Game 021:at Drexel 76, Monmouth 47 Tuesday, December 28, 2004 Daskalakis Athletic Center - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Like so many great things, it all started at the University of Oregon. Hall Of Fame coach Howard "Hobby" Hobson led the Ducks back in the Forties, and he also served on the NCAA rules committee. Hobson had a lot of "crazy" ideas about how to improve the game of basketball. He wanted to try drawing an arc 21 feet around the basket; field goals beyond this stripe would count for three points, and a fouled player would have the option to attempt a two-point free-throw from that same distance. Can you guess which of those rules eventually found its way into the book?
On February 7, 1945 in Manhattan, a number of Hobson's experimental rules were tried out in a Fordham-Columbia tilt. Despite an halftime poll that revealed that 60% of an audience sample liked the three-point shot, the idea would attract dust and moths until the American Basketball Association revived it in 1968 as one of their raft-ful of wacky gimmicks. The NBA's historical landscape would have been altered immeasurably had they been early adopters (if they really wanted to limit Wilt Chamberlain's effectiveness...), but they would finally sign up in 1978 - two years after the fun n' gun ABA disbanded. The NCAA remained steadfast in their two-pointedness.
Part of the reason that The Three wasn't globally embraced from the outset was its inherent controversy. Proponents argued that it would keep basketball from being the tall person's game it was, clean up the clutter of flying elbows in the post area, and open up the floor. Relative purists maintained that the availability of a three-point shot lowered the quality of the average player, that it would prove the basketball equivalent of baseball's DH, breeding a culture of "specialists" who are not required to develop all-around games for themselves.
But we're past all that now - a court without those two big sweeping arcs just seems, well, naked. There can't be any doubt that the extra point has proven an equalizer in countless David-Goliath matchups, and every team that's ever pulled a thirteen-versus-four Tournament upset has ol' "Hobby" to thank. So it's not surprising that a mid-major league paved the way for the three's inclusion in the college game - in 1980, the Southern Conference was granted special permission to use a three-point line. At 7:06 p.m. on November 29, 1980, Western Carolina's Ronnie Carr hit a trey four minutes into a non-conference game against Middle Tennessee State, and there was no going back. The Three had arrived on campus.
But it wasn't until 1986 when the governing body instituted the rule nationwide, and set the arc at a relatively easy 19 feet, 9 inches. The effect of the three-pointer on the collegiate ranks was immediate and drastic. One in every seven shots taken during the 1986-87 season was a three-pointer, and an NCAA mid-season review showed that game scores had increased by an average of seven points a game. Two of the Final Four that season were squads that had revamped their offenses to take advantage of the long bomb - Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV took a whopping 132 shots in the Tournament in 1987; Rick Pitino's Providence Friars tried 95 of them, making 14 of 21 in a 103-82 whipping of Alabama in the regional semis. The next-closest in attempts were Elite Eighters North Carolina with 64.
Nowadays, a lot of college hoops is all about using Big Three as a weapon. While it's great for keeping teams in games when they're playing over their heads, necessity is usually the mother here - smaller schools always lose recruiting battles for talented talls, and any bigs they do end up getting are usually the raw, unpolished types. Luckily, there's enough of a glut of 6'2" and 6'3" guys who can nail jumpers to prove that there's some sort of trickle-down effect at work. The top 100 teams in threes attempted are mostly names that rarely cross ESPN commentators' lips. (Troy State puts up 32 a game?! Holy crap.)
And so fortune had it that I made venture a few blocks down the street last night to see two teams who put up a well-higher-than-average 20 3FGA's: Monmouth and Drexel. The defending Northeast Conference champion Hawks shoot from long-range because that's just their thing, and the Dragons are guard-heavier than normal these days because two of their 6'6" bigs (not a typo) are out due to injury.
Drexel home games are hardly well-attended as it is, but when it's the holidays and most of the kids are at home, the Daskalakis Athletic Center makes for a better morgue than an arena. There was no band, no cheerleading, no dance team, and only about 50 programs were printed. The DAC Pack was represented by 28 resilient members, and even the Dragon mascot seemed a little blue (was it because his bestest friend, The Official Wife Of The Mid-Majority™, wasn't there? Probably). A recording of the Marine Corps band played the national anthem, and the PA crew ran out of music early on - I counted three spins of "Let's Get It Started," and two for "Yeah."
But without all the usual trappings, bells, whistles and distractions, it gives one the opportunity to view college basketball at its most simple level - as the game itself. Monmouth came out of the gate fast, and took a quick 7-0 lead. After a quick timeout, Dragon coach Bruiser Flint started shuffling the lineup. Good thing, too. Dominick Mejia, a sophomore N.C. State transfer who was playing in a Drexel uniform for only the second time, came off the bench and started nailing threes like a madman.
The game stayed close until about five minutes left in the first half, when the gas was siphoned out of Monmouth's engine and the Dragons began piling on the threes. Their floor leader, senior 6-9 NEC Player Of The Year runner-up Blake Hamilton, was effectively collared and ended up with a mere 7 points. I noticed that the pop-eyed Hamilton was also playing a bit flat-footed, perhaps not having fully recovered from a broken foot this past spring.
Before the first half was over, Mejia had 17 points on 5-of-6 long-distance dialing. Drexel ended up launching 26 threes, making 12 of them - starting guards Phil Goss (13 points) and Jeremiah King (8), and sixth man Kenell Sanchez (13), also joined the Three Party. They didn't need any inside contribution from raw 6-10 sophomore Chaz Crawford - literally. He didn't take a single shot in 21 minutes.
When the Hawks emerged from the locker room in the second half, they had nothing left at all, and went nine minutes without a field goal. They put up so many horrid off-balance threes that four DAC Pack members who participated in a 30-second three-point challenge easily outclassed them. It's tough when garbage time begins seven minutes into the second half, and when the White Guys at the End of the Bench (WGATEOTB) get to play a little more than usual.
Now, I like Monmouth. I'll make the hour-long drive any night to toasty little Boylan Gym in Long Branch, N.J., one of my favorite places to see a game. They have great fans, and one guy even recognized me from the NEC Tournament back in March. So I've been perplexed as I've seen their scores and boxes and recaps flash over the wire these past two months, each one more disgusting than the last. They've now lost five in a row, and are 1-7 heading into their conference title defense. I've been wondering why a team that was more of a shooter's club than an inside threat, with mostly the same returning cast, can't find the basket with a flashlight (they're averaging a paltry 57 points a game against mostly lower-mid-level competition).
I have my answer now: they have serious conditioning issues. The Hawks, who tried a man-to-man for most of the game, simply could not keep up as the speedy Dragons cut and slashed and passed at will. Double-teaming Hamilton was easy, because Monmouth was playing so slowly that Drexel players could cover two Hawks at once. I know they haven't played a game since the 12th, but half the team was hunched over, breathing heavy and grabbing their shorts whenever play stopped (politeness prevents me from identifying which half).
The game lasted just a little over 90 minutes, but the second half ticked mercilessly and slowly away, each passing second allowing the hard plastic bleachers to exact a more horrible punishment upon my poor bony ass. Drexel was infinitely more merciful, their guards often taking an extra few seconds to step inside the three-point line before shooting - perhaps a kindly gesture to a team it had long since run out of its gym. But Monmouth kept jacking up bombs - they matched their season average with 20 on the game, but only 6 found the mark.
During the final media timeout with the Dragons nearly doubling up their guests, the Hawk sideline was dead-silent - there was nothing else to be learned on this night. As Monmouth coach Dave Calloway knelt facing his players and looked wearily past them, his gaze met mine as I sat three rows behind the bench. His eyes were grey and sad and hollow.
"Sorry, coach," I should have said. "I can't shoot the three either."