Saturday should be remembered as a day when Pat Skerry and thousands of coaches and fans across America joined together to raise awareness and funds for Autism. In the second year of Coaches Powering Forward for Autism, a phenomenal cause received much-needed publicity, and great hoops games helped drive the train.
If you needed a reminder that college basketball has more faces that Harvey Dent, look no further than what happened in our league on Saturday. Although many conferences could claim to be a microcosm of this madness, the CAA exemplifies its craziness as well as any. Five games were played, and each had a little something to offer.
The five games were played between the reigning conference champ and our preseason favorite, the 33rd and 34th youngest teams in D-I, two tortoises, two hares, and two CAA blue bloods facing off for first place. The results included a surprising upset, a buzzer-beating jumper, a 54-possession defensive battle, its 75-possession antithesis, and a new conference leader that fittingly won in a rockfight.
Need some elaboration?
Let’s start with William & Mary, a team that endured an interesting 48-and-a-half hour stretch south of Virginia. The Tribe entered the trek playing well enough to be noticed by The Post, well enough to get Shades of 48 writing again, and well enough to have its success become a taboo subject at Gheorge: The Blog.
Playing in front of 5,000+ on a night when John Goldsberry’s number was retired, UNCW forced 16 first-half turnovers, snagged 22 offensive rebounds (at a 43.1% clip), and didn’t allow the sweet-shooting Tribe to make its first 3-pointer until the 5:52 mark of the second half. That’ll be enough to beat W&M 98% of the time.
Yet it was one of the Tribe’s five offensive rebounds that proved to be the game’s most pivotal. Tom Schalk grabbed three offensive boards, with the final one resulting in a stickback that proved to be the go-ahead basket in the Tribe’s 56-53 win. It seems weird to say that a team stole one when it held the opposition to 28.8% shooting, but that’s certainly how it felt.
Schalk, a finesse big man who played a total of 31 minutes last season, scored a career-high 13 points in 20 minutes. The senior forward had started the previous three games while Sean Sheldon was working his way back from injury.
Tony Shaver was enamored to have his team come out on top in a gutty game. For a team that plays pretty basketball, the Tribe proved a lot by winning ugly.
“We told our team about a week ago, at some point we’re not going to make every shot, and we’ve got to find a way to win those games.”
Heading into the road trip, William & Mary had shot 55.1% over its previous six games. A loss at Charleston on Thursday proved what we already knew: that such shooting was unsustainable, and something that would be difficult to rely upon on consecutive days in Baltimore.
If you want to be the last team standing four weeks from today, you’d better be able to win a chippy battle. The Tribe erased all doubts on Saturday night.
Delaware went into Mathews Arena having won just one road game this season. More experienced groups are better built for the rigors of March, but such words would be lost on the young Hens, who outworked the elder Northeastern Huskies and threw the conference a curve with a 73-68 road win.
The Hens were energized from the opening tip, blocking shots and attacking the lane. Delaware redshirt sophomore Maurice Jeffers was a force all afternoon, dropping a career-high 20 points while baiting Northeastern’s bigs into fouls. Sophomore Cazmon Hayes ran off seven consecutive points in the second half in what proved to be a decisive run.
T.J. Williams led Northeastern with 18 points. The Huskies shot just 21-of-31 from the foul line.
In the 2:00 game, Towson’s plethora of young talent glistened brightly, and dominated the lane all day. Unfortunately for Pat Skerry’s squad, this game was won on the perimeter, as JMU’s Ron Curry put up the CAA’s best individual performance of the day. Curry banged home five 3-pointers en route to 27 points, and his 18-foot jumper as time expired gave the Dukes the 63-61 win.
96.8% of the game’s scoring was done by underclassmen, which is a sign that these are two teams that should be expected to make a leap next season.
In Charleston, the Cougars attempted to build a winning streak when they hosted the resurgent Drexel Dragons. Damion Lee had an off game, but Tavon Allen stepped up to post a businesslike 18 points (6-of-10) and five assists in Drexel’s 59-45 win. Drexel has now won five in a row, and Allen has posted an offensive rating of at least 119 in four of the five. Allen is averaging 3.8 assists over that stretch, and for a guy who’s historically exhibited poor shot selection, that’s a hugely positive sign.
Anthony Stitt led Charleston with 15 points, and has scored in double figures in both games since returning from injury.
The final result from Saturday saw Hofstra parlay some defense with its offense. In a matchup between the country’s 16th and 22nd fastest teams, the Pride held its opponent below a point per possession for the second consecutive game. The Pride forced turnovers on 24% of possessions, turning 18 Phoenix turnovers into 23 points en route to an 80-69 win against Elon.
Super senior Dion Nesmith came off the bench to drop a season-high 22 points, and Juan’ya Green had 15 points and 10 assists. Despite those impressive lines, Moussa Kone’s 10 points and nine boards may have been the most encouraging. One discouraging sign was Hofstra’s 64.5% mark from the charity stripe. I’m interested to see how iffy free-throw shooting could effect this big Northeastern-Hofstra game on Thursday.
Austin Hamilton and Elijah Bryant each scored 11 points for Elon. Bryant was also charged with eight turnovers.
We’ve seen 12 games in six weeks, and get six more over the next three. With six teams within two games of first place, it’s time to gear up for a photo finish.