-Saddler, slashing his way through the lane and getting to the line with ease. Timajh Parker-Rivera is one of the more improved players in the league. But tonight, Marcus Damas needs to show out, or at least not get shown up by Usher. That’s an epic battle out on the wing.

Even after those kind words, you just never know which Towson team will show up. Benimon is a constant force, but the other Tigers have been prone to no-show performances (see last Monday at Trask). A flip on the coin tells me to go with a well-rested Delaware team that clinches that one seed tonight.

Blue Hens 74, Tigers 71

UNCW (2-11) at William & Mary (7-4) – 7:00 

This is that slippery middle game in one of those three-in-five stretches for the Tribe. Fortunately, Shaver’s group catches a UNCW playing its eighth game in the month of February. Keep in mind that today is just the seventeenth day of the month. In that same span, Delaware will have played just five games…

Marcus Thornton shot 1-of-14 from the field against Towson. Tonight begins the road to redemption.

Tribe 70, Seahawks 57

15
Feb

Big day…

UNCW (2-10) at James Madison (4-8) – Noon – Comcast SportsNet

Much has changed since these two met in the first league game of the season. Both have gained significant pieces — JMU got Andre Nation, and the Dub’s Shane Reybold returned from injury. We’ll see if those additions help these teams to utilize their strengths – JMU is guard-oriented, and UNCW sports a bigger, more talented frontcourt.

Buzz Peterson has utilized a balanced attack in the past two games, and UNCW has been successful. No one player logged more than 25 minutes in either game, and 11 different guys got in for at least a dozen minutes. UNCW’s lacking in individual star power, but  being able to bring fresh bodies off the bench down the stretch has proven to be a real advantage.

Redshirt sophomore Dylan Sherwood has scored in double figures in consecutive games. Slotting in as the stretch four, he’s been that three-point threat the Dubmen have lacked all season. At 6’9”, he’s another long forward who can keep the Dukes from getting those long rebounds they love to run with.

JMU freshman Yohanny Dalembert exploded for 15 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday night at Delaware. Coming into the season, we knew he possessed a raw athleticism this team lacked, and it’s big for the program as a whole to see him flash this potential. He’s a powerful frontcourt player who will earn his first career start this weekend.

As simple as it sounds, this will likely come down to which team can hit more three-point shots (these are the two worst three-point shooting teams in the CAA). The Seahawks have shot 12-of-29 from three in the past two games (hat tip to Sherwood), and they’d be wise to continue launching against a JMU team that’s allowed its opponents to shoot 38.8% from downtown in league play.

Likewise, JMU will need one of its freshmen to knock down some perimeter shots (don’t be surprised if Dimitrije Cabarkapa gets a little run for JMU).UNCW’s depth is a huge factor against a JMU team that gives three players (Cooke, Curry and Nation) a ton of minutes. If the Dukes can deny Cedrick Williams in the post, I like their chances to win at home.

Dukes 59, Seahawks 57

Towson (7-3) at William & Mary (7-3) – 4:00 – Comcast SportsNet

Monday night at Trask, Towson might’ve been caught looking ahead. At 7-3 in league play, it’s unlikely that they’ll fall out of the top three seeds, but this is a huge stretch. They’ve struggled on the road, where they’ll play four of their next five.

On the other hand, William & Mary has won its past four road games, and will play four of its final six at home. These two teams are vying for the two seed, and I’m starting to believe, you want to avoid the three seed, and potentially matching up with Charleston/Drexel/Northeastern on Saturday.

The two seed likely draws a much more favorable matchup with skidding Hofstra or James Madison. I know Northeastern’s also stumbling (and could be the seven seed), but Scott Eatherton and crew only have four conference games left. They’ll head into Mariner Arena with fresh legs.

All this alludes to a huge matchup on Saturday. Last season, Kyle Gaillard did a great job of slowing down Jerrelle Benimon. We’ll see if that’s the case again this year. Benimon and Rafriel Guthrie are the reasons Towson’s had so much success getting to the foul line (league-best 61.1% free-throw rate in conference play).

On the other hand, William & Mary has kept opponents from getting to the foul line (league-best 30.2% free-throw rate defensively). Before looking at the stats, I tried to justify that by believing that team’s hoisted up a ton of threes after the Tribe got on one of its scorching hot streaks (see at Northeastern last Saturday). The truth is that Shaver’s squad just gives up a lot of good looks (52% eFG% against).

Battling D-I’s tenth best three-point shooting team (Tribe shooting 40.1% from deep), Four McGlynn will need to be on the ball for Towson. Likewise, teams have a good bit of success against the Tribe in the paint, so expect to see  Benimon, Guthrie, and Marcus Damas attacking the rim ferociously.

This is the game of the day, and a very tough pick. Give me the new 21-year-old, because he’s playing lights out right now. I also trust his supporting cast a little more.

Tribe 72, Tigers 69

Northeastern (5-7) at Charleston (5-6) – 7:00 – CAA.TV

If you enjoyed the slobberknocker that was Charleston’s 47-46 win over Drexel, this game is for you. If the first matchup was any indication, the first team to 50 might win this one. That game, a tighly-contested battle, saw Charleston exploit its length (nine steals, seven blocks) in the second half to run off with a 58-49 win in Boston.

Canyon Barry has returned from injury, and is back to playing major minutes. He’s scored in double figures in consecutive games, but too often he has the look of a volume scorer. Possessions will be precious Saturday night at TD Arena. Still, Charleston needs buckets anyway it can get ‘em.

Adjehi Baru’s had one look at Scott Eatherton, and made some solid adjustments between halves. Anthony Thomas did a great job matching up with David Walker. As always, Northeastern will need a third scorer to step up behind those guys. With Eatherton getting so much attention, I’d like to see Reggie Spencer get a few more shots.

I’d like to read was Kresse has to say about this one, but it’s huge in terms of sorting out the middle-of-the-pack in the CAA. Both teams could still grab the four seed, or end up in the play-in game. Ultimately, it’s hard to trust Northeastern right now. Defensively, Charleston matches up pretty well, and the Cougars should get just enough scoring to hold serve at home.

Cougars 55, Huskies 51

Hofstra (4-7) at Drexel (5-6) — 2/16/14, 8:00 — Comcast SportsNet

When Rossi and Crain (don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll get something up here before it tips) weigh in, I feel way less inclined to do so — they just know the Dragons infinitely better than I ever will. To keep it short, after watching Thursday night’s heartbreaker, I’m expecting some angry-good basketball from the Dragons.

With five games left, Bru’s crew needs to gain some momentum. A home date with a Hofstra team that’s dropped six of seven seems like a good place to start.

Dragons 70, Pride 62

I was nearing 1,000 words for something I intended to post last Friday. There were a lot of things to discuss – namely, another round of potentially devastating suspensions in Newark. A hectic weekend (and subsequent week) meant that that post will never see the light of day.

Ultimately, that was probably for the better. At the time, I could only really speculate on the obvious – more playing time for Delaware’s four freshmen, and less rest for Saddler, Usher, Anderson and Baptiste. We know how talented the latter four are, but we were primarily concerned about the depth issues for a team that only used seven players in its rotation.

It turns out that when you’ve got your program’s all-time leading scorer, a lionhearted senior transfer who can drop 30 points in a half (and 42 in a game) less than 24 hours after losing his grandmother, and a fifth-year forward who’s bided his time for this exact opportunity, your team won’t fall off much.

And when we’re talking about a team that’s won 33 of its last 40 conference games, we shouldn’t be that surprised.

It hasn’t been easy – far from easy – but Delaware has kept on trucking its way through the rigors of conference play. Now comes a much-needed stretch where Monte Ross’ squad will only play one game in 12 days. The Blue Hens are far from invincible – we’ll still probably see them drop a conference game or two – but they’ve still got a good chance to go into Baltimore with that number one-seed.

Possibly standing in their way are the Towson Tigers. Towson has run off three consecutive wins after dropping two consecutive league games last month. Look no further than their Tuesday night win against James Madison to see how they’re doing it – four players scored in double figures, and all four are seniors. Benimon with the 16-15-6 line surprises no one.

Interestingly enough from that game, the Tigers also got nine points apiece from sophomores Four McGlynn and Timajh Parker-Rivera. They were the Tigers’ fifth-and-sixth-leading scorers that night. Compare that to their opponents, the Dukes, whose 71 points came solely from freshmen and sophomores, and it’s easy to see why Towson won without much of a fight (read: seniority matters).

Of course, when you shoot as well from three and your opponent does from the foul line on the same number of attempts (Towson 47.4% from three, JMU was 47.5% foul line), you’re probably going to be victorious.

W&M has won four out of its last five, including three road games, en route to a 6-3 record in the standings. For what’s it’s worth, the 54-50 win at Trask on Wednesday was W&M’s most defensively efficient game of the season (0.865 points per possession). Considering the opponent, you can draw whatever conclusions you want.

We’ll see if the Tribe can continue that positive mojo this weekend in Boston against a Northeastern team that has temporarily separated itself from the cluster of 4-5/3-6 teams.

Preview time…

James Madison (3-6) at Drexel (4-5) – 2:00 – Audio/Video

Both teams come in missing key personnel (apparently, Andre Nation is suspended for this one Nation didn’t play, not sure the exact reason). Unfortunately, Drexel’s situation is a bit more serious, as Kazembe Abif is out for the season. I’m of the belief that, unless JMU’s sixth-year senior (Semenov) has a big game, the consistently awesome production of Frantz Massenat and Drexel’s own sixth-year senior (Fouch) will be too much for JMU.

It’s a good chance for Drexel’s defense to continue to get back on track.

Dragons 61, Dukes 50

Charleston (4-5) at Towson (6-2) – 2:00 – Comcast SportsNet

The Cougars come in reeling, having blown a 20-point lead in the final nine minutes at Delaware. They ended that game with 26 turnovers. Now they’ll get a Tiger team that Benimon’d them to death three weeks back.

These teams are talented, but Towson’s clicking at home, and overall. As he did toward the end of conference play last season, Rafriel Guthrie is coming on strong. He’s scored in double figures in six consecutive games.

Tigers 67, Cougars 60

UNCW (0-9) at Hofstra (3-6) – 7:00 – Video 

Someone’s struggles will be temporarily stifled today. After starting CAA play 3-1, the Pride has dropped five consecutive games. UNCW hasn’t won in more than two months, dropping 13 straight contests in that span. But competitive losses at Delaware and to W&M signal that the Dubmen are playing better (defensively, at least).

This will probably come down to one player being more determined than the rest to get his team off the schneid. Right now, you feel better about Hofstra’s chances to have that guy emerge. The Pride just has more proven scoring options.

Dutchmen 67, Dubmen 65

William & Mary (6-3) at Northeastern (5-5) – 7:00 – Video

This is the game of the day for me. It’s Beasthoven vs. Beasterton, but it’s also a chance for William & Mary to further separate into the CAA’s upper tier. Northeastern also has the chance to move above .500 in the league.

The Huskies had beautiful balance (six players in double figures) in their win at Hofstra on Wednesday. The Tribe proved, once again, that it can win a slower-paced conference road game. The Tribe has more consistent offensive options, so we need to see at least two of the Husky guards have nice offensive games to believe they have a chance.

As much as I want to believe in the Huskies’ turnaround, their inconsistencies scare me a little too much to trust them here. A balanced Tribe attack, spearheaded by Marcus Thornton, does the trick here.

Tribe 66, Huskies 63

29
Jan

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 10.06.15 PM

It’s the final Wednesday of January. Here’s where we stand:

Delaware (14-7, 6-0): Winners of eight in a row, the Blue Hens are the clear cream of the crop so far this season. And although most of us had them fourth in the preseason polls (and I fought the urge to put them behind W&M), we really shouldn’t be that surprised by their fast start to conference play. Yes, they lost their starting frontcourt from last season, but the guards have always dominated this team.

We all recognize how good Jamelle Hagins was, but we also knew he wasn’t as big of a part of the offense as he could’ve/should’ve been. We recognized the massive void he’d leave defensively, but when you can score rapidly while playing mistake-free basketball, you can keep teams from establishing their halfcourt offenses.

We also discounted the potential for improved play from the returning players. Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt spearhead an offense that is both fast (adjusted tempo of 73.4 possessions per game, ninth in D-I) and efficient (turnover rate of 14.5%, 11th in D-I). Saddler is shooting (eFG 58%) the ball better than ever before, and Davon Usher, Kyle Anderson and Devonne Pinkard have helped the Blue Hens evolve into an above-average shooting team.

Towson (13-8, 4-2): The Tigers went to Newark for a basketball game, and found themselves in a track meet — never something you want to do against Monte Ross’ squad. Sure enough, Delaware’s tempo won out, and the turnover-prone Tigers were just that (17 giveaways). Skerry’s squad rebounded in a big way Monday Night when it defeated visiting Hofstra by 18. Five Tigers scored in double figures, and the they enjoyed a hefty advantage at the foul line (31 attempts for Towson, just nine for Hofstra).

As we enter February and it really starts to dawn on the seniors that this is their last hurrah, expect more big games from Mike Burwell, Marcus Damas and Rafriel Guthrie. Benimon’s already playing a ridiculously high level, but maybe we’ll see a 30-20 game somewhere down the line.

William & Mary (12-7, 4-2): The Tribe picked up two huge wins. One, a road game at Drexel, was the type this team would not have closed out last season. But this year, Marcus Thornton looks ready to be the closer, as he hit the game-winning three, and got the Tribe on SportsCenter’s Top 10. Monday, the uber-efficient offense went back to Kaplan, scored 1.21 points per possession, and beat visiting Charleston by 11.

Needless to say, tonight’s game with Delaware is huge.

Northeastern (7-14, 4-3): The Huskies have won three of their last four games, with the three wins coming on the road. The most recent win was a 70-57 win at Hofstra, where Demetrius Pollard hit six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points. Their road successes shouldn’t be a surprise because like Monté Ross, Bill Coen follows the Dan Monson model (or the anti-Boeheim model — I’m sure there are better examples throughout history, but in the Information Age it works), and will play any team anywhere at any time during the nonconference schedule. It’s not a coincidence Northeastern has played well within the conference in each of the last three seasons. With a home win tonight, the Huskies could put themselves in position to make some noise in the month of February.

Hofstra (7-14, 3-3): The Pride has dropped two in a row, but the scoring’s been a bit more balanced. Still, the Pride’s start has garnered some positive publicity.

Charleston (11-11, 3-4): A road trip to Virginia didn’t go well, as the Cougars dropped games in Harrisonburg and Williamsburg. This talented group just hasn’t gelled offensively. I think, for this team to play the style it wants to play, Adjehi Baru needs more touches. The Cougars had a lot of success pounding the ball inside against a smaller James Madison team. I realize he commits a lot of turnovers and isn’t a good free-throw shooter, but quick passes to the paint could cause defenses to be a step behind on the outlet passes back to the perimeter shooters. Even if those shots from outside don’t fall, Willis Hall will probably get the rebound.

Drexel (10-9, 2-4): The injured guys are back on the floor, but Dan Crain wonders if that’s a good thing. Crain also studies the effect of Frantz Massenat on Chris Fouch. In terms of team morale, tonight’s game at Hofstra is huge.

James Madison (7-13, 2-4): Gutsy win at home against Charleston. If Saturday was a preview of what Jackson Kent can give JMU, Matt Brady’s got a real player. You could see Kent brimming with confidence after his first 3-pointer rattled in, but I was more impressed to see him working down low and finishing through contact. I have to assume that Brady and Mike Deane give him a lot of flack because they love his potential, and a summer in the weight room will do wonders for this kid. I also thought Yohanny Dalembert put in some good minutes down low (showed nice poise, touch on his one basket, during which he faked two defenders into the air), and freshman Tom Vodanovich is a broke man’s Willis Hall.

UNCW (6-15, 0-6): For a team that’s lost 10 games in a row, huge gaps between games can only help, right?

***

As the conference season nears its halfway point, every game matters. Wednesday’s slate is no different, as all three games contain various levels of intrigue.

James Madison (2-4) at Northeastern (4-3) — 7 p.m.

The Dukes are riding a bit of momentum, having protected their shiny new home floor against College of Charleston and snapped a four-game conference losing streak Saturday with a nice 58-56 win.

Freshman guard Jackson Kent had a breakout game against the Cougs, leading JMU with a career-high 17 points. Kent, who shot 50% from long range, provided a nice supplement to the always entertaining Andre Nation, who knotted 15 points. Ron Curry hit a free throw with 27 seconds left to put JMU up by two, and the Dukes held on for a much-needed win.

The question is, can JMU keep the streak alive against a confusingly good Northeastern squad?

The Huskies come in with a bit of momentum of their own — wins over conference heavyweight Towson, up-and-comer Hofstra and a close loss against the ever-persistent Delaware Blue Hens. In Northeastern’s most recent outing, Demetrius Pollard was as hot as you can get from beyond the arc (6-of-8), and his 25 points slightly eclipsed the Scott Eatherton Show (18 points), for the night at least.

A few weeks ago, the Huskies edged JMU at the Convo in what (one can only assume) was an ugly 56-52 game. Neither team shot particularly well, and both benches managed a measly seven points each.

If JMU’s youth movement can put together a nice game, I’ll give the Dukes a chance, but otherwise, give me the Huskies.

Northeastern 66, JMU 59

Drexel (2-4) at Hofstra (3-3)

Bru’s Crew hasn’t had it easy the last two times out — a 90-77 drubbing at the hands of the Blue Hens and Marcus Thornton’s icy three-point buzzer beater — but things might be starting to look up for the Dragons.

The Dragons are slowly starting to regain their health, and in the wide open CAA, they’ve still got a shot. When you’ve got Chris Fouch (who had an out-of-his-mind 31 points against the Tribe) and Frantz Massenat (19 points against W&M), you’ve always got a chance. When you combine Fouch and Massenat with the return of Dartaye Ruffin and Kazembe Abif, you’ve got a dangerous team with plenty of time left to make a statement. Drexel’s got a relatively manageable schedule down the stretch, but badly needs a win in order to get back in the race.

On the other side, Hofstra has basically won the games it was supposed to win (C of C, UNCW, and a nice win over W&M) and lost the games it was supposed to lose (Delaware, Northeastern, Towson), all by convincing margins. I’m going to stick with that trend, and as much as I like the scrappy Pride, I have a hard time believing that Drexel is going to let this one slip away.

Drexel 72, Hofstra 61

Delaware at William & Mary

Ah, here we go. The marquee matchup of the day.

For the Tribe, the stakes are high. William & Mary is arguably the hottest team in the league (besides Delaware of course, but we’ll get to that). Thornton’s SportsCenter-worthy buzzer beater against Drexel (yes, we are still talking about that) and a gutsy come-from-behind win over Charleston (the “other” College) have the Tribe sitting at 4-2 and tied for second place in the conference.

The stakes aren’t quite as high for YouDee, but it’s still a big game. The Blue Hens are undefeated in league play, and eked out a 76-71 win over the College in Newark earlier in the year. Delaware has been good all year, but its safe to say that Monte Ross’ group has found its groove as of late.

Of course Devon Saddler is really good, but the other guys can play too. Jarvis Threatt, Davon Usher and Kyle Anderson are all proven scorers, and give Delaware plenty of different options on offense. Interestingly, the Hens haven’t done much damage from beyond the arc as of late, but I wouldn’t count on that for too long.

This game will be a classic strength-on-strength type of game. Both offenses are difficult to stop when firing on all cylinders, and if both squads are shooting well, it’s going to come down to which defense can get more stops. Thornton was held in check against Delaware the first time around, it will be interesting to see if that’s the case Wednesday in Williamsburg.

If the Tribe wins this game, it will send a pretty big signal to the rest of the league. But as good as Tony’s team has looked lately, Delaware has been playing lights-out lately against the conference’s best, and doesn’t look to be slowing down. The tide may turn at some point this season, but right now, the Hens are too good to pick against.

Delaware 81, William & Mary 77

– Mike Barnes

25
Jan

Towson (3-2) at Delaware (5-0) – Noon – Comcast SportsNet

If Towson had completed the rally and won against Northeastern, this game would have even larger implications. Still, it’s a matchup of two contenders. A win here would put the Blue Hens firmly in the CAA’s driver seat, and well on their way to building a Northeastern-esque lead.

Northeastern’s 3-2 zone (and foul trouble) kept Jerrelle Benimon from getting into any sort of rhythm on Wednesday. He scored his fewest points (6) since the home opener. Now he’ll face off with a Carl Baptiste-Marvin King-Davis frontcourt that’s played very well recently.

If Baptiste is chasing Benimon out to the perimeter, Delaware might be in trouble. Expect the quicker King-Davis to take the first stab at defending Benimon. If Benimon doesn’t have one of his trademark huge games, Towson probably might not have much of a chance in this one.

This game also features some of the league’s best three-point shooters (Kyle Anderson, Davon Usher, Four McGlynn). Delaware has a hefty advantage in the backcourt, but if McGlynn starts scoring exclusively by the threes (as he often does) all bets are off.

It’s hard to go against Delaware here though. Devon Saddler is playing too well, and this team is actually starting to share the ball. Get out and support, UD fans.

Delaware 73, Towson 66

Charleston (3-2) at James Madison 1-4—2:00 — Comcast SportsNet

Both teams most recent wins came against UNCW. The main difference is that JMU’s last win came three weeks ago, and Charleston just won Wednnesday night. Nori Johnson hit seven 3-pointers in that one.

Johnson torched the Dukes in the first meeting, and it seems likes when one of the Charleston guards has a great game, this team can play with anyone.

The Cougars have quietly worked their way to a 3-2 record in the conference. I like the word quietly when it comes to the Cougars because they’re truly winning in team fashion. No one player averages more than 12 points per game, and seven players are averaging at least seven points per game.

The Dukes have dropped four in a row, and come in dryer than the Harrisonburg air, dryer than the salt slowly eating away at my car’s frame—you get the point. They’ll be playing this one without Charles Cooke. Considering how well Cooke played in the first game between these teams, Charleston fans can feel good about that.

Taylor Bessick will need to play with physicality to limit the touches of a Charleston frontcourt (Willis Hall, Adjehi Baru) that averages over 20 points per and almost 17 rebounds. Tom Vodanovich has the gritty play Bessick lacks and could at least prevent some touches inside to those two while grabbing a few long boards.

Andre Nation (averaging 17.5 points per game since returning) has a big game in front of another solid student crowd at the Convo, but Cooke’s absence plus recent struggles will make it five straight losses for JMU.

Charleston 68, Madison 58

Northeastern (3-3) at Hofstra (3-1) – 4:00 – Audio/Video 

These teams are rendering their nonconference records irrelevant. It’s mainly because they both have players vying for the CAA Player of the Year award, and for each team the challenge revolves around getting solid performances from the supporting players.

Against William & Mary Dion Nesmith posted his most efficient game of the season (15 points, 10 assists), and Stephen Nwaukoni had 13 points and 14 boards. That trio of seniors can keep this team competitive in every game, and when the underclassmen shine, the Pride are a sneakily dangerous team.

In Northeastern’s past two road games, David Walker’s star has burned brighter than any in the final minutes of the game. Most recently, he hit a game-winning buzzer beater from waaay downtown on Wednesday night (not to mention that Northeastern had just let Towson come back from 21 down, AKA no momentum).

For a Northeastern team playing this year’s schedule with next year’s team, it’s great to see he cerebral Walker emerging as a potential 1B beside Eatherton in the offense. By the time he graduates, opposing coaches will be about as sick of him as they were of that other Husky whose last name rhymes with Manning.

As much as I love Hofstra’s nice mix of veterans and young talents, I like Northeastern in this spot. This team is starting to build some confidence in road situations.

Northeastern 71, Hofstra 68

W&M (2-2) at Drexel (2-3) – 4:00 – Audio/Video

On Wednesday, William & Mary made a rally to get within one point of Hofstra before halftime. Then, the Tribe took a page from last season’s book and…well, just read Jared Fortek’s writeup at Shades of 48. It was one of the classic Tribe lapses that scares us.

It was the Tribe’s second worst offensive showing of the season (in terms of effiency – the worst was WVU). This team has been electrifying at home, but has struggled, particularly in the second half, on the road. Logic says the Tribe couldn’t possibly repeat the scorching offensive show from the first meeting, but Drexel’s defense is certainly trending in the wrong direction.

The Dragons have had five days to rest up, and you know they’ll be hungry avenge their loss to the Tribe earlier this season. It’s been great to see Rodney Williams and Mohamed Bah play solidly in expanded roles, but we need to see Dartaye Ruffin back on the floor dominating the paint (defensively).

I like a rested Drexel home team here. The Tribe offense has showed signs of cooling off on the road, Drexel should benefit from having Ruffin actually play here. Big games from Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch get Drexel back in the win column.

Drexel 67, W&M 63

22
Jan

Delaware found itself trailing at the half in each of its first four conference games. Operating under trying circumstances wasn’t helping: in two of those games, the Blue Hens knew they’d have to battle back without the services of one of their best players. Carl Baptiste missed all but seven minutes of the James Madison game, and Jarvis Threatt was absent from the Northeastern game because he cancelled his own class the week beforehand.

What happens when Delaware has to compete without its starting point guard Threatt? Devon Saddler dishes out eight dimes, and big man Carl Baptiste doesn’t miss a shot en route to a career-high 19 points. Just as importantly, Baptiste came up with the crucial block that helped Delaware escape Boston with a 74-70 win.

And when the YoUDees are all active and playing rival Drexel? They shoot 56.5% from the field, place five players in double figures, and drop 90 points (1.25 per possession) on the normally solid Drexel defense. In the win, Threatt and Saddler combined or assisted on 32 of Delaware’s 35 field goals.

Saddler, who’s scored at least 22 points in six straight games, also has 15 assists in his past two games. That’s the best two-game assist total of his career, and the eight dimes against Northeastern were his most since January 3rd, 2011.

The senior reflected positively on the first half of the Drexel game:

“We were just on our game tonight. We haven’t played a first half like that all season. It seemed like every shot was going in. I looked up at halftime. We had 48 points. I was just excited. We were sharing the ball. That helped us more in tonight’s game.”

The secret to Delaware’s success is twofold. With the addition of Davon Usher and improvements from Saddler and Kyle Anderson, this is a significantly better jump-shooting bunch than the group we saw last year. Another huge part of their success comes from maximizing opportunities: the Blue Hens sports a 14.7% turnover rate, good for 15th in the country (at 12.8%, Drexel is currently second).

I’ve said this recently, but I think it’s worth repeating: since February 1st 2012, Delaware is 28-7 in league play. Delaware will head into Saturday’s bout with Towson with a 5-0 mark in the conference.

Some late linkage to recap the holiday weekend action:

- Bad news for the rest of the CAA: Jerrelle Benimon has rediscovered his jump shot. He’d only hit two 3-pointers before conference play, but he’s already hit three in three conference games. His long and mid-range game was on display Sunday when he teamed with Mike Burwell (18 points) to take down Charleston.

- William & Mary absolutely hammered James Madison by 22 at Kaplan last Saturday. For JMU, losing this game won’t be as hard as losing Charles Cooke, who will probably be out for a few weeks with an ankle injury.

- Beanpot Hoops is a blog to get familiar with. Here’s some analysis on those Cardiac Canines, and their propensity for tight games.

Northeastern at Towson – 7:00 – Audio/Video

Last season Towson was one of the CAA’s best offensive squads, but left something to be desired on defense. In three conference games this season, have the CAA’s best defensive in terms of points allowed (just 59.3 per contest). Don’t let the threat of a defensive bout scare you away: Benimon versus Eatherton is sure to be a doozy.

Despite the fact that the Huskies have flashed a more balanced offensive attack lately, it’s hard to go against Towson here. The Tigers have won five in a row and 13 consecutive games at home. It seems like Pat Skerry’s squad is starting to put it together.

Tigers 65, Huskies 61

William & Mary at Hofstra – 7:00 – Audio/Video

Hofstra needs consistent offense from someone other than Zeke Upshaw. Dion Nesmith needs to be less gunshy. Jamall Robinson and Chris Jenkins have been solid, but often inconsistent (AKA freshmen) third options in this offense.

We want to see the William & Mary bigs play with physicality. We already saw Hofstra’s frontcourt give Delaware fits. This team can create extra possessions and wear its opponent down, which is scary for a Tribe team that struggles to play 40 minutes of solid basketball.

Hofstra 3-1 in CAA play? I’m feelin’ it.

Pride 67, Tribe 64

UNCW at Charleston – 7:00 – Audio/Video

As King Kresse put it, this is the birth of a Coastal Rivalry. Our southernmost universities will do battle for the first time this season. As encouraged as I was by the backcourt of Craig Ponder and Chris Dixon combining for 29 points last Saturday, I expect Charleston to hold serve here. Adjehi Baru should matchup pretty well with Cedrick Williams down low, and the Cougars have the ultimate x-factor, Willis “The Illest” Hall. Willis gets one of those hustle double-doubles, and one of the guards steps up and hits a few 3-pointers.

Cougars 71, Seahawks 62

As you can see, we picked each of the home teams to win. It’s a bit of a cop out until you realize the road teams have won more than half the games this season. Enjoy those juicy frontcourt matchups.

18
Jan

Big weekend ahead, as each and every team is in action — something that won’t happen again until that fateful weekend in Baltimore. The Breeze men’s basketball beat writer and friend of blog Stephen Proffitt dropped in to provide some perspective and make some predictions for this Saturday’s action. Stephen also wrote a great piece on Andre Nation recently. You can (and should) read it here.

Delaware (11-7, 3-0 CAA) @ Northeastern (5-13, 2-2 CAA) — noon — Comcast SportsNet

Delaware is HOT. A five-game winning streak has Monté Ross’ boys on top of the CAA standings early. The paper says Delaware wins big, but having seen both of these teams in person within the last week, Northeastern has a shot.

For the Huskies, Scott Eatherton, AKA Beasterton, is a one-man wrecking crew down low. Delaware’s Carl Baptiste isn’t the biggest offensive threat, but at 6’9” 260, he’s the closest thing you’ll see to a human wall in the CAA (no offense, Gettys and Wishon).

Baptiste missed the final 33 minutes of last Saturday’s game versus JMU, but came off the bench Wednesday against W&M (23 minutes, six points). Sophomore Marvin King-Davis could complement a recovering Baptiste down low and slow down Eatherton.

Since returning from the early season suspension, Devon Saddler has come back on fire for the Blue Hens. He was last week’s CAA Player of the Week and, with another big performance in Boston, will be a threat to repeat again this week. He dropped 25 in Harrisonburg last Saturday and followed that up with 26 against the Tribe Wednesday.

Kyle Anderson and Davon Usher are deadly from deep and with Saddler doing work from every spot on the floor, the Blue Hens should win this one. (In my three years covering this league, I’ve grown to enjoy watching Delaware play the most. I admire Ross’ ability to find recruiting gems in the state of VA.) Still, expect a typical hard-fought battle. That’s just how Boston sports team do it.

Delaware 77 Northeastern 65

Drexel (9-7, 1-2 CAA) at UNCW (6-13, 0-4 CAA) — 2:00 — Audio/Video 

As noted by Kevin Rossi, this game is really Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat taking on UNCW Saturday afternoon inside Trask. The Fouch/Massenat combo is averaging 34.5 points per game, but added opportunities means they’ll both probably go for 20-plus on Saturday.

Bruiser Flint and Matt Brady have one thing in common, and it’s certainly not fashion. It’s injuries. While the injury bug seems to be subsiding on Brady’s end, Flint can’t seem to [prevent] a break. Chris Fouch last year, Damion Lee this season — those were  two devastating season-ending injuries in the backcourt.

Rossi’s article further describes the extent of their recent troubles, noting that Kaz Abif, Tavon Allen and Dartaye Ruffin are all questionable for Saturday’s game. If none of those three forwards suits up Saturday, Rodney Williams, coming off one of the better games of his young career, will draw duty on Dubmen stud Cedrick Williams.

Queue up the Pink Floyd bassline….Chris, Frantz….under pressure

Buzz Peterson and UNCW are trying to catch a W, but that might not come for another two weeks (I’m thinking revenge on Hofstra, February 8th). They’re in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. Big Ced and Addison Spruill are attempting to pull some slack, but it’s not working.

At this point in time, the Seahawks sure look like the CAA’s cellar dweller. A battered Drexel team could serve as motivation to snap the losing streak, but I don’t see it happening. Yes, I’m saying Fouch/Massenat from Drexel are plenty to beat this UNCW team at this point in the season. Drexel’s normally great perimeter defense has been anything but of late. Expect D-I’s worst three-point shooting team to be part of the cure-all.

Drexel 65 UNCW 57

James Madison (6-12, 1-3) @ William & Mary (9-6, 1-1 CAA) — 4:00 — Comcast SportsNet

Lately, JMU’s shooting has been as cold as the Harrisonburg air. A road win at UNCW to open the CAA slate back on January 4th has segued into three straight losses for the Dukes (at Charleston, Delaware and Northeastern).

Following an impressive performance at Charleston, sixth-year senior Andrey Semenov has hit a dry spell with just 12 points in the last two games. 10 of those points were scored in the first six minutes against Delaware last Saturday. So the past 74 game minutes have not been good to Semenov.

Sophomore Charles Cooke re-aggravated a previous right ankle sprain during the second half against Delaware, but sufficiently played through the aches and pains on Wednesday. It’s never a good time for an injury, but the return of sophomore Andre Nation couldn’t have come at a better time. Nation has totaled 45 points in his first three games back, but has struggled with foul trouble.

William & Mary comes into Saturday with three players averaging in double figures. The consistently awesome Marcus Thornton is a CAA Player of the Year candidate, while freshman Omar Prewitt has challenged any learning curve, averaging 13.9 points and 5.1 boards per game. Now healthy, will Tim Rusthoven dominate the Dukes, who are permeable down low?

My questions are mostly on JMU’s end. Can JMU find the stove on the offensive end and make some shots? The Dukes will want to force the Tribe off the perimeter, but I expect Thornton to produce from all points on the court inside Kaplan, and the Dukes to go 64-West, 81-North their way home with their fourth straight conference loss.

W&M 72 JMU 61

17
Jan

Early in the week, a couple marquee conference battles taught us a few things. The early season trends were reversed, as four of the five road teams were victorious. In the first nine league games, only two road teams had been victorious.

A miscommunication (slash technology failure) deprived the blog faithful of astute pregame observations from Mike Barnes, who wrote up picks and previews for all three of Wednesday’s games. It would’ve been especially nice to post his thoughts on the Delaware-William & Mary game before it happened. In my opinion, that was this week’s marquee matchup.

Mike and I were excited to see how two high-scoring teams with similarly sized personnel (four-out offenses) but different styles (Princeton O vs. dribble-drive O) would match up. We knew offense would be at a premium (he predicted Delaware 88-81), which is why it was surprising that the YoUDees’ defensive stops were the difference in their 76-71 win over the Tribe.

William & Mary had a balanced offensive attack (five players in double figures), but Delaware’s star trio of Saddler, Threatt and Usher combined for 62 points. Kyle Anderson had a tough night shooting the ball, but stepped in front of a couple of passes to come up with steals. Delaware forced 14 turnovers on the night, while Saddler and Threatt did their thing: drove the lane and got to the line.

Tony Shaver confirmed that Delaware’s slashing ability was the difference:

“Offensively we weren’t as efficient as we wanted to be, and defensively we didn’t get as many stops as we wanted to. But it’s interesting to look at it: you outrebound them, you score the exact same number of field goals, twos and threes, as they did, and they win the battle at the free-throw line. A lot of their drives were fouls, and a lot of our drives weren’t. Sometimes you can’t control those things.”

The Blue Hens, who are 3-0 in the CAA and 26-7 in the league since February 1st, 2012, were the only team to hold serve at home this week. They’re looking like a strong contender, but I’m still interested to see how they match up with the CAA’s more physical teams.

Surprise, surprise, Hofstra has won two games in a row to start 2-1 in the CAA for the second straight year. The Pride survived a rare good shooting night from the Seahawks of UNCW to score a 69-64 win at Trask. UNCW tied a season-high six 3-pointers, but Hofstra’s Zeke Upshaw hit seven of his own en route to a game-high 27 points.

A team with just four returning players is burgeoning with a newfound confidence:

“We wouldn’t have won tonight if we hadn’t beaten Charleston the other night. I just talked to the guys in the locker room about believing in themselves and having hope. You can talk about it as coaches all you want, but until you win the game, why should believe in yourself? Why should you have hope? And we’ve got it now, we believe in ourselves and we have hope. Our kids can’t wait to play the next game.”

After a weekend makeup game at Southern Methodist, the Pride will look to continue its solid play in two home games next week.

Wednesday’s other victorious road team, Northeastern, struggled in the second half, but made game-winning plays down the stretch to beat James Madison 58-54 at The Convo (in a game that disgusted JMU SB). Thus far, the Huskies have struggled to make those plays in the waning moments of big games, but Bill Coen was happy with their late-game performance on Wednesday:

“Somebody’s gotta make a winning play on each team. I think Demetrius got a good breakaway layup there, and David made a big shot in the corner. So that’s what it’s gonna take, somebody’s gotta step up and make a play.”

Coen credited Walker and Pollard for converting huge buckets after JMU had closed to within one with under two minutes to go, but freshman T.J. Williams deserves recognition for assisting Walker’s bucket by saving a ball that was well on its way out of bounds. Northeastern closed out a three-in-five stretch (which included a double-overtime game) with a win. The middle game of that stretch was a home loss to the conference newby.

Charleston picked up its first CAA road win in Boston on Monday, as Anthony Thomas paced the Cougars with 16 points, nine boards, five assists, and five steals. Those steals were important, as his defensive efforts ensured that no Husky other than Scott Eatherton would have a big offensive game.

Eatherton had his normal huge game (19 and 16), but did most of his damage in the first half. Adjehi Baru shored up his defense on Eatherton, and Willis Hall (14 points, 13 boards) continued to knock down big shots (as he did in the first half). Charleston shot 50% from the field after halftime, and stifled Northeastern’s offense all night.

The other pre-Hump Day spotlight belonged to two teams trending in opposite directions.

Towson has been steady all season, and with Jerrelle Benimon continuing to play out of his mind, things are looking up. Drexel, meanwhile, is trying to learn to play without its top four forwards, and things have quickly gone downhill. Tuesday’s matchup in Philly confirmed both diagnoses.

The stars on both sides made this one intriguing. Benimon turned in his normal workman-like performance (27 points, 11 boards), and Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch combined for 49 points. But the surprise was Towson’s Marcus Damas, who dropped a career-high 26 points, and helped the Tigers to an 80-68 win at The DAC.

The aggregate shooting percentages of those duos summarizes how  this game played out. Benimon and Damas combined for 53 points on 24 shots and 75% shooting (six 3-pointers), while Massenat and Fouch combined for 49 points on 46 attempts and 34.7% shooting. There’s a positive correlation between the success of both Damas and Towson.

As great as Fouch and Massenat are, they can’t do it alone (thought it was great to see freshman Rodney Williams snagging a career-high 14 caroms). Bruiser’s bunch gets a bit of a breather against UNCW before another stern test against Delaware.

Meanwhile, Towson will be well rested for a slugfest against a Charleston team playing on five days of rest. Stay tuned for the picks and previews for this weekend’s games.

14
Jan

Saturday was a trying day for teams across the league. There’s a Sankalpa somewhere in the archives of this site that aptly describes the day that was. Injuries forced players into starting roles, and provided others with expanded opportunities from the bench. Even if you’re of the opinion that there is little value to bench points, unfortunate circumstances gave guys chances to stake their claims for future playing time.

Per usual, Northeastern and Drexel’s dual was tightly contested. I know Dragon fans are tired of seeing Northeastern players hit big threes in the waning seconds of games, but the undermanned Dragons were able to squeak out a 93-88 victory in 2OT. Demetrius Pollard’s overtime-forcing 3-pointer was most brutal in the fact that Tavon Allen sprained his ankle while getting back on defense.

Drexel players are going down like NFL punters, but surprisingly, Chris Fouch (who scored a career-high 31 points) hasn’t been one of them. The senior scored more points (16) in the two overtime periods than he did in regulation. Tough runners, NBA threes, free throws — everything was working for Fouch in OT.

Fouch on his overtime explosion:

“I tried to stay aggressive the whole game, but you know, the second overtime I felt like the plays were there to be made more than the second half and the first overtime.”

Frantz Massenat banged up his knee early in the game, but battled through the pain. If the bevy of injuries hadn’t forced Massenat into more of a scoring role, he would’ve had a triple-double (27 points, 12 boards, eight assists).

Northeastern got a surprisingly good game from point guard Marco Banegas-Flores, who started his second consecutive game and had a career-high 17 points. Demetrius Pollard stayed hot, and dropped 19 points. He’s streaky, but he’s starting to put the ball on the floor and drive a bit more, which has helped him evolve into a somewhat reliable piece in this offense.

In his first conference home game, Joe Mihalich’s Hofstra team toppled the CAA’s hottest team, Charleston, by creating extra opportunities off missed free throws. Stephen Nwaukoni was the obvious suspect for the Pride, as he had a 13-15 double-double (seven offensive boards). Led by Zeke Upshaw’s 22 points, all five Pride starters scored in double figures in Hofstra’s 75-71 victory.

Once again, C of C’s Nori Johnson was an absolute boss, pouring in a career-high 25 points, including seven 3-pointers. Anthony Stitt had a snappy line of 17 points, 11 boards and seven assists. The Cougars shot themselves in the paw by going just 14-of-27 from the foul line. No one player exemplified their struggles quite like Adjehi Baru (7-of-14 from the line).

Wojcik summed it up in the postgame:

“Bottom line, I can live with getting outrebounded, because they are a very good rebounding team and are very physical. We made more field goals, made more threes and had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. We got beat from the free-throw line tonight (32-of-48).”

Delaware was forced to test its own depth when Carl Baptiste exited the first of half of Saturday’s game with a leg injury. That meant James Madison and Delaware’s benches were comprised solely of freshmen, which boded well for a senior-laden Blue Hen team that won its fourth consecutive game 78-74, and improved to 2-0 in CAA play.

When Baptiste went down, Delaware gave more minutes to starting forward Marvin KingDavis. Sparsely-used freshmen Barnett Harris and Maurice Jeffers also got in on the action, and while Delaware’s rebounding suffered, JMU couldn’t keep Devon Saddler (game-high 25 points) and Jarvis Threatt (14 points) from getting to the foul line. Davon Usher hit five 3-pointers and scored 23 points.

Meanwhile, JMU got just two points in 33 minutes from that bench of freshmen. People will talk about the no call on Ron Curry’s potential game-tying drive with less than 10 seconds to play, but if Baptiste plays, I’m not sure the game is even that close. The Dukes want to play fast, and without Baptiste anchoring the middle of the floor, they could afford to go with small, quick lineups. JMU lost this one by missing too many free throws, as well as wide-open looks from three.

The good news for Brady’s crew came in the fact that all five starters scored in double figures. Andre Nation (22 points) shot 9-of-11 from the field, and Taylor Bessick had his first career double-double. It was reminiscent of a game last season when he pulled down a career-high 13 boards against Drexel (a game in which Daryl McCoy did not play). Perhaps the most encouraging thing was that Bessick stayed out foul trouble.

Towson won its 13th consecutive home game Saturday, and the fact that Jerrelle Benimon had 20 points and 17 boards should surprise absolutely no one. The Tigers committed just six turnovers on the day, but four came from the Benimonster himself.

UNCW had similar struggles with its bench, which produced zero points. Considering that the bench includes the team’s best three-point shooter (Tanner Milson) and its best pure point guard (Ben Eblen), that’s problematic.

The silver lining was the continued resurgence of Chris Dixon, who has now scored in double figures in three of the last four games, something he did just twice in the Seahawks first 14 games. It’s good to see him ramping up for conference play again. Chuck Ogbodo started, played 35 minutes, and recorded five points, four blocks, and three assists. He knows defense is his strength, and plays within himself offensively.

When Yemi Makanjuola becomes eligible next season, he’ll team with Ogbodo and Cedrick Williams to give the Seahawks a trio of imposing rim-protectors.

We would touch on Charleston’s 58-49 win at Northeastern on Monday Night, but it wouldn’t feel right without linking to a King Kresse post. Stay tuned.

***

Towson (10-6, 1-0) at Drexel (9-6, 1-1) – 7:00 — Comcast SportsNet

It’s hard not to feel for Bruiser Flint, whose team is tasked with trying to contain Jerrelle Benimon without the services of its top three forwardsFlint heaped praise onto Goran Pantovic and Mohamed Bah, and their efforts in slowing down Scott Eatherton on Saturday. Rodney Williams, who had a solid game Saturday (but fouled out in 20 minutes) will likely take the first stab at trying to defend Benimon. The Dragons will do their best to trap Benimon, who has proven to be a rather turnover-prone player.

Despite the injuries, Drexel still has a signficantly better backcourt than Towson. The only question is whether the heavy minutes will start to take a toll on Massenat and Fouch. Because of multiple overtime game this season, Drexel has now played an entire extra game’s worth of minutes this season. Dan Crain thinks we’ll see Massenat play some three with Major Canady at the point, and playing off the ball could help Massenat stay fresh.

For Towson, the guy I’ll be watching is Marcus Damas. He’s having a solid senior season, but if Towson is going to emerge as a serious contender in the CAA, Damas will need to do more offensively. Drexel’s stifling three-point defense will make it hard for Towson to get it going from outside, so Damas needs to exploit mismatches down low.

Ultimately, I think there will be too much pressure on Massenat and Fouch to shoulder the offensive load for Drexel. Towson steals a close one at The DAC.

Towson 62, Drexel 59