Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy homecoming for Hofstra's Marie Malone

Try as you might, you can't really schedule when you're going to have the best game of your college career. But if you could, wouldn't it be cool if you go off in a game about 20 minutes from where you grew up? At a place where you used to attend basketball camps and against a team you once cheered for? At a school your stepmother attended and your father played for? With your family and friends in the stands? On a day when your high school coach is being honored?

Of course, things usually don't work out that way...right?

Were it not for injuries, talented Hofstra forward Marie Malone probably would have had a performance like the 20-point, 9-rebound effort she delivered at Old Dominion Sunday a lot sooner. Last year, the former Kellam High School star appeared poised to thrive in the Pride's newly-installed, turbocharged attack offense (more on that in a later post). She scored 19 points in her third game of the season, 17 more in her fourth. Then she tore an ACL and was done for the season.

While Malone was physically ready to begin the 2011-12 season, her confidence was still in rehab and it hasn't been until recently that the Virginia Beach native has gotten her groove back. The senior delivered some productive minutes in Hofstra's 100-97 victory at William and Mary on Jan 8 (then again, in a 100-97 game, who wasn't productive?), then followed that up with a 9-point, 10-rebound line against Georgia State that would have been even better had she not left some points on the floor with shaky finishing.

"Dad, I should have had 20 points out there tonight," Malone confided to her father, Rodney, in one of their regular phone calls later that night.

"Just keep doing what you're doing," her father replied. "And when you come here, drop 20 and 10."

"I will," Marie said.

The Hofstra star says now that she really didn't have a specific point total in mind for her homecoming game. No one does on a Hofstra team that prides itself on its unselfishness. But she does allow that she was "really, really, really focused" in the hours before tipoff. And as everyone knows, three-really focus is no joke.

Still, Malone clearly didn't force things against ODU, as her first contribution was an assist and she didn't attempt a shot until the 11:47 mark of the first half. It went in. And so did the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one. Malone scored 10 straight points over a 3:37 span and finished the first half with 13 points, two more than her previous season high for an entire game.

About 15 of Malone's family members and friends, including Rodney Malone, who played for ODU in the early 1980s, and her stepmother Kelly Delveccio, bore witness to Malone's breakout, as did her former high school coach T.J. Jones, another former ODU player who was honored at halftime during the Lady Monarchs' Alumni Day activities.

But while the game was in progress, Malone didn't notice any of them.

"I was defnitely in a zone," she said. "I didn't hear anyone talking, didn't hear the crowd cheering...I was just totally focused."

Really, really, really focused.

Malone was on such a roll she didn't want the game to end. When it did - with Hofstra ahead 81-68 - she still owed her dad one rebound. But Rodney Malone was too thrilled to bring that up.

"He told me, 'That's the Marie Malone I know,' " Marie said. "That may have been the best thing, seeing my dad so proud of me."

Malone said she left Norfolk with the confidence than she can deliver this kind of performance regularly, but given the circumstances (hometown, family in attendance) it's hard to imagine another 20-point game would give her the same personal satisfaction.

Then again, with a 13-3 record (5-0 in the CAA), Hofstra is a strong contender for the CAA title or perhaps an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Should either of those happen, the Pride could be sent to Old Dominion (one of the 16 sites for first- and second-round games). And Malone could have the experiences she enjoyed Sunday all over again, on a much grander stage.

Of course, things usually don't work out that way.


For more on Marie Malone, check out this 56-second burst of her personality on the "Hofstra Hot Seat." Notice how quickly Malone gets out of her seat when the interview is done. Maybe it really is a hot seat!

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