I was at the Hofstra George Mason game last night with my friends Anthony and Mal. It was a very good game won by George Mason in double overtime 85-78. First before I get into the crux of this post involving the game, Hofstra outplayed George Mason until the second overtime last night. Anyone who was there saw it. Darren Townes (12 points, 11 rebounds), Dane Johnson (14 points, 12 rebounds, 8 blocks) and Charles Jenkins (19 points) all had terrific games. It was not the Antoine Agudio show that most people have come to expect with this Hofstra team. Agudio struggled to get 19 points, with many of those coming at the end of the game or the overtime periods (more on that in a second). Will Thomas had a career high 29 points on 12 of 15 shooting from the field.
First, I want to say that Hofstra does have a lot of talent. I have heard this from different announcers on several radio and television broadcasts such as the ESPNU game vs. UNCW, the game carried on Comcast vs VCU (broadcast last weekend on SNY) and from the Rhode Island radio announcers when the Pride played at the Rams late in December. And anyone who watches the games can see it. Dane Johnson was a beast inside for the Pride. Darren Townes is all over the court making smart hustling plays. Freshman Charles Jenkins, though sometimes careless with the ball reminds my friends and I of Loren Stokes, only stronger. And of course, Antoine Agudio is a terrific scorer (in fact one CAA blogger calls him Antoine Agreatio). The Pride have lost 7 games by 7 points or less, with two of those coming in overtime.
So why is this team 3-12 and 1-5 in the CAA? Last night I think was the final proof I needed for my blog post today. Its coaching. And here are the several points why.
1) If you saw noted above, Will Thomas had a CAREER HIGH 29 points. During last season’s televised ESPNU game at George Mason, which Hofstra won. 68-60, Hofstra frequently double teamed Will Thomas in that game with a post player, most of the time Arminas Urbutis and a guard would help down low, forcing Thomas to pick up his dribble and pass the ball out. He was held to 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting from the field.
In this game, Thomas had 12 points in the first half alone on 6 of 6 shooting. He was not double teamed at all in the first half. So naturally, you think Hofstra would make an adjustment and have the Hofstra guards help out on Thomas. Not until late in the second half did a guard attempt to help out on Thomas (it was Nathaniel Lester, more on that in a second). Thomas would also be fouled a few times by the Hofstra big men because there was no help. Thomas hit on several more shots before missing his first with 6:53 left in the game. 33 minutes went by before he missed his first shot.
2) I have frequently stated on my blog site, that coach Tom Pecora’s philosophy when up late in the game is to milk the clock and take a shot with only a few seconds left on the shot clock. And usually, this means the best player handles the ball and they “run a play” for them, which if you watch usually meant in the past couple of years, Loren Stokes, or Carlos Rivera or now Agudio tries to do a one on one play. I said in a previous post last year that points are your friend, not the clock.
Well here was the example of this front and center. With one minute left in regulation, the game was tied at 64 and Hofstra just got the ball back after Jon Vaughan tied the game for George Mason with a three point play free throw. Here was an excellent opportunity to play 2 for 1 (for those who don’t understand 2 for 1 means having two possessions left in a half or at the end of the game as opposed to the other team only having one). Instead, Pecora has Agudio handle the ball, wind down the clock and run a one on one play. Agudio missed a jumper with 5 seconds left on the clock. Thus Mason had the ball back with 30 seconds left and the shot clock went off (also want to note that Hofstra did this as well with 1:55 left in the game and Agudio missed a shot with 1:03 left which led to Vaughan’s layup three point play with a minute left)
Now I have talked about this in the past with my friend, Tony Bozzella, coach of the Iona Lady Gaels, who was in the stands with us as Hofstra did this exact thing at the end of the first half during their 2006 NIT quarterfinal tournament game vs ODU. He stated he always goes for the 2 for 1. And my friends, Mal and Anthony have always agreed on this and that’s the first thing we pointed out at the end of regulation. Well, when the end of regulation occurred, we noticed someone sitting basically by himself at the press table near us towards the south end of the court at the Thomas Mack Arena; former Vermont coach and current ESPN analyst Tom Brennan. So during the break before the start of the first overtime, my friend Mal and I decided to go over and ask him what he thought about that.
Now first, Brennan comes across during his ESPN telecasts as a very likeable person with a great knowledge of the game. I am here to tell you he is exactly that in person. We went up to him, introduced ourselves and said it was a great honor to meet him. Then Mal asked him the question about the end of regulation about what he thought Hofstra should have done with a minute left and asked him his thoughts on if he would have done the 2 for 1. Brennan said candidly he definitely would have gone for the 2 for 1 there. He stated he always goes for the 2 for 1 and that he wants the points rather than milk the clock. I want to take this opportunity to thank Tom Brennan for being so cordial and friendly to two people he had never met before. But Brennan exactly stated what Hofstra should have done there.
3) Pecora needed to tell Agudio to stop forcing the action at the end of the game and do what they were doing for most of the game, getting into Dane Johnson, or Townes or Jenkins. In fact late in the second half, after Nathaniel Lester scored with 7:44 left, no other Hofstra player scored in the rest of the second half other than Antoine Agudio. In the overtime periods, other than Agudio, Dane Johnson hit two free throws and Lester hit two jumpers. In fact after Jenkins scored with 9:33 left in regulation, the trio of Jenkins, Townes and Dane Johnson, who combined 45 points, only scored two points for the remaining 19 minutes of the game (two free throws by Dane Johnson). Its very difficult to win when you don't have balanced scoring for a period of 19 minutes.
4) With Hofstra up 71-69 with 13 seconds left in the first overtime, Antoine Agudio was fouled. He missed the first three throw but hit the second to put Hofstra up 3. With Mason needing a three pointer, all Pecora had to do was tell his team to foul on the inbounds play and force Mason to the free throw line. However, that did not happen and Jon Vaughan hit a 3 pointer to tie the game with 4.4 seconds left in the first overtime to force the second overtime. That took the wind right out of Hofstra's sails and they never led the game again.
5) Finally, Pecora has to try to put the best lineup out in the game. He has started Greg Johnson at point the last several games and for most of the season. Johnson has simply had a poor season. He can’t shoot (shoots about 20 percent from the field), won’t shoot (often you will see him only two to three field goal attempts per game) and has made numerous turnovers off poor decisions. In fact in the VCU game, the announcers made it quite clear that the VCU guards were playing off Johnson, daring him to shoot. You can’t have five players on the court and one of them not a scoring option whatsoever. In this game, Johnson played 28 minutes, mostly in the first half. He had a decent game for him, but again he only attempted to shoot twice in 28 minutes. When Nathaniel Lester came in the game in the second half, you could see why Lester should be on the court. He is a good defender and was the first guard really helping out on Thomas. He will shoot the three (and eventually he will hit those with regularity) and he can drive to the basket and score. The best lineup for Hofstra is Dane Johnson, Townes, Jenkins, Agudio and Lester. Pecora needs to realize this.
So those five reasons in a nutshell are why the Pride are 3-12 and 1-5 in conference. Hopefully as they play teams not as good as VCU or George Mason in conference (by the way, the Patriots do not look as good as they did earlier in the year when they beat Kansas State and Dayton), the Pride will get over the hump. But they need Pecora to make better decisions. This game was his loss, not his players.