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Colonial Notebook

February 19, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments

Colonial Athletic Association Notebook

by Jay Pearlman

What an exciting week in the CAA! Teams showed character in must-win games, even against the league’s best teams and on those teams’ home courts. The race for tournament byes is heating up, now with just three games to go. Never has the basketball been more dramatic.

In last week’s article in this space, we tried to analyze the factors affecting the stretch run. But somehow we overlooked one: that at least some of the teams in the race would be able to step up and beat VCU and George Mason in games they needed more than those two. That’s exactly what happened.

First, there was fourth place UNC Wilmington, starting the week at 8-5, hosting third place William & Mary and then with a brutal game in Fairfax at Mason. With William and Mary’s fade already apparent and Wilmington being 5-1 in the friendly confines of Trask Coliseum, we weren’t shocked by UNCW’s 77-64 win on Wednesday night. But for that Saturday ESPNU game in Fairfax, at 3-4 on the road against a Mason team that was 7-0 at home (11-0 overall), even with the Seahawks’ earlier home win over Mason, who’d have imagined this one?

Well, in a tight, competitive game in a sold out Patriot Center (just under 10,000), neither team ever led by more than 7, and Mason managed a two-point lead at intermission. Even with Mason’s strong man-to-man defense at home, Benny Moss’ Seahawks – better known for offense than defense – stood toe to toe with GMU for 39:59, and a bank shot at the final buzzer by former tourney MVP T.J. Carter (15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover) gave Wilmington a stunning 75-73 road win, and a share of second with Mason at 10-5 (with the tiebreaker).

More importantly, the win went a long way toward assuring the Seahawks a first round bye in the conference tournament. For the victors, forward Todd Hendley shined with 21 on 6-8 shooting and six rebounds. Defended by Will Thomas, Vladimir Kuljanin was held to nine points (on 4-7) but managed 10 rebounds, and freshman point guard Chad Tomko showed up huge with 18 points on 7-10 shooting (including 4-5 treys), six rebounds and only one turnover. Most impressive, as a team the Seahawks managed to overcome monster efforts by Mason’s Thomas (19 points, 7-12, 14 rebounds, and six assists) and Folarin Campbell (24 points, 9-16, 4-10 in treys, four assists, and just two turnovers). (And if you’ve been following February boxes, now-point guard Campbell is playing himself right onto a spot on the league’s first all-conference team).

Perhaps even more impressive was the week Old Dominion had, a week setting the Monarchs up beautifully for the fourth and final conference tournament bye. First of all, while we all respect the work of veteran coach Blaine Taylor (is this his finest job ever?), I challenge any of you to name even three of ODU’s four players who most often start with Gerald Lee (remember, Taylor is bringing Brandon Johnson off the bench these days).

Maybe it’s those ODU uniforms that somehow just beat most of the others in the league, or maybe it’s the rarified atmosphere at the Constant Convocation Center (I won’t make my first visit there until a week from Wednesday). Or maybe just the coach Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki calls “the best in the country that no one talks about.”

Whatever it is, in a classic CAA game Wednesday in Norfolk, controlled by the one constant in Drexel’s arsenal (Bruiser Flint’s bruising man-to-man defense), in a game tied 54 all after regulation and 60 all after overtime, the Monarchs prevailed at home 75-71 in double overtime. Lee had a monster game with 23 points (7-13 shooting) and seven rebounds (four offensive), more than matching Frank Elegar’s 12 points and nine rebounds for Drexel. And with Ben Finney muscling up for seven rebounds, ODU’s 47-38 edge on the boards overcame 19 turnovers caused by Drexel’s smothering defense. That double overtime win allowed ODU to bring a modest two-game winning streak into the Siegel Center in Richmond on Saturday to face their biggest rival, VCU.

A sellout crowd of 7,600 (a VCU record fourth of the season) and national TV audience on ESPN2 was awaiting the Monarchs Saturday night in Richmond. Both in person and at home, every observer got his or her money’s worth.

Paced by erstwhile conference Player of the Year Eric Maynor and man-to-man defense that Drexel’s Flint would be proud of, Coach Anthony Grant’s Rams managed a three-point lead at intermission, and were up six with 2:10 left to play. Then, ODU’s senior guards, Johnson and Brian Henderson, took over the game in a manner eerily similar to Maynor in last year’s tourney final.

Quickly, Henderson’s two-point and three-point jumpers closed the gap to a single point. When fouled after a steal, Johnson made both to give ODU the lead. Then he defended Maynor’s final drive to the VCU bucket, stripping him of the ball to preserve the victory. With those quick five points in the last 2:10, Henderson finished with 20 on 8-10 shooting (2-2 in treys). Johnson had 14 on 4-7 shooting (2-4 in treys) and five rebounds. Lee chipped in with 13 on 6-13 shooting and five rebounds. In all, four Monarchs grabbed at least five boards (Finney had six, and Frank Hassell five), resulting in ODU’s second strong rebounding game of the week, edging VCU 38-32 on the boards.

With the win, and two-point losses by Delaware and Northeastern, ODU is now tied with its free-falling neighbor William & Mary in the coveted fourth spot, both at 9-6. And with each having won this year on the other’s floor, ODU’s win over VCU should also provide the tiebreaker, if three remaining games don’t break the deadlock.

Since we anointed VCU and Mason with byes last week, it’s only fair we now do likewise with Wilmington, tied with Mason for second (10-5) and holding the tiebreaker. That leaves ODU in the lead among four teams for one remaining tournament bye, visiting fading JMU, hosting Northeastern and visiting tough Wilmington. William & Mary hosts suddenly dangerous Drexel, before finishing brutally at Mason and at home with VCU. Fading Delaware is at Mason (perhaps at the worst possible time), then hosts Hofstra and visits rival Towson. Off its last-second loss at Georgia State, Northeastern has the toughest last three games, sandwiching home games against VCU and Mason around a trip to Norfolk to face ODU. And can anybody stop Blaine Taylor’s surging (and no-name) Monarchs?

CAA News and Notes

  • Georgia State had to play without power forward Rashad Chase (8 rebounds per game) for the final 15 minutes on Saturday, injured in a scrum with Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen and Nkem Ojougboh. While the injury looked ominous, hopefully Rod Barnes won’t lose Chase to a separated shoulder for the rest of the season. Even without their best rebounder, the Panthers managed a stunning come-from-behind win on Homecoming Day, grabbing the lead with just over a second to go on Trae Goldston’s trey. Former GSU Coach Lefty Driesell (for whom the arena court is named) must have been proud, as grandson Michael Moynihan kept the Panthers in the game in the first half, finishing with 15 points on 4-8 shooting, including 2-3 on treys.
  • In televised ESPN BracketBusters this Saturday, VCU visits Akron at 11 am (ESPN2) and Jim Larranaga visits an old conference foe as Mason plays at Ohio University at 1 (also on ESPN2).
  • The remaining road games for the conference are Hofstra at Iona (2 pm), Northeastern at Holy Cross (4 pm), Delaware at Toledo (7 pm) and Georgia State at Jacksonville State (8 pm). Conference home games are Loyola (Ill.) at William and Mary (1 pm), Morehead State at JMU (2 pm), Fairfield at Drexel (4 pm), High Point at Towson (4 pm), Vermont at Wilmington (7 pm) and Bucknell at ODU (also at 7 pm).


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